When starting to develop your interest in Witchcraft, a discussion on the nature of magic seems like a pretty good place to start.
Defining something that you intend to incorporate into your life in a significant way seems an obvious starting topic, but doing so has proven notoriously difficult. Vested interests have deliberately tried to make the term ‘magic’ as nebulous as possible in an effort to avoid any actual thought on the subject.
Equally frustrating, but perhaps a bit more excusable, is that many definitions are based on a misunderstanding of Crowley’s attempt so, I suppose, it’d be prudent to start there.
This was his working definition:
‘Magick is the science and art of causing change in conformity with the Will’.
From here, a lot of modern witches and warlocks have essentially boiled this down to mean that you effect change with the conscious will. Now, obviously, this reduces everything into an act of magic which, while stupid, is quite deliberate. In collusion with the nefarious influence of modern ‘culture’, some modern magic folk like the idea of saying everything is an act of magic. This isn’t because it’s true; rather it’s because it’s supposed to imply that everyone is, by proxy, a witch or warlock… Whether they want to be one or not.
The reason this is bollocks, is because it removes the aspect of choice.
The Dark Neopagan author, Konstantinos, effectively modified the definition in his Nocturnal Witchcraft series in order to clear up some of this confusion. He added a qualifier to the end of Crowley’s definition which, when paraphrased, added the following line to the end:
‘… in ways that would otherwise be unchangeable’.
This seems like a reasonable reform, and it does get rid of the absurd ‘everyone’s a witch’ angle. But as a working definition, it’s scarcely an improvement – it doesn’t resolve properly because it doesn’t define the ‘otherwise’. Because witches and warlocks deal so heavily with this ‘otherwise’, it’s an important aspect to nail down properly! What Konstantinos also doesn’t achieve is to clear up the misunderstanding that properly trained occultists are tearing their hair out at my failure to address yet.
To understand Crowley’s definition of magic, you need to first understand his magical system and the very specific choice of words. Going through this bit by bit is worthwhile.
‘Magick is the science and art…’
Okay, so, note the ‘k’ – Crowley was the first to use this suffix, in an attempt to differentiate his practice from the illusions of a card-sharp. This means he’s specifically talking about his own system, and we know that it was a more rigid version of occultism than most witches and warlocks would be comfortable with today. His time with Freemasonry and the Golden Dawn, prior to him forming the Abbey of Thelema, are a clear enough indication of what this tradition was.
Secondly, Crowley described magic as both a science AND an art, two practices that are opposites to one another. Even universities split their degrees up in accordance with the delta. Science is the practice of proving absolutes via experiments with repeatable and observable results. Art, on the other hand, is about freedom of expression and relaying your personal interpretation of perfection.
But are the two compatible?
Well, yes; in this context, they are. Self-expression through ritual approach is an artistic endeavour, but those rituals should have predictable, prescribed and repeatable results. Crowley is saying that his system does this and, thus, that his definition of such is justified. But what of the second half of his definition?
‘… of causing change in conformity with the Will’.
Witchcraft already has issues with the first half of the definition, but the second looks clear enough – change things to be the way you will, or want, them to be. Easy-peasy. Except Crowley wasn’t talking about the conscious will that modern witches and warlocks are talking about. He’s describing the subconscious or ‘true’ will, the will of the soul or spirit and its alchemical attempt to reconnect with divinity. It’s an invocation of a deep issue relating to philosophy and spirituality (which he expands upon in ‘The Book of the Law’), not an attempt to pay the rent or get a bit more cash to buy a car.
And if you want me to abridge my point?
It’s that simply using Crowley’s definition, without understanding what he was talking about, is pointless. Let’s be clear about why.
First of all, Witchcraft isn’t a science. At all. It’s not interested in prescribed, repeatable results – it’s interested in freedom of expression and leaving results in the hands of the balance factor. It’s about creating your own spells and rituals, using your own pantheons and traditions, and utilising what inspires you most at any given stage. It is of course, therefore, an art and a means of self-indulgence.
Secondly, Witchcraft is far more interested in working with divinity than many of its modern practitioners are willing to accept. In our unique appreciation of the Summerland, we can fully aggregate the nature of reality with what we want out of it. Self-development is absolutely fundamental in magic, because that’s the only way to make change permanent rather than merely superficial.
Feel free to ignore those who are talking about ‘spells for a new car’. This laughable approach is the sign of the chump, hobbyist or magical tourist. It’s right to ridicule it. Only in becoming better people, with better ambitions and relationships, can the magical life of Witchcraft really have meaning. It’s this goal, to fulfill a destiny of your choosing, that should preoccupy your magical workings.
So do we, as members of the Aeonic tradition, have a better definition of magic?
As it so happens, yes, I believe so. Try this on for size:
‘Magic is the art of causing internal change, in order to influence external events’.
Believe me when I tell you this: becoming the person you want to be, with the right immediate reality, makes all the other tumblers of the magical combination lock fall into place. Becoming what you want attracts what you need. Happiness or success aren’t goals, they’re side effects of living a fulfilling life or applying the right systems.
All other attempts at superficial change are doomed to abject failure.
Source: The definition of magic.