Recently Ivo Dominguez Jr published a thought provoking article where he discussed the lack of the literacy in magic in today's Pagans. While I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of what he had to say (I've observed in the past that there is an increasing amount of emphasis on removing magic from Paganism because it makes Paganism less acceptable to the mainstream*), I also found his use of the word literacy problematic, and by extension it caused me to re-examine his article and some of my agreement with the article in a different light. As a result, I think it worthwhile to examine the concept of the literacy of magic, both in relationship to the word literacy and its variety of meanings, and also in context to the practice of magic vs the "literacy" of magic, which I'll argue are not one and the same (in part 2 of this series). In fact, part of the issue I have with the use of the word literacy is that conjures up the armchair magician, a person has read a lot of books on magic, but has done little, if anything, with that magical knowledge. I would locate the armchair magician on the opposite end of the illiterate Pagan (at least as that illiteracy applies to magic). However, as we'll see, it's simplistic to categorize anyone as literate or illiterate, because literacy itself is a loaded term.
The other day a student from the Process of Magic class told me that she was working on the first homework assignment, which asks the student to tell me what their definition of magic is and why they've chosen that definition. She'd answered the first part, but asked me: "Why do you ask why?" I quipped "Why not" but then proceeded to explain why the question why is so important not only in magic, but in any subject you are trying to learn. In my opinion, if you can't answer the question why it indicates that you don't understand what you would be explaining to the person. For example, going back to the question of why a person has chosen a particular definition of magic, simply offering the definition isn't enough, if s/he can't explain how s/he arrived at that definition of magic. When you define something like magic, you are either defining it based off your personal experience, using someone else's definition, or a combination of the two, wherein your experiences seem to confirm the definition that someone else has offered.
One of the problems I have with how the average occultist or pagan defines magic is that all too often the definition offered is someone else's. Crowley's definition of magic, for example, is often used to explain what that person conceives of as what magic is. The problem, in my opinion, is that there is a tendency to accept this definition without asking why. The same applies to any other definition of magic that is offered up without the person questioning the definition. A definition of magic, or anything else for that matter only really becomes relevant when you can explain why that definition is important to you, in context to your own experiences. Simply expressing what something is doesn't demonstrate true understanding of it, until you can explain why the definition is meaningful to you.
Another reason to ask why is that why necessarily helps you to uncover the positives and negatives of a given definition. Any definition brings with it the baggage and agendas of the person who created the definition. Thus when we use another person's definition we are also using all the associated baggage and agendas that come with that definition. Asking why allows you to examine a given definition carefully and explore what makes it what it is, and ask whether that really fits your needs. Definitions are ultimately words used to describe how something ought to work and/or exist, and as such they are far less tangible then we sometimes think. A definition of magic is ultimately just words used to describe how you think magic ought to work...so why not ask why and actually test the definition to see if it has any validity to it. By doing so you can determine if the definition really applies, or if you need to develop one of your own that better fits your experiences....
I've experimented with magic from almost the beginning of my magical practice. When I've tried techniques that other people have developed, I've always had one question in the back of my mind: How can I improve on this technique? Even with my own techniques, I am always interested in experimenting with them and improving on how the process of magic works. I thought it might be interesting to share on here how I experiment with magic and how you can, in turn, also experiment with magic.
In my previous post I discussed the role of the theory in magic. In this post I want to unpack the word practice and consider what it really means to practice magic or practice spirituality. The word practice originates from Praxis, which roughly translate to taking action. Practice also refers to any activity that people do. When practice is applied to spirituality it can be thought of as a set of activities a person does in order to cultivate spiritual development (ideally physical and mental development as well). A practice moves a person along a path toward a goal, whether it is spiritual union or the practical realization of something you need. Practice is a central concept of magic and Paganism. One of the questions you might ask a fellow pagan is: "What magic do you practice?"
Without practice magic is just an academic discussion over tea with someone. There are many would-be magicians who love to discuss magic and have lots of books. Reading those books and discussing the concepts is not the practice of magic. I'd argue that such a person can't really even know what magic is because s/he hasn't experienced magic. And that's what practice is supposed to do. It's supposed to provide us with experiences that occur as a result of doing activities. Practice is the implementation of the magical process, the choice to do something in order to change your relationship with the world, spirit, or whatever else you are practicing magic for.
Practice is defined by the goals that we create around it. There is no magical practice that does not have some kind of goal, some kind of end result in mind. Whether you are seeking divine union with a deity or doing a practical magic working to solve a problem in your life, your practice is defined not just by the activity itself but also by the result. This makes it rather interesting because we are told not to lust for results and yet results are central toward defining the practice of magic. The solution to this dilemma is the choice to define the result and make it part of your practice while also not obsessing about the actual experience of the result. In other words, you need to know what the result is, but you also need to allow yourself to be open to the experience as it actually occurs, instead of fixating on how you think it should occur....