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The Role of Practice in 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.

Practice should be consistent, but also should be something that you are open to changing as you progress as a magician. Your practice is dynamic, a process that allows you to employ the principles of magic, while also being something that you can change as needed, in order to utilize those principles more effective. Your process should allow you to not only experience it, but also become it, for it is an embodiment of your practice, something that defines your identity and your relationship to the universe.

Practice, in context to theory, is the demonstration of the theory and the repeated experimentation and application of that theory to yourself and the world around you. There is no practice that doesn't have some kind of theory that informs it. Theory is not just an intellectualization of the practice (unless no practice is performed) but rather is the blueprint of the practice, and so it informs the practice because it provides an explanation of how the practice ought to work. However the magician must always be willing to challenge the theory and does so by doing the work and observing whether or not the theory accurately describes the reality that is experienced. A magician that doesn't challenge his/her own theories has fallen into dogma, which causes a static unquestioning that leads to stagnation in his/her magical practice.

Practice is only meaningful through the choice to do it, and I think that practice defines magic moreso than theory does, but we use theory to explain our practices, share them with others, hopefully with the idea that they will test our theories by the use of practice and in the process perhaps even change the theory because of what is discovered. In a sense practice is the application of the curiosity of theory, while theory is the description of the practical application of that curiosity to the universe, and the various forces within the universe that one could interact with.

What does practice mean to you? How do you embody it in your life and how do you apply it to theory and conversely how do you apply theory to practice?

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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments. He is also the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. Taylor lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two kids, as well as 7 cats.

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