High Magic, Low Magic: Designations Help Define Our Styles
I personally find designations handy. They express no limit, only a specialization. It certainly helps you anticipate how easily you can work with another and how your styles and knowledge will mesh. I know, for example, that I don’t usually get on well with high magicians, or Iron John style wizards. That’s darn handy to know when someone tells me that he is a necromancer and a cabbalist.
As I label myself a ReClaimist, matriarchal, bardic green witch, most of you will have an idea of what I am currently working on, where my knowledge areas lie, what my focus is, and how I express my spirituality. That doesn’t mean I’ll stay like that forever, or that I’m not interested in other forms of worship, but it certainly makes it easier for us to find others of the same style. Rather like nametags at a convention.
I not only see no harm in it, I encourage folks to find a useful label for their personal style practice. Makes them feel more validated, too, especially when they are first starting out.
High magic is usually the term for what the wizards do. It’s rather like a Catholic mass, with all the ritual words in a sacred language, pomp and finery, ordained divine conduits, and strict adherence to detail. The power in high magic comes from without… the great universal energy that is harnessed by the correct performance of the ritual itself, with some measure from the performer (s) , but not much. They are mostly lending energy for the conduction of the spell to take place, which is why there is such an emphasis on hierarchy in high magic. It is vital that the ceremony be followed exactly with the correct people taking care of their assigned functions. The more powerful as spell, the less room for error.
The big draw for this kind of magic is that it offers a great deal of power in a relatively short period of time, but with a corresponding danger level as you ascend. The goal is to eventually control and submit the entire Universe. Nearly all wizards are male, white, and have terrible ego issues. They are usually still at the age where they feel invulnerable, since it’s required that you eventually wrestle with demons, for example, and incur the wrath of extra dimensional entities by enslaving them or their friends. It is often spelt with a ‘k’ to delineate it from low magic. Wizards find that sort of window dressing appealing.
Low magic is usually what witches do. Its goal is to make you one with the Universe, and therefore blissful, content, wise, with all your needs provided for. To unleash and accept your Goddess within, which is the same as the Goddess without, by giving full release to your Goddess self. This means that much attention is paid to your own instinct and the answers that are right for you, as your Goddess cannot ever be wrong, you just have to get better at hearing her. So our spells are more like mediation, sometimes with helpful symbols or foci like incense, statues, herbs, and other paraphernalia.
Most experienced witches don’t bother with it, however, unless they are trying to working on something much harder than usual. To effect change in the Universe, we try to use the Butterfly effect, to tug on the string of the Great Weave that will most affect the change we want. In trying to find the string, we learn how the Universe works and so increase our wisdom. And the Universe is vast, so She often can’t get to something as quick as She’d like.
It is therefore our job as Her representatives to draw her attention to inequities by blessing those who need it, to injustices by cursing those who deserve it, and other maintenance of the Continuum, thereby increasing our understanding and interaction with it.
Wicca is like high magic for witches. It calls upon the spirits and entities in a very ritualized format with specific assignments to the members, but primarily uses the inner energies of the group or individual to do the prescribed task. There is therefore no backlash if done incorrectly. But they do seem very fond of their accoutrements…
Most women choose the style of Low magic because it is more like their usual style of being: persuading and joining, rather than controlling. The sex of the practitioner doesn’t enter into it, other than gender training in their culture helping them have certain inclinations… That explains the overwhelming majority of practitioners in the Middle Ages being clergy. They often went into the priesthood for reasons OTHER than piety, like power and wealth, they were learned, and they had access to all sorts of magical formula, arcane materials, etc. So High magic, or ceremonial magic, was almost entirely Christian and clerical in the Middle Ages.
It is indeed all the same power. However, I can cure myself, clean my house, or get rid of my weeds and insects in my garden through chemicals created in a lab, or I can use chemicals in herbs and natural liquids. Some are just as dangerous to the environment, and myself but most aren’t.
Chemicals, like magic, are all made of the same components essentially but how they inter-react and perform is completely variable depending on how they were generated and used. They can be naturally gentle and persuading, or they can be artificially harsh, brutal, and destructive.
I’m sure most of you have heard of the phrase “As above, so below”. Only one interpretation is rendered as “As in Heaven, so it happens down here.” Another, more widely used and helpful meaning is “Change or events Outside affect the Internal, and vise versa.” ‘High’ in the case of magic means ‘external’, ‘low’ means ‘internal’. ONLY when hierarchy becomes so predominate in this culture, and High implies more powerful, and consequently more male, does High and Low magic take on some connotations that some people today take umbrage with. It’s not a personal insult to our style.
Now. When was the last time any of you enslaved a demon, deity, or angel to unwillingly do your bidding? How about binding your local ghosts, fairies, and spirits as your personal gophers? I don’t remember when it was that I forced the dead to come back in an unquiet rest to speak about the secrets of the Universe… High magic involves the use of formula and ritual to achieve just such dog collars on the Powers of the Universe. It isn’t the end in and of itself. The spell is usually to DO something, but it is the elemental being that figures out how to achieve the goal.
This kind of style offers much to recommend it to those that want a lot of power fast. Sure, High magicians have to keep their will focused on the spell for it to work, but only for the ritual itself. For the results of the spell to be efficacious, it doesn’t have to be PERSONAL, internal power that is bringing it about. That’s what the Harnesses of the Universe are for, like Jewish magic squares, Keys of Solomon, which can energize, activate, and execute many different kinds of spells simply by being performed correctly. However, the perils increase correspondingly.
I’ve seen a young wizard tell me that Hunters from the sprit world are stalking him, and we did a little complex ritual around a lamppost to confuse them so they can’t follow. I mean, I never saw them, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there, so I won’t doubt his word. Much. But I’ll tell you. I’ve never done anything in my magic work to invoke their wrath in the first place.
I am not comparing levels of power here. A very experienced or instinctive witch who is close to the Warp and Weft of the Universe can indeed stop a storm with a thought. Unfortunately, that takes a great deal of Enlightenment to reach that point, so most of us don’t get there in a hurry, if ever. Now, it takes a wizard of far less experience, personal power, and self-mastery to achieve the same ends by going through the rigmarole to capture the power of the Storm God and just fire away or let Him do the work. It’s not easy, but it’s a hellova lot easier than becoming one with the Forces of a Hurricane and personally knowing on an unconscious level what strings to pull.
With these kind of benefits attached to High magic, including the hierarchy, the feeling of mastery and the practice of invincibility, it’s no wonder that most wizards are men. But there is no such thing as a free lunch. Most powers that are so bound in High magic are not only interested in becoming Unbound as soon as possible, they would also like to wreak revenge on the mortals who dared to commit such an atrocity.
Which is why my little wizard friend was almost PROUD at the Things following him. The quality of a wizard is told by the quality of his enemies, after all… I don’t know of many women who have the same disregard for personal safety as many men do, either, btw…
Now, the next time any of you try to harness the Angel of Life and Death to cure yourself of cancer by invoking the Necronomacon and creating a doorway to Hell in your closet, rather than simply lighting a candle and envisioning the cancer going away, then you can tell me that High magic and Low magic are the same.
You must admit, the first one, if done correctly, has a much greater probability of curing you quickly and permanently, but so much can go wrong. The latter requires a deeply Enlightened, experienced, or otherwise powerful witch, and you might not be able to find one before you croak, but at least you don’t have to worry about your relatives falling through to the Second Circle when they put their coats away at your wake.