In Defense of the Practice of Magic
You don’t have to practice magic to be a good pagan. In fact, you can theoretically go your entire life without casting a spell or performing a magical rite.
However, over the years I’ve seen a recurrence in the idea that not practicing magic is the superior decision. The general attitude seems to be somewhere along the lines of “I don’t practice magic—I just use mundane solutions instead of wasting my time!” A variation on this is “You’re not supposed to work magic for mundane and/or selfish purposes”. And there’s even “Don’t work magic when you don’t need to—you don’t want to overburden the gods!” I’ve also heard the sentiment that “Magic is a crutch, and if you think you need it then you’re too dependent on it”.
I would imagine that the roots of these attitudes are embedded in the fact that when some newbies to paganism are first getting started, they’re totally enamored of the idea of casting spells and whatnot. They get the idea that magic can solve all of their problems, and so dive right in. For them, religion is something they learn about later, only after the shiny newness of “I’m a witch!” wears off, and they get a little better idea of what paganism is about besides magic.
Since this is so common among newcomers, I would guess that at least some people who exhibit anti-magic attitudes are doing so in order to seem more experienced and mature. It resembles, in my mind, the child who puts his/her toys aside in an attempt to seem more grown-up.
This isn’t to say that everyone who doesn’t practice magic is just posturing. However, I’d like to address the attitudes that I’ve mentioned.
–I don’t practice magic—I just use mundane solutions instead of wasting my time
Okay, admittedly you don’t want to only use magic to get something done in this world. The clichéd example is the job seeker who casts a spell but then doesn’t go out and job hunt, instead waiting for work to miraculously fall into his/her lap. However, magic is a tool that can be used to augment mundane actions.
A well-executed ritual can increase the probability of success in mundane affairs. Don’t view the magic as something separate from your “real world” efforts; rather, see them all as complementary to each other.
Magic isn’t some detached, spooky force with no bearing on physical reality. Rather, it’s a practice that involves seemingly casual events joined together to create change. Whether you see this as manipulating invisible energies, asking for help from the Divine, or simply changing your psychological outlook on a particular issue, it has just as much relevance to everyday life as any mundane activities.
The methods and mechanics of magic may not be as obvious or as widely accepted, but I don’t see them as being superior or inferior to mundane actions.
— You’re not supposed to work magic for mundane and/or selfish purposes
I’m not sure where this one came from. If you look at magic throughout history, it has primarily been used for everyday issues affecting the individual. Whether that individual worked the magic him/herself or asked someone else to do so, practical magic for common problems has been prevalent for quite some time.
A study of folklore, witchcraft and related topics throughout history shows an abundance of spells and charms for love, money, health and other such concerns. While there’s also been plenty of magic designed to help the individual ascend to higher planes of reality, there’s no denying the strong interest in cultures around the world in using magic to make this reality better to live in.
And that includes “selfish” magic.
If you have a headache, you take a painkiller of some sort. If you need money, you find a better job or take out a loan. If you’re lonely, you find people to hang out with. What’s wrong with using magic to augment these things? The “no selfish magic” idea strikes me as rather Puritanical, not to mention incredibly impractical.
I’m assuming that if you’re not supposed to do magic for yourself, you instead work it for others. How are you supposed to help other people if your life is a mess? Would you get financial advice from a broker who was declaring bankruptcy? How about relationship advice from someone who’s been through eight divorces in ten years?
No one has ever been able to give me a solid reason why it’s such a bad thing to work magic on my own behalf; people who are going to be selfish to the point of harming others are going to be that way regardless of whether they have access to magic or not.
I also don’t fool myself into thinking that denying myself automatically makes me a more virtuous person. Personally, if I’m going to make the conscious effort to improve my life, I’m going to use every tool at my disposal, which includes magic. Which brings me to the final point I’d like to address…
— Don’t work magic when you don’t need to—you don’t want to overburden the gods
For some people, magic is inextricably bound to spirituality. When they cast a spell or otherwise work magic, they expect that some deity or spirit is going to make the magic work for them. With such a belief, I can see why they might want to avoid asking too much of the entities they work with. Granted, it’s quite possible for someone of a dependent nature to get to the point where s/he feels that s/he can’t do anything without divine intervention, but this is an extreme case.
Magic doesn’t have to involve deities and spirits if you don’t want it to. We’re quite capable of working magic by our own wills. If you’re that concerned that you’re asking too much of your deities, then just do the work yourself.
I’ve found, from my own experience, that the spirits I work with the most (totem animals in particular) actually appreciate it when I put forth the effort myself to the best of my ability. They know that if I do call on them for help, it’s because I really need it. “The Gods help those who help themselves”.
— Magic is a crutch, and if you think you need it then you’re too dependent on it
Anything can be a crutch if you allow it to be. Yes, there are the people who think that magic alone will solve any problems they have (even though they continue to have those same problems). However, this shouldn’t be taken as proof that magic itself is more likely to become a crutch than, say, religious fundamentalism.
I’ve known pagans who allowed their spiritual beliefs to completely take over their lives (without the practice of magic, mind you). People can get obsessed about literally anything; it doesn’t necessarily mean that what they’re obsessed over is what’s at fault.
Those of who practice magic on a regular basis aren’t necessarily obsessed. I practice magic because it’s beneficial, and because I really enjoy the experience. I can act quite well without it; I don’t cast a spell for every single thing in my day. But it’s an effective method of furthering my actions, and I use it when I think it’s warranted. If I find that it’s warranted on a regular basis, that doesn’t make me obsessed. It just makes me a magician.
In the end, it’s a personal choice. If you don’t want to work magic, that’s fine. Nobody’s forcing you. And for some people, it’s just not a necessary part of their lives. However, I really recommend against looking down on those of us who do work magic on a regular basis.
I’ve been able to use it to improve my life (along with mundane actions) in numerous ways, and intend to continue to do so. I believe that there’s absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to be happy, and I certainly don’t think it’s selfish to want that.