Do you believe in magic? Is magic real, or imagination? Trickery or the manifestation of some unseen, powerful force of nature? You might be undecided or feel strongly one way or another about magic, but ever since J.K. Rowlings made Harry Potter a household word, magic means big business.
A good place to begin, is with a discussion of what magic is, and what it isn’t. Magic is the manifestation of something our senses tell us can’t be real. The cause may be a magician’s slight of hand or clever illusion, but the effect upon our sense of reality is unmistakable. Surprise, disbelief and amazement are typical reactions. A truly original illusion will “wow” the audience, although there’s sure to find an occasional scoffer in the crowd.
Magic is far more than illusion, however. How far back it goes into human history is unknown, but it certainly has its roots in tribal shamanism. Today, magic can be defined as The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature. Many people believe that magic exists in many forms, including black and white magic, spells, charms, voodoo, witchcraft and the conjuring of spirits. Some believers consider magic as an ever-present natural force with the ability to transcend the ordinary “laws of nature.”
But it’s a long way from voodoo and shamanism to the fantastic magic of today and the road hasn’t always been pretty. Shamanism naturally gave way to polytheism with powerful priests with secret practices and rituals. In most parts of the world, poly-theism yielded to monotheism and organized religion. Organized religions aren’t impervious to disagreement, however, and schisms over religious dogma occurred resulting in the multi-theistic world of today.
Alchemy, the pseudoscientific precursor to chemistry originating in medieval times, moved magic along for a century or two. Alchemists were the shamans of the natural world during a dark age. Seeking to understand the elements of nature, their discoveries led to the science of chemistry, which has plenty of magic in its own right. At the same time that alchemy was making strides, religion took a dark turn, largely spurred on by Puritanical thought, and witchcraft became magic’s manifestation among men and women.
The idea and motivation behind witchcraft, was that healing, cursing (revenge), love, sex, luck, fore-knowledge, and wealth could be affected in a natural way, if one only knew the right things to say and do. Secret powers were sought and believed to exist in the form of amulets, talisman, wands, charms and mystical symbols. Notoriously, potions and poisons were created in the witch’s brew,in the same manner that alchemists sought to turn mercury into gold.
Some of these beliefs go back to the dawn of man’s existence, born from fear, ignorance, fantasy and superstition. Nevertheless, they came into being and many are still being employed in this modern era of science, mathematics, and enlightenment. Songs and chants became incantations, magic words and magic spells. Magic spells and words, recitation of words or sounds believed to have a magical effect, derived from ancient and forgotten languages, can serve many purposes, including individual protection and deflection of another’s spells.
In modern consciousness, magic, and perhaps witchcraft, have the additional benefit of projectable force, or telekinetics. Magical force is mysterious in origin and always unseen, unlike magnetic or electrical forces. It can be enabled and transmitted by different means such as magic wands or a magician’s staff, although it can also be effected merely by pointing a finger, hand, or, in some extreme cases, through the eye. Belief in this form of extra-dimensional force has been cultivated through ouija boards, suspended needles and strings, and unconscious writing.
Regardless in how one feels, believes or disbelieves in such things, the power of imagination and story are manifest in magic, or perhaps vice-versa. Modern mythology has given rise to several powerful, imaginative classical stories that have captured the imagination of millions. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Ring, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Star Wars have each rendered an indelible mark on our common human imagination. These stories are a lasting a tribute to the creative powers of their authors. Without their magic and the willingness of people to suspend belief in reality, they might otherwise be just another fairy tale.