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Magic, Science, Religion
and Art

It’s hard to separate magic and religion because through most of human history they’ve been very intertwined. Of course, until the last few centuries everything has been connected to religion and spiritual beliefs—it’s just that magic has never really separated, at least not in the minds of most people, who tend to think of both magic and religion as dealing with non-material (some would say non-real) aspects of the world.

However, in some ways, magic is more akin to science, or perhaps to technology; for magic, like technology, tries to use knowledge of the way the world works to manipulate it. Religion and spirituality, on the other hand, have to do with worshiping or honoring a god or gods or goddesses.

Religion asks and petitions and loves and honors. Magic tries to make things happen by using specific words and actions.

Sometimes magic masquerades as religion. Have you ever listened to one of those evangelical radio or TV shows where you are offered (with your freely given donation) a special cross or other symbol that will bring you God’s blessing? Or sometimes even more specifically: material good fortune. (Note, I am not saying that all evangelical shows are like this, just that I’ve seen some that are.)

Umm, this sounds like magic to me. To wear a cross, a pentacle, a Star of David or other symbol as a sign of your belief is one thing. But to think that a specific rendition of this symbol has somehow been activated to bring good fortune or blessings on the holder is something else entirely. It also seems uncomfortably like trying to manipulate God: Wear this pendant and God will bless you, whether He wants to or not.

You can combine religion and magic—the most obvious way is to pray that your magic will work or to ask for God’s blessing on what you are doing. But is this really any different from praying for help or blessing in any other endeavor? Of course, we don’t pray every time we turn on a light switch or start our car or computer (although some of us may do the latter if we’ve been having problems!), because we expect these things to work. But when we’re doing something we’re unsure about, where there are factors that are beyond our control, the tendency is to ask God for help. Since we don’t know enough about magic for it to have the surety of flipping a light switch, prayer seems a natural companion.

I believe it’s important to remember that magic and spells are different from religion and prayer. When you pray, you’re asking: please Holy One, do this. When you do a spell, you’re telling: I’m putting this and this and this together and I expect to get this result.

This is just the same as mixing red and blue paint and expecting to get green, or programming a computer to add 2 and 2 and expecting to get four. But magic deals with many things we don’t really understand yet, so we’re not sure what to put together to get the result we want. And just like 0+4, 1+3, 2+2 (not to mention 5-1, 2*2 and other possibilities) all give an answer of 4, there will often be many ways to get the same results. Serious modern day magical practitioners, like scientists, keep extensive notes where they keep track of every possible thing that could contribute to the success or failure of a spell.

Because so much is unknown and so much can contribute to the final result, magic could also be thought of as an art rather than (or in addition to) a science. Something like cooking or music or computer programming, all of which rest on basic scientific/mathematical knowledge about the way things work—but to be really good at any of them you need something that goes beyond the mere knowledge of the principles.

Magic as science/technology. Magic as art. I plan to explore these ideas on MoonLily, so please send your thoughts. Especially welcome are descriptions and/or comparisons of the magic in magic-as-science sf/fantasy worlds. I’d also like your own personal ideas of how magic might work—either in our own reality or a fictional one. And yes, personal experiences are wanted!

Last updated Thu, Dec 19, 2002

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