My friends and acquaintances sometimes tease me by saying things
like, "Can't you just do a spell to fix this problem?" "Don't you have a
crystal ball to give you the answer?"
My friends are joking, mostly. Of course they would kind of like it if I did have a crystal ball to give them the answers; but they know these stereotyped ideas about witchcraft and magic don't apply to my practices. However, I've also heard these comments from acquaintances who actually don't quite understand the problem with this reasoning. So I'd like to spell it out (no pun intended).
Common beliefs about magic assume that magic is a "supernatural" power which can counteract or reverse the laws of nature. This belief can be found in a wide variety of places, from the popular 1950's movie Bell, Book, and Candle to the sociological and anthropological literature on witchcraft and magic. (This is particularly true about studies of magic and witchcraft in indigenous societies, but it also holds true for many studies of modern witchcraft, for example Tanya Luhrmann's Persuasions of the Witch's Craft.) Given this belief, it makes sense that people want to know why I don't have a spell to solve every problem. If magic trumps physics, chemistry, economics, and sociology, I certainly ought to be able to get myself an apartment, find out who's going to win the next horse race, and (with enough effort) produce world peace.
The thing is that magic(k), as Witches understand it, is not a supernatural power. It is a natural power which allows us to create change in the world. This ability to create change occurs only in the context of other natural laws and powers (like gravity and conservation of mass), as well as cultural patterns. For example, economic and sociological influences, although culturally specific, are constantly affecting our lives and are certainly forces to be respected.
This doesn't mean that magick only works psychologically and cannot affect the external world. It does mean that magick is more effective when it does not contradict major natural laws or cultural forces. For example, trying to influence the outcome of the next election doesn't violate any natural laws, but it puts you up against some strongly entrenched political and economic forces. Trying to turn a traffic light from green to red (a la The Craft) doesn't have major cultural ramifications, but it does go against natural laws of electricity.
Alternately, doing magick to find a job as a social worker, when I have a master's degree in social work, does not go against any natural laws, and it doesn't contradict our cultural beliefs and economic practices related to social work. Your magick is more likely to be effective if it meets these conditions.
I'm not sure about the boundaries of this interface - at what point it becomes impossible to influence events which are already shaped by natural laws and cultural forces. And I don't believe it is wrong to try to influence these events, although magick may not always be the best way to do so. But it's important to keep in mind that in magick - as in every other area of our lives - we are not all-powerful.
The bottom line: Magick is natural, not supernatural, and it is only one force among many.
(More on magick here).
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