The continuum between magic and prayer

On a discussion thread where the topics of miracles, magic, and sacraments had come up, I recently posted the following:

I’m one of the people who uses magic in a sort-of sacramental sense, so I’ll take a stab at chiming in on that. I should say up front that my description of my understanding is in no way representative of the larger Pagan or Wiccan communities or an attempt to speak for them; my understanding of magic in the religious/holy sense is still evolving and is not entirely clear yet; and, also, I use the word magic in overlapping but distinct ways which I may or may not be able to communicate clearly and which are tied up with my complex and sometimes seemingly self-contradictory theaology. With that said, deep breath…

To me, doing magic is on the other end of a continuum from prayer. Basically, when I believed in a non-immanent deity, prayer made sense because I directed my intention/request to the deity, whom I was asking to intervene in the universe. When I began to believe in deity as an immanent force or spirit, it began to make sense that instead of going “outside” to ask deity to intervene, I could also go directly to the aspect/fragment/upthrusting of deity inside whatever I wanted changed, and ask it to change, directly. In that sense, doing “magic”, or a spell, becomes basically an acted-out prayer. I also think of this in terms of communicating with the subconscious and/or collective unconscious through things like symbolic action, including movement, chant, color, shape, scent, fire, etc. Today, I feel comfortable moving back and forth on that continuum: sometimes I pray; sometimes I do magic; sometimes I do things that are at various points in between, which are magic that also includes the involvement of overarching deity (understood sort of in the sense of the “mind” of the spirit which is immanent in everything).

So yes, magic is an act of focusing will and intent on a specific outcome, and it can use folk magic or other techniques as a kind of spiritual/unconscious technology. And it can also involve relationships with specific personalities of the divine, depending on the exact purpose and my extant relationships. I also use the term magic in a slightly different sense to describe some things that I experience without me willing them, which are part of my relationship with deity, and to describe the spiritual component of meaning that I ascribe to such nifty things as seeds sprouting and the sun rising after the winter solstice and so on. Those are magic, or maybe more precisely, magical, in a sense related to the magic that I do, which is just part of the larger magic that there is something rather than nothing. As someone commented upthread, just because it has an explanation doesn’t mean it’s not magic. Magical understanding or meaning is something in addition to scientific understanding, not in conflict with it.

(This is a very short intro that I hope to expand on in future posts, but I thought it served as a good introduction.)

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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