What does it mean to practice magic?
If you read today’s books on magic, it seems like little more than wishful thinking. Concentrate really hard on what you want… make sure you have the right incense.
Positive thinking has a certain degree of usefulness, but it’s a far cry from magic.
Magic can be neatly defined as the use of ritual and ceremony to effect changes in the world around you.
This is different from religion. Religion also uses ritual and ceremony, but only in certain ways. A religious ritual might ask the gods for something – a dramatized version of prayer – but magical ceremony makes it happen.
How exactly this works is one of the best questions people ask.
The Force is a Lie
When people think of magic, they think of something supernatural. An unknowable, invisible force that can’t even be studied. Strictly speaking, “supernatural” means something that breaks or defies the laws of physics.
This is a very Hollywood idea of magic.
Traditional theories of magic often suggest natural explanations – explanations that rely on the laws of physics and can be studied. A good example is the Tibetan technique known as tumo. According to tradition, tumo is a way of conjuring heat. Tumo masters can walk around in the snowy Himalayas without any protective clothing. Heat radiates off of them.
And how exactly do Tibetan magicians explain this? Do they think their gods give them this power, or that the Buddha is protecting them?
Not exactly. They explain tumo in terms of their medical theory. In traditional Tibetan medicine, there are pathways of wind throughout the body. When you breathe in and out you force air through these pathways. Fresh air had been observed to fan flames, making a fire hotter; thus, they reasoned that if you focused these winds you could fan the flames of your own inner fire, producing more heat.
This explanation is complete bullshit, and totally wrong. However, it’s important to notice: it’s factually wrong, but it attempted to give a scientific, material explanation for how the magic works.
When scientists from the Harvard Medical School tested tumo practitioners, they discovered it works.
A Realistic Approach
In my opinion, these are the very best systems. Can a magical ceremony have a tangible effect? Of course it can. Magic can change lives, unite or part lovers, provoke or end periods of success, even kill people. Magic is a force capable of forcing dramatic change. But it does this through material, explainable means.
My school of magic is pragmatic. Take the best that tradition has to offer, hone it as a personal art, and don’t believe in horseshit. It’s amazing how much you can do when you focus on your art and stop trying to dazzle people with grand theories.
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