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What Do We Mean by “Magic?”

By John Halstead

[Snip] Magic is a vague term that has been used to describe a wide array of cultural practices, from sleight of hand (legedermain) to summoning demons, from healing with herbs to divination from the entrails of animals, from calling down pagan deities to prayers to a monotheistic god for blessings. In fact, the term is so vague as to be virtually useless, except to raise controversy. Nevertheless, since “magic” seems inexorably intertwined with Paganism, I will attempt to unpack the term here.

The term “magic” is used in at least four different ways by Pagan authors. First, “magic” is used to describe practices which seek to project the magician’s will on the natural world by supernatural or occult means. (By “supernatural”, I mean those means which are not recognized by the natural sciences. By “occult”, I mean those means which are hidden from positivistic science.) Second, “magic” is used to express the feminist reclamation of women’s willpower (either symbolically or in practice). Third, “magic” is used to describe a form of psychotherapy that involves religious symbolism and ritual. Finally, “magic” is used to describe a “re-enchantment” of the world, meaning an expanded consciousness of the radically interconnected world of which we are a part.

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