What is Magic?

“What is magic?” is probably the most asked question I get. And it isn’t the easiest question to answer. Even though I have spent over half my life studying, learning and practising magic, I still struggle to come up with a precise, clear and concise definition that people can easily understand. That said, let’s start with some simple definitions and build up to a more comprehensive definition that encompasses most aspects of the discipline.

Firstly, magic is both an art and a science. It is probably the oldest science although its true history is lost in the mists of time. We can certainly trace magical practice back to the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. The ancient Egyptians themselves said that their lineage goes back to the lost continent of Atlantis, an ancient high civilisation that had, at its peak, perfected the art and science of magic and used it for the betterment of its citizens. In later times of Atlantis, the priests who practised magic became corrupted with their power and eventually Atlantis sunk beneath the waves in a series of great cataclysms.

Magic is the ability to use the power of our mind, linked to the unseen powers of the inner worlds, to create changes in physical, manifested reality. These changes can of be any form – healing, manifesting things, attracting people, changing the weather, etc. They can also be “bad” things such as cursing people, causing harm to people and projects, etc. It isn’t magic that is bad, it is only what people do with it that is good or bad.

So, let’s drill down a little further. What do we mean by the “power of our mind” and what do we mean by “inner worlds?”

The “power of our mind” is the ability to use concentrated attention with laser-like focus to visualise and imagine a specific outcome or set of outcomes. This ability to do this creates an energised thoughtform which, given enough attention, can be empowered and energised. It is important to understand that our imagination and “inner worlds” are all connected. Like Carl Jung’s notion of a collective unconscious, in magical terms we call this the astral plane. This is a non-physical realm of existence, of consciousness, that we are all, permanently connected to. The lower areas of the astral plane are the dream worlds and the upper levels of the astral are places of great teaching and inspiration.

Essentially, thoughtforms have a reality of their own on the lower levels of the astral plane. Usually though we don’t put much energy into our thoughts, so eventually the thoughtforms dissipate and disappear as there is no energy to sustain them. However, if we intentionally and consciously feed these thoughtforms with energy, eventually they will take physical form; that is, they will manifest in physical reality. This is magic at work.

Magical ritual is simply a process whereby the combined power of a group of people can be harnessed to highly charge or empower a thoughtform that is created by the group. This can significantly increase the chances that the thoughtform will manifest in physical reality, the more energy and attention being given to the thoughtform the more likely and the more quickly it will manifest.

The astral plane is only one level of existence in these inner worlds. It is the level of existence closest to the physical manifested world. The physical world is the densest and therefore has the lowest level of vibration or frequency. Next up the frequency level is the astral plane and its various subdivisions, and above that there are higher levels of existence. These inner planes are populated by many different beings; fairies, gnomes, sylphs, salamanders, angels, archangels, gods and goddesses to name but a few. Each of these types of beings exist at a specific frequency level. For example, the astral is the realm of fairies, gnomes, etc., whereas the higher planes are the home to archangels, gods and goddesses.

Taking this one step further, it is possible to enlist the help of certain denizens of these ‘inner worlds” to further empower our thoughtform and increase the likelihood of it manifesting. This is where the various magical traditions come into play. If we are working in the Egyptian tradition, we will contact and invoke the help of various members of the Egyptian Pantheon. If we are working Greek magic we will do the same with the Greek Gods, and if we are working angelic magic we will call upon the help of angelic beings and archangels.

So, laser-like focus on a specific, clear and imagined goal or outcome (the thoughtform), combined with the power of a group and supported by the help of inner plane beings can significantly enhance the probability of this outcome or thoughtform manifesting. This is the essence of practical magic.

Many great magicians and occultists have defined magic, and three of the best known definitions are by Aleister Crowley, S.L. MacGregor Mathers and Francis Barrett:

“Magick is the Art and Science of causing changes to occur in conformity with will.”

Aleister Crowley, Order Templi Orientis (OTO)

“Magic is the science of the control of the secret forces of nature”

L. MacGregor Mathers, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

“Magic is a comprehensive knowledge of all nature.”

Francis Barret, author of “The Magus” (1801)

These definitions are hard to make sense of on their own, but when taken in context of the above narrative, they start to make sense and you can understand their meaning because you understand the context in which they have been written. There is a maxim in the art and science of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) that says “There is no content in content worth knowing; all meaning is context dependent.” I trust that, now you have the context you can make sense of the meaning!

Dr. Andy Cooper is the Director of Studies of the Helios School of Esoteric Science.