Magic: Is It Another Four Letter Word?

December 29, 2008 by  
Filed under experimental, magick, theory

Magic: Is It Another Four Letter Word?

In my most recent article for Reality Sandwich, “Magic: It’s More Than Just Finding Parking Spaces,” I discussed the stigmas or problem issues that surround the use of the word “magic” and the subculture of the occult, and I pointed out that until these stigmas are dealt with decisively, magic will never be rehabilitated. One commenter pointed out that it might be easier to say, “willful intentionality,” instead of saying, “magic,” because of all the baggage associated with the word. This leads me to ask, “Is magic another four letter word?”

Within the occult subculture, it could be argued that magic isn’t a four letter word, but I’m reminded of a recent incident where I overheard a description of a social networking meetup for local occultists. “We get together and hang out. We’ll talk about our jobs, or something fun we want to do, or plan when we’re going to go out and dance. We don’t about magic or any of the magical work we’re doing.” The passion that this was exclaimed with and the emphasis placed on not discussing magic at the meet up demonstrated an odd kind of attitude about magic, even from people who practiced it. It was as if people who came to such an event shouldn’t discuss magic, because it has no place in everyday life. Magic had become a four letter word.

While there is a lot of baggage associated with magic, another question I asked in the aforementioned article was about what the benefits of magic are, and in light of that question, I am going to use this article to address what those benefits are and why we shouldn’t treat “magic” as a four letter word.

One of the benefits of magic is that it provides access to alternate ways of knowing, ways of experiencing reality that fall outside the conventional approaches, such as religion, materialism, or science. Alternate ways of knowing incorporate techniques such as chemognosis, meditation, sex magic, ritual magic, energy work, but can also draw on disciplines outside of magic. The recent focus on semiotics and memetics is an example of practices from non-occult disciplines that have influenced magical practice.

Another benefit of magic is that it provides access to a variety of resources that fall outside the traditional spectrum of reality which we’re conditioned to believe in. These resources can include gods, angels, and demons, but also include cultivating our natural gifts, which may fall into disuse if not cultivated. A non-linear awareness of space/time, or the conscious manipulation of the physiology of the body is an example of accessing resources that fall outside the traditional spectrum of reality, but another example can be the intentional use of writing or collages to shape reality in a particular manner. By conventional standards, it would be argued that writing can’t directly shape reality. However, there are plenty of cases where writing has shaped a person’s life or events. William S. Burroughs and Ernest Hemingway are two examples; one knowingly did it and the other didn’t, with tragic consequences for him.

Magic also provides a person the opportunity to find answers to the spiritual questions s/he asks. Praying to a god is one way to find the answer, but the magician can also create the answer by his or her own efforts as well. And magic isn’t applied only to spiritual questions, but also to the practical concerns that can arise in living life. Utilizing magic to help you through a financial rough time or for healing a disease would be an example of a practical concern.

One could argue that everything I’ve mentioned above could be filed under “willful intentionality,” but would most people even understand that or know what “willful intentionality” meant? Certainly magic has its baggage and is sometimes a four letter word, but there are many associations with it that are positive. Many people have benefited from practicing magic and incorporating it into their lives. And many people, including yours truly, are proud to talk about magic with others, as well as practice it daily, instead of attempting to treat it as something you only deal with during special events or holidays.

Willful intentionality doesn’t have the negative associations, but it doesn’t have the positive associations, either. Another comment made to the aforementioned article was that if we were going to rehabilitate magic, it’s not a question of rehabilitating the term; it’s about rehabilitating how that term is used. I think this is an accurate point to make, and yet also a semantic one, because really what it points to is the need to rehabilitate the varied definitions of magic. Certainly, examining the definitions is important. It provides us an idea of how people understand the term as well as their own agenda for defining it in a particular way. But the application and processes also need to be considered carefully. When we do that, we aren’t just looking at magic from an abstract perspective, but also considering it from an experiential understanding of it.

Magic isn’t a four letter word. But how it’s been used and how it is understood has not always portrayed it in the best light. There is a lot of cultural and religious baggage associated with the word and even though it is marginally more acceptable now than it used to be, magic may not ever be free of that baggage. This may not matter to the occult subculture at all, but it does matter if we ever choose to take the concepts and practices of magic and present them to a more mainstream audience. At that point, “willful intentionality” may be the best choice of words to explain how those concepts work (or not, as I don’t think magic is just about an application of will and intent), but in the process we will have to lay out many of the underlying assumptions and beliefs inherent within the word “magic.” It makes for a semantic challenge, but also necessarily may force us to consider anew just what the benefits of magic are, as we share them with a broader audience than just the occult subculture.

Taylor Ellwood is the author of Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body, and Pop Culture Magick, among other works. You can visit his blog at and his website at

©2008 by Taylor Ellwood
Edited by Sheta Kaey

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6 Responses to “Magic: Is It Another Four Letter Word?”

  1. Of COURSE ‘magic’ isn’t a four-letter word! It’s a five-letter one! *smirk*

    That said–I think ‘willful intentionality’ is just plain silly. In fact, I would define ‘willful intentionality’ as magic itself! What a good alternate definition, but isn’t ‘magic’ just easier to say?

    I think the issue boils down also with the vast amount of fruitcakes and fluffbunnies who use the word. It’s as if people don’t want to be associated with it anymore–but that certainly won’t stop people like myself, who live and breathe magic into everyday life, and not just when the fancy strikes me, or just during some ritual.

    Shin “Solo” Cynikos’s last blog post..The Relic Hound

    • Thanks for commenting! We don’t have comment notifications ironed out yet, so I’ll have to inform Taylor of your comment.

      So, how do you define “fruitcake” and “fluffbunny”?

      • Hey there! Thanks a lot for passing along!

        As for your question, I would define them as more the real far-out newagey types, or the kiddy-types that get involved in magic because it’s something cool or something convenient to solve little problems–the ones that seem to get the more press, arg, if I’m making any sense *g*

        *chuckle* actually, this reminds me of a quote from Stephen Grasso’s ‘Learning To Open The Haunted Kaleidoscope’ from Generation Hex:

        “The London scene was filled with what I call ‘Doley Crowleys,’ funny-looking geezers in black clothes trying to start the Aeon of Horus out of a bedsit in Hackney, masturbating furiously over a series of lines drawn on a post-it note to make their unemployment benefit come through more quickly. There were too many beardy pagan guys sitting around in pubs singing empty hymns to a nonspecific Goddess with all the passion and Gnostic rapture of a village green church choir. Too many socially marginalized people for whom magic and paganism seemed to function as more of a support group than anything else. A shared comfort zone that provided a sense of empowerment and community but, for the most part, seemed to have precious little to do with magic, with the mysteries, with getting things done.
        (Emphasis mine)

        I hope that helped clear things up a bit *g* Great job on the website btw, it looks real awesome.

        Git ‘ir done!


        Shin “Solo” Cynikos’s last blog post..The Relic Hound

  2. J says:

    I used to be in a wiccan coven for a number of years, with alot of ceremonial ritual. The amount of politics and crap that goes on in covens is highly destructive and not conducive to spiritual growth, even one that has its links back to the ‘modern forefathers’. Further, attend a wiccan conference and the fluff of new age nutters who are really just trying to get laid and score some drugs comes right out. I think it is the latter that gives it a bad name, the former that makes people try it and then move on.

    Fitting magic into daily life isn’t as easy as it used to be, with the pace of life making it more difficult to bring people together to practice magic and share learnings – work 10+ hour days, get to the gym, time with the kids and what’s left is 1/2 hour to an hour a day. Someone needs to bring magic into the 21st century, cutting away the dross for the gems, making it accessible and meaningful rather than the clutter that exists in the main today. Showing people that the energy exists and how to work with it does not require learning 20 pages of ritual but a commitment to learn how to use it and harmonise with it. Bardon for all his critics is the best contemporary magician of our time – at least insofar as book 1 goes – if you did half the exercises in initiation into hermetics for a year you would be a heck of a magician.

    • Sheta Kaey says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m sorry that Taylor hasn’t been by to respond. I agree that working within groups can be more trouble than it’s worth, especially considering the demands on our time in the average day. But working alone, while it lacks the immediate feedback of group working, enables us to leave the “map” behind and forge our own trails in the “territory.” Perhaps you should start a group of your own with focus on Bardon and energy working?

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