Magic and Science
Magic and science have long been strange bedfellows. Their histories are interwoven, much like the histories of magic and religion, although the story is not as widely known. Many magicians have been scientists; many scientists, magicians. At times, the line between the two seems blurred, unless viewed through the scientific lens of today. This rather furtive love affair has continued well into the present day, where magicians will borrow heavily from scientific findings to prove that their magical worldview is scientifically tenable. However, there are two interesting factors in this relationship. First, science rarely borrows from the realms of magic to prove the existence of its worldview. Second, there are very few magicians who are actively engaged in the front lines of science. It seems that most read the popular accounts of science, then begin making connections. Most magicians will claim that they practice magic as a pursuit of knowledge and power, or at least knowledge. Science has proven its effectiveness in both of these areas; we have learned a tremendous amount of information regarding the universe, and science has given us power to control the universe to a large extent. Thus, it would only seem natural that magicians would seize the opportunity to learn about the universe they hope to understand and affect.
In the past, many magicians, whose names have become legendary, were not only interested in science, but pioneers in the field. These figures regarded magic and science as complementary, not adversarial. Their desire was to understand the universe, not play ideological or emotional politics (although, of course, many found themselves engaged in such activities). Thus, magic and science were considered different aspects of a single reality, and as such, both contributed to the knowledge of that reality. Paracelsus is a prime example. As an alchemist, he felt that the true purpose of alchemy was to create medicines that could lead to a better, longer life. He is credited with giving birth to the science of pharmaceuticals. Alchemy itself had named many of the elements that the science of chemistry would later use in its investigation of the universe. John Dee, who is remarkably well known in the occult and magical communities, was engaged in navigation and mathematics, in addition to the more well-known espionage connections. The Neoplatonists of the Renaissance were often involved in science, either through investigation, like Dee, or by patronizing scientists. Aleister Crowley related a lifelong love of science, which he claimed to have “sacrificed to the altar of magick.” Despite this he maintained a keen eye toward scientific advancements, and often touted the worth of science. Plato himself laid the foundations for the integration of science and magic; he proposed that reality is composed of two Worlds, the World of the ideal, perfect Forms, and the World of the imperfect Things. According to Plato, the means whereby one may apprehend the World of Forms is through their “shadows” in the World of Things.
Many people of a magical, or otherwise spiritual or religious bent, decry the exclusive materialism of the new scientific worldview. The fact that many, supposedly due to the scientific worldview, ridicule or marginalize any type of spirituality (with the possible exception of orthodox Christianity) often leads to a distrust of or enmity toward science in general. Thus, magicians seem to find themselves in the position of using the findings of science to “keep up” in the world of ideas. Quantum physics is one such branch of science that has been used extensively in conjunction with magical ideas; psychology is another. However, as we’ve seen, this split between magic and science is not inherent in these two systems of knowledge. What is needed is a wider acceptance of science and magic as two means of observing, categorizing, understanding, and controlling the same reality.
The world as we know it is ripe for such a change. We live in an era where the rate of technological advancements rise exponentially each year, where values either shift daily or become embittered political parties, where the world constantly swings between global prosperity and global economic meltdown, where the very planet that sustains us may be our demise. As far as the sciences are concerned, they are booming. We are witnessing the development of new technologies almost daily, with advancements in computers, biotechnology, and the tantalizing promises of nanotechnology. As literacy and scientific knowledge spreads across the world, more and more young people are taking up the challenge. Likewise, there are perhaps more magicians in the world than ever before. Magicians are able to openly profess their practices and beliefs, and there are entire sections in mainstream bookstores dedicated to “New Age” or “Metaphysical Studies.” A simple web search will yield vast amounts of magical lore, from our ancient predecessors to modern-day practitioners. The number of organizations dedicated to the practice of magic is greater than ever before. Some maintain the old ways, others look to new ways to bring magic to ever greater heights of sophistication. Magic is studied extensively in universities, and more and more academics are beginning to see the value of magic. In this storm of chaos, those with clear eyes can see the seed of potential. Humanity is in a position to redefine our position in the cosmos, and our relation to it, much as happened in the Renaissance period before us.
Whenever two human cultures begin to interact, whether through trade, exploration, or warfare, there is always an exchange of ideas. This exchange is sometimes mutually beneficial, such as those between Spain and China as facilitated by Marco Polo, sometimes destructive to one culture, such as the colonization of North America by the Europeans, and the persecution of the Native Americans. Regardless, an exchange occurs on some level. This exchange often leads to new and more empowering worldviews. With magic and science, we have two cultures, one of magicians, one of scientists. With these come to distinct worldviews. Magicians generally see humanity as a key player in the cosmos, whether its perfection or co-creator, with the universe as a place of mystery and wonder. Scientists generally see man as an unusually intelligent creature, no more a creator in the cosmos than the simplest archaea, and the cosmos as a massive clock with strange, quantum irregularities. If these two cultures, and their attendant worldviews, were to merge, with the trailblazers of science being simultaneously the trailblazers of magic, the resultant worldview could be extraordinary. It would be foolish, however, to expect scientists to initiate this merger. Science, as a worldview, holds sway currently in the West. Thus, it is up to magicians to begin this transformation of human knowledge and perception. If it were to be any other way, then magicians would not deserve that title.
©2010 by Alexander.
Edited by Sheta Kaey