25 January 2021

Magick vs. Magical Thinking

 There are many things that separate effective magickal practitioners from mediocre ones, but it’s not necessarily the things that immediately come to mind.  It’s not about having the shiniest crystals, an abundance of rare herbs, or the stamina to stay up into the wee hours of the night to do a spell at the *exact* auspicious moment.  It’s about understanding.  One of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of what makes a great practitioner is a full understanding of the difference between magick and magical thinking.  

Magick, as defined by Aleister Crowley, is "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will."  More concretely, performing magick is when a practitioner has an intention that they deliberately charge with focussed energy and then direct to a target in the world to manifest that intention.  For example, a simple act of magick would be to hold a small candle while focusing on improving luck for oneself, allowing that focussed energy to flow into the candle, and then lighting the candle so that it releases that energy into the world to manifest better luck.  Real magick is the work of raising energy, tuning it to an intention, and then directing it to a target to create change.  

Magical thinking is believing that one event happens as a result of another without a reasonable link of causation.  They key words there are: “reasonable link of causation.”  When someone plants a seed and then a plant grows from that seed, there is an obvious link of causation between the act of planting and the subsequent plant growth.  Whe, someone plants a seed and suddenly a car backfires down the road, there is no reasonable link of causation between the planting and the car backfiring.  If someone were to believe that the act of planting a seed could make a car backfire, that would be magical thinking, as the two occurrences have nothing to do with one another.  A classic example of magical thinking is a sports fan believing that their team cannot win unless that fan wears their lucky socks.  Of the myriad factors that influence the outcome of a sports match, what one fan sitting at home has on their feet cannot “reasonably” be counted among them.  

On the surface it’s easy to blur the lines between magick and magical thinking.  They both involve something far removed from a situation being attributed with influencing the outcome of  that situation.  The distinction lies in what constitutes a “reasonable link of causation.”  Let’s return to our sports fan.  In the magickal thinking example, the sports fan simply puts on their lucky socks and watches the game.  There is no effort to set an intention, raise energy in any way, or to direct it (beyond shouting at the television).  Absolutely nothing about that behaviour can reasonably be seen as having a causal link to the outcome of the game.  However, if that sports fan were to deliberately set an intention for their team to play their very best and have good luck, raise energy to charge those lucky socks with that intention, and then wear them and use watching the game as a mechanism to send that intention to the team; that would be magick.  Magick requires effort to create a causal link, magical thinking does not.  Magick is a way of working towards achieving a goal, magical thinking is wanting something and just expecting the universe to give it to you.

To further muddy the waters, it is possible to employ magical thinking while actually practicing magick.  This is most often seen in the grandiosity of what a practitioner aims for in their workings.  Expecting to manifest a laptop out of thin air with a mere incantation is magical thinking.  Yes, the practice of magick takes the view that nothing is impossible, but that doesn’t mean that magick is limitless.  Real magick is about nudging probabilities; making the possible more likely.  An effective working to find a new job might involve something to help you find the best jobs to apply to or making your resume more attractive to recruiters; simply lighting a candle while taking no mundane actions to find a job is unlikely to manifest the result you desire.  Magical thinking is believing that magick will do all the work for you while you sit back and have a latte.  Magick is work and it requires a lot from the practitioner to be truly effective.  It goes back to the “reasonable link of causation” idea.  Subtle energetic manipulations (a.k.a. magick) can reasonably make subtle energetic shifts, such as nudging something from a 85% probability to an 87% probability.  Such acts cannot reasonably nudge probabilities to change from 10% to 100%.  Sure, there are long term spells that can achieve monumental results, but they’re doing so one tiny achievable step at a time.  If you want to change your life, magick can help you determine which actions to take, strengthen your will to enact the changes, even weaken obstacles in your path, but it cannot make all the changes for you - you will not do a spell and simply wake up a different person the next day.  

Magick is a wondrous and empowering tool to help you achieve your goals.  However, just as buying fancy knives and a toque won’t instantly make you an expert chef, simply reading a few words from a book while wanting something won’t make it yours.  True magick requires deliberate and palpable effort and can only deliver something reasonably attainable. View your magicks as a support to your mundane actions, rather than substitutes for them.  Think rationally about what you want, do what mundane actions you can to bring your desires to fruition, and then do magick to push your efforts over the line.  Do this and you will avoid the trap of magical thinking and only do true magick.