A proposed categorization of magical terminology

In an excellent essay entitled, “The New Old Paganism”, Ronald Hutton reviews the history of “magic” as a concept among academicians.  Starting with James Frazer, magic was defined in contradistinction to religion, the latter consisting of petitioning supernatural powers for favors and praising them, the former consisting of human manipulation of supernatural powers.  Later, Ruth Benedict posited a continuum on which both religion and magic exist.  Magic continued thereafter to be distinguished by “the concrete specificity of its goals, a manipulative attitude, [and] an instrumental character”.  In 1970, Dorothy Hammond suggested that magic should be included within religion as one type of religious practice, and contrasted not with religion, but with prayer, sacrifice, etc.

Following Hammond, I offer the following tentative definitions which attempt to distinguish certain magico-religious practices based on whether the goal of the practice is to effect an objective change in the world or a subjective change in oneself. These are listed in an order the degree of their instrumental character.  Those practices that seek only subjective change, as well as non-instrumental religious practices, are arguably not incompatible with modern science.

Forms of Magic that Purport to Effect Objective Change

“Practical magic”: Manipulation of supernatural forces to effect a change in the material universe.  Like technology, magic is in essence, an imposition of human will on the natural world, the only difference being that supernatural, rather than natural, forces are used.  As I explained in my previous post, by “supernatural”, I mean those forces which are not recognized by the natural sciences.

“Thaumaturgy”: Commanding divine powers or otherwise exerting human will over divinity in order to effect a change in the material universe; miracle working; using religious means to achieve magical (practical) ends.

“Supplication” (I): Petitioning divine powers to intercede on behalf of the petitioner to effect a change in the material universe.  This may take the form of a pure request (i.e., prayer) or a proposal of an exchange (sacrifice, offering, vow, etc.).

Forms of Magic that Purport to Effect Objective OR Subjective Change

“Invocation”: Drawing down or inviting divinity or deity into oneself.  This includes various forms of aspecting, assumption of godforms, and possession.  According to Ronald Hutton, invocation, is the “central act of pagan witchcraft”.  One might wonder why it is necessary to “invoke” a pantheistic Goddess that is already always present.  The answer is that the early Wiccan Goddess was not conceived pantheistically.  Graham Harvey tries to reconcile this discrepancy by explaining that “invocation allows that which is already immanent, innate and incarnate to be seen, revealed and experienced. […] The Goddess becomes manifestly obvious.”  Thus, the Goddess, although present, was latent, and becomes manifest through “invocation”.

Forms of Magic that Purport to Effect Subjective Change

“Theurgy”: Commanding divine powers or otherwise exerting human will over divine powers in order to effect a spiritual change in the practitioner; using magical means to achieve religious ends.

“Supplication” (II): Petitioning divine powers to intercede on behalf of the petitioner to effect a change in the psychological or spiritual state of the practitioner, or a request for information (i.e., about the future; divination).  This may take the form of a pure request (i.e., prayer) or a proposal of an exchange (sacrifice, offering, vow, etc.).

“Mysticism”: Techniques for achieving union with ultimate reality, with or without divine aid.

“Evocation”: Calling up the divine powers from within oneself, for the purpose of psychological integration or spiritual evolution.   According to Ellwood and Partin, “Evocation, calling up the gods from within the self, is true magic.” Gordon Melton contrasts evocation and invocation: “The object of invocation is a mystical oneness with the gods, and invocation is the basis religious act common to almost all religious traditions.  Evocation is a confrontation of the magician with the magical forces within him/herself.”  The Wiccan “Charge of the Goddess” is the self-revelation of the Neopagan Goddess and is arguably the culmination of the Wiccan rite.  In so far as it concludes the following declaration, “if that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without”, it implies that the Goddess is found within, not without, and that Wiccan “invocation” is really an “evocation”.  The recognition of the divinity within is arguably the central insight of Neopaganism, as expressed in the greeting/mantra of the Church of All Worlds: “Thou Art God, Thou Art Goddess.”

“Consecration”: Drawing down or inviting divine powers to consecrate or sanctify (make sacred) a person, place, thing or time.  According to Ronald Hutton, the quintessential action of modern paganism is “consecration, the treatment of people, places, and objects in such a way as to make them seem more spiritually powerful, effective, and significant.”

“Enchantment”: Techniques to achieve a transformation of consciousness to include an expanded awareness of our participation in or connection with the natural world.  This is the sense in which Morris Berman wrote about “the re-enchantment of the world” and Thomas Moore writes about “the re-enchantment of everyday life”.

Forms of Magic(?) that Purport to Effect No Change

“Non-instrumental religious practices”:  Religious practices that do not seek to effect any change, but seek to celebrate, praise, express devotion to, or awe or reverence of, or to heighten awareness of some aspect of the material or immaterial world.  Examples include some forms of celebratory forms of paganism or hymns and prayers of praise, adoration, or devotion.  It may be questionable to call these practices “magic” since they do not seek to change anything.

This schema is a work in progress.  I welcome any thoughts.

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  • http://humanisticpaganism.wordpress.com B. T. Newberg

    Fantastic! This is useful. :-)

    I’ve always been muddy on the distinction between invocation and evocation. The sources I’ve found all contradict each other.

    Btw, there might be a typo in the following (I think you might have intended the opposite of what you said):
    >Like technology, magic is in essence, an imposition of human will on the natural world, the only difference being that natural, rather than supernatural, forces are used.

    I think you mean that technology uses natural forces and magic supernatural, but since “magic” is the subject, it actually says the opposite. :-(

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Thanks. I’ll remedy that. As always, you are as good an editor as you are a writer!

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      “I’ve always been muddy on the distinction between invocation and evocation. The sources I’ve found all contradict each other.”

      Yeah, I’ve seen them switched too. I think my choice is etymologically correct. We speak of evoking emotions, bringing something “up” from “inside” us. And when we invoke a memory of someone, something we bring them from somewhere else to here, making them present.

  • http://Brendanmyers.net Brendan Myers

    Can you provide a link to the Hutton essay please?

  • Dave

    “Those practices that seek only subjective change … are arguably not incompatible with modern science.”

    I question whether you aren’t privileging your own beliefs with this assertion. Just because a claim is subjective does not mean it is automatically compatible with a scientific world view. Many “magical” practices taken up by the Pagan community are likened to psychotherapy, and even the practices which make objective claims, often qualified claims at that, are said to have “psychological” benefits “if nothing else”. I also don’t need to tell you how many Pagan authors compare magic to psychology, often going so far as to describe it as a superior form of psychology and/or psychotherapy.

    The problem with these claims is that they rely upon the perceived subjectivity of psychological processes. Their actual claim(s) however are often of an objective nature. For example, “do this magical practice and achieve psychological integration” is an objective claim because it claims to effect the psychological health of the individual in question. Arguments against “psychological integration” as a scientific concept notwithstanding. Then you have strong scientific arguments for psychological processes having biological underpinnings. Strangely I’ve seen this dismissed out of hand as “reductive” more often than embraced as a celebration of sacred immanence.

    While it is true that psychological processes are experienced subjectively, it is also true that we can measure psychological processes with a high degree of scientific rigor. Additionally, because our psychological processes may be understood as a product of our biological processes this would seem to serve further evidence to place psychological claims squarely in objective territory. I wonder if magical practices were subjected to an appropriate form of testing if they would be found to be as effective as they are claimed to be in terms of psychological effects/benefits? Any experts in psychometrics out there in Pagandom?

    Other than that quibble very much in agreement with your treatment of magic as practiced by the Pagan community. Personally, much of it I would hesitate to call “magic” and place it either in the categories of “religion” or “politics”, mostly politics, but much the same could be said of Pagan “spirituality” in my opinion. On the whole, well done my friend.

    Cheers,

    Dave

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Dave: You have a good point. This taxonomy definitely reflects my own biases. You raise an interesting issue about the meaning of the terms “subjective” and “objective”, and it has taken me some time to work out what I meant. You have a point that psychological integration may be measurable in some way. But I don’t think that makes it “objective”. I think you’re talking about three different things: objectivity, measurability, and materiality. They are all separate things.
      When I say “subjective”, I mean an individual’s experience of something. When I say objective, I mean the thing in itself, separated from our experience of it. I don’t want to get into a Kantian discussion about the impossibility of knowing a thing in itself, but practically speaking, we have a shared understanding that there are some things that people will experience more or less the same regardless of mood or temperament, i.e., physical objects in the world — which I call “objective”; whereas there are other things which only the person experiencing them knows directly and other people discover indirectly, i.e., thoughts and emotions — which I call “subjective”. There might not be a bright line between these things, but it is a distinction most people accept for practical purposes.
      Measurability and materiality are distinct categories. Emotions are subjective, even though they can be measured (indirectly through blood pressure etc. or through self-reporting) and even though they are based in biological processes (hormones etc.).
      I suggested that magic intended to cause “subjective” change may be more compatible with science not because these things are immaterial or unmeasurable (though they are more difficult to measure) — but because some scientific studies do seem to support the subjective benefits of these forms of “magic” (i.e., the effects of prayer on wellness); whereas this is a lot more dubious when it comes to what I called “objective” change. And regardless of whether prayer etc. actually lowers one’s blood pressure for example, subjectively speaking people report benefits that they experience internally.
      Let me know your thoughts. I’m obviously still working through this.

      • Dave

        O.K. So part of my original comment was in response to your post and part of it was in response to how magic is treated as equal to or greater than psychology and/or psychotherapy by many in the Pagan community. Additionally, coincidentally being beneficial for your blood pressure is not the same thing as say, moving past immature behavior to grow into a more well adjusted person – assuming that was the objective. That is not a condemnation of a useful side effect, that’s merely pointing out that it is a unintentional side effect. And, personally, if that – was – the objective I’d much rather a person seek out psychotherapy or even life coaching than turn to “magic” per se. So that part of my complaint is not so much a grievance I have with you specifically as with the community in general.

        I think maybe “psychological integration” wasn’t the best example for a couple of reasons. First of all I don’t believe there actually is such a thing. I’ll come back to that in a moment. Second, it’s a very broad term which has the potential to be many things to many people. This leads to my major concern that the “subjective effects” oriented magic has just as much – if not more – potential for abuse than the “objective effects” oriented magic. It seems to me much more likely that an “enlightenment” could become a excuse for abusive actions and become much more of a serious problem than the sincere belief that one can conjure fireballs or control the weather. Additionally, for me “psychological integration” is a concept which differentiates mind and brain when I do not believe such a differentiation exists. Further, it suggests a natural “brokenness” of the human mind, which when taken together with the mind as separate from the brain, is curiously reminiscent of a human soul in need of “salvation” or in this case “individuation”. At least that’s my reaction. YMMV.

        You make some great points about definitions and terminology. I think probably I wasn’t specific enough about what I really meant in my initial comment. I completely agree with you about the difference between things we can know that are outside of ourselves and our subjective experiences – thoughts, emotions, etc. What I was trying to get across was not that subjective experiences were objective – they’re not – or that we should consider them objective because they are emergent properties of underlying neurological substrates – we shouldn’t – no, what I was trying to advocate for was a greater degree of intersubjective verification – objectivity seems not as appropriate – when it comes to whether or not our magic is – actually – functioning as a tool for self-development as we often say it is. Obviously there is substantially less rigor involved in that than in science and less call for rigorous testing of “personal growth” claims than “therapeutic intervention” claims. I also realize you were speaking more to the former and less to the latter. Finally, I also agree that such objectives and principles are not, necessarily, in conflict with a scientific world view.

        For my part I freely admit my initial response – and likely this one to a high degree – was very much colored by my own biases in this area. I groan whenever I hear Pagans make assertions that essentially amount to psychology is whatever your imagination wants it to be. Particularly when these assertions come in the same breath as such pearls of wisdom as “quantum consciousness”. I have little doubt that my research would be rejected out of hand by every one of my colleagues if they knew I self-identified as a Pagan. I don’t like what that says about my religion nor my discipline but there it is. Oh and for further clarification – I’m perfectly fine with people practicing however they want and if they say they get some kind of benefit out of doing whatever it is they’re doing I’m inclined to take them at their word. I just need more confirmation if I am to believe likewise.

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          “I have little doubt that my research would be rejected out of hand by every one of my colleagues if they knew I self-identified as a Pagan.”
          Dave, what is your field?

          “part of it was in response to how magic is treated as equal to or greater than psychology and/or psychotherapy by many in the Pagan community.”
          I agree that psychology is used by many Pagan writers as a kind of explanation than explains nothing, in a similar fashion to how they invoke quantum mechanics and field theory. It’s a kind of “magic in the gaps” theory. Thus psychology is invoked as an excuse to not have to explain or prove anything. They leave the logos off the psyche-, so to speak.

          “I’d much rather a person seek out psychotherapy or even life coaching than turn to ‘magic’ per se.”
          If by “magic” we mean simply ritualistic behavior that affects the person’s unconscious in a healthy way, then I would prefer the “magical” solution. I’d rather see people solving their own problems.

          “‘psychological integration’ is a concept which differentiates mind and brain when I do not believe such a differentiation exists. Further, it suggests a natural ‘brokenness’ of the human mind, which when taken together with the mind as separate from the brain, is curiously reminiscent of a human soul in need of “salvation” or in this case ‘individuation’.”
          That’s interesting. I think James Hillman would agree with you. He also associated the concept of integration with the Christian concept of salvation, as well as the modernist drive for a unified theory of everything. But I don’t see how the concept differentiates mind and brain. As I understand it, the theory is that the mind is not unified and there are parts of the mind beyond our conscious control. Integration seeks to bring these disparate parts into a functional whole.
          I have zero clinical or scientific evidence to back this theory up, but it has been a powerful idea in my own experience. When I was a Christian, I felt a perpetual and cyclical sense of powerlessness and self-loathing. One day, I as reading Paul Tillich’s *Systematic Theology* and I came across these words: “Freedom is the possibility of a total and centered act of personality, and act in which all the drives and influences which constitute the destiny of man are brought into the centered unity of a decision.” These words were like a revelation: I realized that my sense of powerlessness derived from the fact that some parts of me were trying to overpower others. The result was sense of division in the core of who I was, which is a recipe for powerlessness and low self-esteem. I realized that personal power comes not from conquering the unruly parts of oneself, but by integrating them, finding a place and time to treat each as sacred.
          When I discovered Neopaganism, I saw it as a religion built on this concept. As Robert Ellwood and Harry Partin write in their book *Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America*:
          “As Neo-Pagans understand it, the Judaeo-Christian tradition teaches that the human intellectual will is to have dominion over the world, and over the unruly lesser parts of the human psyche, as it, in turn, is to be subordinate to the One God and his will. The Neo-Pagans hold that, on the contrary, we must cooperate with nature and its deep forces on a basis of reverence and exchange.”
          As with nature, so with the psyche.
          I don’t know if psychological integration is “real”, but is has been a powerful idea for me and helped me to grow in ways that I see as healthy. For what it’s worth.

          • Dave

            I am a cognitive neuroscientist. My trepidation regarding my identification as Pagan is something of a complex issue, I can explain further if you wish. Suffice it to say that religious scientists are often regarded with suspicion and when one’s primary research interests relate to consciousness one does what one can to avoid accusations of “woo”.

            “If by “magic” we mean simply ritualistic behavior that affects the person’s unconscious in a healthy way, then I would prefer the “magical” solution. I’d rather see people solving their own problems.”

            Assuming that it – actually – had that effect then no, I don’t have a problem with it. I’d want to make sure that it did, but I realize everyone’s burden of proof for that kind of thing is different and as long as it’s not hindering people from getting help when they – need – it I don’t I have a problem with it. I also don’t think that it’s necessary or necessarily preferable that people “solve their own problems”. Getting help when you don’t need it but “just” want it is not shameful. I’d like to see positive psychology (in the sense of a psychology for “normal” people) develop further along those lines and not leave the job up to self-help gurus but I realize valid alternatives exist and I’m O.K. with that – I just want claims of help to be actual help.

            “But I don’t see how the concept differentiates mind and brain.”

            I understand how it can be interpreted in such a way that mind and brain are not differentiated between. It has been my experience however, that much of the discourse on the subject makes that implication and even theorizes based on it. Like I attempted to convey though, that’s only been my experience.

            “As I understand it, the theory is that the mind is not unified and there are parts of the mind beyond our conscious control. Integration seeks to bring these disparate parts into a functional whole”

            I would question the ability of the theory to achieve its stated goals if those goals are not actually reached according to the mechanisms of the theory. It would seem at best beneficent coincidence while also being inherently self-deceptive. I do not foresee extraordinarily negative outcomes from such a situation but I would rather practice a method of personal growth with confidence in its explanations. And, again, if that confidence is reached for its practitioners via apparently consistent results and/or understanding the theory as a useful metaphor whether or not actually true, I don’t see a practical problem with that per se.

            I can certainly commiserate with your experience of a theory being useful whether it was true or not. In my case I would call it a myth rather than a theory – and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. For my part, I examined Jungian theory at one point but turned away from it not because of its departure from convention but because for my own mind it offered very little insight. It was later, in my studies, that I discovered heavy criticisms of Jungian thought offered by a variety of different groups with what was, for me, unsatisfactory rebuttals from the Jungian community. And I realize individuation is a concept that exists outside of Jungian thought. I don’t personally find it any more useful there either I’m afraid.

            As for why I am Pagan, I came in through the backdoor in a way. Initially I was an occultist and psychonaut and I came into first contact with Paganism via the Discordian and Chaos Magic communities whom I discovered in the writings of Robert Anton Wilson. I’ve since moved on from all of that but it was foundational enough to my process in deconverting from the cult I was raised in (I really am a cult survivor btw, not just taking a stab at Christianity) that I was sufficiently taken with the idea of polytheism to explore it in practice. From there I found my way to Druidry via my love of the Irish gods and my not-love for reconstructionism. Bonewits’ sense of humor and his groups proximity to my apartment sealed the deal – at least at the time. As I said on Drew’s page I’m wondering if Pagan is still an appropriate identity for me, it seems to include so much I find so little value in. I appreciate our conversations here John and it wasn’t my intention to derail your post – I do agree with your categorization of magic as it is practiced within greater Pagandom.

  • http://thefirstdark.wordpress.com thefirstdark

    Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light.

  • http://deryckrj.wordpress.com deryckrj

    This is an interesting study, thanks for sharing. I would just add, with regards to the distinction between evocation and invocation, that in a strictly Wiccan sense you must do the former so that you may achieve the latter. In order to become connected with the Divine itself, one must first recognise and connect with that essential part of oneself. There are ways to invoke various specific spirits that do not require evocation, but if we’re talking about invoking Deity then it’s just not possible without being able to draw upon that part of you that is essentially divine. Whilst Wiccan deities are conceived as pantheistic (for the most part, some consider them panentheistic) I don’t think it’s accurate to describe them as “latent” until they are invoked. Pantheistic gods simply “be”, rather than exist in some state of “being”. I think that distinction between what lies within and what lies without is pretty fundamental to spiritual practice. In some respects it’s in closing the gap between the two that implies some kind of “progress”. How readily we can evoke our godliness determines how effectively we can invoke Theirs.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      deryckrj:
      Thanks, that gives me a lot of food for thought and probably deserves a post of its own. Do you have any references you can suggest for me to draw on in developing this idea that one has to connect with the divine within before drawing down the divinity without?

      • http://deryckrj.wordpress.com deryckrj

        I’m afraid my primary reference is my own experience but there’s bound to be something in the bookshelf here to back me up… I hope…

  • http://www.educatedsavage.com Educated Savage

    Just a comment to give compliments! I think you’ve done a bang up job here and, personally, I have no complaints. I’m going to try to remember the terms you’ve used in future discussion.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      Thanks so much!

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