What Is Socially Responsible Magic?

What Is Socially Responsible Magic? June 11, 2014


I’m a magical experimenter. To me, experimentation with magic isn’t just developing new techniques or finding ways to connect magic to cultural studies or neuroscience (though those are fascinating subjects in themselves). Experimentation with magic also explores the role of magic in out society, and asks how magic stays relevant with the changing times. To that end, one of the facets of magic I’m interested in is how magic is used in a socially responsible manner for the good of society, or at least for the good of the communities that believe in and integrate magic into their spiritual and religious practices performatively.

Lately I’ve been thinking about so-called high magic and low magic, or what is also known as theurgy and thaumaturgy. Theurgy is considered high magic, magic done to commune with the divine, work with the spirit world and mediate those spiritual forces into this world. Thaumaturgy is considered low magic, practical magic, magic done to achieve specific results and typically done to benefit the magician in a material way. With each type of magic, I’ve been thinking about some questions and in this blog I hope to explore those questions at some length, not only in this entry, but future entries as well.

So what is socially responsible magic? Socially responsible magic is magic done to actively contribute to a community’s well being, to the benefit of all the people in the community, as opposed to the benefit of one or a few people. At the same time, such magic necessarily must have some type of measurable outcome, as opposed to merely being a symbolic gesture on the part of the community. What this means is that the magical work must be more than a feel-good solution. Socially responsible magic is magic done to change the community or world in a way that actually has an effect. Those are tough criteria to meet, and I don’t know that a lot of magical work really meets that criteria.

For example, a friend and I recently discussed the following scenario. An oil rig has a broken pipe that starts spilling oil into the ocean. A Pagan group decides to do a ritual with the purpose being to use magic to “fix” the broken pipe. The question that arises is: Has the magic they’ve done really contributed to fixing that broken pipe? If so, how? And if there is no way to determine whether the magic has practically aided in the resolution of fixing that broken pipe, what then has the magic accomplished? Has it made the people in that ritual feel like they’ve done something about the situation (in other words is it a feel-good solution)? And final question here: How have those people contributed in other ways to resolving that issue, either financially or through some type of volunteer work? How are they taking the spiritual values from the ritual and embodying those values in their own relationships with nature?

These were questions my friend and I came up with, and we didn’t have easy answers. I don’t think there are easy answers to such questions, but I also think we need to ask such questions, when it comes to purportedly choosing to do spiritual practices for the benefit of nature, community, etc. I ask those questions, not to disprove the efficacy of magic, being a magician myself, but rather because I want to improve the efficacy of magic, while also examining how magic can contribute to society.

This brings me to a related subject, namely practical magic and why it is performed. Typically practical magic is done when you have a problem in your life that you want to fix, or when you want to manifest a specific result into your life. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of practical magic acts are done for the benefit of the magician as opposed to the benefit of other people or the benefit of the community. While there is nothing wrong with doing practical magic to solve a problem or make your life a bit easier, I think it’s worthwhile to explore how practical magic could be done for the benefit of other people, or for the benefit of the community.

Beyond all of that though, I want to explore what it means to be a responsible member of society… not just Pagan society, but mainstream society. As someone who is a business owner and participates in mainstream organizations such as chambers of commerce and related business associations, I find it fascinating to see how those organizations focus on contributing to the overall communities they are apart of. In turn, this has caused me to look at my role as a Pagan and how I represent Paganism in the mainstream communities I interact in, as well as how I can take some of what I’ve learned in those organizations back into the Pagan community and apply it in a way that is beneficial to that community.

The questions I’ve asked don’t have easy answers (at least they haven’t for me). But I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with you and hearing some of your thoughts and perspectives on this topic, as we explore them together in future entries in this blog.

Socially Responsible Magic is published on alternate Wednesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

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