Magic: Don’t Believe, Do

Magic: Don’t Believe, Do April 10, 2013

When asked “what is magic?” I generally respond with a three-part answer: part psychological programming, part manipulation of unseen forces, and part intercessory prayer. Last week Yvonne Aburrow had a very good post on this on the Sermons on the Mound blog. She touched on the psychological and energy manipulation aspects of magic, and she also raised an important point: “the more people try to use science to justify their belief in faeries and energies and the like, the more ridiculous it sounds.” I’ve written on this before – bad science makes bad religion.

This post isn’t so much about the “what” of magic as the “how” – how do we go about working it. And it springs from one of those picture+quote posts on Facebook. It said

“If you would work magic, you must first believe.”


If you would work magic, you must first DO.

As Thorn Coyle presented in her recent book Make Magic of Your Life and as originally articulated by 19th century ceremonial magician Eliphas Levi, there are four steps to magic: to know, to will, to dare, and to keep silence. Belief is not on this list.

The primacy of belief is a modern, Western, Protestant concept originating with Martin Luther’s doctrine of sola fide – “by faith alone.” It has no roots with our pagan ancestors who emphasized virtues and doing what was right regardless of your fate. Interestingly, I have liberal Christian friends who say faith is not about affirming a set of supernatural propositions but rather the process of faithfully living how their religious tradition teaches them to live.

Belief is not irrelevant. We form beliefs from our experiences and we interpret new experiences through the lens of those beliefs. As Yvonne pointed out, if you don’t believe magic exists, you’ll always assume the results of magic came from non-magical sources. “Magical” doesn’t necessarily mean “supernatural” – but in the end, does it really matter?

Successful magic doesn’t involve believing the right things, it involves doing the right things. You can believe in wingardium leviosa with all your heart and you still won’t be able to levitate heavier than air objects. But if you know what you truly desire, if you exercise your will, if you dare to take risks, and if you allow time and space for the magic to work, you will see results.

This really is good news. It’s hard to make yourself try to believe something you really don’t believe. No matter how much I tried, no matter how much I thought my soul depended on it, I couldn’t believe in the God of Christian Fundamentalism. As a Pagan, I don’t have to believe. I just have to act. I remember how skeptical I was when I first started practicing. But I did the right things and the results came.

Most unsuccessful magic does not fail from a lack of belief. It fails from a lack of effort. Magic is hard work – it is far easier and far more effective to use mundane action to obtain mundane things. But for those goals that are not mundane or where mundane effort is not enough, magic is a useful tool.

If you would work magic, you must first do.

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  • Shaun

    Thanks for reiterating this information. It is a helpful reminder to me and probably others to know what magic is (and isn’t). I am only half a year a declared Pagan (whatever that means), exploring druidry in particular, and the subject of magic is always in the back of my mind. I have bigger things that I want to chance and I have a feeling that magic practice is a key. Yet, I have not even tried to “do.” I appreciate the reminder.

  • Great post. Doing it is definitely more important than believing in it.

  • Love your post! And I agree that what you do is just as important as what you believe. But I also think that some beliefs, such as “this is never going to work!” and “I knew it wouldn’t work!” (etc.) may be able to overpower what you do. Also, I was wondering about the table cloth in that picture. Do you know where I might find one like that?

    • Oh, you’re quite right – it matters what we believe, and it matters what we tell ourselves. But it matters more what we do.

      I got that altar cloth at a long-defunct esoteric shop in Denton 8 or 9 years ago. If you search eBay for “Pagan altar cloths” you’ll find a lot of things like it, but I’ve never seen this exact pattern again.