A phrase I’ve heard for years says “all magic comes with a price.”
That phrase is generally true, but not in the way most people think. There is no metaphysical equilibrium that must be maintained, no cosmic scorecard that must be balanced, and no demons to pay off… unless you choose to work with demons, that is.
Rather, it’s a simple case of cause and effect: if you want the effect, you have to provide the cause. Can you raise and manipulate energy? Can you align correspondences? Can you persuade your spiritual allies to help? That’s the real price of magic: developing the necessary knowledge and skills, and then the ordinary effort to actually do it.
But do magic deeply enough for long enough and you’ll find there’s a price on the back end: change.
The science and art of creating change
Change is the whole point of magic, isn’t it? I still haven’t found a better definition of magic than the one Aleister Crowley used: “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” If you don’t want change, you don’t need magic.
True, sometimes we work magic to avoid change that’s coming our way. Maybe someone is interfering with our lives and we want to stop them. Or maybe we suddenly realize the path we’re on is taking us some place we don’t want to go. A change in direction is change all the same.
Magic is a path all its own – a path we can follow. A candle here, an incantation there… before long you’re collecting stones and herbs, buying tons of books, and downloading a moon phase app to your phone (I use Deluxe Moon for iPhone – lots of detail but not the easiest to use). More importantly, you’re using all those things to create the changes you want in your life. Magic is something you do, not something you have.
Lots of people dabble in magic. They work the occasional spell and cause the occasional change, but not enough to significantly impact the direction of their lives. And that’s fine – if that’s what they want. For most of them, it is.
But some of us want more.
We want to work big magic. We want to learn new skills. We want to see what’s out there, and who’s out there. We want to know what’s behind the veil.
And if we do, we have to be ready for big changes… and not just the changes represented by our magical targets.
Your way of seeing the world will never be the same
Whatever your religious upbringing, most of us where taught that the world is an orderly place. When I would get upset as a child, my Baptist father would often say “it’s OK – God’s still in control.” It didn’t help. Part of that was him dismissing my concerns, but another part was foreshadowing my eventual Pagan path.
Atheists take comfort in the knowledge that the universe runs by predictable laws. The Sun will always come up tomorrow, at least until it doesn’t.
But if you study magic closely enough, you start to understand that no one is in control. And while the laws science discovers are real, life is far more random than any of us – atheist, theist, or otherwise – like to imagine.
The first-hand experience of a God is a wonderous thing – and also a terrifying thing. A meme from a couple years back has one person asking another “why are you not happy? You can see angels!” And the second person responds “because I also see demons.” And also, because “biblically correct” angels (as opposed to Hallmark angels) are scary things.
I know multiple people who got a look behind the curtain and went running in terror, either to a softer version of Paganism, or back to the religion of their childhood. I sometimes wonder if they were able to bury what they saw deeply enough to be able to sleep comfortably at night.
But mainly, I wonder if they regret walking away from the opportunity to live a magical life.
Windows will open
Sometimes magic works directly – you work a spell for money and a check arrives in the mail unexpectedly. More often, though, it works indirectly – you work a spell for money and a new job offer comes along, or a short-term gig, or an investment opportunity.
I think this is one of the reasons so many people can’t recognize magic when it happens. They expect magic will carry them over the finish line – they expect a check in the mail. In most cases, though, magic just gets you to the starting line – you have to run the race yourself.
Work magic deeply and regularly and windows will open. Learn to see them.
Doors will close
I’m a big fan of keeping your options open. The longer you can delay a decision, the better information you’re likely to have, which increases your odds of making the best decision possible. But sometimes you simply have to make a choice. And refusing to choose – or worse, letting someone else choose for you – is itself a choice.
Choosing to work magic is a step down a path. And at some point, it becomes impossible to go back. Maybe you didn’t burn any bridges, but they crumbled anyway from lack of maintenance. Or you just spent so long on a path you don’t have enough years left to go back and do something else.
Crank your magic up and your options will narrow. Make sure this is really what you want to do.
Of course, if you sit there refusing to choose, some of those same bridges are going to crumble anyway. Wait long enough and the bridges in front of you will start to crumble too.
I say run through the door you want and to hell with the rest of them.
Relationships will be challenged
Most of us want to be the Owens sisters from Practical Magic – the quirky neighbors who are still part of the community and perhaps respected for our abilities, even if we scare people sometimes.
Reality is rarely so pleasant.
When I tell people I find the Divine in Nature, most of them nod in agreement. When I talk about magic and divination, they roll their eyes… until they want me to read Tarot for them. But when I talk about many Gods, they get angry and defensive – polytheism challenges their foundational assumptions about the world and the way it works.
And of course, fundamentalists get angry and defensive with anything that isn’t fundamentalism.
The deeper you go into magic, the more time you’ll spend with it, and the less time you’ll have for friends and relatives with mundane interests. And also, the deeper you go, the less interest you’ll have in mundane entertainment, fashion, hobbies, and the like.
The people who love you and care about you will love you care about you anyway… at least as long as you don’t stop loving and caring about them. But other connections are likely to fray.
I’m lucky – none of my family has abandoned me because of my religious and magical practices. I’ve lost a couple of distant family members over politics, but who hasn’t. But some friendships have faded over the years, in large part because of different ways of seeing the world.
That’s sad, but denying who and what I am to satisfy them would be far, far worse.
I can’t imagine doing anything else
Seeing scary things, doors closing, friends leaving – this all sounds so unpleasant. Why would anyone want to dive deeply into magic if that’s what it costs?
There’s only one answer that makes sense: because you can’t imagine doing anything else.
I’ve seen some scary things. I’ve encountered some scary persons. But if they’re there, I want to know they’re there. I want to know who I can work with, who I need to avoid, and who I need to actively oppose. Ignorance is not bliss.
I like keeping my options open. But if you keep all your dinner options open, you’ll go hungry. Better to pick something and enjoy it. Better to choose a career and start working on it. Better to pick a God and worship Them. If magic is real – and I’m convinced it is – then I want to learn as much of it as I can, and the sooner the better.
I mourn the loss of a few friendships, but that makes me appreciate the friendships I’ve retained that much more. And can’t begin to express the love I have for the friends who’ve helped me along this path, who’ve worshipped and worked alongside me, and who’ve literally picked me up when the end of an ecstatic experience left me collapsed on the ground.
My exploration of magic and work with and for the Many Gods has brought tremendous change into my life. Some of it has been pleasant, some has been unpleasant, and some has been somewhere in between.
But this is the path I’m called to. This is the work of my life.
And I can’t imagine doing anything else.