Is Magic Real?

Is Magic Real? March 23, 2019

In my writing, I speak rather glibly about magic, as if certain it is real. Writing a Pagan blog, I assume that my audience is at least a bit like me: people who have already come to the conclusion that there is something more going on.

As practitioners, the real world (our real world) is something that we are trying to grasp at, understand, and maybe even to make use of. I do not see much else in the Pagan blogosphere written that way, and I take it as my niche.

But I went through all the same phases as everyone else who goes down this path. There was a time when I thought only fools would believe such things, and a time when I was going mad.

Once upon a time, I thought that I was the only person who really understood. And eventually I came to place where I could at least point to this deeper world. These are all natural phases in coming to understand how little we really know.

The Magical Altar (c)2017 by author
The Magical Altar (c)2017 by author

So I thought it would be useful for people to hear about my process of realization. Maybe yours will be similar, and maybe it will be totally different. But this is just the way it happened.

Knowledge, Intelligence, and Wisdom

Before I dive in, I have to give you what might be a new way of thinking about knowledge.(1) In order for you to find an answer to the question, “Is magic real?”, first we will need to delve a little into different ways of knowing.

It is useful to split knowledge into two kinds: intelligence and wisdom. These two ways of knowing are complementary.

Intelligence is the measure of how good we are at processing the kind of knowledge that exists in words. Wisdom, on the other hand, is how good we are at dealing with all the knowledge that exists outside of that boundary.

Intelligence

Being “smart” is about being better at understanding things that come from culture. It is how we, as social beings, see the world. So being smart means understanding accounting, maybe, or programming. Things that exist as frameworks that help society work better.

More broadly, Intelligence means seeing the implications of the things that we, as humans, have figured out. You see, people (as a whole) know far, far more than any one person could know.

This person is a scientist, that one is a doctor, the other is a financial manager. This person understands what other people are interested in, that one knows all about biology.

These are all kinds of knowledge that make sense, that we can talk explicitly about. These are all things that can, more or less, go in a book. They can (mostly) exist in the rational brain. That is what “intelligence” covers.

Wisdom

Wisdom is the other side of knowledge. It is the measure of how good we are at understanding everything that exists beyond what we rationally know.

This is where things reside that we can only understand by metaphor and inductive reasoning. The truth is that there is a lot more that fits into this category than into the pile of “what we can grasp in words.”

Pallas Athene Visits Invidia, by Karel Dujardin, via Wikimedia Commons
Pallas Athene Visits Invidia, by Karel Dujardin, via Wikimedia Commons

A mother does know know how she can tell the cries of her children apart. It is “real” knowledge but it can fit in no book. A gambler knows when he is “hot” and the grizzled police officer knows that this call is the one to be careful about.

But the trick is that while we can point to this kind of knowledge with words, we cannot truly convey it.

Knowledge

Intelligence is our understanding of the human map of the world. Wisdom is our comprehension of the world itself.

You would think that wisdom, capable of directly accessing reality, would be far more popular, useful, and powerful. But frankly, it is not.

An Alchemist in His Laboratory, via Wikimedia Commons

The thing is, the kind of knowledge that intelligence dictates is maybe not as powerful. But it is incredibly transportable, replicable, and record-able. The things we know in society are useful exactly because they are easily taught.

Anything we want to know that exists beyond that? Now, that’s so much harder.

Language

This all comes back to language. Words, as symbols, stand in for something that exists out there in the real world. They point to things.

Distinguishing intelligence and wisdom, between these two kinds of knowledge, means rewriting our common sense of what it means to know. Intelligence is about our understanding of those symbols and how they interrelate. Wisdom is our understanding of the relationships between the actual things that words point to.

It is a bit of a challenge to give an example (in writing) of the limits of intelligence and language. So, how about I say that we are looking at a hunter and a deer. Will the hunter kill the deer?

With intelligence, we understand the simple relationship – hunter chases deer, deer avoids hunter. We measure how skilled the hunter is, and how fast the deer is. Maybe if we know more about hunting, we can add more variables. And with that, we can certainly become better hunters.

But wisdom is different. It is not limited to what we can consciously take in. It takes in everything in the actual situation — all the things we can put in words and all the things beyond that as well.

Understanding the Real

Because the deer is not just a stand-in for the category “deer” and the man is not just a hunter. They are more than just these things, and interrelate with their environment in ten thousand ways.

Wisdom means going beyond the labels and understanding the gestalt of the whole situation. It looks at all the things that are contained in the situation, not just the ones that describe it in words.

Further, Wisdom includes all the knowledge of the real that we cannot even put into language. Weird vague things like “character” and “relationship with the land” and “intent” and so on.

Intelligence comprehends the world as we (humans) understand it. Wisdom goes further to grasp, somewhat, that which is actually real.

A View of Mono Lake ©2017 by Polly Peterson, used with permission

Yes, that is a very difficult distinction. It means losing hold of a very comfortable definition of “knowledge” and even of what “real” means. But it is key to being able to answer the question, “Is magic real?”

How I Learned Magic Is Real

It is not common in our culture for people to know that magic is real. When you get past the wishful thinking stages, we are pretty rare, even when we include people of true and impactful faith.

But I always believed in a certain narrative: that people who really wanted magic would keep trying and trying, until they found a way to get it right. That is, I believed that magic was something supernatural that would lift us up, past the everyday world in which we live. That is, I thought magic existed outside the real.

Oh, I wish it worked that way. That would have been so much easier.

How I Got Started

When I was a kid, I had really terrible luck.(2) To say that I was accident-prone would be a gross understatement. I was, in fact, a klutz. I was clumsy, awkward, and foolish.

It made life rough. Where others shined, I could hope only to get through things without making a mess. That was a good day.

Oh, I was smart enough, but I lacked even a modicum of connection with the reality outside the symbols in my head. As one school chum told me, I had no “common sense.”

Feeling Lucky

Being both intellectual and intuitive, however, I have a head for pattern recognition. As I made my way through my college years, I began to notice this weird thing. I never actually saw things like accidents. Like, ever. Bad things just did not happen to the people around me.

I mean, I was a klutz. I had accidents all the time. And it dawned on me, eventually, that there was probably a reason for that.

In a flash of insight, I realized if there was going to be an accident around me, I was going to be in it. This was well beyond random chance. There had to be a mechanism!

Stepping Stone Bridge ©2008 Polly Peterson, used with permission
Stepping Stone Bridge ©2008 Polly Peterson, used with permission

And that was my first inkling that magic was real. I had broken past “what everyone knows” — our map of the world that resides in our heads. I had begun to see proof that there was more going on than we had been told.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I think I was maybe twenty when I realized that I was a mega-bad-luck magnet. The downside was that life was tough.

The upside was that it proved that “luck” was real. Eventually, through reading, as well as a serious helping of trial and error, I learned that there were mechanisms that ruled such events and that “random” simply meant that we could not see the variables involved.

That was hardly the end of things, though. That was just the moment that I knew that there had to be something beyond what we all had been raised to know.

It isn’t so much that magic is real as the real world does not work like we think it does. With discernment, practice, and experience, we can get past the narrow cause and effect we have learned.

Believe me, I am not discounting intelligence. But I think it is worth making the case that it is not the only game in town.

Wisdom tells us what is real, beyond what we already know. Real magic is simply that knowledge, applied to help us live better lives in harmony with a deeper reality.


Notes

(1) I understand that most people probably already use these words differently, and with nuance. Still, this is a case where I need to define terms to explain an idea that was likely beyond language for some of my readers. If you use them differently, please bear with me here.

(2) The reasons for my native bad luck are complex. The solution to such luck, however, is simply self -cultivation. Not just being a good person, per se, but rather developing the virtues of faith, discipline, and  equanimity.

About Christopher Drysdale
Christopher Drysdale is an animist, martial artist, shamanic practitioner, healer, psychopomp, and meditation teacher. He’s been pagan for more than 30 years, has a master’s degree in anthropology, and thinks making the world a better place is a pretty good idea. He makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • kyuss

    I’ll believe that ‘magic’ is real as soon as you can produce an effect that violates the laws of physics.

  • Gordon Cooper

    I’ll raise you the survey from “Deviant Science”, where scientists who don’t accept psi do so on the basis of theory and dismiss any results as theoretically impossible, and note that since psi cannot happen, there is no need to even examine evidence.

  • Beatrice Blackwood

    I came to it as an empath, through sensitivity to place, aura, emotion. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t evident to me that the world contained many, many more beings than the ones I could see, hear and speak to with only my physical senses, and many, many ways to “know” things that don’t involve what you categorise as intelligence. When the world is full of things other people can’t (or won’t let themselves) see or sense but you can, it’s not much of a stretch to believe that there are other ways of “achieving change in accordance with Will” (my favourite definition of magic) than the ones those same people teach you are the only ways to get things done.

  • kyuss

    tiresome. if magic is real, then it should be trivial to demonstrate.

    it would have been easier and more efficient to type “nope, i can’t do that”. but instead, you try and obfuscate and dance and play semantic games in an effort to hide the fact that you can’t do what you claim.

    i don’t give a shit about ‘psi’. i don’t care about some study that you can’t even properly name or provide a link to. i care about the dude who is claiming that magic is real. prove it. here’s your opportunity to do so.

  • Gordon Cooper

    http://www.jamesmcclenon.com/

    How do you differentiate between psi and magic?

    What claims have I made, apart from referencing Mclclenon’s text on the century of so of statistical studies and the other description of surveys regarding psi I cited?

    I am unconcerned about your relationship with your feces.

  • kyuss

    boring. since you can’t or won’t demonstrate your ‘magic’ powers, i’ll have to conclude that, at best, you’re seriously deluded or, at worst, you’re a pathetic liar.

    enjoy your life of self delusion and foolishness.

  • SilverFawn

    The author has tried to magic-ify the concept of wisdom. It sounds like in their personal experience they realised more factors were involved in a situation, saw it from a different perspective, looked deeper and found a new level of meaning. That process is a usual part of maturity and gaining wisdom, learning from experience and yes, what you gain from that isn’t easy to describe in words. I don’t see how this relates to magic. Everyone learns from experience, and whether you do that with deliberate consciousness or not doesn’t necessarily affect how successful you are the next time around, and either way can be completely mundane and not magical at all.

    This article addresses a big question, readers will have big expectations for this, which unfortunately are not met and you’re going to get a lot of disappointed or argumentative readers.

  • I’m sorry you’re disappointed in this piece. You might find more of what you were looking for in an old piece of mine, “Don’t Trust Your Spirit, Train It.” The “more factors” are mot always mundane in my experience. These are things I write about elsewhere in my blog. But, here, I really wanted to get down to what the process of realization is like. If it parallels a more “mundane” wisdom that grows in people, that makes sense.

  • Gordon Cooper

    You haven’t followed the last sixty years of the literature. If you had, you’d know that the term “magic” in most contexts means stage magic. Psi is what’s used in University studies to refer to this phenomenon.

  • kyuss

    yawn. oh, are you sure it isn’t “magick”?

  • kyuss

    also, no one can present a shred of evidence that magic powerz are real. you’re a pathetic, delusional fool.

  • AndersInChicago

    Thank you for your gentleness in describing your terms of language, knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. I came to this article with my Christian background, which is hopefully more open than the rigid boundaries I grew up with. I see the magic you speak of which helps us live better lives in harmony with a deeper reality as a parallel to Christian “the peace which passes all understanding”. The key difference is that you claim this peace magic through your personal process of realization. My disconnect with the faith of my childhood was not having the same freedom to find my peace but rather to have it imposed with irrelevant outside thoughts. I am grateful to you for this insight.