“Dear Alferian, I just received a wand for Christmas. How can I start learning magic?”
This is a question I get periodically and I am never satisfied with my recommendations, mainly because there is no single book I can wholeheartedly recommend as a starting point. The one I usually do recommend is Amber K’s book True Magic. There are hundreds of books on wicca or other varieties of witchcraft, voodoo, ceremonial magic, and even some good books on Druidry. But there is no book simply about magic without a particular worldview involving religious ideas. In fact, magic is an art and a science. It is closely allied to religions because one’s view of magery depends on one’s cultural viewpoint and religion is often the cultural zone where attitudes are formed regarding what has been called “spiritual” or “supernatural” matters.
The most recent brand of magery on the metaphysical book shop shelves is Chaos Magic, which intends to transcend any particular religious framework. That may be all well and good, if one has grown up without a religion, but for those who have been raised in one religious system or another, those ideas are ingrained in the neural pathways, the little grey cells. It is far easier to do magic within the frame of reference you already have than to try to erase it from your brain and adopt something new. It is true that some individuals desire to change their religious paradigm, usually due to some dissatisfaction with their old religion. A common example is the person who leaves a Christian church because of its attitude toward sexuality or women. Most of the Western religions (and I include Islam even though it is really very strong in the East) are based on the patriarchal ideas of the Bible, which means a male-dominant society ruled by the old men who use young men to fight their wars and treat women like a separate species with limited rights and little control over their bodies. I fully appreciate why individuals turn away from such a fundamental bias and seek a religion that honors the Divine Feminine and gender equality.
Such is one of the attractions of Wicca as a religion. Druidry offers very similar ideas (both systems sprang from the same group of thinkers in the mid-Twentieth Century). Druidry offers a little more depth because modern Druid orders were built on earlier writings about Druids from the 18th and 19th centuries and there is a literary tradition of Bardic tales and legends from which to draw. Wicca draws upon a much more tenuous history in which very little was ever written down, except what came out in the Witch Trials of the 17th century. “Witchcraft” has mostly been used as a pejorative term until the last century. The term “cunning man” or “cunning woman” is a more neutral term for someone wise in the way of herbs, potions, and spells.
It is here that we get to the nub of the issue with magery or wizardry — that it is a craft and actually may be thought of as something distinct from religious beliefs or practices. The two have similarities, but wizardry as such differs from most religions in avoiding the problematical stance that one religion is the “true” faith and others are false. Wizardry relates most closely to the esoteric schools because it is based on a cosmology that is essentially psychological. It is a layer beneath all religions, the perennial philosophy, in which personal vision, revelation, and experience are honored as truths and there are no dogmas or authorities to dictate what is “right” and what is “wrong.” As in other sciences, what is “right” is what works. That is, what ideations and actions have an effect on the manifest world. At its base, magery is about cause and effect.
So, the long and short of it is that I have decided to embark upon a series of log entries that attempt to answer the question I started with. Where does one begin with magic? Since we really do not have magical schools (though there are some valiant efforts), and since wizards are scattered rather thinly over the Earth, it is hard for a young person to know where to begin. Certainly I experienced the problem and in these pages, will try to give the benefit of my own experience. I am in fact dealing with the question of how to teach the magical arts in my novel House of Glass, and you will be able to read that shortly when I publish it in the next few months on my web site and on Amazon. So, in part, what I propose as a course of study is based on that work, though here I will reference books that you can find in book shops, whereas in the novel, I have the advantage of being able to make up book references within that fictional world 😉
As in all disciplines there is a special terminology that is required. The concepts of wizardry are not those of our ordinary lives and so, just as in chemistry or physics, which deal with invisible forces and reactions, special terms are required. I will endeavor to add to the vocabulary of the field where we lack clarity. To begin with, I use the terms magery and wizardry interchangeably in stead of “magic” because the latter word has mixed connotations. “Magic” may be the stuff of stage entertainments, or fantasy novels. Moreover, the word comes to us from the Greek mageia, which referred specifically to the Zoroastrian priests of the Persian Empire. The Magi of the Gospels were evidently such priests for that is what magi are. In English this is generalized into what the fantasy games call a “magic user.” The singular is “mage.” It is a convenient term since it has been almost wholly disconnected from its religious origins. Magery, is simply what mages do. The term also has the advantage of being gender-neutral.
Wizardry is magery by a more familiar name. Our English word “wizard” simply means a wise person. Yet, over time and the development of fantasy literature as a genre, the term has become associated with magical powers. “Magical” is a difficult term because it is based on “magic” and suffers from too much ambiguity. But what adjective can we use in its place? More on this in the next issue.
Magical Arts: Deportment and Physical Culture