The Definition of “Magick” in the 21st Century

by Anna

Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Aaron Leitch, author of several books, including Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, and his new Essential Enochian Grimoire.


Wait! Don’t surf away yet! I know this subject—the definition of magick—has been rehashed a billion times over the years. It has been the focus of heated debates and even flame wars—and never (not once!) has a consensus been reached.

Frankly, this debate has been going on for longer than you think. It was a question during the occult revival of the 19th century. It is even tackled by the authors of the medieval grimoires. Why, I would bet real money that Egyptian and Sumerian priests used to sit around in their temples and argue the same damn points.

But that is really the point of this blog. I’m not naive enough to think we’re going to reach a consensus here. However, I do think we can add something to the conversation—especially now that we have entered the 21st century, and our relationship to magick is changing drastically. As that relationship changes, so too does our understanding of magick and what it means in our culture.

In previous years, the debate was caught up in the occultism of the late 1800s. The Age of Enlightenment had dawned, the Industrial Revolution had… revolved?… and the discipline of Science (that is, as divorced from all mystical concerns) had risen to supremacy. Psychology was a new and developing study. And absolutely anything that struck the Western mind as “occult ooga-booga” (read: pretty much any form of indigenous folk magick, voodoo, hoodoo, etc.) was firmly shown the door.

Thus, the people who were raised in that environment sought an explanation for magick that fit into their paradigm. Hence was born the “psychological” definition of magick: it’s all just a form of primitive psychology. Magick is all in your head. The spirits and gods are mere “names and faces” that we have placed on our own instincts and mental complexes. Magickal tools and considerations are just “props” that help your mind engage the magick. Chaos magick arose in this environment, and it also gave us Aleister Crowley‘s often-quoted definition:

“Magick is the science and art of causing change in conformity with Will.”

Taken at face value, I find this definition to be pointless. If any change I make (on purpose) to the world around me is “magick,” then “magick” ceases to be a useful word. If I walk outside, am I performing magick because I opened a door and changed my location? Of course not! Yet, the way many students interpret the above definition, magick ceases to be a specific discipline or craft. Electricians are performing magick. Carpenters are performing magick. The ice cream man is performing magick (and he even brings smiles to the faces of children)!

Of course, Crowley added in that word “Will,” which means there is a lot more to his definition than most students realize. He means making changes in accordance with your True Will (your Fate or Karma), and his definition is saying that any action you take toward fulfilling your True Will is a magickal act. That’s better… but it still negates “magick” as a discipline unto itself. I’ve used a lot of magick in pursuit of my True Will, but I’ve also had to do a lot of mundane stuff, too.

Today, we are leaving behind the 19th century views on magick. While the psychological definition still has its adherents—some of them quite passionate in defense of their position—there is now a counter-movement of Old Magick practitioners who find that view unsatisfying. As the world we grew up in continues to break down, economies continue to collapse, medicine and other necessities become unavailable, and ill-defined wars continue to rage across the globe, people aren’t looking for “self help occultism” the way they were twenty years ago. They want the real deal: magick that can make real change in the real world. They want magick that can keep food in their families’ bellies, a roof over their heads, and everyone alive and healthy.

I fall into that category. We’re the guys who see spirits, gods, and angels as objectively real. We find the magickal tools and considerations to be important to the technology, not just a bunch of props that can be substituted or dispensed with entirely. And because of these, we see the magickal ceremonies as vital protocols when dealing with spirits, not outdated superstitions that should be simplified, reinterpreted, or left behind. And as for those indigenous forms of magick and witchcraft, rather than turning our noses up and thinking we are somehow better than all of that, we’re actually turning toward them and learning as much as we can.

So, how does this new movement define magick? Good question, and that’s why we are having this discussion now.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll share with you the definition by which I work. In fact, it is an older definition that existed for thousands of years before the modern world. The Solomonic grimoires (a specialty of mine) were written under this definition, and I think it is time we all took a fresh look at it. (I originally found this outlined in the book Ritual Magic, by Elizabeth Butler.)

First, occultism in general is broken down into three categories:

  1. Astrology: The study of the stars and other heavenly bodies (originally including astronomy) and their influence on the world and individuals. There were many applications for it—divination being primary, but also including such things as healing.
  2. Alchemy: This wasn’t just turning lead into gold. It covered all metallurgy, mixing of medicines, the making of tinctures, brews, etc. ings were very interested in alchemists who promised fill their coffers with gold, but the true focus of alchemy was always on healing. Our modern sciences of medicine and chemistry got their start right here.
  3. Magick: The art of working with spirits. (Also called witchcraft.)

Of course, these categories are given for convenience, and do not represent hard-drawn lines. In fact, any system of Old Magick is going to include aspects of all three mixed together. For example, if you don’t know something about alchemical symbolism, and a lot about astrology, the spirit-magick outlined in the old grimoires isn’t going to make a lick of sense to you.

What the above categories do show us is that, classically speaking, the definition of “magick” was to work with spiritual entities. When you call upon Divine Names, gods, angels, spirits, familiars, heroes, or ancestors, you are engaging in the art and science called “magick.”

Now, I’m aware many of you are going to get angry over that definition. What about incantations and talismans and folk magick that don’t call on any of those guys? Are they suddenly not magick? Of course they are magick! But you have to realize that all of these things weren’t just invented by witches with too much time on their hands. That money talisman you found in an old book was, in fact, delivered to an aspirant by a spiritual entity. That incantation to bring you a lover? It was revealed by an angel to someone who asked for it. That rain dance you’re doing? Guess who transmitted it to the shamans?

That’s how the Old Magick works. You ask a spirit for help, and it responds by giving you some kind of hoodoo/witchcraft-y thing to do to achieve the goal. Make this talisman and bury it over there. Recite that incantation in a specific place and time. Go leave an offering here on a specific day. The examples are endless—but they all started with a shaman, witch, or magician making contact with his guardian spirits and having them teach him the magickal art.

So feel free to post your own thoughts in the comments section. What do you think of this definition of magick? What is your definition? Why? (And, to keep things simple, keep in mind we are defining the practice of magick, not the intangible “force” we often refer to as magick. That’s an entirely different debate!)

Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.

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