I always loved books and movies about magic. Yet none of them ever explained how it actually works. It just seems to happen, and differently in every story. But I want to understand how it works, and what it is.
As we mortals define it
Most definitions of magic have in common that it is a supernatural force willed to act by an individual. But that is very vague. What is supernatural? If one takes science very seriously, there cannot be anything inexplicable beyond nature. So from a scientific viewpoint, there must be an explanation for this invisible force. We have found explanations for invisible forces such as radiation and sound, have found ways to make large objects fly (such as airplanes) and are able to communicate across the globe (as I am now), so why is it so hard to find a reasonable explanation for this force we call magic?
The truth is, it is not. There are people, even today, who practice magic successfully and who claim it is a science. Think of India, where men walk over coal, or Hawaii, where they walk over hot lava.
As practitioners define it
So, how do these people who claim to practice magic define it? I was put before this question when I started writing about historical Hawaii, because at the point in time I was writing about, magic was common practice (though crumbling away as it became illegal) and those who had its knowledge were feared and respected. For my writing I had to find out what it was and happily found someone had researched exactly this for decades just after the period I was writing about. Max Freedom Long did case studies and collected data from persons he trusted from the beginning to the middle of the 1900s. In his introduction he declares his firm belief that there exist systems of magic and that they work irregardless of faith.
I thought … Jackpot. For my writing, at least.
According to him, magic is an old secret that has been kept and handed down for ages. The families who kept this knowledge spread over the globe to ensure its survival, and some were Polynesians that later came to Hawaii. Others settled in Jerusalem, and some of their knowledge was taken up by the three religions created there. Still others travelled to India where gurus deeply analyzed their system of magic and added many differentiations not there before.
Then I read:
"The “Secret,” or body of information handed down from one magician to another, was what may be called applied psychology for the most part." (The Secret Science Behind Miracles, p. 32).
I should probably let you know that I grew up in India and took Indian yogic applied psychology in high school. That is something they do not really teach in the west: that psychology is something applicable in daily life rather than something one only concerns oneself with when laying comfortably in a chair listening to the scribbles of the nodding psychologist before one. I was intrigued and found many parallels with what I had learned in India. Too many.
Components of magic
Long mentions several components of magic, each complex and with subcategories. They are Force, Healing as a subcategory of Force, Clairvoyance and Psychology.
Force is the energy that acts, that actually does the work, for example moving a chair. There are three categories of Force, each with what he defines as a different “voltage”. They correspond to three different parts of the human Psychology. Human Psychology is the complete, visible and invisible, setup of the human. He explains the different levels and their purposes and powers. Clairvoyance is all vision that goes beyond what we can see with the eyes. This includes visions of the past and future, but also of the forces and beings. Finally, he defines Healing as influencing the physical body using specific force and intention.
But there’s more.
The components are dependent on each other. For example, one needs vision to see where one can heal, one needs to know the entire human setup for proper anamnesis, and one needs to know how to control the force that does the healing. Likewise, one needs to know one’s own psychological setup to protect oneself from the forces, as well as vision to be able to perceive them. And so it goes on.
This is how Long defines magic in a very tiny nutshell.
What does it mean for us?
That depends on what we intend to do with this knowledge. Most people never come in touch with people practicing magic, and for them, it may not be of much interest other than for entertainment and perhaps inspiration. But there are others who believe in magic as defined above, even people I have met. For example an African refugee who insisted on burning sage in her house because she believed a magician from her home town might otherwise succeed with evil magic on her or her baby. Whether this is true, what matters is what one believes. And if my belief is that I am being tormented by a magician, I might find much use in instructions on how to protect myself. Because that changes how I feel and experience the world. And in the end, what else matters?
Author: Mira Kanehl
Max Freedom Long: The Secret Science Behind Miracles, 1948.
Pictures: Pixabay, creative commons