The roots for the concept of magic in Wicca: An introduction

Wicca, as developed by Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders, draws heavily from the tradition of the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley, the Hebrew Kabbalah; and the nineteenth century ceremonial magicians. This can be easily demonstrated from texts in the Gardnerian and Alexandrian Book of Shadows.

Since Wicca was also supposed to be a continuation from a pagan religious tradition surviving through the dark ages especially in the countryside, therefore, at least in theory, it also draws from the traditions of the country wise women and cunning men.

These two completely different roots have led to a distinction between what is often called "ceremonial" or "high" magic versus "nature" or "low" magic. These traditional epithets are somewhat unfortunate, as the only reason for "ceremonial" being "high" was that the "performers were from a higher social stratum in the society of those days than the people involved with "low" magic.

1. The origins of Ceremonial Magic: Neo-Platonism and the Renaissance magicians

The world view of the ceremonial magician in the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment drew heavily from Plato (428-348 BOE) and from Neo-Platonism as developed by Plotinus (205-270 OE). This worldview was not essentially different from that of the Catholic church. It was very patriarchal and only the "Nous" or intellect/reason is made in the image of the divine "Logos"or god. The main task of the (male) magician is to free himself from his instictual drives (neo-Platonism was heavily influenced by stoic principles) and feelings. The Catholic church had developed a rich hierarchy of "angels" and "demons" and the meaning of these words had become rather different from their original. Originally the Greek word "angelos" meant messenger and the word "daimoon/daimonios" meant higher spirit. In a catholic context however, the name "angel" was given to those higher spirits that had stayed "loyal" to god and therefore were "good," while "demons" had betrayed him and therefore were evil. In a sense these demons had become personifications of the evil instinctual drives the magician had to "master."

Note: If we return the word "angelos" to its original meaning of "messenger-energy" (somewhat alike to the concept of "messenger" particles for certain forces in quantum mechanics), these "angels" can be used in a pagan, Wiccan, context. Thus "Michael," the "angel" of the Sun, can be seen as the "messenger-energy" of the Sun.

Examples in traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca:

  • The Water and Salt, representing the female elements Water and Earth, have to be purified/consecrated, while the male elements, Air (the Intellect) and Fire (the Life-force) are considered sufficiently pure/sacred by themselves.
  • The overemphasis on the male elements (Sword, white and blackhandled knife, wand) at the presentation of the Tools to the initiate while the Pentacle (Earth) is barely mentioned and the Chalice (Water) is left out altogether in the original Book of Shadows.
  • The sentence "dominate subdue and punish all rebellious spirits and demons and even persuade angels" in the Gardnerian/Alexandrian Book of Shadows.

Yet, the way this could be achieved, the ritual procedure, drew heavily from the Roman legalistic concept of the relation between humans and the divine. In the Roman state religion, a ritual, if properly performed was legally binding to both parties, the state, represented by the priest, and the deity. If a White Bull was sacrificed to Jupiter in exchange for a favour to be obtained, there were certain omens from which it could be concluded that Jupiter had accepted the sacrifice and in that case Jupiter was legally bound to deliver. If he didn't a priestly college had to investigate how Jupiter had managed to wriggle out of the agreement. They had to find what error had been made in the ritual procedure. Maybe the White Bull had had some black spot or other blemish that had escaped the officiating priests' notice or the priest had stammered or mispronounced an Etruscan ritual formula.

Similarly, the Renaissance magician had to be extremely careful when binding a demon to his will: the slightest procedural error could be fatal. Let's suppose the magician has to draw a protective circle around himself and a triangle in red ochre outside the circle. Inside the triangle is drawn the sigil of a certain demon. The magician, in the safety of his protective circle, invokes the demon into the triangle with a magic formula. What can go wrong? If there is a minute gap in the protective circle, a nearly invisible small distance between the beginning and the end of drawing the circle, a hostile entity (another demon) may enter through that gap. The same holds of course for the triangle that has to contain the demon which was invoked. Or it maybe that the sigil contains an error or it is a sigil that attracts another much more powerful demon that has to be contained in a square but cannot be held by a triangle. Or the magical formula contains a pronunciation error. On the other hand, if the procedure is executed without error, the demon will be bound to do the magician's will. Again, the greatest care has to be taken in formulating this "will." The slightest ambiguity in interpreting the magician's wishes may lead to the direst results. A classical example in our age would be a jobless would-be magician asking for "work": the demon might at once cause a hurricane providing for a lot more work than the magician bargained for.

Examples in traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca:

  • In drawing the Circle, starting from the North one has to "over" draw by 90°.
  • In drawing the invoking Pentagrams one has to "over" draw the first stroke.

2. The Crowleyan concept of Magic

Aleister Crowley was the first to introduce a "new" element in magic which he coined "Will." For the first time it is suggested that the magical result may depend not only on the correct procedure (which is still extremely important with Crowley) but also on the "intensity-of intent." We find an echo of this emphasis on the "Will" in the moral code of the modern Church of Satan "do what thou willt" and in the different moral code of the Wicca, "do what thou willt "an it harm none."

Let us compare the Renaissance "legalistic" concept and the Crowleyan concept of "Will" to two doctors, an old-fashioned and a modern one. The old-fashioned one believes that all he needs to cure the patient is the correct diagnosis and the correct prescription: whether the patient actually "wants" to be cured or not, whether he "believes" in the treatment or not is immaterial, the medicine will do the job. The modern doctor on the other hand is aware of the importance of how the patient "feels" about the cure: sometimes a placebo can cure a patient. Some patients that ought to be dead, live and prosper.

Examples in traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca:

  • There is a taboo against doing healing magic for someone unless this was specifically asked for by the person to be healed.
  • There is a general belief that the magic will have more "chance of success" if there is a strong "intensity," which is sometimes even considered more important than the precise procedure followed.

3. The Greencraft concept of Magic

In Greencraft, there is an additional element which is crucial, although the former ideas are not neglected:

  1. Techniques, procedures, magical formulas belong to our Alexandrian tradition and should not be neglected.

  2. The intensity-of-intent is considered crucial.

But both these concepts can be achieved purely by "ceremonial" or "high" magic, and it is in the third concept that the "Nature" or "low" magical element plays a central role.

  1. The Covenant of Kerridwen's children.

Where with the old magicians the relationship between the human and the divine was legalistic in nature, with us it is based on an "alliance" and on "friendship" as the bond between the different layers of creation.

In Greencraft, we hold sacred the Covenant between all the children of the Great Mother and we enter into compact with the Trees, the Animals and the Stones. The binding force of this Covenant is Love.

The Catholic Jesuit theologian Teilhard de Chardin saw creation as composed of ever more complex entities. He was the first to draw attention to the fact that the French word for magnet, "aimant," means "lover." In his concept, the magnetic attraction that a piece of metal "feels" for a magnet is a, albeit very primitive, form of love. The love that a she-wolf feels for her pups is a more complex form of this. The love that one human being can feel for another human being is still more complex, and the love of god is the most complex of all.

In other words, just as all creation is part of the manifestation of the divine into matter, so is love the all-pervading force that binds creation together.

In Greencraft we teach that, whether we use a complex ceremonial magical technique or some simple country wise woman technique, the result will be greatly enhanced by our "intensity-of-intent," our "Will." But this "intensity-of-intent" itself will be greatly enhanced by our "feelings" for the person we do magic for, by our "love" towards that person. The more we love someone, the more someone (whether self, human, tree, animal or stone) is dear to us, the stronger will be our "intensity-of-intent," our "will," our desire and longing to help that someone.

The true purpose of the Treewalks we practice in Greencraft is none other than to enforce the Covenant between the Wicca practitioner and the Tree energies. By meeting the Trees, we learn to know them as material beings and as "morphic fields." And by learning to know them, we enter into a bond with them, a Covenant, the binding energy of which is love. And as we learn to know them, they learn to know us. Once we have entered into compact with them, we can call upon their help in doing magic. This is the "natural" counterpart of the "ceremonial" presentation of the initiate to the four Quarters.

Now in most post-modern pagan groups, the concept of "dominate, subdue and punish rebellious spirits and demons" is "out." Alas, it often has been replaced by "invite, pretty please, oh nice spirits, could you spare us a moment of your time." That kind of nonsense has nothing to do with love, but is an unfortunate heirloom from that monotheistic religion that sprang up among slaves during the Roman Empire.

Actually, let me give an example of love from the times of that Empire: Gaius Julius Caesar was, among other things, a military genius. He was one of those rare Roman generals who knew that the greatest victory was in having the least casualties among his soldiers. They were "his boys," they were "Caesar's boys" and he loved them. As they loved him. The men of the tenth legion, sturdy veterans of many battlefields, wept when he refused to call them "my boys." But when Caesar gave an order, he didn't put "pretty please" or "at your convenience" in front of it.

Another example is the way parents educate their children (at least those who still do). There is a great variety of possible strategies, but one has to pity those children who never learned discipline and their chances of survival would be very poor indeed in most parts of this planet.

So, the way we approach our allies, the Spirits of the Elements, the Trees, the Animals, the Stones, is neither "commanding" nor "begging." It is the way you approach a friend, a lover, an ally. And they too must "learn" in this relationship. Learn who we are, and learn that we are quite serious about the Covenant.

Now, within this context, it is again possible to distinguish between:

  1. Ceremonial magic (involving magical tools, astrological charts, ceremonial robes, magical formulas that need to be learned by heart and pronounced without stumbling, at a precise time of day or night etc.)

  2. Non-ceremonial/natural magic (making do with what one happens to have ready: a feather found, a root or twig of a plant, a shell or stone, a sudden inspiration)

And to allow within each category for two varieties:

  1. high magic

  2. low magic

Calling it "high" if it has to do with "worship of," or "communication with" the divine and calling it "low" if it has to do with "obtaining" something. This completely different use of the epithets "high" and "low" seems to me much more meaningful than the traditional one.

In other words, making love to your wife falls under the variety of "high" magic, whereas having her mend your shirt falls under "low" magic.

Both these varieties can be accomplished with or without much ceremony: the first category would be if you go courting her in your best outfit riding your best horse and carrying all your credit cards, the second would be if it sort of just happened after offering her a beautiful shell you picked up on the beach.

So in Greencraft Cosmology, Magic deals with both ceremonial and non-ceremonial procedures, neither of which take precedence over the other. In Greencraft Wicca, there is often a blending of the two as is clearly seen in our rites and rituals. In comparing ceremonial versus non-ceremonial magic, we are basically discussing mechanics or means of getting something done. In comparing "high" and "low" magic we are discussing the manifestation or end result of what we have done. High Magic essentially deals with spiritual manifestations and low magic essentially deals with material manifestations. Some examples might be appropriate here.

In all of our formal rites and rituals, whether done in a group, in a Coven, or alone, there are elements of ceremonial magic, and the magic may be High Magic, Low Magic, or both. Sabbats are basically celebratory and their main purpose is to allow the individuals participating to experience and commune with the Divine. They are planned, written and often rehearsed in advance and carried out for what we would call High Magic. It may also be appropriate or necessary to incorporate some Low Magic into the rite. For instance is one of our number was out due to illness, it would be perfectly appropriate to include an operant working for the healing of the absent member.

Our informal rites and rituals are usually individual undertakings, but sometimes they may be done in a group or Coven. They can be planned or unplanned, and may or may not involve any ceremonial operant procedures. They are seldom written or rehearsed and usually deal with Low MagicÑprosperity, protection, a healing, etc. In my experience, when I am working with non-ceremonial operants, oftentimes I spontaneously establish a connection and open a channel of communion with the Divine, hence bringing an element of High Magic into the procedure as well. And I would submit that without this Divine element, the Low Magic procedure is likely to fail. Sometimes I do not even cast a circle when I am working Low Magic. Sometimes a candle, a quiet moment and a few herbs are all I need to work effective magic. Sometimes an invoking gesture and a prayer or incantation under my breath are all I have time for when I need immediate protection.

Although by nature non-ceremonial operants allow for more spontaneity and improvisation, they should not be chaotic or "make it up as you go." For instance, if someone were sick it would be ill advised to simply to consult Lady (fill in the blank's) Book of Healing Spells and follow the recipe oblivious to other considerations. For instance, if the Moon is in the waxing phase, the tidal influences are flowing in. So rather than simply working to "get rid of the illness," your might want to flow in healing and health to replace the sickness and distress. If the Moon is in its waning phase, the tidal influences are ebbing out. So rather working to "bring in health and healing," work to ebb out sickness and distress, and allow health and healing to fill the void.

Before we move on to the concept of magic as a creative process, let me review some points unique to Greencraft Cosmology. Ceremonial and Non-ceremonial magical operants are seen as means to an end. High Magic and Low Magic are the results of operant magic. High Magic's purpose is to experience and communication with the Divine; Low Magic's purpose is to effect changes in the material world. Whether working with ceremonial or non-ceremonial operants, whether the purpose is High Magic or Low Magic, the single-most important element is "intensity-of intent." And the driving force for this intensity-of-intent is Love.

4. Magic as a concept in creating the future

Magic is a "creative process." In the minimum hypothesis, magic doesn't exist... yet:

We have to make it happen.

Magic is like a dog, you (we) have to train. Like a house, you (we) have to build. All we (and others) have, are bits and pieces of all drawings, ruins of temples that once existed. But Greencraft has good architects who have attempted to draw "complete" maps for the new House of Magic. In a sense, Magic went with Merlin in his crystal cave and has been sleeping ever since. The last millennium of our Western civilisation belonged to the Christians, and their religion and magic don't mix very well. The new Renaissance of paganism heralds a new Renaissance, an awakening, of Magic. But we have to "create" it, to make Magic "happen." And that is something entirely different from the traditional concept.

We will now endeavour to redefine Magic along these lines for the future.

We have to start with redefining the god(desse)s. The gods/goddesses of the polytheistic level are very similar to what C. G. Jung called "archetypes" and R. Shelldrake called "morphic fields." When we die, the composing atoms of our bodies do not disappear. When a first generation star dies, its composing atoms do not disappear. Actually, every atom in our bodies was "made," "created," in the hot furnace of a first generation star. Similarly, clusters of our thoughts, feelings, experiences, have a spiritual survival. They are the components that these archetypes we call gods are made of. Every time we "think" or "feel" about Venus as the Goddess of Love for instance, we "feed" small aggregates of thought, feeling and experience into this morphic field. Now, any form of communication (in both directions) between a human being on the one hand and a god(dess)-archetype on the other can be considered Magic. Magic uses the "carrier waves" of this communication as its vehicle, somewhat as photons are carried by light waves. We could use some concepts from quantum mechanics to describe these processes. The gods/goddesses can be compared to elementary particles in quantum mechanics, they have a wave nature and particle nature, both. The theory and practice of Magic is the theory and practice of the force fields between us and them. The crucial concept in this is that the communication is in both directions:

  1. Low Magic: When I wish to obtain something by Magical means, I "send" a call for "help" into such a morphic archetypical field and (hopefully) there is an answer.

  2. High Magic: When I worship, I "send" some of my thoughts/feelings/experiences into a morphic field and this morphic field is "fed" and "affected" by this. Is "changed" by this, and this change is a "creative" process which in its turn affects me, my thoughts, feelings and experiences.

With Low Magic the purpose is to effect/create change at my side of the communication, with High Magic the purpose is to effect/create change at the divine side of the communication.

Just as in quantum mechanics the dualisitc nature of waves and particles implies that forces use "messenger" waves and these messenger waves can under certain experiments manifest as "messenger" particles (the "gluon" and the "graviton" etc.), a messenger wave between me and the divine can manifest itself in a particle format which was called in Greek "angelos," an "angel."

The above applies not only to Gods/Goddesses, but also to Trees, Animals and Stones.

Just as the table of Mendeleev is a catalog of all different atoms, the Trees as they are used in Greencraft are a catalog of atomic morphic fields. When I communicate with an individual willow tree, I use this tree as the "angel" of Willow, the messenger most apt to carry messages between me and the morphic field I call "Willow." Greencraft endeavors to describe these basic fields we call Trees and their interaction with us. Through their associations with Animals and Celtic deities, the Tree fields are linked with these Power Animal fields and deity fields. The totality of these fields describes the "chemistry" of the totality of the spiritual universe. And by creating this "order" from a chaos of clusters of spiritual energy, Greencraft defines the mechanisms to work Magic with them. This Magic is exactly the task that lies before us and in a sense the essence of our religion.

5. The material and the spiritual dimension in Nature

Of course, saying that "a willow tree, can be seen as the "angel" of Willow, the messenger most apt to carry messages between me and the morphic field I call "Willow" is really a "shortcut." It is the "soul" of "willow" that can be seen as the "corpuscular" representation of this messenger. An interesting (but nonsensical) question could be "what would happen to the spiritual world if the material world vanished and ceased to exist?" The immanent principle of divinity demands that the spiritual energy clusters have something they can "adhere" to. The question therefore is like asking "what was before the beginning." Before the beginning there "can only be" "emptiness" and the essential quality of this "emptiness" lies in the fact that we cannot describe it. As soon as there is something to describe, we are "after the beginning." Now the development of language and terminology follows the development and evolution of our "knowledge." Let us try to describe one essential difference between Greencraft and the "religions of the Book." Taking the early Christians as an example, they stood "at the end" of their religion. As soon as their religion was "revealed," it also was "finished": they were expecting the end any moment. Greencraft on the other hand stands "at the beginning." We have to evolve and develop new words and concepts to describe our religion. We can borrow from science for this. Just as Einstein's theory of gravitation obsoletes Newton's, there will be a time when Greencraft has evolved so that this text becomes obsolete.

I would like to redefine the meaning of "transcendence." There is room for the transcendent principle of divinity in Greencraft if we equate transcendence with the spiritual as distinct from but immanent in the material manifestation. Nature and all things that are part of it (and there is nothing that is not a part of nature) has a material and a spiritual dimension. The spiritual transcends matter but does not transcend nature, does not transcend reality. And the spiritual always "longs" for a material "object" to "adhere" to. Willow needs willow to "express" itself, to become "manifest." The whole universe is filled with this "longing" which is none other than what we called "love" earlier on in this treatise and which is at the root of Magic.