What is Magic?

The word “Magic” is derived from the Iranian, i.e. the Old Persian, where it means magus, i.e. “knower”, “scholar” or “recognizer”. The so-called Magi or rather Magoi were a median tribe (around the year 1,ooo BCE), which formed the caste of priests at that time.



Magic – for many people for centuries, if not for millennia, a word shrouded in mystery. How many heads have already dealt with this probably most difficult, most versatile and most fascinating of all secret sciences – proponents as well as mockers and opponents, insiders and adepts as well as ignorants. Magicians were and are regarded – especially in our culture – as peculiar and idiosyncratic eccentrics who do not wish to bow to any foreign worldly and cosmic power, people who in the eyes of others dare the “sacrilege” not to let themselves be fobbed off with what religion and society, priests and worldly rulers put before them as reality and “healthy boundaries of reason, morality and decency”. People who do not serve any gods or goddesses either, except their own, whether called Hermes, Hekate or Lilith, Baphomet or Bael, idealism or materialism, rationalism or irrationalism, ego or self.

The word magic can be traced etymologically, in the narrowest sense after Herodotus (b. ~480 BCE), to the Persian priests, the tribe of the wise. Through their interpretation of dreams they had gained astrological knowledge. According to some etymologists, the term “magician” is originally related to the word “luck” and comes from the Indo-European verbal tribe mãgh (megh = “can”, “have luck”; hence our word “force” and “power”), in German “machen” = “Macht” = “power”.


Representatives & Companions

A magician has always been a Faustian psychonaut and soul traveller, a man who sought to peer behind the “veil”, a man who did not rest until he had fathomed, or at least guessed, what holds the world together in its innermost. Zoroaster was regarded as a magician, but also Moses, Solomon, Jesus of Nazareth and Milarepa. Raimundus Lullus belonged to this group of dissenters and – above all – also dissenters, Jaques de Molay, Agrippa von Nettesheym, Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus, Doctor Faustus, Athanasius Kircher, the Comte de Saint Germain and a lot more – the list could be extended arbitrarily, extensive with real historical figures, almost unlimited with mythical ones. But it does not end, despite all persecution by church and state, even in modern times, not even in the age of the so-called “Enlightenment of Rationalism”.

Witnesses of our guild were and are Robert Fludd, Dr. John Dee, Frances Barrett, Alan Bennett, Eliphas Levi, Papus (Dr. med. Gérard Encausse), Stanislas de Guaïta, Sâr Merodack Joséphin Péladan, Samuel Liddell McGregor Mathers, Arthur Waite, Karl Kellner, Theodor Reuss, Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, Ludwig Staudenmaier, Franz Sättler alias Dr. Musallam, Rah-Omir Quintscher, Frantisek Bardon (Franz Bardon), Herbert Fritsche, Eugen Grosche alias Gregor A. Gregorius, Karl Spiesberger and many more. Those who are still alive (and they are becoming more and more so) I want to exclude from this already incomplete list for reasons of modesty and lack of historical distance. You see: If you opt for the path of magic, you will find yourself in a rather illustrious society. This includes, as in every great “family”, outstanding experts and real geniuses as well as simple minds to real blunders; and not to forget, of course unfortunately too, charlatans.



Those who feel attracted to the magical arts are always individualists and are reluctant to be pressed into categories or to be labelled with convenient names such as “black magician”, “white magician”, “sorcerer”, “witch”, “magician”, “fortune teller” and the like, which do not really understand anything, but instead once again categorize and falsify many things. The apparent contradictions in the writings of magical authors can be explained both by this fact and by the subjectivity of magic, which one will encounter again and again. There are many advantages and some disadvantages to deal with older authors. After all, it saves one from having to reinvent the wheel again and again if it is done sensibly and with the sharpened eye of the history-conscious, in addition, one becomes partaker of the rich experiences and knowledge treasure of our predecessors.


Historical Context

In order to judge their works correctly, it is also necessary to know the historical context, such as the function and role of Christian phrases in medieval magic books (the so-called Grimoires). You can only understand these works if you also know the spiritual-historical environment of the magicians and magic of the time, as well as the predominance of the church of that time and the dangers of witch-hunts, of one’s own death, etc., which were associated with it. But it must also be a critical respect: not everything that is old is therefore equally good and suitable for our time. Much has crept into the tradition of magic, which one can comfortably do without today and should even do without if one really wants to make progress in practical work with it.


The Many Leads To One

Every form of magic is inherent in one and the same cosmic law. The different fields of magic depend on their fields of application: From the primitive types of folk magic to the highest application of cosmic magic, there are a multitude of gradations. With the increasing development of magical knowledge, skills and abilities, at IMBOLC the probationer and novice will consequently complete and work on the various fields of magic – theoretical as well as practical.

An individual aptitude in special fields of magic usually only arises when a solid basic knowledge, as well as corresponding basic skills, have been acquired in the many areas of Western magic. Magic, like any other skill, requires slow, steady and logical development, comparable to a craft apprenticeship which, as is well known, includes the apprentice, the journeyman and the master. Deviations from this practice can also lead to pathological misbehavior of your body, mind and soul.


Functionality I

Magic is based on the principles of causal relationships. In other words: the energy or force caused by it culminates in a temporal coincidence of two or more events of the same or at least similar meaning that cannot be causally related to each other. Since they – the supposedly magical effects – lack a classical causal nexus, they are nowadays – in the 21st century – smiled at or not taken seriously, especially by representatives of the sciences of nature, and shipped into the realm of chance or stochastic (probability calculation). But in this respect light is at the end of the tunnel, which is precisely the “higher physics”, namely quantum physics, is approaching the ideas and statements of Hermetics and magic more and more. See also the chapter “Magic and Science”.

Magical effects are conspicuously similar to the concept of the so-called “synchronicity” of C. G. Jung, who connects them as a quasi fourth instance of space-time causality and thus elevates them to a non-verifiable, empirical concept. For it – magic – is art (intuition) and science (mind and understanding) at the same time, which with the help of altered states of consciousness (gnosis), in harmony with human will, brings about changes in the physical, astral and mental level (world). This implementation in turn is based on various paradigms (cohesive conceptions of the world) based on correspondences and sympathies.


Functionality II

To speak of a so-called “prelogical” attitude of a magician, since a rationally comprehensible causal connection between the magical operation and the object to be influenced often does not exist, would also be unjustified, since in the most different epochs logical and rational actions were carried out by different persons. On the other hand, the concept of a so-called “paralogical” world view of the magically operating, i.e. existing alongside the “normal general logic”, cannot be completely dismissed. Magic is also to be understood as the epitome of human actions that seek to achieve a desired goal in the same way. The form of thought behind it is, in a special sense, a rationalized and conventionalized system of more or less compelling actions, in which forces are claimed which cannot be grasped purely scientifically, but which are defined by the actor as “supernatural”, and which in turn are realized with the help of the already mentioned changing states of consciousness.

In a similar way, magic can also be described as a kind of mental activity that can have an effect partly in a force or tension of the soul reaching beyond the “sensual”, partly rooted in traditional customs, on a world of objects understood as soul-like, or on other people in an immediate, non-causal-mechanically understood and mediated form.


Religion & Magic

What now again connects religion and magic with each other is first of all the theoretical and practical recognition of a transcendent field and the intimate preoccupation with it. Nevertheless, in comparative religious studies a very strict distinction is made between magic and religion, and rightly so: While in a religious behavior man feels dependent on higher powers and therefore strives to place himself in the right relationship to them, the magical man – “homo divinans” – is more free and thus also more egocentric towards the supernatural world – he acts, he reaches for “power”. In those, as naturally in all human actions, the same multi-layered dangers of ethical-moral misconduct slumber again as in the religions, which is however denied by almost all religions or even the opposite is claimed: Magic is the “devilish art”.

But magic is rather – in its actual essence – the simple and undisguised objectification of the willful desire in the human imagination. This is achieved by the magician by making the power manifested in his environment usable and using it for his own purposes or those of others. It is based – on magic – on the knowledge of the functionality of forces which man seeks to evaluate and use either for his own development, for his own benefit, or to the detriment of others. Magic is thus clearly in opposition to religion: If it is based on the pure inevitability of impersonal forces which man sets in motion, then the latter is a higher personal/will, to which the actor turns, inherent basic condition. So, magic must always be blasphemous from the point of view of the established religions, since in magic above all and supposedly humility is lacking.

The sharp demarcation between science and religion that European research has made seems arbitrary. This modality, for example, denies any scientific character to important achievements of past cultures. In the field of religion, too, the transitions are fluid. Only in ideal-typical view religious practice can be interpreted as a completely lived dependence on the deity and the [in contrast to it] magical practice, as demonstrated supremacy.


Authors & Their Quotes

The proper automatism of the functioning of magical operations, which in this sense do not require charisma, will be, among other things of HARLESS (1858) in his lecture on the Jamblichos text “De mysteriis”: “The peculiarity of the magical signs, symbols and words is that they exert from themselves the efficacy due to them, that the unspeakable power of the gods, to which all this refers, let them recognize their images from themselves and thus become active, without the divine basic causes for their activity being determined and stimulated beforehand by thoughts”.

For this reason, especially in ritual magic, the exact observance of ritual rules plays such an important role.
K.A. Nowotny, in his work “Agrippa von Nettesheim” (Graz 1967), turns against a separation of magic and religion: this distinction is a “[…] European interpretation and not justified by anything. The European initially suspects an act of devotion in the victim (i.e. in the religious act). In reality, it arises from a wealth of intentions: i.e. the safeguarding of natural events, purification, atonement and reconciliation, petition, tribute and contract, coercion, defence and annihilation, the attainment of divine powers, not to mention immortality potions […].”

The magician’s attitude towards – I call it “supernaturalism” – is nevertheless more active, more “autonomous” than usual in religion. The inner attitude, which culminates in words like “Your will be done” and “Not as I will, but as you will” and implies the voluntary affirmation of a divine plan of salvation (aspect of humility) as axiom, is at first foreign to the magician who tries to put the supernatural into his service; thus also the recognition of divine acts of grace as prerequisite for sacred manifestations in the narrower sense. This in turn inevitably leads to the conclusion that the magician cannot pray to magic power: a religious prayer can never arise from a magic formula, although many of the supposed magicians do the same. There is no straight way from spell to prayer. The feeling of the praying person is completely different from that of a magician. Exceptions to this are so-called “mysticistic” acts of the masses (pseudo-religiosity), which are based on superstition (traditions and pragmatic syncretism).

Others, on the other hand, condemn magic with words like: “The rising arrogance dares to also deprive the powers that are over him – the magician – in secrecy of the limits of his magic circle, and from his midst to use them for his purposes. For this purpose he uses the vain arts which he learnt, and in their practice the theurgy is formed in the spell of spirits, the white art, which now, again arrogance everywhere turns to the downfall, leads over to the black, because inwardly it is already this itself and then completes itself to demonic magic”, so Görres in “Christian Mysticism III”.



In Arab countries magic is called sihr. There it is still strictly divided into two parts: Tariqa al mahamuda (“white magic”) and Tariqa al madnuna (“black magic”). The Sura II (102-106) of the Quran, for example, allows the service of spirits and demons through magical incantations. This leads thus also to the forbidden interpretation and use of the Quran for exclusively selfish magic and occult practices, thus similar to the Bible (the synoptists).


Forms Of Magic

The often claimed transition from the theurgy (“white magic”) to goetie (“black magic”) has been fiercely contested by older authors, such as the famous alchemist Alexander von Suchten (16th century), who writes in his “De tribus facultatibus”: “Magia is not magic, but the greatest wisdom of God’s work and a recognizer of hidden nature”.

And Julius Sperber (17th century) distinguishes a divine magic – the magia divinia (magia coelestis) – “that is the heavenly or divine wisdom” and a human magic “which mixes with ceremonies and all sorts of abuses so much, and has been obscured by the fact that it figuratively lost the previous name”.

Mostly considered legitimate was the magia naturalis, which was contrasted with the magia innaturalis, magia diabolica, magia prohibita or magia illicta. In common usage, the last four are often referred to as sorcery (the use of the supernatural world in a largely selfish way that harms one’s fellow human beings). Therefore, nowadays the term magic is usually associated with a derogatory ethical judgement, while the term magic in this sense can generally be used without value. In this context it is also worth mentioning that many well-known, confessing magicians of the past did not describe themselves as so-called “magicians” and did not see themselves as such (cf. statements by Agrippa v. Nettesheim regarding Dr. Johannes Faust).

In literature, the type of magician is rarely compared with that of the scientific researcher. Both, however, have in common the desire to control the environment, to “manipulate” it and to let it enter in its service. But their methods are different: For example, the ritual magician follows a ritual that was perhaps found intuitively in the beginning, which he does not wish to change. The researcher, however, systematically observes and varies the external circumstances of his rationally targeted actions. Of course there are also transitions and intermediate stages here, most likely in the area known as “magia naturalis”.


Red Thread

Regardless of any moral or intellectual evaluation, one must conclude that magic is a fact of spiritual history that has played an important role in the life of TOTAL HUMANITY. For this reason alone, a serious theoretical and practical study of magic should not be reserved only for its opponents or uncritical fantasists.