Defining Magick (writing about witches part 2)

I’ve always liked to spell it ‘Magick’ it just seems more magical, doesn’t it?

Honestly, defining magic is troublesome. Once you define something it becomes limited.

Sir James George Frazer wrote probably my favorite treatise on this subject in The Golden Bough, and I can’t do that justice and won’t rehash it here. One of the many, many takeaways is that at one time science and magic were not separated, and religion and spirituality intermingled freely with them too. So that what we now call magic was then part of science, spirituality, and religion (and vice versa).

The differential was in the means by which a particular effect was invoked. For example, a spiritualist or religious leader may petition a god or some other being to heal someone, an alchemist would mix her elixir for the same purpose, an enchantress may wave her wand and recite ancient words to mend a wound, and a witch may do any combination of these things to produce the healing effect.

All of these means to an end were treated as prescriptions, as recipes, as processes – and records were kept detailing exactly how the desired outcome could be produced. Like scientists, the magic users experimented with different words, different spells, different ingredients, different prayers all the while meticulously recording the process and results. This is where the ancient tomes and spell-books come from.

Many experiments failed, but when they did not, it was magic. Nowadays we call a liquid that helps you heal quickly from an infection an “antibiotic” and we say that’s the biological sciences and medicine, but there was a time when amoxicillin would have been considered pure magic.

In writing about witches, I find myself fascinated not only by the process but also by the character of a person who would painstakingly test and record and fail and try again with her spells. A scientist-type. It came upon me that any witch I would write about would have to be a kind of ancient mastermind whose exterior self – personality, and physicality – was mostly a kind of social camouflage. These witches could not be frightening, decrepit creatures of the shadows (at least on the outside) and neither need they be alluring feminine mysteries. They needed to blend in. They needed to be normal; to be florists and teachers, veterinarians and therapists, neighbors and church-goers, awkward or gregarious, depressed or manic. Otherwise, they would not be left alone, trusted with homes and basements and garages and other convenient places to run their continuous chains of experimental projects. Otherwise, they would be hunted.

Indeed, I believe that if you would happen upon a true witch in the 21st century, this is the kind of person she would be: mostly ordinary, inquisitive, fiercely logical yet open-minded, capable of any profession, and brimming with the desire to practice and to experiment with magic.

The experimental and scientific nature of magic caught my imagination. It then became important for me to at least create a framework for the kind of magic I would be writing about. As I said, I didn’t want to limit anything by strictly defining it, yet I knew that without certain rules and boundaries, the magic wouldn’t seem real. Spells and incantations wouldn’t seem real unless they had a specific kind of language, certain symbols, and the spells had to reference “right” seeming ingredients or call upon the correct spirits.

In essence, the framework I found for magic in my writing consists of two major guidelines. 1. Magic must have its own language and symbol lexicon that consists of ancient, dead tongues and 2. There must be a process associated with the incantations. When a witch simply opens her hand and a flame appears, that is one thing – but when a witch plucks a firefly from the air, spits on it, and whispers, “Vystrelit Eya” and a yellow green flame bursts from the insect and floats, twisting above her palm – that is another.

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