Reflections On:
The Nature of Magick

by Wald Amberstone

When I was a child (long, long ago, alas) magick was the preserve of fairy tales, and of rumors of the actual existence of places like Haiti and New Orleans and Atlantis. Words like "coven," "sorcerer," and "grimoire" sent chills of delight down my young spine though they spoke of things indefinite as shadows. As I grew up and grew older, magick became the ideal against which I measured each "reality" I was presented with, and "reality" always suffered by comparison.

In recent times, magick has evolved well beyond the purely personal experiences of the occasional initiate. It now commands the attention of a multitude, spanning all ages and backgrounds. It may even be on the brink of being mainstream. But what is "Magick?"

The word is a tricky one, illusive and ill-defined. I use it a lot and so do many people I know. To be honest, I have never been a hundred percent sure of exactly what I mean when I say it. And I think I have a lot of company in that. There's a general sense about the word, an ambience, that is inclusive enough to form a common ground for conversation, but I've never seen an actual definition that I like or can really use. Even the dictionary fumbles around with terms like "supernatural," "baffling," etc.

So one day recently I sat down to think about magick and what it means and try to distill a useable, concise definition for it. I didn't actually manage that, but some useful thoughts did repay my efforts and I thought I would share them.

Well, what do I mean when I say "magick"?

Magick is the manipulation of seen and unseen worlds by means of symbols alone.

A symbol may be a symbolic object, action or energy. Worlds include the world of consensus phenomenality (the "real," everyday world), unseen worlds of all kinds, and the interior world of the personal psyche.

A magician, sorcerer or witch is a practitioner who uses symbols to affect those worlds. By means of magickal education (initiation), personal discipline and focused intent, he or she evokes and directs the power at the heart of a symbol, a power analogous to the nuclear power at the heart of an atom.

The power of symbols evoked and released for practical purposes in the everyday world is generally called "Low Magick" and tends to be scorned by those who use this power to aid them in their quest for personal evolution and transcendence. The power of symbols used for elevation of the spirit and refinement of perception is called "High Magick."

Initiation, discipline and intent, carried far enough, can transform the magician's entire world into a world of pure symbol and make of the magician himself the consummate symbol in that world. Then, whatever purpose the power of magick is put to, the magician runs the risk of becoming "lost." That is, he or she may become a solitary occupant of a world having little or no contact with ordinary reality. In this world the magician will have no solace or protection or respite, and may well face powers and beings beyond any ability to control or appease.

But it is also possible that a magician may unlock and step though the door to matchless power and freedom. This is a gamble that many who have set their foot on this path have been willing to make.

I have confided these thoughts to a number of friends with a background in magickal practice. Some were pleased but some found objections that should be mentioned.

For example, what of magickal beings such as fairies, elves and dragons? Where's the symbolism there? If they exist, they exist; they don't need a magician's understanding or touch to be rendered magickal. And what about nature Herself? The full moon above a mountain top or a forest glade is intensely magickal without a symbol or a magician in sight. And then there's the supernatural -- ghosts, spirits, demons, elementals, angels. Many people testify to the existence of such beings, few of whom would call themselves magicians or lay their experiences to the manipulation of symbols. And what about those masterful manipulators of symbols and their power who have no pretension or aspiration to the magickal at all, like mathematicians and theologians?

What of all these, and who knows how many more types and aspects I have not mentioned here? And what about words like "symbol" and "power" and "freedom" that face us all with the problem of defining one unknown in terms of another?

Clearly, a complete description of magick needs much thought and is beyond the scope of this short page. And I would be very happy to make of this task a communal rather than a purely personal effort. I invite those who read these words to share their thoughts on this matter with me and each other.

Wald Amberstone is a founder and director of The Tarot School. To contact him, call 800-804-2184 or email.