Tag Archives: concepts in magic

Concepts in Magic: Wyrd

Back in January, I launched a series of entries called “Concepts in Magic,” starting with a discussion of creation. I followed this with the second entry, that one about will. As I sat at my computer, I decided that the most logical third entry should be about wyrd, as it’s where the previous two concept meet and interract.

Wyrd is a term from Norse mythology. However, I believe that the concept of wyrd exists in most, if not all, magical systems and religious traditions. This can be seen in the fact that wyrd has many aspects in common with such concepts as karma or fate (though none of them are exactly the same). Given the fact that my own practices are heavily influenced by Norse thought, I will focus on wyrd in this entry. However, I strongly believe that much of what I say translates well to other traditions in some form or another.

At its most basic level of understanding, wyrd is the principle that states that the current moment in time is the cumulative result of all past events and choices. If a person takes a moment to ponder all of the circumstances and choices in their lives, they discover a trail which has led them to the point where they stand at this very moment. As they do this, they are pondering and coming to understand wyrd.

Often times, people come to understand wyrd as a personal thing. You will find both modern heathens and Icelandic authors that speak of an individual’s wyrd much like one might talk about one’s karma in the Eastern traditions. While there may be some benefit to this point of view, I have come to the realization that from a magical viewpoint, the idea of personal wyrd is merely an illusion. What we often like to see as “his wyrd,” “her wyrd,” “your wyrd,” or “my wyrd” is merely a limited perspective of a tiny piece of a much greater tapestry, true wyrd. In reality, there is only wyrd, a single fabric of reality that connects and supports everyone and everything. And it is this larger picture of wyrd that is important to a magical mindset.

It is this interconnectedness of all people and things through a single, universal wyrd that makes magic possible. This is because each of us shapes this universal wyrd on some small scale, thereby affecting the greater whole. Indeed, it is our ability to shape wyrd in some way that makes us participants in the creative process. After all, it is wyrd that holds creation together.

In reality, every living being in the universe can and does shape wyrd, even those who don’t understand or believe in it. However, the magician does so both consciously and willfully. A magician comes to understand the nature of wyrd and his contribution to it, thereby enabling himself to influence wyrd in the way he wishes.

Of course, a wise magician does this respectfully and carefully. Wyrd is governed by certain principles (often known as the primal rules or orlog), and so is the process of shaping it. Indeed, one of the great challenges of working effective magic is coming to understand the governing principles behind wyrd well enough to shape it effectively and responsibly. That is an ongoing learning experience which the responsible magician or witch will devote themselves to for the res of their lives — or as long as they choose to work magic.

Concepts in Magic: Will

In a previous post, I wrote about how an understanding of Creation as an ongoing process is a powerful concept in magic. In this post, I wish to look at another powerful concept, the concept of the will.

Most people who work with magic are familiar with the definition of magic offered by Aleister Crowley:

Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.

Despite the fact that I am in no sense a Thelemite (which is one of the reasons I don’t add the K to the end of the word “magic”), I find this definition quite useful. Furthermore, it demonstrates that will is central to any magical act. Without will, there is no magic. So this begs the question: What is will?

The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition (as reported by Dictionary.com) includes the following definitions:

1. a. The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action: championed freedom of will against a doctrine of predetermination.
b. The act of exercising the will.
c. Diligent purposefulness; determination: an athlete with the will to win.
d. Self-control; self-discipline: lacked the will to overcome the addiction.

It is clear from these definitions that will is that part of the psyche that initiates action. It is that which takes a desire that we have, and focuses our time and energy to accomplish or manifest that desire.

It is important to note that desire is not the same as will. In my experience, this is an increasingly common misconception in the magical community and our society in general. Far to often, we express our desires thinking that doing this alone (or even having those desires in the first place) is sufficient to have them met. I’m reminded of the joke about the devout Christian who goes to church daily, only to ask God to let him win the lottery. After many weeks of this daily routine, God finally decides to respond to this request in a very personal day. As the petitioner makes his request one day, he hears a rather annoyed voice from heaven proclaim, “You could at least buy the ticket!”

Truly involving one’s will in the satisfaction of a desire requires both effort and action. Without this effort, this act of will, the desire never comes more than a vain wish. It is the act of making sure that the “rubber meets the road” that makes magic.

Since Crowley offered his definition of magic(k), some have tried to improve upon his definition. Most notably, people have tried to add such qualifiers to the end of the definition as “by means not understood by ordinary science.” This is often done in an attempt to identify the “mystical” aspect of magic and to distinguish it from “mundane” effort. I am convinced that this is a mistake, as it creates an artificial boundary between “mundane” and “magical” effort.

Truth be told, to someone who walks a magical path long enough, every act of will becomes an act of magic. The boundary between the “mundane” and the “magical” dissolves completely, and an individuals conscience efforts blend together seemlessly. The witch who is looking for a new job is working just as magically when she writes her resume as when she is lighting a candle or praying to her gods for their blessing on her search. All of these acts and the power channeled into them work together to accomplish her goal and manifest the job that she needs.

Understanding all conscientious acts as magical acts also explains why so many magical attempts are shipwrecked by “mundane” activities. Consider for example a less experienced witch who does magic to get a new job, but doesn’t not pay careful attention to the creation or modification of her resume. Or perhaps she submits her resume haphazzardly, not putting much effort into the seach process. Understanding that these choices are magical acts in themselves demonstrates that her will is not fully behind her stated outcome of finding a job. As such, her efforts and energies become unfocused, scattered, and less effective. Perhaps they become totally ineffective.

Concepts in Magic: Creation

Back around Christmas, I read a blog entry by Mark in which he describes the difference between magic and miracle. While he was mainly investigating the topic while examining literature, particularly Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, it got me to thinking about the nature of magic as I understand it. This line of thought was further stimulated this past week while working on my Review of the movie, “The Covenant.” As a result I’ve decided to start a small series of posts on various concepts I consider important to the practice of magic.

For those who find this and any future entries while searching for spells or practical advice on casting spells, I must inform you that you will be severely disappointed. This is not my intent, as I generally do not believe that a public blog (or most other forms of Internet communication, for that matter) is an appropriate medium for disseminating that kind of information. Instead, this and future posts will be theoretical in nature, covering concepts whose understanding will, in my opinion, at least, enhance a witch’s ability to ply her magical craft.

The first important concept to understand is that creation is not a “done deal.” While many religious traditions teach that God or some other Divine Source created the universe like a “master clockmaker” who assembled everything and wound everything up enough to last for the rest of its existence, a witch understands that the creative forces are still in progress. They see the universe not so much as a mechanical wind-up toy, but as a living thing that has a more organic life. Under such a paradigm, both creation and desctruction are ongoing activities. In Norse mythology, this is represented by Yggdrasil, the world tree which holds up the nine realms. This tree is constantly being nourished so that it grows. That growth is then controlled by the harts which feast on its leaves and the wyrms that gnaw at its roots.

Norse mythology further corroborates that the creation process was not a “one time deal,” at least indirectly, when you consider that there is not a single creation myth in the lore, but a series of stories describing different aspects of creation. In one tale you have the uncovering of Ymir and Audhumla when the fires of Muspelheim and icy waters of Nifleheim combine, while in another tale, you have the creation of man and woman from trees by Odin and his brothers. (Indeed, one might go so far to ask who or what created the trees that were turned to human and when they were created.) This all suggests that the universe unfolded over a period of time.

More importantly, it suggests that there were a great number of players in the creation process. Creation was not done by a single Supreme Being all at once, but was a process where many forces and beings built upon one another’s part of the process. This brings us to the next part of the creation concept: We are participants in the process of creation as well as part of the outcome.

To underscore this concept, I again draw upon Norse mythology. As I mentioned earlier, Yggdrasil is nourished daily. The task of providing this nourishment is left to three giant maidens known as the Norns. These Norns are the embodiment of the Norse concept of wyrd, which can be roughly described as a hybrid of the more familiar concepts of fate and karma. (This is naturally an oversimplification, but a more careful examination of wyrd deserves its own post, which I hope to offer at a later date.) Upon applying this understanding to the myth, the symbolism becomes clear: The universe itself is propagated and nourished by the actions of all who are a part of it. In effect, the universe and its constituant parts, through their actions, guide its own own development and the creative process that is unfolding.

Magical work involves understanding this basic principle and applying it by acting in ways to influence the continuing process of creation in specific ways. Or as Crowley put it, it’s a matter of “effecting change in accordance with will.”

An understanding of creation as an ongoing process addresses one of the issues inherent in Mark’s characterization of magic. Under a paradigm in which creation is a completed process performed long ago by a single Creator, it’s hard not to see any attempt to alter that creation as a “twisting” of said creation. Furthermore, it’s inevitable that one sees that “twisting” as a purely negative and evil thing. The perfect clock cannot be enhanced, and therefore any changes are obviously bad.

An organic understanding of a universe that is still going through the creation process, however, allows for a universe that can be changed both for the better and for the worse. In such a system, especially a system which recognizes every individual as a co-creator anyway, influencing the process becomes natural and understandable. The question of whether said influence is negative or positive becomes a matter of further ethical consideration.