Religion, Spirituality and Magick

The whole area of spirituality is pretty damn large and complicated.  There as so many threads, traditions, currents and schools all moving around each other, informing each other and frequently lobbing insults at each other.  I was recently thinking about the components of these different approaches and it occurred to me that there are three fundamental things going on here – and they are present to different degrees in different places.

Religion, in this context, I am using to mean the veneration of gods – be that a single god, or goddess, or a whole pantheon.

Spirituality I'm going to use to mean the pursuit of enlightenment – spiritual progress towards a point of transcendence.

Magick is 'getting stuff done' by magickal means – that is having an impact on real events by hidden means.

Some approaches or organisations really only contain one of these things.  In your average Anglican Christian church you are going to find religion, but no real sense of spirituality or magick.  Buddhism is by and large a spiritual tradition, with no religious or magickal techniques included.  Chaos magick, and other 'post-modern' approaches to magick emphasis the 'practical magick' of making things happen, with gods being a means to an end and spirituality largely written out.

But there are many variations, tones and complexities.  Gnostic Christians have a very strong spiritual tradition, using techniques like centred prayer to achieve spiritual progress.  Other evangelical Christians emphasise 'praying for miracles', which is basically a magickal technique.  Some schools of Buddhism treat the Buddah very much as a god to be revered, whilst others have noticed that all of this intense meditation practice gives you the ability to make things happen in the real world if you focus in the right way.  Chaos Magickians, by their very nature, are very diverse and many combine techniques from more religious and spiritual traditions.

The point of this, really, is that one spiritual path is not equal to another, nor will one magickal 'current' take you to the same place as all of the rest.  Many pagans are primarily religious in their practices, whilst using magickal techniques as part of their work, but may not engage with the process of enlightenment in the same way a Buddhist might.  Thelema is an interesting mix, having gods front and centre in much of the writing and you can't read any of Crowley's work without coming across the term 'The Great Work' which is very specifically about the process of personal enlightenment, although many people come to it looking for magick.  Some spiritual traditions believe that learning any magickal technique is immoral, whilst some magickal currents have dismissed concepts of enlightenment as Victorian elitist mumbo-jumbo.

My journey into weirdshit very much started with magick – the idea that magick was possible was fascinating to me, so I immediately wanted to find out exactly what was possible, how and why.  However, with time I realised that the limitations on my magickal abilities were very much the limitations of my own personality so more and more of my emphasis went into gaining insight into myself and trying to understand the workings of my own personality.  Which slowly but surely began to open up a greater interest in spiritual practices – particularly when I realised they were working.  Religious practices have never really been my thing, although I do have the odd divine relationship and I see it as a very valid approach.

In recent years Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford over at The Baptist's Head made a fascinating journey from post-modern magick to spirituality, as they realised that The Great Work was a real, meaningful and achievable thing.  I'm hugely impressed with their body of work (apart from some weird conspiracy theory stuff in the middle), and I hope more and more people pay attention to what they've done.  One important point they make over and over again is – not every path is the same.

I entirely agree.  If you perform certain practices certain results will be achieved.  But I think it's important to have a vocabulary to understand what those results are so you can decide whether it's what you want and whether it's enough for you.  Magick is a good way of generating opportunities, getting you laid, having some adventures.  Religion is a great way to build a personal relationship with the divine, to access guidance, to be taken on a meaningful journey through life.  Spirituality is the way to get enlightened.  Most traditions, paths, schools, contain a blend of these three things – but they are rarely in equal proportion to each other.  Individual teachers and practitioners are likely to be stronger or weaker, more knowledgeable or less knowledgeable, about these different components.  Each of the three brings richness, meaning and success to live – but they are different, have different results and you shouldn't be learning to use a screwdriver if you want to hammer in a nail.

3 Responses to "Religion, Spirituality and Magick"

  1. Antara says:

    A very interesting article and something which my own group had been discussing from time to time. I have certainly observed a number of pagans who really only want a substitution for the Church with an emphasis on Nature. I think there is an interesting talk coming up on a similar subject soon at Treadwells.

    I would definitely agree that a balance is required between all three elements, and I was also add that I think the three either bleed into each other or feed into each other. So Magick and Religion both help one to achieve greater Enlightenment, Magick and Enlightenment can enhance ones relationship with the Gods and Goddesses etc.

    • Warlock says:

      Yes, the inter-connectedness of the different areas can make it a relatively difficult conversation to have. Using magickal techniques and having magickal skill certainly enhances ones religious experiences (as anyone who has been to a number of pagan rituals knows – when they are run by an effective Priest/Priestess who has the magickal oomph to make the gods pay attention they are very different experience from those run by less skilled individuals). Traveling deeply into ones relationship with a deity will certainly bring enlightening experiences (depending somewhat on the deity involved I imagine). But I think the discussion needs to be around the most effective way of achieving a specific goal. I feel that assuming that a single approach, path or technique will give you everything in equal measure is rather foolish, and if you have a particular goal in mind it's worth learning about techniques specifically associated with that goal (although I think 'goals' are relatively few and far between in spiritual circles). It's like understanding that there is a difference between concentration practice and insight practice in meditation – they are different techniques and they produce different results. Know which you are working on and use it. It doesn't mean one is superior, but they do different things.

      I'm with the Baptist Head people when they say that talk of Enlightenment has largely got lost from the magickal scene (and I'm frustrated with how few on the Pagan scene seem to even practice magick). There's such richness within it, so much to explored and learned and achieve – and I believe great things can be achieved… if you use the right techniques and are prepared to put in the work.

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