My Theory (and practice) of Magic
"This is magic if you want it to be magic, and brain-hacking if you want it to be brain-hacking. But for me, it’s both."
- sleepingirl, Six Days Asleep, 2022
I've been planning to write this post for ages, but never found the time and energy to actually formulate all the nuances of my belief system into a readable form (you try, it's really hard!). But I've done my best, and hopefully this post helps you understand what I'm on about when I talk about magic and related things. I believe that magic works, and that it can be entirely non-supernatural, and is fully compatible with a scientific worldview.
Throughout this post I'll be avoiding saying anything is "real" or "not real" – these are terms that are difficult when talking about something as abstract as the idea as magic. I prefer to use the term "works", as in, "creates the desired effect for the practitioner", and magic works.
what even is magic?
To me, there is no one defining characteristic of what makes something magic. Magic is a wide ranging description of many mutually contradictory traditions, practices, feelings, and models. It's not my place to say that any of these are not "truly" magic, and these are all magic, in some sense or another.
However, when I talk about magic in relation to my own beliefs, I usually am referring to intention-driven ritual practice, and magical experience. These two things together form the core of my magical beliefs.
I consider any practice that takes deliberate time away from your normal day and routine to perform a specific task as a ritual. A ritual doesn't necessarily have to be scheduled, or repeated. It can be a one-off casting for a specific purpose, or a daily meditation routine, a tarot reading, etc. It can be incredibly elaborate, or incredibly simple. My magical rituals tend towards the simpler side (which I'll talk about later).
Not all ritual practice is magical. For me, what marks out a ritual as magical is being specifically intentional, and involving an altered headspace. I'll talk deeper about both of these when I talk about my practice and my model of magic, respectively.
Another huge part of magic is magical experience. Magical experience is difficult to define, because it's like defining any other feeling (what does "feel magical" mean?), so giving a few examples of what I consider magical experiences might be more helpful:
- trance, especially deep trances
- noticing a connection while reading tarot
- casting a sigil
- lying in a park and feeling a deep, relaxing connection with nature
- entering subspace in a BDSM scene
- getting particularly lost in a piece of music
Ritual practice usually creates magical experiences, but they can happen outside of ritual practice (like the music example). Creating magical experiences for myself is a large part of my motivation for ritual practice, along with creating changes in line with my intentions.
My model of magic
NOTE: This is not meant to be a universal model for all magical practice! It's the model I follow, and my personal belief system for the magic I do. While I think it is a powerful one, and one that can encompass a wide range of practices, it is not comprehensive! It just works for me.
There are many different models for magical practice. There are three broad categories that are most widely discussed1:
- spirit models (that magical powers come from communication with and harnessing the powers of gods, spirits, etc)
- energy models (that magical power exists in some kind of energy that flows through living things)
- psychological models (that magical power comes from altering our mental processes in various ways)
My personal model is a psychological model – I believe that magical practices work through creating mental change via altered states. The most accurate name for this model would probably be "the hypnotic model".
This idea may seem incredibly limited at first, but when I use the term "hypnotic" here I mean it in a very broad sense, of deliberate induction of an altered headspace through focused attention. To me, traditional hypnosis, meditation, the chaos magic concept of "gnosis", and the deep introspection of tarot reading are all hypnotic practices, and I understand them in hypnotic terms.
What's important to making magical practices work is some change in mental state from where you usually are. This allows for different forms of introspection, and engaging your intentions through a process similar to autosuggestion2.
IMPORTANT: While I believe that you can create lots of mental changes this way, you cannot create much meaningful physical change nor can you solve deep mental issues. If you have physical or mental health problems, do not attempt to use magic to solve them. Speak to a doctor or therapist. Trying to use magic or other hypnotic practices to erase symptoms will only cause them to get worse while you are unaware of them. Also, anybody attempting to sell you anything magical as if it will solve these problems is scamming you.
An important thing to note here is that this explains, on a mundane level, how I believe magical practices to work, but I do not believe that magic can be reduced to "just hypnosis". Magical experience and ritual are important here. A strong magical practice creates strong magical experience (for example, the difference between a normal hypnotic suggestion and casting a sigil is entirely one of magical experience, but the power of the magical experience helps the suggestion to work)3.
Despite how much I have been thinking about magic over the past few years, actually keeping a consistent-ish practice is relatively recent to me, and constantly evolving. I struggled to keep any consistent practice in the past due to my stubbornness in focusing on traditional meditation as a method of reaching a trance state (something I deeply struggled with, probably due to my ADHD) and the misconception I had to attain a "empty mind" state for magic to work.
When I am creating magical rituals for myself, I tend to think of them in a process a bit like this:
- What is my intention with this ritual?
- What mental space would be best for conducting this ritual?
- How can I engage that intention through practice?
- How can I create a strong magical experience to allow that intention to properly "stick"?
My practice is very exploratory, so I don't have any super super set-in-stone rituals for specific things. I also work with different ideas at different times, based on what is speaking to me at the time (because working with what speaks to me creates a stronger magical experience), but there are some common things I like.
A lot of my rituals start with staring at a candle and letting myself drift into a meditative state, keeping my eyes open and feeling "awake" when I breathe in, and closing them and sinking further when I breathe out.4 If my intent is more transformative, I'll blow out the candle, using the impact of that moment to drop me into a deeper trance state (the same way a hypnotist may use a finger snap, but with a stronger attached magical experience)
Once I'm in an appropriately open mental space, I'll start the main practice. This could be sigil casting, spiritual introspection, or something else entirely, depending on my intention (if I want to create a change, I can cast a sigil, if I want to explore the deeper feelings of an intention, it can be spiritual introspection, etc). Then I'll come back up, and I usually write about the experience and effects. Writing about my practices is important to me, as it lets me keep some kind of a record of my explorations, what worked, what didn't, and how I will shape my practices as I continue.
In the future, I'd like to explore cartomancy (reading cards) a lot more, meditation with a focus on incense smoke, and other divination practices. While I don't believe they can predict the future, I think they are a wonderful prompt for the kind of deep introspection and breaking of normal thought patterns that is truly magical, and would help me engage with more exploratory intentions, or those that seek some kind of guidance. I don't vibe with traditional tarot, but I'm currently exploring the world of Lenormand cards, and might end up designing my own deck sometime.
casual rituals and hypnotic triggers
Some other parts of my practice think are worth mentioning are casual rituals, and my use of hypnotic triggers. During a ritual I will create an association between some action I can take, or some object, and a certain feeling or action (what hypnotists call a trigger). In the wider world, these are mostly used in a hypnokink context, but I've adapted them for my magical practice.
The way I use these is as mental utilities. For example, I have created a hypnotic trigger when I touch two of my fingers together in a specific way that will make me more relaxed and take me to a light trance space where I can sort through thoughts, which I use for helping manage stress.5 This is similar to the way some people will charge crystals for certain effects, or get magical tattoos that have certain effects – just, like with a lot of my practice, based in hypnotic theory.
The other part of my practice that is arguably not magical (although still feels magical to me) is creating casual rituals. I'm constantly on the lookout for things that I can turn into a small ritual, make somewhat trancey, or use magical techniques to improve. For example, I hate washing the dishes usually, but I have more recently turned it into a ritual. By focusing on each dish, the feeling of the water on my hands, the spiral pattern I use to wipe down a plate, etc I can turn the act of doing the dishes into something meditative I can get lost in, and by the time I come back up, all the dishes are done. Similarly, I brew my coffee manually every morning, as a little ritual that greatly enhances the awakening effects of the coffee.
Magic is cool. It's interesting, varied, personal, introspective, and powerful. Belief in magic is also (at least, I would argue) compatible with a scientific worldview, and requires no supernatural influence - just an openness to magical experiences.
Above all, I hope this post helped you understand why I believe and do the things I do, and maybe inspired you to try something similar. If you want to, I highly recommend sleepingirl's excellent free short book Six Days Asleep, which is a lovely open-ended guide to the kind of hypnotically-informed magical practice I engage with.
you will sometimes see these discussed as "the energy model", "the spirit model", and "the psychological model". I don't like this framing, as each of these categories encompasses a huge range of different belief systems (the practices of many major religions, despite being completely different, could all be considered "sprit model"). So I consider them as "energy models", "spirit models", etc. ↩︎
I don't want to dig into the specifics of how hypnosis works here, which itself has multiple competing models. All that matters for this purpose is that hypnosis and trance work to create mental change (which they do). ↩︎
magical experience is what connects my hypnotic model to more traditional spirit and energy models. They are different ways to create magical experience in a practice (through visualisation of energy flows, or the experience of spirit contact in trance) that may have the same hypnotic effect. ↩︎
yes, hypnosis nerds, this is a form of fractionation. ↩︎
This is, practically, an accelerated form of the kind of breathing relaxation exercises that are commonly suggested as in-the-moment stress relief. Like I said before, magical practice cannot treat anxiety or any other condition long-term, and you should never try and use magic to erase symptoms of any condition. ↩︎