As a paranormal romance writer, I’m constantly putting magic in my stories. In fact, most of them revolve around magic of some kind–hauntings, vampires, rituals designed to raise the spirit of a dead person or protect against evil. When I wrote those stories, I was drawing on real magical traditions for inspiration.
Aside from stage magic, there are two general divisions of magic in the West: high or ceremonial magic, and low or folk magic. And yes, people still practice these traditions in spite of the prejudice we Westerners have toward anything “woo-woo”.
As Donald Tyson says in his book Ritual Magic; what it is and how to do it, “Definers of magic may be divided into two groups: those who are convinced that magic has no validity or efficacy beyond what may be produced by the superstitious credulity of the ignorant and those who believe that magic works. Members of these groups do not always come right out and admit their bias, but it is usually obvious from their statements and writings.”
A note: sometimes modern magical practitioners spell the word magic with a k, as in “magick,” to distinguish the ritual type from stage magic. I dislike this spelling because it leads to such absurdities as “magickian” instead of magician, but if you Google magic you’ll see the alternative spelling all over the web.
High or Ceremonial Magic. High magic involves a great deal of attention to detail. Lots and lots of detail. Rituals are often elaborate and require tons of preparation because everything involved in the ritual–all the tools, decorations, clothing–has to fit the magical goal.
One such ritual (The Rite Of Queen Hagiel, from Stewart Farrar’s book What Witches Do) requires four green candles, a lamp of green glass–possibly also made of copper–containing another green candle, a green cloth for the main altar, green chalk, roses and lilies,a piece of paper eight inches square plus another one or two in a seven-sided shape, a robe of azure silk with a green or rose-colored belt, and cinnamon incense. This is in addition to all the tools the witch or magician uses in his or her regular rituals.
You might also choose the timing of the ritual based on either the deity or spirit involved or the goal of the ritual and you might use astrological tables to determine that time.
Sometimes the best time for a working, astrologically speaking, might be at three fifteen in the morning on a Friday. Not exactly convenient for most of us, but for a major working I guess it could be worth it.
The “highest” of high magic is focused almost entirely on the Great Work–refining your inner being to become more spiritual and bringing yourself to what some people call a higher vibration. Historically, because of the lofty goals and demanding material requirements, most of the people who practiced this type of magic were not poor.
Ceremonial magic often concerns itself with calling on demons or other spirits, commanding and controlling them to do the magician’s bidding. This is usually to bestow greater power, knowledge, and wealth on the magician. This kind of magic is what’s found in the Greater Key Of Solomon and a number of other well-known grimoires.
Low magic or folk magic. Primarily about ensuring protection, fertility, health, and wealth for ordinary people and their families, mostly using the natural properties of easily available materials. People used charms to protect their livestock and crops, to make the land more fertile, to help themselves conceive, to cure disease. And sometimes they used it to get back at someone who’d pissed them off.
Charms your grandma, nana, abuela, or oma taught you would fall into this category. This is where we see a lot of so-called folk superstitions, such as throwing salt over the shoulder to get rid of bad luck.
Folk magic uses a generally simpler set of correspondences in the way spells are created. Correspondences are essentially things that are connected symbolically or energetically to other things. For example, pink and red are colors associated (or corresponding) to love.
Folk magic is less demanding in terms of time and material than high magic, because the people who traditionally practice it are usually short on time and money. Folk magic is concerned with practical matters and uses tools and ingredients that the average person in that culture has on hand–brooms, cooking pots, common culinary or medicinal herbs, fur or feathers from local animals, hair from the person who is the target of the spell.
Stage magic has very little in common with either high or folk magic, except it tries to create incredible effects that make people gasp in amazement. It substitutes jaw-dropping effects for real changes in the world. Obviously, the intent of stage magic is to mystify and entertain. Both high and folk magicians often work in secret. Their spells aren’t meant as entertainment; they’re meant to achieve real results. Keep in mind, though, that there’s a whole lot of overlap between various magical categories and divisions and very few hard lines.
In the next few installments, I’ll be talking in more detail about high magic, folk magic, and the way magic appears in fiction.