We live in a world that is convinced that everything in the universe runs according to basic mechanical principles, such as the laws of thermodynamics or the law of gravity. We are taught by our experiences that these laws are, for the most part, non-negotiable. If we jump off a roof, we will fall to the ground (unless we hit another object on the way down, then other laws of physics will influence how and where we land). So from a very young age we try to operate within these boundaries. As we grow older, we become convinced that the better we learn these basic principles of the universe, the better off we will be.
There is much to commend learning these laws, but a negative byproduct is that we come to believe we live in a universe that is ruled by a set of blind forces (like gravity) that constantly push and pull us around. We call it names like “cause and effect,” and most Christians think this way as well, except that we add that it was God who put these forces in motion and who put in place the law of reciprocity (the whole “sowing and reaping” thing) to make everything work fairly. You get out what you put in. No more, no less.
So throughout history, regardless of tribe or culture, people have reasoned that if we learn how these laws operate, we can use that knowledge to bend these laws to our wants. We could, for example, manipulate the law of gravity in a way that would allow us to not be affected by it. And, of course, people have done that.
Science has provided ways to understand and then alter many natural physical laws, but scientists are quick to acknowledge that they are limited to laws they can subject to trial and testing. They can’t speak to that which is beyond observable natural laws and physics.
Traditionally, addressing the metaphysical and supernatural realms has fallen to religion–the idea that we can connect with something or someone that will enable us to change our future.
In ancient times, this ability to manipulate the basic laws of the universe was called “magick.” I use the archaic spelling with a “k” so as not to confuse it with the sleight of hand and other fakery we call “magic.” Modern magicians never claim they are supernaturally overriding natural laws; they are simply selling an illusion, and they freely acknowledge it as such.
Those who practice magick, on the other hand, are convinced they can alter or bypass natural laws and physics. These days, we no longer use the term magick to describe these practices. We have exchanged the “k” for a color. We call it either black magic or white magic.
Most of us have at least heard of black magic, but few of us know what it is. In western culture, it takes two primary forms: witchcraft and voodoo. Many mistakenly link black magic to religions like Satanism. Satanists sometimes use black magic, but Satanism is just that: the worship of a being. Witchcraft and voodoo, however, are forms of superstition, not worship. They do not operate on the principle that the universe is dominated by a personal being. They claim the world is controlled by basic mechanical principles that one can learn and use to one’s advantage. The idea is that I can get what I want on my own; I don’t need a god of any kind.
So regardless of the form a superstition takes, it’s purpose is always the same: to control the environment. A voodoo doll or evil spell would be a good example.
Black magic, with all its spells, wands, and potions, is easy to identify, but what about “white” magic? Is there even such a thing? There is, and you may be surprised at how popular it is.
In the secular world, it shows up in virtually everything that famous self-help authors promote. Immensely popular books like The Secret have captured our imagination with claims that there are laws we can learn how to use to accomplish whatever we seek to accomplish–we can get what we want, how we want it, when we want it.
How popular is white magic in our culture? Well, consider the fact that the most spiritually influential person in the United States over the past twenty years, when it comes to sheer impact, is Oprah Winfrey. A quick look at the success of the authors she has promoted reveals how profoundly she has influenced us. Our hunger for books on how to get what we want out of life is insatiable. We keep folks like Deepak and L. Ron and Rhonda and a host of others perpetually on the best seller lists.
Unfortunately, white magic is not limited to secular appearances; it is found in prime time religion as well. Some of the most popular Bible teachers proclaim that God has given certain formulas in Scripture that, when spoken by a believer, obligate God to do what is asked. We get to control God. We need simply name it and claim it. This is nothing more than white magic in Christian garb.
What do you believe about how the world operates? How many of us believe that God has given certain formulas in the Bible and elsewhere that we can use to improve our lives and help us better accomplish our goals? That if we mix certain ingredients in certain proportions, God will bless us in what we want to do. That we will get to do what we want, how we want, when we want (in Jesus’s name, of course). This, many of us decide, is the way to live the Christian life–learning the right spiritual formulas for controlling our destiny. And the results are often disastrous.
The story in Acts 19 of some folks who went down this path is instructive. We read how, over the course of three years in Ephesus, God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. Seven sons of the Jewish chief priest watched Paul for awhile and decided that his effectiveness was due to a secret formula–the magic name of Jesus. The men wanted to test the magic, so they found a man who was demon-possessed and said, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” The evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” Then the man who was possessed by the evil spirit attacked the seven men and left them naked and bleeding and barely alive.
Consider the seven sons of Sceva. Like many of us, they were looking for a technique that would allow them to control outcomes, but there are no magic formulas in Christ.
Next week: God and magick.