Magic or prayer?
by Jason Mankey
“Pray for me,” is a statement I see quite often Facebook, and usually it’s been posted by my Christian friends. Generally, they ask for prayers to help with employment, or an illness, sometimes they request prayers for members of their family. I find the idea of group prayer a beautiful one, even though I’m often confused by the request from a theological perspective.
If God is all-powerful, and has complete control over the universe, what good does it do to pray? Are people praying in the hopes that they might change the mind of God? Then there’s predeterminism, and the whole “God has a plan” argument. If God has a plan, are you trying to change it through prayer?
Pagans pray, and I probably do it more than most, but I don’t pray to my gods asking them to change my circumstances (or the circumstances of people I care about). I pray in order to “talk” with deity. “Thanks for all the blessings today” is a thought I might convey to the Higher Powers I hold dear. So, I’ll thank them for stuff, but rarely do I plead with them for things. If I need something, I’ve got another avenue for those wants: magic.
Yes, Pagans mostly* believe in magic, and it is what you think, and it’s not what you think at the same time. Magic is a tool for changing your circumstances; it’s something you might use while seeking employment or waiting for a bank loan to come through. It can also be used for healing or to help change a bad habit. Magic is not of the Harry Potter variety; I can’t shoot bolts of energy out of a wand or turn invisible. Magic is generally a subtle force and lacks the theatrics of
the Vegas Strip or Hollywood movies.
I started this piece with Christian Prayer because in my opinion, it works a lot like magic does within Paganism.** Magic is basically the release and direction of “energy” towards a specific goal. When someone asks me to define what I mean by energy, I generally direct them to sporting events. There’s a feeling in an arena during a major sporting event (announcers sometimes call it “electricity”) — everyone is yelling and there’s often a heaviness in the air. That’s energy, and magic simply directs that energy towards a specific goal.
I’ve gone to evangelical churches on a number of occasions and when the pastor gets everyone riled up, you get that same sort of feeling that you do at a basketball game. It’s a different place and context, but it’s basically the same kind of thing. On a smaller scale, you might have a friend who can bring down a whole room when he’s angry. Everybody is having a great time, and then boom, little storm cloud comes in and everything comes crashing down.
People project energy, and others react to it. It’s one of the reasons emotions are so transferable. If everyone around you starts crying at a funeral, you might very well cry too, even if you don’t think that you’re sad. At a funny movie or a comedy club, laughter can be infectious, even when you wouldn’t laugh at those same jokes alone at home on the sofa. Pagans have a rule about magic: “Like attracts like,” and it’s a rule that applies to nearly everyone on a daily basis. (It’s why smiles so easily go from person to person.)
When a group of Christians prays together hoping to bring about a specific change, they are basically doing the same thing a Pagan might do while crafting a spell. Prayer serves as a way to release energy and direct it towards a specific target. The Wiccan Priestess Janet Farrar once described magic as “very focused prayer,” a definition I wholeheartedly agree with. I’m not going to get into the effectiveness of prayer and/or magic, but as long as people don’t skip going to the doctor for a prayer session or a candle lighting ceremony I don’t see how it could hurt.
The biggest difference between prayer and magic might be the use of a “Middle Man.” When I craft up a spell, I generally ask for the blessings of deity, but I don’t put the fate of the spell in the deity’s hands. Prayer has a filter, instead of just sending the energy out there, it has to first be bounced up to the Big Guy upstairs and if he approves, it can then go where one wants it to go.
As a Pagan, I feel like I have greater control over my circumstances. Getting a new job (or getting paid for this column) is up to me, and is not simply a “matter of God’s will.” Magic is the power to change your circumstances, and if it doesn’t work the first time, you try harder and do it again. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure exactly if magic does work, but putting energy and thought into my wants and desires can only help my chances of success.
*I have yet to run into a Pagan who doesn’t believe in magic, but I’m sure they exist.
**Magic is not unique to Paganism either. People have used magic for thousands of years in virtually every religious tradition. That good luck charm your friend keeps in her pocket? Magic. The dreamcatcher in your child’s bedroom? Magic. Lots of people have used magic over the centuries, Pagans today just tend to be more upfront about it, and it’s something embraced by many in the Pagan community.