Prayer or Magic
The number of conversations that I have had on the topics of prayer and magic/witchcraft are innumerable. Most of my closest friends are devoted Catholics and I love talking with them about religion because it proves to me that religious tolerance is indeed possible. I was inspired by one of these conversations to write about the possible similarities between prayer and magic.
I have come across several definitions of prayer. Most of them revolve around the same notion - communication with the Divine. Prayer has been defined as "words that you say when praying to God or gods" (from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English), "an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought; a set order of words used in praying; an earnest request or wish; the act or practice of praying to God or a god"(from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) and so on.
In my previous post on magic, I listed several definitions of magic according to some noteworthy Pagan/occult authors and practitioners:
"Magic is the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with will." - Aleister Crowley
"Magic is the projection of natural energies to produce needed effects." - Scott Cunningham
"We do not affect fate by our magical operations, we affect ourselves; we reinforce those aspects of our nature which are in sympathy with the powers we invoke." - Dion Fortune
"Magic is making something happen that you want to happen." - Raymond Buckland
"The work of magic involves transformation, and the first transformation is the shift of perception." - Marion Weinstein
"Magic is the art of effecting change in consciousness at will." - William Butler
Essentially, magic is about sending messages to the universe via words, energy and actions. In short, communication with the universe.
Now, you might say that God and the universe are not the same. Well, for a number of people, they are. Even if they are not the same, they are similar in some aspects. Many Pagans see the God and Goddess as archetypes rather than actual entities. Some see them as symbols of the creative powers of the universe. Many Christians also don't perceive God as a bearded man in the sky. In fact, the people that I have talked to see him as a creative entity. Whether or not God, from the Christian perspective, will be present in the universe and everything in it, or perhaps "above" all creation varies from individual to individual. Or rather, this depends on whether the individual sees God as being immanent or transcendent. I would just like to point out that the Bible implies that God is transcendent in some places, and that he is immanent in others. Therefore, Christians will have different perceptions of God, just as Pagans have different perceptions of the God and Goddess.
But what if we just say "the Divine" in stead of "God/Goddess/the Universe"? Well then, both prayer and magic would be based on communication with the Divine! This makes things slightly more complicated.
I believe magic and prayer refer to the same thing but only with different connotations and slight differences in approach. Even the terms "invocation" and "evocation" could be compared to prayer and magic. Just to clarify, invocation is the act of invoking ("inviting in") a deity/entity into one's body. Evoking is the act of simply inviting a deity/entity in one's vicinity (not inside the person themselves!). So what is the basis for comparing all of these terms? Communication and contact with the Divine.
When a person prays, they address the Divine with words. Sometimes a certain action is included, such as counting Rosary beads, for example. These words can be spoken in the spur of the moment, or they may be learnt by heart. Although many Christians don't realize this, the prayers they learn by heart and repeat over and over again are intended to lead the individual into a trance-like state. This is what any sort of repetition and monotony does. Shamans use monotonous and repetitive drum beats to achieve trance, Pagans often use mantras and so on. Repetition and monotony are the key to trance. In this case, trance is just one doorway to the Divine. Also, a person praying doesn't just send out words; they also send out energy and intentions. When a person prays, they do so with a certain intention, be it for asking help with an issue, for health or any other reason.
When a person performs magic, they also have to have a specific intention and be ready to devote time and energy to the process. Magic is a very broad term that can imply speaking words, performing actions or, on the contrary, not saying/doing anything at all but simply projecting thoughts/energy towards the Divine. Similarly enough, prayers can also be sent in the form of thoughts.
The only difference between magic and prayer is in the attitude the practitioner may/may not have. Many Christians do not communicate directly with God when praying (e.g. they address their prayers to Jesus/a saint/the Pope etc. and ask them to take their prayers to God). Then again, some Christians don't share this "passive" attitude. I believe this has a lot to do with one's upbringing, doctrine and possibly the belief in predestination that is quite widespread among Christians.
Pagans, on the other hand, do not believe in predestination. We believe that we have the ability to form our own futures and that we do so every second of the day. Therefore, we may address the Divine in one way or another, but we don't believe that this alone will change anything. Most Pagans believe that prayer/magic can help in bringing about change, but that prayer/magic alone will not achieve anything. Basically prayer/magic is a supplement to our own actions.
This is why I see Paganism as being an inherently slightly more "active" spiritual path than Christianity. Yet, they both strive to communicate with the Divine. The approach is the only thing that differs. Here is an analogy so you understand what I mean. Let us imagine that prayer/magic are everyday communication and that the Divine is a physical person. Pagans would be the ones walking up to that person and talking with them face to face (sometimes even in a cheeky way). Christians would be the ones politely leaving them a message on their phone to see when they could meet for a chat. Some level of communication is present in both situations, but the chosen method of communication is different. Neither method is good or bad; they are just different. The choice of method is up to the individual and is determined by their personality, beliefs, upbringing, the impression they want to make and so on.
I would say that invocation and evocation are slightly more "Pagan" terms than they are Christian simply because this approach can be even more direct than typical magic. I say this because both imply explicit contact with the Divine. When Pagans evoke a deity/entity, they aren't just walking up to them and asking them about something like in the previous analogy about magic. They are, in fact, inviting them into their homes. When a Pagan evokes a deity/entity, they are saying: "Hey, ____, come into my home/ritual circle and join me in whatever I am doing". Invocation gets even more personal because, metaphorically speaking, Pagans ask the deity/entity to move in with them for a certain period of time. So invocation would sound something like this: "Hey, ____, why don't you move in with me for a while? Take this relationship to the next level...".
As most Christians see God as being more transcendent than immanent (if not completely transcendent), the possibility of God "hanging out" with you, let alone moving in with you is just absurd! Most Pagans believe the Divine exists in all of us (i.e. is immanent) and that we share this universe with entities/deities. This makes it possible for us to communicate in such a way.
Yet, magic and prayer have the same basis. At the core of both of these notions lies communication with the Divine, regardless of the perception one has of it. This communication can be achieved with words, actions or thought and includes intentions. Although prayer usually implies "petitioning", this isn't always the case. Some Christian prayers are about giving thanks or simply communicating for the sake of carrying on the human-Divinity relationship. Pagans also include prayers in their rituals and address the Divine to ask for something, thank them for something, or just to say hi or perhaps sympathize. With these words and thoughts, energy is also sent out. Practitioners of magic are usually aware that energy is key, while there is much less emphasis on energy in prayer. Nevertheless, the exchange of energy is present in prayer also.
Like I said, the main difference is in the implications and chosen method of approach. Prayer is "implicitly Christian", whereas magic is "implicitly non-Christian". Pagans have a more "proactive" approach when it comes to communicating with the Divine, while Christians are, I dare say slightly more timid. I believe the boundaries aren't so strict and hope I have explained why in this post.
I would just like to end with a quote from Scott Cunningham's book Wicca, a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner:
"Religious magic?This isn't as strange as it might seem. Catholic priests use "magic" to transform a piece of bread into the body of a long-deceased "savior." Prayer - a common tool in many religions - is simply a form of concentration and communication with Deity. If the concentration is extended, energies are sent out with the thoughts which may in time make the prayer come true. Prayer is a form of religious magic." (p. 6)
Think about these words. ;) Hopefully, by now, your understanding of the picture at the beginning of this post has changed.
Until next time. Yours,