In defense of practical magic


Magical and academic texts sometimes make a distinction between low magic and high magic. Spiritual magic has lofty goals, connecting us to the divine; the priestess who works this magic has the best intentions and results. On the other hand the sorceress who conjures for her own benefit is the meanest of the mean, twisting her knowledge for personal gain.

I’m betting that people who condemn using magic for money, health and love have seldom experienced want. Have you ever been so sick you thought you would die? Have you ever slept on the streets? Have you ever spent a night in the depths of despair without a single friend to call?

I have. I left my childhood home with nothing in my pockets because anywhere was better than there. I’ve slept in charity missions where they prayed to you before breakfast because I had nowhere else to go. I’ve laid in my bed while my lungs filled up thinking my next breath would be my last.

If you’ve ever been desperate you know that surviving is your only focus. Nothing else matters except drawing the next breath, finding a safe place to live, gathering a circle around you who you can depend on. And if you’ve ever had to endure lectures or abuse for your food and bed you know that the most precious thing in the world is the freedom to live in peace.

I’m okay now. I have very dear friends who pick up the phone when they think I’m hurting. I draw down a good salary and use it to help my chosen family and my community. I jealously guard my health and do whatever it takes to keep myself fit.

I do have some advantages. I’m white, and it matters. I’m smart – that’s helpful but not necessary. On the other hand I’m a woman, and that matters too. I was raised in the destitute class without manners or fashion sense. I started my adult life with no money and no education.

The biggest advantage I have, the one that overcomes the disadvantages, the key to my happy life, is magic.

Magic got me where I am today. Magic gives me health when I am sick. Magic brought me friends and lovers and helped me get free when I picked the wrong ones. Magic steered me down the path to material success.

Some people sneer at material success. I’ve always thought the folk who say money doesn’t buy happiness haven’t tried to live without it. I’ve been on both sides and I can attest from experience that my life is better with material success than without it.

So when people say magic that gets you things is “low magic”, I say bring it! You can’t have “high magic” without it. Try meditating on a chronically empty stomach. Try doing a complicated ritual while you’re sleeping on someone’s couch.

Practical magic isn’t inferior magic. It’s not something shameful to resort to when you have to have it and abandon as soon as you can. Low magic is the foundation for everything else we do, in magic or in life. It gives us freedom. And we need freedom to live.

Here’s my book on low magic: Practical Magic for Beginners

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