I can't agree with the idea which has sometimes been expressed, that you can distinguish ritual magic in the pagan tradition from stage illusion by the addition of a 'k'1. If I say the words aloud, how will anyone know when I say it with a 'k', and when without?

It was (and to an extent remains) my understanding that Aleister Crowley introduced the 'k', and that his definition of the distinction boils down to an assertion that his is kewler and has odder sexual practices involved.

1: I have realised that this sentence is unclear. My meaning was: because people won't be consistent in usage and spelling, you can't gain clarity by using the 'k' spelling for the pagan/ritual sense of 'magic'. I did not mean to imply that pagan/ritual magic is indistinguishable from stage illusion. That is not my belief. I personally have not seen any evidence for the efficacy of pagan/ritual magic, but I have heard others attest to it, and retain an open mind. As a Christian who frequently prays for a variety of reasons, I would be a hypocrite if I did not allow others the same faith in the power of prayer which I from time to time experience.

In The Golden Bough, J G Frazer describes magic as 'a false science'. Although his reasoning is essentially clear, he makes (IMHO) the error of assuming that because magic cannot generally or apparently be used to manipulate the physical universe, it cannot be of any use at all. He also assumes that science is a perfect explanation of the universe, whereas the current impression is that science is a good description of the universe, but singularly lacking in real explanations.

There are a large number of definitions for magic/magick/magik. I define it as the means and the process of altering reality to suit the Will. Aleister Crowley defined it, in Magic in Theory and Practice as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will." Dion Fortune defines it thusly: "Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will." (A quotation by William Butler in Apprenticed to Magic (1962) on p. 12 is the only original source I've traced for this.) Nevill Drury refered to it as "...the technique of harnessing the secret powers of Nature and seeking to influence events for one's own purpose." Isaac Bonewits, who favors not spelling it with a k, defines it as:

(1) A general term for arts, sciences, philosophies and technologies concerned with (a) understanding and using various altered states of consciousness within which it is possible to have access to and control over one’s psychic talents, and (b) the uses and abuses of those psychic talents to change interior and/or exterior realities. (2) A science and an art comprising a system of concepts and methods for the build-up of human emotions, altering the electrochemical balance of the metabolism, using associational techniques and devices to concentrate and focus this emotional energy, thus modulating the energies broadcast by the human body, usually to affect other energy patterns whether animate or inanimate, but occasionally to affect the personal energy pattern. (3) A collection of rule-of-thumb techniques designed to get one’s psychic talents to do more or less what one wants, more often than not, one hopes. It should be obvious that these are thaumaturgical definitions.
From Isaac Bonewits' website at http://www.neopagan.net/Pagan_Glossary.html
These are some of the clearer definitions that have been given; it is not hard to turn up many more, some of them extremely obtuse. In most modern usage, it is used to refer to their processes of reality alteration, not to be confused with stage magic. While some disagree with this, it is occasionally helpful to have the two spellings, particularly when one considers situations such as alt.magic versus alt.magick. It is notable that some of these definitions would encompass more "mundane" science and engineering.

Ok, how do you think it could possibly work?
Well, everyone disagrees. Some believe that it just changes the practicioner mentally in order to produce the desired results. Others feel it alters the energy one emits, therefore causing an alteration in the environment. Still others feel it works by getting in touch with supernatural entities and getting them to do things for you. Magick seems to follow a set of laws regardless of culture. Whether these laws say more about the truth of magic or the human mind is open for debate. It can run from affirmations and folk magick to ceremonial magick, with ritual and such. Guide to Spellcasting, by swankivy, gives a fairly good overview of the topic, biased towards a Wiccan ritual-based view.

Why with a k?
Aleister Crowley is believed the be the main source of the use of spelling magick with a "k" to distinguish it from stage magic/legerdemain. There are a few reasons, none of which can be proven to the satisfaction of all, as to why Crowley spelled it with a 'k'. First off, "magick" was the spelling in Elizabethan times, and was used in John Dee's diaries. This later fell into disuse in favor of the modern spelling by 1800 in England and by 1840 in the United States. Given that Crowley considered himself the reincarnation of Edward Kelly, this is one definite possibility. Another possibility is that since "K" is the eleventh letter of a few alphabets, and eleven is associated with the Qliphoth, which are the "underworld forces" that must be overcome in order to perform magick. A similar argument points to the ancient Egyptian khu, literally magic power, and relating to the vagina. Another claim suggests that based on Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice, the spelling was changed to distinguish it not from stage magic, but rather from common Golden Dawn magic, which Crowley felt was bovine scatology.

This spelling change is apparently a written-only way of distinguishing the usage, as it should be pronounced in the same way. In fact, Mertseger argues (rather well) in magic that the difference is obvious by context and therefore that the spelling is moot. I have, however, heard people pronounce it mag"icik', basically repeating the sound at the end, as well as seen someone claim the pronounciation should be mage-ick.

A variant spelling of magic used by many neo-pagans to distinguish between stage magic, which is primarily sleight of hand and illusion, from "real magic," which is much more subtle but also has a much wider range of uses. Other spellings I've seen are "majik" and "majic."

Aleister Crowley and others define magick as using one's will to alter one's environment. This, however, includes sending a nerve signal to your arm to make it reach over and pick up that can of soda. Crowley, I'm told, would say that that is also magick, but most people want a more specific definition. The best I can think to say is that magick takes effect through means that are not physically perceptible. Common uses are finding love or work, healing, and transformation of the self (ex. breaking a bad habit). It is most effective for enhancing a more mundane task; for example, doing a spell to get a job won't help you unless you also go look for one.

Methods of magick can essentially be boiled down into two primary forms: spellcraft and energy work. More detail can be found in the individual write-ups.

Spellcraft is using specific tools, words, etc. to achieve the effect (I don't mean dance around and yell "booga booga" and turn someone into a frog!). Common methods are candle-burning, dancing and chanting, and making poppets (voodoo dolls are one possible variety, but most modern witches will tell you that it is a very bad idea to do any harmful magick). It is good for beginners who haven't learned to sense the energy directly, and for long-term goals like job-hunting.

Energy work is more direct and is often referred to as psychic powers: sensing, like empathy, aura reading, ESP; and affecting, like weather-work and healing (though any type of affecting work can also be done via spellcraft). The distinction between this and spellcraft is that energy work is done entirely in the mind. Tools may be used to help focus, but they are not essential. One important note is that everyone can learn to do it (whereas some think that psychic powers must be inborn), although they may have different ways of sensing the energy.

Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Terry Pratchett replies that any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. There are those, me included, that believe magick is just science we haven't figured out yet.

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