One of the email lists I’m part of has been having a really interesting discussion about the difference between prayer and doing magic. I firmly believe there’s a place for both in Paganism, and as I read more about Druidry, I’m hoping to find a balance between the two there as well.
To me, prayer is talking to/with the Kindreds (Gods, Ancestors, Nature Spirits) – prayer is essentially about communication, though it can be about asking for things. But asking for things through prayer removes the control from the situation. You’ve asked your Deity for something, and now you wait to hear their answer. (Which is a little like meditation – prayer is the talking part, meditation can be a listening part (though it can also be other things))
Magic, on the other hand, is taking a situation into your own control. It says “I’m going to do X, Y, and Z, with things A, B, and C, in accordance with my will and energy, to create result Q.” I might ask for a blessing on the work from Diety/ies, but I am the one doing the work, and I am therefore responsible for the result.
In a metaphysical sense, I see magic as a way of stacking the deck of events, an idea I got from the blog Rune Soup. Basically, in a world where any outcome is possible, magic stacks the deck in favor of the outcome going a certain way. The more out of control the possibilities, the bigger the magic has to be to have any affect. My favorite example is the lottery example, which says that if your odds are 1 in 6 million to win, and you do magic really well, and reduce those odds to 1 in 1 million, you’re still likely not going to win the lottery, even though the magic worked.
So far, in ADF, I’ve heard a lot about prayer, especially as it relates to piety (which I see as both prayer and devotional action). The ADF-Dedicants and ADF-Discuss lists have talked about conversational prayer, petitionary prayer, and especially offertory prayer – prayer used as part of an offering of praise. Though spontaneous prayer is definitely common, the major rituals are often formulaic or formula driven prayers, and Ceisiwr Serith’s Book of Pagan Prayer is quoted often as a starting point. The Book of Pagan Prayer is a collection of prayers to various Dieties for specific occasions, and many of the prayers are lovely and powerful.
They are not, however, acts of will-driven magic. I’d like to think there’s a part of ADF that would have a space for magic as well.
ADF ritual is, in some ways, thematically magical – you do the offerings to get the blessings, ideally the blessings that you are asking for. The *ghosti relationship that defines how ADF relates to its gods encompasses both being a good guest and being a good host, and the reciprocal hospitality that goes along with it. This can be argued as being a form of magic – you’re not just begging for something, you’re building a relationship whereby you can ask things of the Gods and they can ask things of you. Still, it’s not a personal-responsibility sort of system at its core. Yes you’re responsible for making the offerings, but you’re still at the whim of the Gods when it comes to what blessings you receive. If you’re asking for Patience, you may find yourself more patient… or you may (more likely) find yourself in situations that try your patience mightily, and have to figure it out for yourself.
I’m looking for a system that has space both for magical work and for prayer – for creating a deep relationship with the Gods, for petitioning the Gods for blessings, and for working to create change around me. I can see situations where I might do both prayer AND magic for something.
Say, for example, I’m looking for a new job. In addition to doing the “fill out job applications and send them in” ritual, I might pray for the foresight to find openings around me, but I might also do magic to open new pathways and do strong sending magic on the applications before I mail them out/deliver them. Before an interview, I might pray for comfort and reduction in nerves, but also do some sympathetic magic to sweeten the relationship between myself and the interviewer, so that I make the most favorable reaction. I’d be doing divination around all of this to determine if something is the right path for me going forward, or to help me see the unseen in a new situation.
Ideally, I’d be using my own will and the power I can raise myself to direct change, and asking for additional power and blessings to aid that work from the Gods. They may choose not to aid me, but I am still the one initiating the work, and still the one ultimately responsible for the outcome. This seems very different than asking the Gods to fix or change something for me.
Which comes down to my interactions with the COoR.
The Core Order of Ritual is a devotional format designed to enact the basic “magic” of Druidry – the *ghosti relationship of offerings and blessings. There’s a section in the end, after the receiving of blessings, where there’s a note that “any magical workings should be conducted here”.
If I’m honest, I find that a little disruptive so far. The state of mind that I enter to devote my time, prayer, praise, and offerings to the Kindreds is not the same state of mind that I enter to work magic. Maybe I’ve just not experienced the true energy of a well-done COoR rite yet (which is possible, I’ve only experienced my own), but I find that I’m wanting to work magic in a different context. Not even that I’m looking to cast circles and do Neopagan like magic. More like I’m interested in Traditional Witchcraft type magic, with sympathetic magic and symbols and sigils and herbs and candles and lots of home-grown energy sent out in the direction of some change.
As a solitary Druid, I’m working my own magic on my own time and schedule, so I can do that magic separately or in a ritual as I so desire. However, I don’t know how well a very personal magical working would go in a large group setting like a Grove. Magic works best when it is focused and well-directed, and a congregational style setting isn’t really one where I see getting focused and well-directed results, even in a group with the best intentions. It’s hard enough with a small coven of Witches who are all used to working together and who are well briefed on the imagery and chants and symbols beforehand! The advantage of a group is that you can tap into more energy, but without good focus and an agreed upon, specifically defined result, you get fuzzy magic. And fuzzy magic makes for fuzzy results.
Maybe this is possible in a small Druid setting more than it would be in a more congregational style grove ritual. I imagine there are both types of gatherings, just as there are in any community-oriented religion. That still means separating magic from the COoR though. (And there’s no rule that you have to use the COoR all the time either, so maybe my focus on that is unnecessary.)
So how does this all fit together into Druidry? Do I just separate my magic from my prayer and devotional rituals, since I see them as different things, or is there a new kind of magic I need to learn, a kind that fits into the COoR better?
Obviously a balanced practice has both prayer and magic, and I want to think there’s room for both in Druidry. I’m just having trouble finding the place where magic fits.