On Magic and its Types

"I don't believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."
-J.K. Rowling
People use the word magic in a variety of ways. It can be used in a number of situations, but it always seems to have the same feel. Something mysterious and unexplainable. Something that could be described as supernatural. Most often, magic is used in the sense of supernatural powers or abilities. I believe that this magic can be divided into three different types. I'll be referring to these types as light magic, neutral magic, and dark magic, and going into each type individually. But keep in mind that only one of these is true magic.

The first type will be neutral magic, since this is the simplest type. It could also be referred to as science. This is not true magic, because it isn't supernatural. A common example would be if you were to take any kind of modern technology back to the middle ages. They wouldn't understand it, and it would be labeled as magic. This type of magic applies to more than just technology, though. It applies to anything that can be explained naturally. Another example would be Merlin from the BBC show, Merlin. In episode 1 of season 1, it's revealed that Merlin was born with the ability to move objects with his mind. This, being a fantasy show, is labeled as magic. However, this same ability can be found in science fiction. For example, in Babylon 5, we find people with telekinetic abilities. While this is a fictional ability, it is still explained naturally. As Merlin was born with this ability (as opposed to learning it as a spell), we can determine that this is neutral magic, or science.

The next type of magic is light magic. Again, this is not true magic. It could be referred to as miracles. This magic is supernatural, but is power that comes from God, whether He chooses to act through a person or not. This is not human power, but is still sometimes called magic. An example would be Moses. In ancient Egypt, God performed miracles through Moses. The Egyptian magicians, however, saw this as magic, and were able to bring about some of the same results through their own arts.

This brings us to the third type of magic. Dark magic, or sorcery. This is the only true type of magic. If the power is supernatural, but doesn't come from God, then it must come from somewhere else. This power comes from demons or spirits. The difference between dark magic and light magic is the source. Both are supernatural, but light magic is an act of God, possibly through a person, while dark magic is a supernatural power that a human claims as their own by calling upon demons or spirits. Merlin actually uses two different types of magic. His ability to move objects with his mind would be neutral magic, or science, but when he learns spells and enchantments from his books, what he's actually doing is calling upon a supernatural power.

It is important to note that, depending on what a person believes, some will simply split magic into two types: true magic and false magic. False magic being science, and true magic being any supernatural power. This is seen in The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. The story revolves around Egyptian magicians, who compare the "magic" of Moses to their own, believing that he was simply a more powerful sorcerer than they were. It is still common to refer to dark magic, even among those who believe in only two types of magic. However, these ideas are logically incompatible, since the "good" magicians are drawing their power from the same source as the "bad" magicians.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
-Arthur C. Clarke

3 comments:

  1. Great post, Jared! What is your opinion on dark magic presented in a good or neutral manner? I know you read "Harry Potter", which many Christians don't read because it is founded on the basis that dark magic is *only* bad when used with the intent of evil. What were your thoughts when you read Harry Potter? Or what about when you watched Merlin, and he used spells? (I am assuming the dark magic in "Merlin" was supposed to be morally acceptable.) I'd love to hear what your views on this matter are. :)

    ~Rebecca Call

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  2. Something that I've found in the world of fiction is that a lot of times various types of magic are mixed up, simply because those coming from a secular perspective have no reason to distinguish the different types.
    What I've found in Harry Potter is that they usually use neutral magic. They're either born with magic or they're not. If they aren't born with it, they can't learn it, and if they are born with it, they can't get rid of it. Early on in the first book, we see that Harry Potter accidentally uses magical abilities, without any intention to do so. This is similar to a baby that doesn't yet know how to use his arms or legs, and waves them around wildly. This is all evidence that points towards their magic being neutral magic, as opposed to dark magic. They can't use magic intentionally without their wands, either, which means that the wands focus what's in them already. A muggle holding a wand can't do magic. So with Harry Potter, what we usually see is that their magic acts like neutral magic as opposed to dark magic. Of course, they do still learn spells, but since that doesn't match up with them being born with it or not, I suspect that those are more like training wheels. (I think we've seen people like Dumbledore use magic without using spells, if I remember correctly.) Of course, Harry Potter is still kind of mixed up, since there's no need within the story to distinguish the different types, and I don't always agree with the characters.
    Something similar happens in Merlin, where they have no need to distinguish between the types of magic, and therefore treat his telekinesis, which he was born with, as being the same as whatever spells he learns. Now, I haven't seen all of Merlin yet. I think I've seen the first two seasons. But the writers are clearly trying to say that magic is acceptable overall, except when used for evil. (Wait, BBC is saying this? Why can't they apply this to guns instead...?) Now, I don't consider Merlin to be a good character. I don't mentally urge him to use any spells that he's learned. I root for the character, but I wince in my head whenever he uses any magic other than his telekinesis: something that he was born with, and would be explained as a genetic ability.

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  3. When it comes to fiction in general, I have to compare it to my mental capacity to keep fiction separate from reality. There are some things that I read for the sake of expanding what I know. For example, I hope to read the Qu'ran at some point. Not that I intend to become a Muslim, but it expands what I know. Often, that's how I approach stories, as well. Popular stories can be entertaining, but I also want there to be some other purpose for my reading it. In the case of fiction, it gives me more that I can use as examples or bridges, similar to Paul at Mars Hill in the book of Acts. But there are some cases where I have to say that I can't read it. I used to enjoy stories by Rick Riordan, but I had to make myself stop reading them, because if the Greek gods were real, or the Egyptian gods, or whatever other mythology, then one of two things had to be true. Either God doesn't exist, or the gods in the stories were demons masquerading as gods. I wasn't able to keep it all straight in my head, and I was getting too sucked in, so I had to stop reading them. Not that I think it's evil to read them, but it was beyond my ability.
    To sum up this very long comment, it's a tricky subject. You have to question the story and what types of "magic" they're using, you have to question what the author intended, you have to question what you'll lose and what you'll gain from reading the stories... Dark magic is always dark. The way I see it, saying "it's just a story" isn't a good excuse. But murder happens in stories, too. Sometimes it might even be the "good" character that's doing it. All kinds of things happen in stories. We don't say that a story has to be banned if it has evil in it, so long as we don't start to think of the evil as acceptable.

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