Magic vs Magick

Posted on January 7, 2011
Filed Under Magic, occult culture | 2 Comments

This is an article that was originally published in 2004 on Suite 101. In my Magical Experiments class, a question was asked about magic vs magick and one of the other people searched and the first result was this article…so I decided to republish it on my blog. To me it illustrates how much can be read into the even spelling of a word.

The other day, in my livejournal, I got into a discussion about the word magick and why people use it. It occurred to me that I had been using this word for a long time, so much so that it had become automatic for me to write the word magick, without even thinking about it. I suspect this is also the case with many other magicians who use this word. If we use a word automatically, without thinking about it, can we really appreciate it, or what it represents?

My argument here is basically this: A word such as magick is a word that is loaded with meaning and ideology. A person who automatically uses such a word without thinking about that ultimately doesn’t appreciate or realize that s/he is representing more than just his or her own take on a word. Am I being pedantic? Perhaps, but then again how you use the language says a lot about your ideologies and what traditions or beliefs you hold valuable.

The urban legend about the word magick is that Aleister Crowley appended the k to magic as a way of differentiating it from the magic practiced by illusionists and stage magicians. However, in looking through his writing on the subject, I was unable to find any explicit reference by Crowley for the reason he chose to add k to magic. The closest I came to finding a reference to the matter is in the following quote: “I chose therefore the name ‘MAGICK’ as essentially the most sublime, and actually most discredited, of all the available terms. I swore to rehabilitate magick, to identify it with my own career; and to compel mankind to respect, love, and trust that which they scorned, hated, and feared” (Crowley, 1994, p. 127). Now Crowley clearly states a reason for choosing the word magick, but not a reason that justifies the spelling. This matter gets even more complex because many magicians, in fact, use magic, not magick, when talking about their beliefs or spiritual practices.

In the discussion that occurred on my livejournal as a result of my post, one person told me the following: “I’m so used to seeing scholars and other outsiders spell it “magic,” and practitioners spell it “magick,” that it looks like I’m pretending to be an outsider when I drop the k” (Ulbh-Livejournal Comment). The irony here is that its not just scholars or other outsiders who use the word magic, but also fellow magicians. What’s equally fascinating to realize is that the majority of writers in the occult industry do not use magick, but do use magic. Why is this important?

To me, it suggests that the use of the word magick is associated with one specific ideology, in this case Thelema. This word is not necessarily associated with other pagan belief systems and in fact there is sometimes tension between the choice of using magick or magic: “What follows is unashamedly and perhaps blatantly about something which up till recently has always been called ‘Magic’ (Without the k please, Mr. Crowley!)” (Gray 1984, p. 9). As can be seen, despite the seeming lighthearted joke, there is in fact some tension between the choice of magick and magic. And one author’s choice to use magic as opposed to magick is indicative of not just a choice in words, but also ideologies and the traditions that inform those ideologies.

Unfortunately I haven’t found any other writing that suggests an overt disapproval of either word. At most what I find are different definitions of what magic is and why it’s practiced. And I find two discourses, one discourse which promotes magick, and Aleister Crowley, and another discourse, which uses magic and seeks to distance itself from Crowley. Neither word is inherently wrong to use. I think what it really comes down to is personal choice. But it’s also important to know the history of the word you use. Knowing that history allows each of us to make an informed choice. Further it allows us to understand our cultural and spiritual history, which is something we need to know. Such history is easily lost and without knowing why a word is used, you cannot really know the power behind that word or what that choice says about your beliefs and ideologies. You may think as well that using magick or magic says nothing about your beliefs and ideologies, but it does, because people will identify, correctly or incorrectly, the traditions and beliefs that you draw in your spiritual practices. This, again, is why it is important to know the word you use, as well as what it means to others.

When we know our cultural and spiritual heritage, we will also know much of what informs what we do today and why. The attitude that it doesn’t matter why you do something or use a particular word is ultimately apathetic, suggesting as it does that you don’t really care about what informs your beliefs. Knowing the why of a matter, the how it came to be, is essential to knowing what can be done by using a word, by representing yourself and potentially other people of your beliefs. I know, if nothing else, that for now I’ll use use magic, if only to question why I previously used magick so automatically that I didn’t think about it.

Comments

2 comments
Pallas Renatus
Pallas Renatus

I think the importance of this distinction is often over-inflated. When talking to other magicians, nobody assumes you're talking about stage-magic, and yet our field is so diverse that a single word simply doesn't suffice to identify our practice. It's expected to have qualifiers, whether you use a K or not. The difference between "magic" and "magick" may be fuzzy, but I doubt you'd see people arguing over the difference between "hermetic magic" and "hermetic magick" or "Thelemic magic" and "Thelemic magick".

Examining why you use a particular word automatically is a useful introspective exercise, but I wouldn't put too much weight either way on the outcome.

When I re-read this article I had to laugh. It was good to write back when I wrote it, but it definitely represents a different "me". I don't know that I would spend as much time on it now.