But is it magic? How can you tell?

I saw this question on a forum and decided I would answer it here:

The thing is that I don’t know if it was my spell that did the trick or whether it was something bound to happen anyway. Is there a way for me to know if the results were magickal?

The short answer is this: in my experience the outcome of a successful working will almost certainly come in a way that looks mundane, but that satisfies the need you were enchanting for.  The situation looks very different in hindsight: before, you needed magic to help attain the result, but afterward the result looks obvious or almost mandatory.

Would an non-biased, objective observer call this “magic?”

I don’t think so.  Over a few trials that go like this:

  • I am performing a magical act in order to accomplish this goal.
  • This goal was attained but it didn’t come from a magical hand in the sky; rather it came via a rather mundane method.

our unbiased observer would likely say “that’s random chance.  I’m glad you’re happy, but I can’t say your results cause me to believe in magic.” Now, let’s carry our successes on to dozens of trials.  The “random chance” explanation is looking less and less likely, so our observer would likely determine that something non-normal is going on.  (He could also determine that it is simple luck, and you’re a very lucky person.)

My best guess is that an observer would conclude that there is evidence of correlation, not causation in these events.  So you did something, and you got a result, but that doesn’t mean that your action caused the result.

What’s more likely?  Some sort of precognition.  It’s a lot easier to say “the subject seems to detect some extremely unlikely events in advance at an unconscious level, which presents some discomfort to the psyche of the subject.  To lower the level of discomfort, the subject performs a ritualized plea to the universe that alleviates this psychic discomfort and causes the subject to believe that these rituals have a causal effect on the outcome of normal events that contain some degree of randomness.”

Basically, I think it would be easier for an observer to believe that sometimes, some people could display psychic abilities that predict future events than to believe that magic can affect the real world. And I don’t think that any amount of testing could persuade him otherwise.

So is it magic?

Of course.  If I didn’t believe it I wouldn’t do it.

Well then, how do you prove it?

I’ve written and rewritten this section a few times, and here’s the basic summary:

  • I don’t need to.  When I align my will with the divine will and do the work correctly, results come quickly.  That’s proof enough that magic works.  If you can do the same then you have all the proof you need.  If you can’t, then either: I’m full of shit and am making stuff up, I’m deluding myself, I’m actually recording all this stuff and am getting lucky, mental illness is causing me to make these claims, I’m suffering from precognitive abilities that trigger my magical exercises, the person failing has no gift for this, or isn’t favored by God, or whatever.  Probably in that order.
  • I try and keep reasonably complete lab notebooks of my workings.  This serves as a future reference so I reflect and see what worked, what didn’t, and when things seemed to work best historically.  In theory one could gather probabilities for successful outcomes (by working healing magic and using doctors’ estimates for positive outcomes on two groups: those you work on that those you don’t) and use this as evidence for success, but that’d be shot down pretty successfully.
  • There have been blind studies of distant healing (google for links to the NIH’s website with abstracts) that show a statistically significant result, but those have been coming out for decades and haven’t changed anyone’s mind.
  • You can always fall back on “probability” as the active force, and claim the spiritual worker was lucky.

This last one is the big one.  Regardless of your outcome, and the predicted likelihood of that outcome, there will always be the chance that the outcome would have happened whether you involved yourself or not.  Even if we can overcome that burden, then there are other explanations (like precognition driving compulsive behaviors) that are easier for folks to accept. And that’s probably a good thing.  We’ve see what happens in societies where the majority accept the efficacy of magic and the population looks for scapegoats whenever anything bad happens…


2 thoughts on “But is it magic? How can you tell?

  1. JP Bear

    It is impossible to prove whether something happened by magic or not because we cannot know the mechanism by which our enchanted-for outcome occurred. From our perspective is there any substantive difference between something happening by chance and happening by our magical intention? The two would look exactly identical, only that in the latter case we would know our intention and what we did to out it ‘out there’.

    Maybe we are just deluding ourselves, but it is results that matter, nothing else. So long as we are getting results then we can be happy (even if it is a delusion).


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