I’ll make a confession to you right at the top of the page:
This article is a piece of “obligatory content”, which means I felt it was one I had to write for the benefit of others. In truth, my own, internal classification of magic is much looser than what you are about to read in the post below (and that’s pretty damn loose!).
As Far as I’m Concerned, We Broadly Have Two Types of Magical Practice and within each Type We will Find Two Categories of Application. Under Both the Type and Category Headings We May File at Least Dozens of Methods.
The two types of magic are:
- High Magic
- Low Magic
Despite what some will tell you, this has nothing to do with superior-to-inferior, is not related to social class (Although during Medieval Europe it definitely was!), nor does it involve intellectual considerations. Think of the polarities expressed as a measure of formality for sure and maybe commitment of time and energy as well.
These next couple of paragraphs and characterizations are highly generalized if not watered right down.
High Magic is formal, ceremonial, and ritual in nature and often deals directly with intelligent beings, from humans who once lived on Earth to creatures from other worlds and spirits dwelling in the many unseen realms. The tools and methods of this art include magic circles before the altar to protect from demons and encase magical Will, heptagrams and hexagrams of planetary forces, candles and incense for arousing the spirits, signs and seals (fancy sigils), and magic wands for protecting against and commanding unseen entities.
Low Magic is generally informal, in the moment, even spontaneous per the needs at hand and deals mainly with natural forces, perhaps blind currents or possibly nature spirits and ancestors. The tools and methods of this art include magic circles wherever you work to focus your energy and prevent distractions, pentagrams of elemental forces, candles and incense for attuning your energies, sigils (casual version of signs and seals), and magic wands for directing your energy and elemental currents.
I’ll say it again: The above is highly generalized and should not be taken as holy writ. Obviously, there is a great deal of crossover between the high and low. Ritual magicians use the elements along with the planets and folk magicians may need to call on an angel or demon from time to time.
The two categories for applied magic are:
- Practical Magic – the magic of getting stuff done and solving daily problems.
- Esoteric Magic – the magic of experiencing the unseen worlds and delving deeper into magic for the sake of magic or for the purpose of improving one’s abilities.
Under these two types and within these two categories we can cram, slide, store, and hide every imaginable approach to magic from charms and divination to ancestor work, binding, banishing, petitioning, cursing, invocation, and on and on forever.
Still, many people do not wish to simplify magic in this way, and hence the article below to cover the topic in a more conventional manner.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF MAGIC
Over the centuries, scribes and pedants, nerds and experts, authors, teachers, historians, and serious magicians of every order have worked to categorize the various forms of magic. People and groups have done so for differing reasons, but it’s difficult to look at the resulting mess of headings and jumble of ideas and think anyone was trying to make things easier for those of us who attempt to decipher and practice the hidden arts.
For a less detailed overview on this subject as it pertains to my practice and the course I offer, check this post.
In the post below I’ll provide a quick overview form of what’s currently out there, organized (I hope) into a coherent set of categories. I may use terms in a different (I think more succinct) manner than other writers on this topic, so be aware of that as you read about types of magic, etc. elsewhere.
NOTE: If you only want a quick list of commonly practiced types of magic, you can skip some of my babbling about paradigms and jump here.
Magical Paradigms as a Starting Point
First of all let me tell you that many of the “types or “categories” of magic people write about strike me more as paradigms or worldviews than any technical ordering, As indicated just now, a paradigm is much like a worldview, perhaps even deeper.
This (paradigm) is how we believe the world operates and what our place within said world may be. I’m not talking about what we choose to believe ala religion or spirituality, etc. but what – at our core – we honestly and earnestly believe, regardless of feelings and ideals. In the context of magic there are many possible paradigms and I’ll only hit a few here.
This is a core belief that like attracts like, and thus our thoughts, feelings, actions, and of course the magic we build from these ought to bring about circumstances reflective of how and what we are and do. Everyone has heard of the “law of attraction” and there is certainly truth to be found therein. Sympathetic Magic is often a heading used for a category of magic, but I think it is both a paradigm and to lesser extent a technique to be employed.
The old “Four Models of Magic” intended to discuss how magic operates in our world offer further examples of paradigms. At least three of them do, with the fourth (Information Model) delving more into somewhat complicated technical considerations.
In shortlist and excluding “Information Model” these models-turned-paradigm are:
- Also called the psychological model, this is the belief that Mind is All, so to speak, or that consciousness is the fundamental stuff of reality and through our beliefs and intentions, i.e. our mind we interface with and alter reality.
- This view correctly notes that matter and energy are the same phenomenon and that through conscious effort the human will can program and direct the energies of the continuum for magical and other uses.
- Spirit and the constituent spirits are the driver of All phenomena, and by working with the spirits the magician can influence and impact reality. In this paradigm spirits are in all things and all around and within us at all times.
Clearly there is overlap in the above worldviews and clearly again, these all appear to adhere to a…
Paradigm of Animism,
Animism is the belief that our world and universe are living and intelligent. There is, in animism, no inert or dead matter, for life and intelligence are throughout. It matters only slightly if at all whether this is expressed as “consciousness is the foundation of nature” or the realization and actualization that “a field of energy permeates and entangles all of space and time and this energy nay be accessed, harnessed and directed” or even “the spirits are everywhere and can be convinced or coerced to do our will”. I would think all magicians are, by default, animists but this has been strenuously argued against so I’ll not push my belief here.
Paradigm of Five Worlds or Five Planes
This rather interesting paradigm suggests that reality is taking place on five essential planes of existence, upon which we have our being and engage with magic or any other phenomenon. These five planes or worlds are often shown in a diagram as five slices of reality stacked from the densest (the manifest or material world) to the finest (the spirit realm or essence realm).
Actually, such a diagram is only for ease of reference and the belief holds that all five realities exist simultaneously either in the same space and time or in some cases outside of space and time. Don’t think too hard on that last oddity of a statement, for we are here limited both by space and time (bada boom!) and my own lack of understanding, thus a thorough breakdown is most unfeasible.
The Five Worlds are:
These planes can be thought of as additional dimensions of space or as fields of energy and consciousness within the known continuum, or part of the space-time we all know and love, yet beyond the range of our sensory capabilities. Consciousness and life are continually moving between these states of existence, hence the cycle of birth, life, death, and regeneration and hereby also the nature of magic, as in both cases essence moves down through the states of concept, emotion, proto form, and finally into manifest form.
Variations on this paradigm are abundant, and range from the downsized philosophy of Three Worlds to the grand paradigm of the Tree of Life with it’s somehow infinite-yet-eleven-but-really-just-ten worlds, or emanations.
I Apologize for this Post Thus Far
You did nothing to deserve this. All you wanted to do was check out my blog post and learn something about different types of magic.
For my part, I hadn’t planned on being abusive. I merely wanted to open by stating the paradigm will determine much about the systems of work or schools of thought a magician may pursue.
If you’ll forgive me, let’s now have a quick list of some of the types of magic as they are often presented.
Types of Magic Common in the Current Era
Ritual or Ceremonial Magic
This is a formal approach to magic requiring a great deal of time and study to gain proficiency. Involved in this magic are the calling forth of various spirits and the directing of magical currents by way of complex ritual performances and even petitions. The ceremony and at times prayer-like incantations, chants, and petitions create an environment that can feel a bit like religion.
Often confounded with Earth-centric magic or hippie/tree hugger magic, natural magic is less formal than ritual art, does not require ceremony nor even the understanding of energies at depth. This is the magic accessible to virtually everyone and in times past was practiced by just about everyone. Technically natural magic is the practice of aligning magical correspondences (in other words currents and fields of energy) with intention to create a magical charge significant enough to change or preserve the desired reality.
The magic of the folk, or people common to the land can be made of both ritual and natural practices, though it is most often considered low or natural magic. This is simply a misconception of modern lore as, again, the “folk” generally is attributed to the people of a geographic region or perhaps of a common race, creed, or religion. This form of the art is the one most likely to be passed along lines of genetic descent, with family systems taking their own life ad lore to become some of the most potent and alive examples of magic in our modern world. If you ever have the chance to experience true folk magic, given by a family, clan, or tight community do not hesitate!
This category or type of magic is primarily concerned with the use of spiritual or unseen entities to gain information or perform magical work. Not the word “use”, for an average sorcerer considers spirits to be utlities for his or her purposes. Some schools of thought combine strong and cultivated psychic powers with the spiritism aforementioned.
Here is the magic of seeing the future or far-seeing into distant places, and even into the distant past. Future or fortune reading is by far the most commonly recognized form of this art, and includes Tarot cards, crystal balls, runes, and trance work. This is another form of magic that values latent or personal psychic ability.
Kabbalah or Tree of Life
Spelled variously Kabbalah, Qabbalah, and Cabala, this type of magic is sometimes considered Jewish Mysticism. At other times and in other contexts it is insisted that no connection to Judaism is necessary. The related systems under the general banner of Kabbalah, et al have as their central wisdom the Tree of Life which is a glyph, an idea, a gnosis, a method, and a philosophy that deals with human consciousness, the laws of nature, and the divine creation in tandem. It’s a beautiful system, at least in my mind, but it tends to be a bit pervasive across Western traditions for the tastes of some, myself included.
Wait didn’t I just say Kabbalah is beautiful? Then I followed up with it’s too “everywhere”?
Indeed. It’s called paradox, and if you aim to study Kabbalah you should condition yourself to accept such things ahead of time.
The magic of the four (or five) element of air, fire, water, earth (and ether) is fairly well-known in this day and age. It is an exhaustive system, set of systems really for dealing with subjects that range from human emotion and interaction to the forces and beings of Mothers Nature and Earth. this work lends itself equally well to ritual or natural magic.
The magic of the dead and their secrets, Necromancy involves work from communicating with the ancestors and banishing haunts to binding spirits in the afterlife to answer inquiries and perform tasks. It is not inherently evil, though it does manifest in some pretty ugly forms.
Probably occurring a bit more frequently in the repertoire of ritual magicians than of natural magicians, with the exception of any astrologers who also practice low magic, this art is the work and secrets of the heavenly spheres of power. In its classical form it draws from the seven ancient or classical planets of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercury, and Luna, but modern systems do exist which involve Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto with his host of Keiper Belt compadres.
A highly problematic term in some regards, witchcraft once referred explicitly to dark magic, “devil worship”, or harmful magic cast against others. The ignorant and uninitiated may still use (abuse) the term in this manner, but more correctly Witchcraft is simply the magical craft of the witches.
The magic of Wicca is one specific example of witchcraft in the post-modern world. Often, but definitely not always, this art is characterized by a deep earthen connection and many things natural, such as herbs, animals, crystals, etc. Psychic gifts are also, often highly valued within the practice of witchcraft. Honestly there are as many distinct expressions of this art as there are guys and gals to express it.
I often say, I’m not a witch but I’m cool with them.
THERE IS NO SANCTIONING BODY OR UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED LIST THAT CLASSIFIES THE TYPES OF MAGIC
the work of classifying and categorizing the arcane arts is largely left to those of us who practice the stuff. You’ll ultimately have to form your own way through the weeds, but you can surely use and benefit from the notions of those who came and went before you.
To give you an example of how others might approach this, here’s a pretty good piece on the same topic from the blog Wiccan Spells:
The 8 Main Types of Magick – Wiccan Spells
You’ll see some crossover between her article and mine. Also you’ll spot some differences, such as her listing of Folk Magic methods/procedures including practices I would categorize under ritual magic – just little things that frankly don’t matter so far as differences go. What matters is your conviction and commitment to the magic, i.e. knowing it is real and seeking to unite that part of it living inside you with the magic that moves through the cosmos.