Magical thinking is (roughly) defined as a system of belief that allows for the unusual and scientifically unproven interrelatedness of things, based on subjective associations. You know… pat the cat three times before you leave for work and the house won’t burn down. There’s a connection there somewhere, but it’s too weird and far-fetched to explain to anyone else. But hey, it seems to work.
One step shy of superstition, two steps shy of actual magic.
Yes. Actual magic. To be effective, a magical practitioner must wholly believe in the power of sympathetic associations and correspondences. It is, after all, a spiritual tradition grounded in the tangible world. Whether you are a Hedge Witch or a Necromancer, the words and objects used to invoke the hidden realm must have power – power that you trust and believe in – in order for any spell or summoning to work. It’s that simple. Things matter. Actions and words matter. You can theorize about magic all you want, but unless you work and see results on the physical plane, it is only theory.
Think about the house not burning down and chances are that everything will be fine. But pat the cat, and he will be roused and perhaps inspired to catch the mice that are just about to chew through the wires in your walls, wires that would have sparked against that old, dry insulation, burning down the house. It is a hair thin connection, but it is there.
Magical thinking is also a clinical symptom of several different types of mental disorders – schizophrenia and bi-polar being just two. Here we come to the meat of Ankhie’s ramble. I have a witchy friend who was diagnosed as bipolar many years ago (back when they called it manic depressive disorder) – she never embraced the diagnosis, refused to be medicated, and with the exception of occasional bouts of crazy has lived a pretty normal life. Magical thinking has always been an integral part of who she is. It was also part of what earned her that initial diagnosis. Recently things went kind of wrong for her and she went back into therapy. She also went on meds. And they worked! She was surprised, and initially delighted by the results -she was calmer, happier, more productive and easier to be around. Yet somehow, she was also a lot less witchy. She started to lose interest in her practice. She started to question her beliefs. The magical thinking that had defined her and empowered a rather impressive record of spellwork, now seemed silly, remote. She still loves to read witchy tomes, but her interests are more academic.
Now, none of this is to imply that all magical folk are crazy (although we do have our stand-outs). The same ramble could have been written if my friend were a poet, or musician. Magic, like art, requires a true leap of faith – it’s power is found in that held-breath moment between the world we live in and the world we imagine. But with every leap there is the risk of a fatal fall. Every magical thinker, from Dion Fortune to Christian Day, has warned of the dangers inherent in occult practice. The doors we open cannot easily be closed again, and if we aren’t strong enough – mentally and physically – they will remain forever open, and the connections that work so well when we are in control start to tangle and bind us in hopeless knots.
So, does magic make you crazy? I don’t know. I do know that I am glad to see my friend “happy” but I miss the witch in her. And if I forget to pat the cat, I turn the car around and head back home.