The Two Traditions
the outset I am going to distinguish between magical and mystical
activity, for these, properly differentiated, seem to me to hold the key
to the two traditions.
Magic is concerned with the acquisition or exercise or making secure of personal or social power or knowledge by ritual means.
Where social power is at issue, magic is normally termed "religion". It
is concerned with a world of relative good and evil and with the
management of these. It is oriented toward power, toward control, toward "doing", toward separation.
that what humans call "good" and "evil" is ALWAYS strictly relative to
one's own interests or needs, or to the interests and needs of any
social group with which we presently identify. (See Back of Beyond)
pursue such a relative good (or evil - for almost certainly it will be
an evil for somebody or something) by ritual means such as prayer,
"creative visualisation", or white magic — or black or New Age magic — we are
practising magic pure and simple.
I'll extend and focus that and bring it closer to home
for most of us. Most prayer of the "Please grant us..." or "Please
protect..." variety is ritual magic.
Most conventional religious activity is magical activity rather than mystical.
no mistake, magic of this kind can be effective. But it is sorceror's
apprentice territory. There is an old adage that draws on this insight: "If the gods wish to
destroy a man, they grant his prayers."
is concerned with the realisation of, the personal experience of, the
presence of God and of our oneness with that presence. It is concerned with a world in which there is no
separate "other" to be good or evil to, or to be good or evil towards
one. No good to pursue, no evil to do battle with. Just God. It is oriented toward "being" — toward love and acceptance and union.
(Hence a distinction I came across years ago, between human "beings" and human "doings".)
have to wait until we die. The kingdom of God is right here, right
now, waiting to be realised, which is to say, made real, in our lives
and the lives of those around us. And thousands of people right now are
aware of it.
"realise", ie, make real, that presence, that is the time when "all else
is added", that is the occasion when "all things work together for
good", but not just a local or personal good. Jung described the operation of this realised presence in our lives as "synchronicity".
mysticism has over the years been used rather loosely to cover many
kinds of personal superphysical experience including, I suspect, a
number that we should properly describe as psychoses.
I suggest, Saint Joan of Arc and others notwithstanding, that any
superphysical experience which inspires a pursuit of some alleged
"good", or a battle against some alleged "evil" is probably psychotic
or, worse, political. The use of ritual, prayer, etc to forward either of these ends is also magical behaviour, not mystical.
Though it is often claimed to, the flag of God does not fly over a battlefield — or a cash register — nor has it ever done so.
that if we practice magic, we are not "punished" for it by some kind of
God that we have offended, but that the consequence of practising magic of
any kind is that we stop short of the kingdom of God. We miss the
experience, the right-now experience of knowing ourselves as souls in
"For what shall it profiteth a man...." (1)
Notes and References
Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, 12th ed, p.70-71: "...The
fundamental difference between the two is this: magic wants to get,
mysticism wants to give — immortal and antagonistic attitudes, which
turn up under one disguise or another in every age of thought. Both
magic and mysticism in their full development bring the whole mental
machinery, conscious and unconscious to bear on their undertaking; both
claim that they give their initiates powers unknown to ordinary men. But
the centre round which that machinery is grouped, the reasons of that
undertaking, and the ends to which those powers are applied differ
 Mark 10:18