Magic and Applied Diversity
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Magic and Applied Diversity Tuesday, March 24, 1998
A comment about magicians and the moral import of their actions, from a listserv:

" is clear that the morality or evilness of magical acts lies primarily in the minds of clients, victims and onlookers. [...] Practioners of magic and magical performances can not be classified in terms of ethics and/or morality independently of the situational contexts within which magic is practiced, and in such contexts, evaluations are relative."

If a magician were a stone or a volcano I might buy the notion that "the morality or evilness of magical acts lies primarily in the minds of clients, victims and onlookers." But since the magician presumably possesses volition then we must suppose that her actions can be measured against a moral standard. There are two aspects to magic that can be measured more or less independently against that standard (whatever it might be):

(1) The specific act of magic that is performed.

(2) The general practice of magic itself, i.e., the attempt to bend supernatural agencies to the will of the practitioner.

Here are three general possibilities:

1. A standard that does not believe in (2) would judge any instance of (1) as an action divorced of any "magical" trappings, which trappings (in their magical sense) would not be considered sensible or significant. Western secular culture of the Enlightenment would adopt this moral stance.

2. A standard that believed in and approved of/tolerated (2) would judge (1) based on its intent and (possibly) on its result. Societies that adopted shamanistic practices would adopt this stance.

3. A standard that believed in and disapproved of (2) would judge any instance of (1) as bad. Most Judeo-Christian and Moslem societies would adopt this stance.

These three positions are mutually exclusive and within the bounds of each, there is probably very little moral relativity. It is only in the Western secular culture of "diversity" that a fourth position emerges, which can be characterized as follows:

4. The standard does not believe in (2), but when confronted with (1), attempts to suspend its disbelief and judge it on the basis of the (perceived) standard of the practitioner.

Now this last position may seem laudable to some from a standpoint of toleration but it should be very clear that it can only result in moral and logical confusion through the (attempted) mixing of moral standards that come from fundamentally incompatible world views. It is only from this last position that we can even make sense of statements like: "Magic is amoral and ambiguous with respect to the intentions of practitioners and in its purported results." When observing the convictions of others from a position that lacks any conviction, everything indeed appears quite relative, if not meaningless.


Thursday, February 25, 2010, 5:25:50 AM, Steve Thorpe wrote:

In most cases, what is prayer if it is not an attempt to bend supernatural agencies to the will of the petitioner?

Thursday, February 25, 2010, 7:25:50 AM, Ed Farrell wrote:

Prayer is a petition; magic is a holdup. That said, I have no doubt many people try to hold God hostage through prayer.  It would be interesting to understand how such people view God.  Perhaps they really do view Him much as a shaman would--as some powerful hidden agency that can be harnessed and directed with the right inducements or formulas, as you would a dog team or hired thug.

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