On “natural” magic

Some Christians in our age vehemently apposed to sorcery in all it’s fictional forms.

This includes the Harry Potter novels, many video games such as Warcraft, and pencil and paper role-playing games like as Dungeons and Dragons.

Gosh. As a child, playing D&D was nearly on the same level as sneaking out of the house to slam a fifth of whiskey and sleep with your girlfriend. Watching Star Trek or playing with Star Wars toys was just fine though. Well, “The Force” was a little bit suspect, but not a show-stopper.

Of course, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Madeline L’Engle wrote fiction that was full of magic. For some reason, they got a pass in most circles.

I loved all of it. I read harder fantasy as well: Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, etc. And even had quite a bit of fun playing Magic: The Gathering before it was discovered that the cards were made by the same company as D&D and included some demonic imagery. I had to throw them all away. This was back in junior high.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to ignore the stigma and read through all the Harry Potter books. What fun!

My wife made the comment that if the “magic” in these novels was simply ascribed to science fiction gimmicks, then suddenly they aren’t seen as spiritual traps anymore.

For example:

  • Harry Potter shoots stunning spells with his wand at a monster = satanic sorcery!
  • Han Solo shoots a robot with a laser blaster = fun!
  • Wizard casts RESTORE on Knight. Health +50. = dangerous imaginative play, opening yourself up to demonic possession
  • Gandalf shoots stunning spell at Balrog on the bridge in Moria = cool! (free pass for Tolkien)
  • Harry and Dumbledore escape by teleporting back to Hogwarts castle, just outside the grounds. = going to hell
  • Data and Command Riker beam down to the planet’s surface = going to the planet’s surface

Now, don’t get me wrong. Demons are real. Satan is real. There are all kinds of authentic occult activities that attempt to contact demons, speak to the dead, control other people, influence the spirit world, etc. These are all prohibited in the Bible for obvious reasons.

But is a magician in a novel shooting a fireball at his foes the same thing? Does the very notion of it fill God with wrath? I’m thinking were talking about different things here.

One reason C.S. Lewis gets a pass is that he goes out of his way to try to explain his magic as being “natural”:

It was Ransom’s belief that Merlin was a fifth-century Christian druid, not the evil man suggested by some of the Arthurian legends, that he lived just at the close of the Atlantean age whe magic was relatively natural and harmless rather than during a later period when black arts prevailed and magic had become demonic.

-Clyde S. Kilby, The Christian World of C.S. Lewis, p.105

This is EXACTLY how I’ve always thought of magic. It COULD be a spiritual thing. It could be demons. In fact, if that guy in Tibet really is levitating? Demons. But inside of a secondary world (like in a story or a game), why could magic not be a NATURAL thing, like gravity or the properties of chemicals?

If you were to show someone from 200 years ago an electric light, they would insist it was magic. What about a radio? We know it’s just electricity modulating at a particular range of the electromagnetic spectrum that isn’t visible. What would an ancient person conclude except that it was some sort of spiritual telepathy?

Near the end of one of Raymond Feist’s fantasy novels, a warrior character asks a magician to explain his art. He throws the man 3 oranges and asks him to juggle them. He does. The magician replies that to someone who doesn’t know how juggling works, that appears to be magic – making one always hovering in the air. He went on to say that once you learn how to juggle with no hands, then you will understand magic.

Most of what passes for REAL magic in our world likely depends on the operation of demonic spirits. That is why it is so unpredictable! It is not bound by laws. Missionaries see magic in deep Africa all the time, but not in America. The demons are choosing where to operate so they can have the most effect. We have other temptations in the 1st world now.

A bonafide spiritualist today who hosts seances will tell you that they are very temperamental. A lot of times, nothing happens. Sometimes the communication with the dead is very flaky. But every once in a while it’s real enough to scare the crap out of them or offer undeniably special knowledge. Well, the reason it’s so flaky is they are dealing not with science, art, and laws of magic, but with PERSONS. You can’t control familiar spirits. They are laughing at us silly humans who try to conjure them up. If they can give us the slip, they will. They are likely in the employ of the father of lies. Besides showing our rebellion against God by attempting to work with them or control them, we’re also being hoodwinked. Don’t waste your time with the occult.

But magic in novels and games is almost entirely scientific. It has hard rules governing it, just like we have hard rules governing electricity, air resistance, quantum mechanics, etc. You need to have 50 magic points to shoot that fireball. Harry Potter practices his hover charms not like a medium attempting to talk to the dead, but like a football player in the weight room working on his abs. The elves in Middle Earth have sophisticated arts and crafts knowledge to make swords and armor that never blemish. This is light-years away from a voodoo fetish amulet, though at first glance both are inanimate objects infused with magical properties.

The evil witch in the Narnian mythology destroys her homeworld with “The Deplorable Word” – some sort of unspeakably evil magic spell. On her world, this was part of the natural law though – a temptation to be used or not used by its people. Sounds a LOT like nuclear weapons on our world.

This kind of magic is a tool that makes the secondary world much more interesting. Just like robots and time travel make science fiction fun, magic gives fantasy an interesting world to have a story take place.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are all kinds of nasty things that can be unhealthy to fill your mind with. When I take a look at the source books for most contemporary fantasy role playing games, I’m rather shocked at the amount of gory hardcore necromancy described throughout. That and straight-up erotica. When a story has an evil wizard in it that wants to make everyone his slave, that is one thing. When many pages of the novel or scenes in the movie absolutely revel in the the darkest details, that tells you something about the author. It’s not difficult to discern an unhealthy fascination with the world, the flesh, and the devil. In fantasy literature and games we sometimes see more of the devil hangin’ around. Want flesh? Soft core porn on MTV is a good place to start, but frankly, go just about anywhere. The world? You can start with the mall or your local Walmart, or CNN. Our children need to be able to discern all these temptations as they mature. A moratorium on fiction or games containing sorcery does virtually nothing to guard them from the devil and has plenty of potential to make their childhood unnecessarily boring and unstimulating.

Back to our Christian fantasy authors. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is just our own world in a earlier age. He explains how the world was filled with magic. The Valar, or angels that had some interest in the governance of Earth were endowed with this sort of creative energy. When the elves left Middle Earth at the beginning of the fourth age, the magic began to fade. Now, several thousand years later, it’s buried so deep, it can never be reawakened. There is not even a memory of the old arts. Magic today is either a parlor trick or toying around with demons and fancying yourself a warlock. Get a job people.

In my childhood I discovered that Magic: The Gathering was unhealthy for me, but NOT because the game had “spell casting” cards in it. No. It was unhealthy because I spent WAY too much time thinking about it and playing it. My other studies and disciplines (music, computer work, exercise) and also social time went to pot because all I wanted to do was work on my deck or play cards with my other two friends who were into Magic. It was on the same level as playing Nintendo all day or being a TV couch potato. At the time, I was not mature enough to handle it in moderation. So my parents banned me from participating. Ultimately, this was a good thing for me when I was a pre-teen, though, in hindsight, not for the reasons they thought.

Here is the funny part. Fictional magic is usually “natural”, like science. But let’s not make our own religion scientific:

  • Pray five times + fasting = power with God to heal people!
  • Tithe + read the whole bible through in 1 year = financial blessing!
  • 5 hail Marys + 6 our fathers = anti-depression enchantment.

How is this much different than the witch jumping through esoteric hoops to control the spirits? Are we trying to control the holy spirit? Well, the devil and his spirits are guaranteed to be up to no good. God has made rich and glorious promises to us, but they are NOT the kinds of things you can put in a spell book. God is a PERSON. Our interaction with him is not like Chewy fixing the hyper drive on the Millennium Falcon. It’s more like a three-year old daughter relating to a strong and gentle father.

Photo credit

Photo credit