I'm probably going to ramble a bit this morning, sort of let you walk around in my mind as I try to put a thought together. Up front I want to state that it is not my intention to offend any of you, I'm just trying to get my mind around something that I have been thinking about for some time.
The question that I have been puzzling over, and I wish that I could take credit for the question because it's really good, but someone else presented it to me, is whether there is a difference between magic and religion. First off, I'm going to state that it is my belief that both magic and religion are concerned with the use of spiritual power to affect change.
That premise got me thinking about realms of operation. For example, a naive assumption based on that premise is to state that (1) magicians use their spiritual power to affect change in the physical world, and that (2) religious use their spiritual power to affect change in the spiritual world. Unfortunately that is way too simple so it doesn't work. For example, religious often pray (use spiritual power) for changes in the physical world; they may pray that someone they love be healed of a physical or medical condition. That's an attempt to use spiritual power to cause change in the physical world . . . and this violates (2) above. By the same token, a magician may use spiritual power to help someone who has passed out of the physical realm or to call upon non-physical powers to affect change in the physical world thus unifying actions in both the physical and non-physical worlds. Does that mean that both magicians and religious use spiritual power to affect change in the physical and non-physical realms? If so, then there isn't a difference here.
We are all aware of or have at least heard of the rituals performed by ceremonial magicians and pagans. What about religious? Do they perform rituals? Of course they do. What is more mystical or magical than the transubstantiation of the host into the literal body of Christ during the Catholic mass/Eucharist/communion? Such rituals are not restricted to Christianity. For example, Hindus make sacrifices, do austerities and draw yantras. Buddhism in Japan combines Buddhist philosophy with Shinto sorcery and left-over mysticism from Taoism. All of these rituals, whether performed by pagans, magicians, or religious from innumerable sects are designed to build some kind of a bridge between humans and the divine and usually for the benefit of the humans, even if it is just to aid in Buddhist enlightenment. Not much difference here. Rituals seems to be used by both magicians and religious to connect with and call upon the power of the divine.
Maybe we can find a defining difference if we look to god/gods and goddess/goddesses. I live in a VERY Christian city and have become accustomed to and comfortable with being a lonely pagan in the Christian world. I have visited more Christian churches over the past 10 years than I can count. To my surprise each seemed to feel that it had a corner on the God Market. Their God was the right God, the Only True God, and their way of worshiping Him (so far all have been masculine) was the only right way. None of the gods of the different churches that I have visited were identical, they were similar yes, but if I were to put them together they would remind me of the Hindu pantheon where the different gods represent different attributes or aspects of the one god, Brahman (not to be confused with Brahma).
"Monotheistic" Christianity has gone through great logical contortions to turn their three gods, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, into one three-in-one-one-in-three entity that no one can really understand, all in an attempt to mesh with the monotheism that evolved in Greece 250 years before Christ (1) and Jewish monotheism (2). Mormonism, as I understand it, may be the most logical of the Christian faiths in this respect because they assert that their "god" is really three different individuals who hold one administrative office together that they call the "godhead". However, I think I'm getting off on a tangent. Told you I was going to let you inside my mind this morning. What I'm getting at is that magicians, pagans, and religious all call upon some form of divinity in their operations. Thus the belief in some divine power, whatever or whomever it is called, can't be used to differentiate between magic and religion.
So at this point this morning I'm left feeling like there isn't much to differentiate magic and religion. Both attempt to use spiritual power to affect change in the physical and non-physical worlds. Both use ritual to build a bridge to the divine to bring divine power down to the physical, and both fundamentally have a belief in some form of divine power.
I would really like to know what you think. Please share your ideas, further ruminations, and thoughts as comments. I promise I won't bash or trash your comments but will appreciate them. Maybe you can help me make progress answering this little questions about the difference, if any, between magic and religion.
Peace my friends,
(1) Read Plato in Book VI of The Republic where he discusses The One which then evolved over the next six hundred years into the Neo-Platonic idea of the The One Beyond Being. The Neo-Platonists were not monotheists. While they put The One, The Good, The Transcendent at the top of the hierarchy they also had The Hypercosmic Gods who made Essence, Life and Soul; the Demiurge or Creator God; and the Cosmic Gods who made Being, Nature, and Matter.
(2) Some scholars hypothesize that Judaism was originally a form of monolatrism (the recognition of the existence of many gods but with the consistent worship of only one) or henotheism (the worship of one god while not denying that others may worship other gods with equal validity). Under this hypothesis both the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah had YHWH as their state god, while also acknowledging the existence of other gods. See this for a good summary.
I'm Dr. Dave, an eclectic shaman. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice eclectic shamanism.