Chapter 2: The Metaphysics of Magic

Section 2.1 | Introductory Notes

An investigation into the nature of magic must begin with an understanding of how magic fits into the universe. Basic observations suggest that magic is a distinctive force which is capable of affecting the non-magic substance of the world. Taking this as our starting point, a number of fundamental questions arise. Firstly, we must consider exactly what magic is in relation to what it is not. More simply put, we must ask figure out the difference between what is magical and what is non-magical. Further to this, we can begin to investigate where magic comes from and then how and why it is able to affect the non-magical. Take together, these questions form the basis of an understanding of what magic is from first principles. Let us call this investigation the Metaphysics of Magic.

Section 2.2 | Ambient Magic

Although the is a matter more appropriately discussed within the discipline of the History of Magic, it is worth commencing our discussion with a preliminary note concerning our knowledge of the historical origins of magic as we understand it today. The origins of magic are one of the deepest mysteries of our magical world. All history informs us that magic has remained a feature of the world and human life as long as we have been able to record its existence. It would be very difficult to argue that magic has any creating power behind it other than that which forms the universe itself. We must conclude that magic is a natural phenomena. The magical is part of the universe just as equally as the non-magical and we can therefore assume that it actually surrounds us constantly as a normal part of the natural world.

In fact, at closer inspection, we discover that magic can have an affect upon the world even when it is not visible and regardless of whether or not we actually harness its power as a practical force. The following are examples of magic's constant, natural impact on the world around us:

  • Magical traces: The influence of magic can leave a discernible trace upon what it touches. Places and objects which have known magic, particular dark magic, emit what we might call a magical 'sense' which witches and wizards can sense. In some ways, we know when magic is around us and when it has had some influence, even if we cannot quite describe the feeling.
    • Note: Sometimes this is very subtle. It might merely take the form of an atmosphere which affects our magic instincts. However, sometimes it much stronger, having an affect upon our magical abilities and leaving visible traces on objects. To the more experienced wizard, the use of the wand, precise incantations, or the subtle feeling of the hand on a place which has known magic, are useful in detecting its presence around them.
  • Magical Plants & Animals: Perhaps the clearest sign of the natural status of magic is the existence of magical properties in parts of the natural world. Certain plants and living creatures have very particular properties which can only be described as magical. These properties are part of their very being, part of the essence of their nature. There are not the result of the spells casts by witches and wizards and hold permanently within their host plants and animals.

Our starting point is therefore what we might call 'Ambient Magic' which means the magic which naturally surrounds us all the time before we have even begun to learn how to make use of it. Its historical origin and its exact nature might be one of the greatest mysteries of the universe but there can be do doubt that it exists.

Section 2.3 | Magic and Reality

Our reasoned assumption must be that magic is just a natural feature of the world which exists alongside every other aspect of our universe. The question which must surely follow is 'what is its nature?' If magic naturally forms part of the universe, we must seek to understand how to relates to the universe as a whole. As briefly introduced in Chapter 1, muggle scientists aim to describe the physical world by testable observation, leading to the formulation of natural laws about the universe. In theory, we should expect it to be possible for muggle scientists to also describe magic as a natural phenomena. I will call this view the Naturalistic Theory of Magic which is defined as follows.

Naturalistic Theory of Magic: Magic is part of the natural world and it can therefore be explained in the same terms as the rest of the natural world. Magical laws are really scientific laws which our best science has not yet quite been able to explain.

Describing magic is terms of muggle science has thus proved extremely difficult. As we shall investigate later (Chapter 3), many magical phenomena simple appear to be unexplained in scientific terms. Magic can seemingly override natural laws in ways we cannot yet explain to be possible. However, what we have to ask is 'can magic ever be explained by muggle science?' The Naturalistic Theory states that it can, whilst still recognizing that it has been difficult to do so according to our current knowledge. According to the Naturalistic Theory, we simply need a more advanced scientific understanding of the universe and when we have it in order to explain the magical in terms of the non-magical.

Not all magical theorists agree with this idea. It has been argued that the reason why science does not explain magic is because it cannot explain magic in principle. The reason why this might be the case is that the magical and the non-magical are actually distinct aspects of the universe. Each has its own properties and its own natural laws, meaning that we cannot explain one in terms of the other. I will call this view the Dualistic Theory of Magic which is defined as follows:

Dualistic Theory of Magic: The universe is fundamental divided into two parts (or substances) - magical properties governed by magical law and non-magical properties governed by natural law - the two substances being metaphysically different from each other yet coexisting equally

There are a number of reasons to believe why this is the case:

  • Differences between the laws of magic and the laws of nature: A general observation is that magic is able to override the nature of the non-magical but it is not able to override the rules of the magical. This suggests that magic has a distinct internally consistent law (see Chapter 3). In using magic, we are able to manipulate, subvert, or contradict the ordinary laws of nature which govern the non-magical world. For example, objects can be made to levitation (contrary to the law of gravity), inanimate objects can be transformed into conscious living organisms (contrary to their nature), and life can be indefinitely extended by the process of alchemy (contrary to the effects of senescence). This suggests that there are two distinct types of law in the universe - the magical and the non-magical.
  • Distinctiveness of the magic of the soul: The ability to perform magic and be affected by it appears to fundamentally affect the human soul. As noted in further discussion (see below, Magic and Life, and Chapter 4), the soul of a magical practitioner can become imprinted in the world after death in the form of a ghost. This phenomena is not present in those living creatures not affected by the practice of magic. This suggests that magic has a particular relationship to life and death distinct from the ordinary processes of natural law.
  • Existence of magical creatures and plants: The existence of magic within magical creatures forces students of nature to divide the natural world into magical and non-magical creatures. Herbologists offer us the same distinction in the classification of plants. This does not necessarily support the Dualist Theory, it being perfectly possible that the 'magical' properties of these organisms emerge as natural properties of their evolution. However, this seems unlikely because it is explanatory unsatisfying. Even if muggle scientists (see Chapter 3 for an explanation) were to discover what natural properties (for example, genetics) of some creatures give them innate magical abilities, this would not help us to explain the nature of their magical powers. This can be described only in magical terms, suggesting that there is indeed a fundamental difference between organisms that are subject to some magical law and those which are not.

According to the Dualistic Theory, whereas it is certainly true to say that even the best scientific theories of muggles are yet to be advanced enough to explain all natural phenomena, it is difficult to see how magic could ever be explained in the same way. We should therefore seek to explain magic only in terms of fundamental magical law.

The reader should appreciate that this is certainly a contentious debate in current magical theory and there are excellent reasons why an intelligent theorist might either view. No matter which view if correct, it is certainly true to say that magic does have its own laws (whether these are scientifically explainable or not) and that we can investigate these regardless of whether this difficult question is answered. These laws of magic are what underlie the magic that we learn to harness and use to our practical benefit as witches, wizards, and other magical practitioners. Let us now consider how this is possible.

Section 2.4 | Practical Magic

'Ambient Magic' constantly surrounds us but this is evidently not the only way that we interact with magic. Magic can be harnessed, controlled, and used in the world in practical ways by those who are fortunate enough to be endowed with the natural ability. By some mechanism, certain individuals within certain groups of living creatures can be born with an ability to channel the power of the ambient magic in the universe in a practical force, power, or energy which can be used to affect the world around them. This magical force is subject to particular rules and laws which magical theorists seek to understand. Let us call this 'Practical Magic'. Learning magic takes' Ambient Magic' and turns it into 'Practical Magic'.

Although the ability to perform 'Practical Magic' is something which is innate to the practitioner, learning exactly how to use it in a successful way requires the cultivation of knowledge, skill, and experience. Gaining this is the aim of magical education and it is the study of practical magic which concerns most of the rest of this volume. In order to begin our enquiry into 'Practical Magic', it is firstly necessary to identify the factors involved in being able to use magic. As we shall discuss, the means and methods of practical magic vary between different cultures and societies, with more than one type of magic therefore existing among magical communities. For the purposes of this enquiry, we shall begin by studying the form of practical magic observed in Europe, European-descended North America, Japan, and many other related locations throughout the world.

In learning the use of practical magic, the witches and wizards within these localities are introduced to a number of basic aspects which they must learn to use in order to fully grasp the form of magic used within their society. These aspects are in essence the 'ingredients' which are put together in order to perform magic successfully. We can identify the following as the three fundamental aspects of practical magic:

  1. The Laws of Magic (commonly 'The Spell'). Using magic is based around the casting of spells. Most importantly, spells have an underlying structure which magical theory aims to describe. Having a greater knowledge of this structure and mastering its various aspects by practical experience forms a large part of what it takes to improve magical ability. The structure of the spell includes the intentional and emotional aspects underlying the spell, the incantation by which it is delivered, and the wand movement which is used to direct the power of the spell towards its target.
  2. The Practitioner (commonly 'The Witch/Wizard'). Using magic is the particular ability of certain living creatures. The ability to use magic makes one a 'magical practitioner'. Commonly, this term is used to refer to witches and wizards (humans) but it must also be remembered that other magical creatures also have this ability. Understanding the nature of the practitioner is key to understanding how practical magic works. In practical terms, understanding yourself and your role in performing magic will make you able to perform spells more successfully. The practitioner's natural abilities, psychology, and practical experience all play a decisive role in spell-casting.
  3. The Instrument (commonly 'The Wand'). Many societies (although not all) make use of magical instruments to aid them in performing practical magic. Within our society, the wand is a fundamental aspect of performing spells. Understanding the nature of wands, how they work, and how they can be used by wizards is crucial to understanding the type of spell-based magic that we use.

The following three Chapters of this volume will discuss each of these three aspects in turn. This shall give us a complete overview of the nature of practical magic, how it works, and how its use can be improved.

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