Magick is the highest, most Absolute, most Divine Knowledge of natural Philosophy, advanced in its works and wonderful operations by a right understanding of the inward and occult virtue of things; so that true agents being applied to proper patients, strange and admirable effects will thereby be produced. Whence magicians are profound and diligent searchers into Nature; they, because of their skill, know how to anticipate an effort (or effect), the which to the vulgar shall seem to be a miracle.
Variations of this classic description of magick are common in medieval literature on Natural Philosophy, a qualified academic discipline through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Interestingly, the main ideas expressed in the passage nicely encapsulate the key concepts of an emerging, thoroughly 21st Century model depicting what magick is and how it works. Briefly, magick is function of natural phenomena, its exercise dependent on the knowledge and skill of the practitioner, rather than any so-called supernatural agency. The magician, then and now, is best understood as a diligent searcher into nature, whose studies delve into the mysterious ways in which things change from one state to another. Indeed, Natural Philosophy was the forerunner of modern science and physics, and the modern magician working within this new model shares much with the modern scientist.
The essence of the magician's skill, so the passage suggests, flows from a diligent pursuit of natural principles. From there, the effects of magick become a straightforward function of properly anticipating what's likely to happen next, and then taking the right action at the right time. Of course, there is nothing special about paying attention to how things work, how things usually proceed, etc., developing expectations based on what's currently happening, and anticipating how and when to act to further ones goals. Everyone does that, quite naturally and without explicit training, all with some degree of success. But magick represents a particularly unique way of going about it, and the key phrase alluding to what makes magick special is the inward and occult virtue of things. That is, beyond what can be observed directly, there is always a stream of subtle, unrecognized and therefore unseen (occult) influences bearing on any given situation, a fundamental truth that the magician trains to exploit, to the fullest extent possible.
It's worth drawing a distinction here between magick and miracles. When a magician successfully plys the craft toward a given end, the things necessary to achieve the goal don't simply materialize out of thin air. Rather, the extant and ongoing dynamic elements in and around the situation are managed, so to speak, in a manner that drives the natural sequence of events toward the desired outcome. Owing to the occult characteristic of any dynamic situation, when successful, the acts of the magician result in seemingly amazing effects. The outside observer may wonder, “how did she know?” Or, "why is he so lucky?" Or generally one may muse of a good magician, "how does she always seem to be in the right place at the right time?"
Between Then and Now
Prior to the Renaissance Period, in Medieval Europe, magick was a qualified scientific pursuit. During the Renaissance, however, science and magick began to diverge. The emerging philosophy of science grew increasingly empirical and skeptical. As the scientific method we know today was taking shape, researchers began to test many of the longstanding assumptions of magick, many of which failed to withstand the new methods of inquiry and verification. Subsequently, many notions previously assumed to be incontrovertible were reclassified as superstition, and more or less abandoned by the educated class, at least among those who embraced the scientific revolution.
The principle change that took place at that time was attitudinal. Most diligent searchers into nature were no longer willing to take any assumption on faith merely because it was handed down from antiquity, was high in popular esteem, or was preferred by the ruling class, but rather demanded demonstrable evidence. Certain aspects of the typical magician's model of reality (hierarchies of spirits ruling over this function or that, for example) could neither be confirmed nor definitively denied by scientific inquiry, and subsequently, the new class of scientist increasingly favored models of reality that were more amenable to empirical testing and verification.
The predominant religious models of reality at the time, closely akin to typical magical models, failed empirical scrutiny in the same ways and for the same basic reasons, of course. But the political realities and popular opinion preserved both religion and the generalized magician's way of thinking about the world in Western culture, but as a decidedly non-scientific mode, together generally embraced as faith by those drawn to it, and branded as superstition by the scientific community at large. The schism between science and magick (and religion) persists to the present day, even as large segments of popular culture embrace an increasingly wide range of beliefs and attitudes that remain scientifically untestable.
The Neuromagick Initiative is aimed at diminishing the division between science and magick, for the benefit of both communities, and proceeds from these basic observations and assumptions:
Practices that endure over time do so because they have some intrinsic value to the people who practice them. Many magical practices have proven to be particularly resilient over time. Therefore, efforts to understand their effects better are well-warranted.
Recent efforts to re-merge magick and science have looked, primarily, toward advances in physics to support previously untestable assumptions about how magick works. These efforts have largely failed, for any number of reasons. While there may be advances in physics on the horizon that will bridge the magick-science gap, given the current state of affairs, other scientific disciplines should be pursued at this time. Given that most magical practices rely on aspects of mental development and mental activities, psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience are valid and promising lines of inquiry.
If the direct effects of magick are on the magick practitioner rather than the world at large, and any secondary effects in the world are a function of changes in the thoughts and behavior of the practitioner, a scientifically valid model of magick is entirely feasible. This notion rules out certain types of effects that have been traditionally associated with magick, such as causing changes in the weather via magical acts. Most magical goals, however, would not be excluded, such as issues revolving around interpersonal relationships, employment, legal matters, etc.
Magick during the Medieval Period was a decidedly spiritual practice, closely linked to and sometimes indistinguishable from mystical and religious pursuits. Because magical training is an inherently developmental process that gradually transforms how the magician interacts with the world, what most anyone would classify as spiritual development is a natural byproduct (or the central purpose, depending on ones point of view) of dedicated magical practice. Furthermore, magick is a particularly balanced mode of spiritual development, wherein a focus on improving the external circumstances of ones life inevitably leads to internal improvement.
In addition to promoting exploration and the development of scientifically valid models of magick, the Initiative numbers among its goals, increased public awareness and social tolerance of the occult studies community, among scientists certainly but within the larger community as well. To that end, the Initiative is interested in educating the general public about magick and magick practices, and also in educating the occult studies community in scientific methodology, current scientifically supported principles, and on the difference between good science, poor science, and pseudoscience.
Finally, we believe that the greatest detriment to the occult studies community, and public opinion about occult studies and those who engage in it, is charlatanism. The Initiative is therefore dedicated to education about—and efforts to expose—profiteering practices and practitioners who would exploit sincere individuals who are vulnerable to their ploys for whatever reasons.
Feel free to explore the site, educate yourself, consider the possibilities implied by what you find here, discuss and debate relevant ideas, and if inspired, take the initiative yourself to support and advance these goals.