The Differences Between the 5 Major Types of Magic

Not All Magic Has the Same Practice or Intention

The magical wishes
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Religious practitioners of contemporary Western paganism recognize multiple types of magic, but all of the types have an underlying concept in common. In the scholarly sense of the word, magic is a continuum of practices that run from small-scale informal ritual acts to large-scale events in sacred buildings, both inside and outside of sanctioned religions.

History of the Term

The term magic derives from the Greek "magicke" and the first time it appears in print is in the title of a now-lost work attributed to Aristotle (384–322 BCE), and it specifically referred to the art and craft of Zoroastrian priests from Persia.

As it did for the Persian priests, modern magic involves behaviors, actions, and methods intended to interact with and influence the supernatural world, usually involving the use of an occult or secret body of knowledge—but the boundaries that define what is religion and what magic are variable, and to an extent are set by a practicing sect or even an individual.

Common Modern Usage

In common usage, magic evokes some sort of change in the physical world through non-scientific means. In occult and esoteric circles, "magic" can take a wider meaning involving spiritual change. Practitioners of some branches see their practices as having very little in common with other branches.

The following categories of magic are those in generally in use among groups falling into the loose category of contemporary Western paganism. However, defining the various types of magic is just as complicated as defining magic itself. Not all magic has the same intention and each magic practitioner will use different approaches.

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Ceremonial Magic - High Magic

Ceremonial magic is a type of magic that depends heavily on book learning; precise, complicated ritual; and intricate sets of correspondences.

In the West, ceremonial magic was almost entirely rooted in Judeo-Christian myth until the late 19th century. Even today, many ceremonial magicians continue to work within that context.

Ceremonial magic is also high magic. It is meant to have a spiritual purpose rather than a practical one, although there could be some overlap in those two concepts. It involves improving the soul, which might include gaining divine knowledge, purification, the attraction of proper influences, and embracing one's destiny.

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Folk Magic - Low Magic

Historically, folk magic is the magic of the common folk. It has all manner of practical purposes: healing, attracting luck or love, driving away evil forces, finding lost items, bringing good harvests, fertility.

Records of these practices are largely non-existent since practitioners were generally illiterate. Rituals were simple and probably evolved over time. They involved everyday items: plant material, coins, nails, wood, and so forth.

Folk magic is sometimes called low magic because of its practical nature and because of its association with the lower class.

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Witchcraft is a highly problematic term because of the different uses of the word today versus its historical uses.

In the West, many magical practitioners are now calling themselves witches and practice a cross between ceremonial magic and folk magic. Workings are generally fairly simple, use common materials, and depend upon emotion and intent rather than exact ritual. They may also borrow certain practices such as circle casting from ceremonial magic.

Historically, however, witchcraft meant malevolent magic, and that is the reason it was persecuted. Witches were thought to kill, maim, cause sterility, blight crops, poison water, and bring general misfortune upon their targets.

Witches and folk magicians were two different groups of people. Most people identified as witches were also accused falsely, while folk magicians were valued members of their communities.

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Left and Right Hand Magic

In short, left-hand magic is limited by social conventions. It is often limited to beneficial magic and comes with warnings of consequences for harmful workings.

Right-hand magic exists outside of social conventions and ignores taboos, often even gaining power from breaking them. Only people who consider themselves of the right-hand path generally use the terminology.

Magical Practitioners within Satanic and Luciferian faiths consider themselves of the left-hand path. Followers of Thelema may consider themselves either.

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Black and White Magic

Black and white magic are imprecise terms. Roughly speaking, they are used to differentiate magic practices with an intent that is not socially acceptable versus magic practices that are. 

Today, the dividing line is often between magic that is intended to harm and magic that is not. There are, however, a lot of practices that different people disagree with, such as divination, justified harm, love magic and so forth. Many magical workers avoid the terms entirely.


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Your Citation
Beyer, Catherine. "The Differences Between the 5 Major Types of Magic." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, Beyer, Catherine. (2023, April 5). The Differences Between the 5 Major Types of Magic. Retrieved from Beyer, Catherine. "The Differences Between the 5 Major Types of Magic." Learn Religions. (accessed June 2, 2023).