There’s a conversation floating around the Paganosphere/magic worker’s sphere right now about whether magical paths are about service to mankind or about survival.
Ultimately how magic gets uses is a discussion of privilege. No matter how incisive a view, parts of it get ugly. This is in part because those who consider using magic for personal gain are almost always the ones who live in a situation that allows them to see magic as optional.
There’s a lot of abstractions thrown around by the “for enlightenment” crowd. Lots of “raising global consciousness” and lots of “let’s send energy to.” There’s nothing wrong at all with that outlook. Using magic to raise consciousness and make people healthier and happier is always a good plan. You can’t treat a disease until you’re conscious of it.
But the people that do have that outlook do tend to look down on those who use magic for survival. I can’t quote statistics here – it’s just a general feeling based on the declarations of the more vocal .
I think there’s a LOT wrong with that outlook – not because it’s wrong to want people to live better and be happier, but because it’s a viewpoint based mostly (but not totally) on white privilege, class privilege, getting-there-first privilege, etc. To be blunt, it’s participating in a class war. Telling people with serious problems not to use magic to fulfill their daily needs because it’s “lesser” is crappy. Actually, saying the same thing to someone with relatively more privilege who still prefers a little magical insurance is still crappy.
Some of this is, unavoidably, personal. Anyone who claims total objectivity about magical society and magical practice will, at some point, be bitchslapped by the ghost of Crowley.
My frame of reference
My socio-economic and class status has changed dramatically since I started practicing witchcraft at the tender age of 19. I got to where I am with a great deal of work both magical and not. Ultimately I think magic did far more for me than traditional forms of hard work. Also, I really did work at magic with a great deal more effort than my immediate peers at the time.
I got into magic because my back was against a wall – I’m far from the first of recent essayists to say so. I needed money for college. The people in my life did not want me to have it and were doing all they could to erode any independence I achieved. I could see, though at the time could not verbalize, that it wasn’t just college privilege at stake. My basic adult autonomy – and from there, ability to live in a violence free environment of my choosing – was in danger. Desperate to get any help I could, I cast a series of spells.
Now I’m here, relatively independent and writing about it.
These days I tend to hang out more with the global consciousness types. They differ a bit from what I consider the Pagan subspecies. There’s more actual unity and tolerance for differing perspectives – I can discuss ideas (as long as I veer off veganism) and most discussions end up in discussions, not in the borderline assaults I’ve come to associate with about one third of all my Pagan-based interactions.
Most are put-their-money-where-their-hearts-are types; while I do not think the language I can speak it. I admire their ability to walk away from the privileges granted them in a normal white life in favor of stepping outside of society to make society better.
But they’re also, for the most part, doing it from places of safety. They have family, friends and money to support them when they want to take off on global “help the world” journeys. They may show up for Habitat for Humanity stuff and they have the freedom to go on complicated diets based on what’s trendy at the coop. They don’t need magic to make these things happen – because they already have it. I have no idea whether their hearts go to their local communities – if, say, the New Ager in dance group with me sends as much energy to North Minneapolis as s/he does to Africa – and if that person chooses to send internationally over nationally I really don’t have a moral judgment on that. Carbon based lifeforms have infinite connection; both good and bad reaches all of us somehow, sometime. Whatever they’re doing, it’s either good or entirely benign – I can live with either.
But these are also not people I discuss magic use with all that much. They are doing as they see fit and I don’t talk about myself or my practices with them unless they ask me directly. We don’t talk about the magic I do for myself on a regular basis – the stuff I do to protect myself, to make sure I can maintain some independence however minimal, the stuff I do just to feel better sometimes. While that magic itself has a lot of ethical guidelines surrounding it its very existence – the very act of judging another person for doing magic for him or herself – is the very essence of the destructive missionary. To become so sure of your own moral rightness is to forget what happens when it’s a matter of living or not living. When you forget that, you end up with, say, the equivalent of a destroyed Africa.