Etymologically, magic, magus, has to do with having, or harnessing power, which could be real, except the concept of real is much too recent to be closely associated with an old idea such as magic, which increasingly has fallen out of favor with cultural norms by reality-oriented schemes in which the materialism of science and the literalisms of religion and spirituality now dominate.
Let us then consider the ways in which language itself is a form of magic in which each of us serves as co-creators of the real, via the imaginal, as a continual approximation of the ever-nebulous Whole that we are, none-the-less, participants therein, more or less able to access, given the constraints of perceptual limits. Language is perhaps the most potent human power underlying all of our reality constructs, stories, calculations, schemes, and yet, can so easily be taken for granted. It’s like water to the fish and the air that we breathe. And although we can never fully get outside of its influence, meditating on the magic of language and its influence upon, not only us, but the co-created world our birth obligates us to participate in, can increase both the depth and style one’s approach to this earthly life.
early 14c., “actually existing, true;” mid-15c., “relating to things” (especially property), from Old French reel “real, actual,” from Late Latin realis “actual,” in Medieval Latin “belonging to the thing itself,” from Latin res “property, goods, matter, thing, affair,” which de Vaan traces to a PIE *Hreh-i- “wealth, goods,” source also of Sanskrit rayim, rayah “property, goods,” Avestan raii-i- “wealth.”
The meaning “genuine” is recorded from 1550s; the sense of “unaffected, no-nonsense” is from 1847.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. [Margery Williams, “The Velveteen Rabbit”]https://www.etymonline.com/word/real
When something is “real,” it’s associated with manifestation through some type of form or substance as truth, and ownership, a real estate. Ultimately, it serves as a value judgment by imparting meaning through that unavoidable sense of ownership we seem subject and responsible to. To use it in the sense of something true and substantive, or that which is living, as opposed to fake, the meaning in some ways becomes weaponized; the real then is that which is unarguably true. In this sense, even skepticism proclaims a truth.
Interestingly, the idea of the unreal is associated with something that has an element of surprise, or is unbelievable or perhaps unexpected.
Magic these days, is more frequently used as a way to marginalize an idea or belief, as in the idea of “magical thinking.” As well, magic, or magick, as Crowley * would have it, is a spiritual practice which has also been marginalized by the secret allies of science and religion.
In the secular sense, nowadays a magician is one who does parlor tricks for children or sometimes even inebriated adults. This understanding too, like the mythological idea of Santa Claus, serves the purpose as a way to instill the potential for a future disbelief. Then, as a reality revering adult, we may pride ourselves in our ability to discern and know the real, favoring it over all that may oppose it. One more battle won, one more duality duly noted.
Not only does Santa C. have to continually die and be reborn, but with his death in each of us, a permanent shift in our understanding of the imagination as it looks to sentimental nostalgic regret for the passing of that time in childhood where we innocently believed, not only because we could imagine, but because we were not yet aware of the idea that fantasy itself is now a threat to reality. But without an awareness of magic, do we not give away some of our deeply subjective power? This breakup with seeing the world through its images, influence and potential for confluence, in exchange for the sense of belonging to the real world of time, history, action and consequences, is just the beginning of what has come to pass for reality; a sober world, disenchanted, where quantity trumps quality, and where reality must be faced if we are to find success through the product of becoming a “self.” Are we not though, trading in one bad, or better yet, misunderstood story for an even worse one, a story that promotes consumerism and other addictions through promises relegated to power invested in a future where satisfaction finally guarantees more future, more time to find satisfaction?
Late 14c., magike, “art of influencing or predicting events and producing marvels using hidden natural forces,” also “supernatural art,” especially the art of controlling the actions of spiritual or superhuman beings; from Old French magique “magic; magical,” from Late Latin magice “sorcery, magic,” from Greek magike (presumably with tekhnē “art”), fem. of magikos “magical,” from magos “one of the members of the learned and priestly class,” from Old Persian magush, which is possibly from PIE root *magh- “to be able, have power.”https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=magic
Words are weighty and depending on your relationship with language, whose meaning falls prey to the cementing of set, relegated, culturally agreed upon roles serving as a kind of linguistic fast food, palatable for the common tongue with sweet, if barely digestible agreements, promising a certain amount of insurance or safety, literalisms, freed from choice, the unknown, and sustained by a dread of the threat of one’s marginalization.
This making of reality when understood as a co-creation, is truly an amazing process in which all of us potentially could come to better understand the ways in which we participate in the common fate, but which few of us currently feel ourselves to have any power over. This lack of ownership is truly where what has been hidden in plain sight serves as a crumbling storage container, or perhaps a dumpster; a receptacle for all that must ultimately be rejected, either by, or through whatever choices remain. For as real as the co-created world we live in might become, the less it is, currently anyway, recognizable as either Mine, or Yours, as if we must reject what we now come to realize we never truly owned, or especially, wanted.
Where do we go from here?
Historically speaking, and until recently, these terms, “real” and “magic” had not had much occasion to cross paths. Magic, mage, magh, has roots thousands of years old. The notion of “real,” meaning “genuine,” is not used until the 19th century. Perhaps the idea of the real as actual follows a world steeped in magic with the intention of truly manifesting what magic seemingly couldn’t.
In many ways, their meanings both relate to kinds of power. When something is declared to be real, are we not giving it emphasis and validation? In this sense, the real is akin to fate, as something spoken through us. For us moderns, when something is magic, or magical, isn’t its validity or existence nullified, along with its value as a power? And again, isn’t the maintaining of sharp divisions between the two a false choice echoing throughout the land, serving only to bolster the fear of our own shadows or impotence over the real?
Perhaps the recent introduction of the idea of reality, or the real, is a symptom of something we fervently want to be true, or to be known AND collectively agreed upon in reaction to the increasingly intangible interactions that technology facilitates – devaluing and potentially dominating human power – and in which the body human and planet earth have begun to revolt against. The real, as an idea that persists in us, then, has its own kind of magic to articulate and see through the madness.
Reality, then, as a concept which has gained favor by the collective, also serves as the vehicle of its opposite. Given enough time and currency, the idea of reality and its offspring, truth, join forces as a fortress constructed like any other fortress; to someday be deconstructed. The One, or the attempt to unify, necessarily births the many as it more clearly articulates the kinds of power available to each of us. Language is then, an articulation of the power of magic coming through us to see through its own constructs, and especially how ideas make manifest our deepest appreciation of fear, love, beauty, while deepening our understanding of the power of magic within the reality of the ebb and flow of change.
* From the Guardian article:
“A hundred years on, Crowley remains one of those figures often dismissed in public, but whose work is collected and studied in private. His immediate following may have been small, but his influence on modern culture is as pervasive as that of Freud or Jung. As an occultist, he can justly claim to have made a lasting change on the world, refashioning the occult with his famous dictum to combine the aim of religion with the method of science.
In the age of the crowned and conquering child, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in Crowley’s magick or not. Like Tarot or astrology, it’s not a question of belief; it’s whether and where the pattern fits. “Certain actions,” said Crowley, “produce certain results.” Sentiments worth bearing in mind for those curious about the life, work and legacy of this extraordinary, flawed, complex and often shocking figure.”