Magic and Science Two Perspectives.

by Claudia Madrazo

The great alchemist Paracelsus believed that magic was the gateway to occult, celestial and earthly matters due to a form of intuition acquired through divine grace. He also claimed that it was conducive to the relationship between God, the world and people. The word “magic” comes from the Greek magikos, related to magicians, which, in turn, comes from the Persian magus or magusaeus, the term used to designate priests and wise men.

As if by Magic from the very beginning, humans felt the need to explain and control natural phenomena affecting their lives. Believing that mysterious forces were behind nature, people venerated it, hoping for benevolence. Such beliefs gave rise to the earliest deities, rituals and magic: the art of producing extra-ordinary phenomena by means of words, actions or intervention from the spirits.

Magic and religion developed simultaneously: magicians claimed to have a close relationship with the gods because of the supernatural powers they had received from them. Therefore, they conducted ceremonies to please or request favors, choosing to communicate with the deities through mediums. Magicians were the spiritual guides for the earliest cultures and were supremely important to the community. Magic was also the origin of science, because its functions included experimentation, as well as the preservation and transmission of a body of knowledge borne through experience.

By observing the stars, magicians could predict certain natural events that affected the welfare of their society, such as heavy rainfalls or the change of seasons. They were also endowed with the necessary familiarity with the supernatural to predict major events in a person’s life.

Their other tasks consisted of implementing their knowledge of medicinal remedies. Healers, shamans and sorcerers were extremely knowledgeable about the powers of different plants and incorporated them into their healing rituals. With the evolution of this ideology, a rift was produced. Science became independent, religion assumed the relationship with the gods and magic was relegated to a subordinate position.

The Link between Magic and Science. In terms of magic and science, alchemy is the inevitable bridge between the two worlds. Fueled by the desire to explore what lies behind everyday phenomena, humans chose the paths already available to them: the tradition of magic and intuition as well as the more reliable knowledge of nature and the physical world. This mix produced alchemy, which combines the language, mystery, intuition and faith of magic with the methods, discipline and rationality of science.

Magic All Around
Over the centuries, science became so strong that magic and alchemy were soon abandoned as ways of understanding reality. Wisdom took on technical, measurable and verifiable overtones. However, even today we still need alternative explanations to complement the scientific approach. There are still phenomena which reason alone cannot explain, and that’s where magic comes in. How to interpret the omens that guide us to the correct, most advantageous decisions? Why do we happen to meet up with certain people at exactly the same place and time? How can we really understand–although we know physically what happens–how a human being is infused with life? Why do we run into someone we haven’t seen for a long time precisely the day after we dreamed about him or her? Magical thought is still alive and well, perhaps because there is no better explanation for some of the issues we wonder about and maybe also because magic enhances our daily routine.

Magic is the name we give to the magnifying glass we use to try to unravel the unknown and mysterious; it is another way of explaining the world. In this sense, we now realize that emotion and reason, intuition and method, magic and science are equally valuable tools that account for what remains hidden in ourselves, in nature and in the intangible reality we perceive around us §

What kind of a mind do you have: scientific or magical?
To answer this, reflect on the following questions:
• How do you account for those astonishing events in your daily life that have no logical explanation?
• What set of beliefs helps you deal with the challenges in your life?
• Do you think that meeting the love of your life, finding a good job and saving your life by a hair’s breadth are coincidences or causalities?
• Do “magical” things happen to you often?

Suggested Reading: Paracelso, Textos esenciales, Ediciones Siruela. / Theophrastus Paracelsus. Archidoxes of Magic, Nicolas-Hays, Inc., 2004.