Posts Tagged ‘ExplainingMagick’

Why I Choose to Say “Energy,” Not “Magick”

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

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Last year, I made a conscious choice to use the term energy instead of magick.

Why? Among magick practitioners, it’s clearer. When I said magick, I always meant, “techniques using energy.” But other people use magick to mean, “Acting on one’s true Will,” “Mystical experiences,” “Anything not currently understood by science,” and more. It was simply to easy to believe we were talking about the same concept, when in fact we were merely using the same words. I’ve found it clearer to just say energy.

Among energy practitioners, the benefit is obvious: They already accept and value energy, and mean roughly what I do by the term.

Even among laypeople who dismiss energy as woo, at least they know some people who have had good results (if only, they believe, from placebo). Magick sounds like it came from Harry Potter.

And in a way, the term did. When I was 11, a friend who loved fantasy novels told me that he felt energy from trees. I tried, and felt a warm tingling. I have no idea if it was energy or just imagination, but that’s where it started. And, drawing from his young adult fiction, he called this experience magic, and I followed him.

I explored energy every day, but (partly because of the stigma associated with the term) I rarely spoke about it. In my late 20s, when I began blogging, I still called my explorations magic. I added the k to help Google understand that I was talking about energy, not slight of hand, and started writing.

For some time now, magick has felt off-brand, even awkward. I’ve dropped the word from my speech, and it’s time to drop it from my website, too. Moving forward, I’ll be writing on Check it out and let me know what you think, especially Home and About.

(I’ve migrated all email subscribers over, you’ll still get posts by email. I can’t migrate RSS subscribers, but you can sign up here. Twitter followers, my new account is here.)

Magick of Thought will stay up indefinitely, so you’ll still have access to all the content here. Thank you to all my readers, I’ve enjoyed talking magick with you, and I’m looking forward to talking energy with you too.

See you next week at

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Why Explaining Energy is Hard (And What To Do About It)

Monday, October 16th, 2017

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A week ago at Energy Geek, I realized that about half the class wasn’t getting it.

What weren’t they getting? They got the energy exercises and games. They could follow each technique. But they didn’t see why we were doing it. They didn’t get the impact.

Which means I wasn’t explaining it.

For the past year, I’ve been teaching myself to speak: How to explain my work to someone unfamiliar with it. And as I started thinking about how to explain Energy Geek, I recalled a concept that helped it all make sense: Inferential distance.

One inferential step is anything a person can figure out right now, based on what they know, in a single insight. For someone who knows nothing about energy healing, for example, a single inferential step might be, “Living cells seem to emit this biofield energy. Depending on the state of the cells (healthy, inflamed, infected, etc), they seem to emit a different type of biofield energy.”

Anything one inferential step away will be easy to understand. The person might not agree with the statement, but they won’t be confused by it.

A concept that’s two inferential steps away can still be understood. They require the listener to figure out the intermediate step, which takes effort but is usually doable. With a single step, it’s often possible to work backwards and figure out the missing insight. If you’ve ever encountered ideas that were challenging but ultimately graspable, they were probably two inferential steps away for you.

Once a concept is three or more inferential steps away, it becomes inaccessible. The listener can’t work backwards, because there’s more than one insight between what they know and what I said. It just doesn’t work.

The problem is, my concept of energy is several inferential steps away for many energy workers. Here’s why:

When I say “energy,” I mean biofield energy, also called chi or prana, a thing emitted by cells that exists out in the world whether a person is aware of it or not. But most classes teach energy as a combination of attention, emotional intuition, and biofield energy, using all those meanings interchangeably, without even mentioning that they’re different phenomena. It’s all just “energy.”

Exercises where you stare into your partner’s eyes to “feel their energy”? That’s emotional intuition. (I’ve now spent a year exploring how to feel a partner’s biofield energy without seeing their eyes and face, and it’s a thoroughly different, much more difficult exercise.)

Meditations where you visualize distractions, then send them away? That’s attention. (For the past year, I’ve used biofield energy to help friends focus. Again, it’s a thoroughly different, much more difficult technique.)

(All of that seems simple enough, right? But look at the steps: First I explained what “biofield energy” is. Then I explained that the word “energy” often refers to a combination of phenomena. Then I gave examples, and explained my relevant experiences. Skip any of those steps, and people get lost.)

I’m realizing, the word energy means something different to me than it does to many students. From the very start of the conversation, we are too many inferential steps apart to communicate easily.

And understanding that, I feel I’m already halfway to a solution.

(I’m actually partway through listing and organizing all the inferential steps I’ll need to explain. I’m a bit exhausted, but I’m also hopeful at the progress I’m making.)

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Beyond the Material? Why Energy is like Gravity and Magnetism

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

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Jill posted on Facebook: “How do you describe the beyond-material: Spiritual? Etheric? Metaphysical?”

I pondered for a day. I know what she’s asking, and the easy answer is, “energy and ethereal.” But there’s something deeper here.

Years ago, a physicist friend asked about my work. At the time, I was describing energy and connections as “non-physical stuff.”

“What does non-physical stuff mean? Your whole premise is that this is real and out there, right?” she asked.

Yes, I said, but you can’t reach out and touch it, it doesn’t interact with ordinary atom-based matter except in a few limited ways.

She explained, “Dark matter is the same, it only interacts in limited ways, through gravity but nothing else, but it’s still physical.”

She explained that, to a physicist, “physical” means “real,” out there in reality rather than an idea in the mind. Saying something was real but non-physical simply didn’t make sense. What I was describing was non-ordinary physical matter.

That conversation holds the deeper answer to Jill’s question:

Energy isn’t beyond material any more than gravity or magnetism are. None of those phenomena are solid, atom-based matter, but all three produce observable, measurable results.

“But gravity and magnetism are part of modern physics, and biofield energy isn’t (yet),” you might point out. And I think that’s part of the implicit distinction my friend’s question was making.

But here’s the thing: That’s a statement about human knowledge, not about the phenomenon itself. When Newton discovered gravity in 1665, that changed human knowledge, but it didn’t change gravity itself. When we say that a phenomenon is mysterious, we really mean that it’s mysterious to us, that it’s not understood by us yet. It’s a statement about us, not about the phenomenon.

So, what’s beyond-material? Imagination, social constructs like ownership and capitalism, and other things that exist only in human mind. But not energy. That’s part of material reality, just like magnetism and gravity, and it’s only a matter of time before we understand it.

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What Does Energy Healing Feel Like?

Monday, March 21st, 2016

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“Huh, I didn’t feel anything.”

I’d just done the healing for better sleep on a friend. She’s had energy healing before, and had a mystical experience with a shaman, so she was more believer than skeptic. It didn’t come off as dismissive. I think she’d just hoped for another cool mystical experience, and was a little disappointed.

But really, energy healing shouldn’t create tingles or sensations. Here’s how I think about it:

  • Most people don’t feel energy (and most demonstrations of energy are actually proprioception). If they did, researchers would have found the biofield by now. I’m actually working on how to create sensations reliably, and it’s challenging work.
  • For people who do feel energy, they usually need a lot of it. (That’s what my book’s ethereal software does to create sensations, more or less.) Except good healing techniques aren’t about flooding the person with energy. They’re about applying exactly the right type of energy to the right spot in the body, sustained over hours or days. You wouldn’t want a flood of energy sustained over days.
  • Feeling tingling is unrelated to sleeping better. And if you took a sleeping pill and suddenly your head started tingling, that’s not a good sign.

My friend liked this explanation. I think I’m going to add it to my “what to expect from this healing” talk, so people know not to expect tingles. This isn’t Head and Shoulders shampoo.


In April, I’ll be consulting in Singapore and Manilla, the Philippines. If you live there and want to show me around, let me know.

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What is the Biofield?

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

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A friend asked me, “What is the biofield?”

That’s like asking, “What is gravity?” Or “What is magnetism?” There’s no simple answer, and perhaps no known answer. The best we can do is give you examples, and describe how those phenomena behave.

Examples include Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Chi Gung, and many more. “Biofield” is the term used by the NIH and medical researchers to describe the energy used by all of those healing modalities.

How does the biofield behave? It seems that living cells emit some sort of field. The state of those cells — inflamed, injured, healthy, etc — determines the state of that field. Normally, the field flows out of cells. But it seems that the flow goes both ways, and that influencing the field can also influence those cells. (This has been demonstrated with cell culture studies, for example.)

That’s my answer. But there’s also a story here. The question came up at a writer’s potluck — bring food, bring something you’re writing, share both. I read the start of my vision for Healing Lab, got asked that question and flubbed it in front of a dozen writers. Just went off on a tangent, focusing on how no one knows instead of giving examples. Not a good answer, and I got gentle, kind feedback to that effect.

Today, this feels ok. That’s what practice is for: To make errors, reflect on them, plan a better answer next time. Better now with friends than later with investors.

But in the past, that writer’s potluck would have terrified me. I wouldn’t have read my work, wouldn’t have taken the question, would have frozen up instead of reflecting on how to answer it better.

I think bloggers too often share only our successes. Only the good answer we’ll give next time, not the failed answer we said in the moment. So I’m sharing that failure, too. If you’re afraid of flubbing an answer, know that us experienced folks mess up, too. I hope it helps you share when you get the chance.

The world doesn’t need your silence. The world needs your art.

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(Im)balancing the Biofield

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

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“Instead of balancing the biofield, we precisely imbalance it to produce the energy healing result.”

How is my system of healing different than Reiki? I’ve been searching for a simple answer to this. Not one that explains sensory connections or the pathways from energy to cells, but a simple metaphor for laymen. And that’s where I’ve ended up: Balance vs imbalance.

Vitamins balance the body, more or less. They help your body do what it naturally does.

But painkillers? They precisely imbalance the body. A balanced body signals pain when there’s an injury. But imbalance the body in the right way and those pain-signaling nerves stop firing (or the brain stops registering them).

Chemotherapy precisely imbalances the body too, damaging all cells, but damaging cancer cells more.

Balance is great when you want your body to do what it’s doing, just a little better. But often, that’s not the goal.


This was a short post. Want more to read? Here’s a hilarious take on the Randi prize.

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Explaining Biofields to Skeptics

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

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George asks:

Question: What language would you use to describe to someone what a “biofield” is and how you work with it, if they weren’t well-versed in the topic (or even a little wary or dismissive about these things)?

(Also a great discussion of direct / indirect magick in that thread, worth reading from the start.)

To answer, I’ll imagine a potential client, curious but skeptical, is asking this. I’d start with case studies:

“Before explaining the biofield, let me explain why I care about it, why I work with it…” And then whatever case studies matter most, simply describing that person’s condition before the healing session and after.

Note: I like to let people draw their own conclusions on whether the results were from healing energy or placebo or coincidence. That way they don’t feel pressured. Also, it lets me avoid claiming more than I actually know, and also avoid legal issues with saying that a healing technique had specific medical results.

Why start with healing results? Because you can’t convince someone of the biofield by describing it. You need to start with the experimental evidence. You also want to share the impact, why it’s worthwhile to study and use this. For us, the experimental evidence and the impact are both our healing results.

(If they’re more skeptical, I’ll discuss peer-reviewed journal articles, particularly the recent studies done on cell cultures. It won’t convince an unreasonable skeptic, but if they want to believe and just need to know they’re not foolish for believing, journal articles can be great.)

Once they’re on board with this healing technique being awesome, I’d explain the biofield:

“The short answer is, no one really knows what the biofield is. It’s our current best explanation for how this phenomenon works. Our current thinking is, there’s there’s a field of energy around living tissue, probably emitted by the cells. By influencing the energy, we can affect the cells. Now, is this literally true, or is it just an explanation that happens to lead to useful healing techniques? I can’t say. But it’s our current best model.

“My current hypothesis is that the energy inhibits or promotes cellular processes, and by picking the right energy we can target the right cellular process. Healing techniques based on that model seem to work well. Is that literally true? Again, no one knows. At some point I’d like to do cell culture studies so we can advance our understanding further.”

The point is to be really honest about what we know and what we don’t, what we believe and why we believe it.

I continue that tone as we talk about their healing session, setting expectations that the first technique rarely works and that we’ll need to debug it. And clients tell me how other healers overpromise and underdeliver, and that they trust me more for admitting the limits of our knowledge and our current healing research.

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Do Wiccans Use Ethereal Software?

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

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Susie asks:

I love reading your blog. I have a question. Is your theories about magick can apply to all types of magick, like Witchcraft or casting spells?

Thank you! And good question.

I started developing Direct Magick in the mid-90s. At the time, Chaos Magick was influencing just about everyone. Chaos Magick starts with an excellent question: So many systems of magick, with different terminology and different explanations, produce essentially the same results. Why?

(Chaos Magick’s answer is that “belief is the tool,” that magick works however you believe it does. But if that were the case, then all those different systems with different explanations and different beliefs would produce different results. In other words, belief cannot be an answer to that question.)

Back to the story. Often, the question is more important than the answer, and I think that’s the case here. Because it’s a great question.

Why do all those different systems produce similar results?

Here’s my answer: When two different actions produce the same result, that’s usually because they both tap into the same phenomenon, and share the same underlying mechanism. They might call it different names — The Universe, Natural Laws, Ethereal Software — but they’re all referring to the same phenomenon, the same mechanism, the same object out in the world.

The question then becomes, “What’s the most precise / useful way to tap into that mechanism?” That’s the question behind most of Direct Magick.

(Another valid version is, “What’s the fastest / easiest-to-teach way to tap into that mechanism?” That would produce a totally-different-but-also-excellent system of magick.)

So, Susie, my answer is yes. All magick, from Witchcraft to spells to rituals to Reiki, probably shares one (or a few) mechanisms. And Direct Magick is my current-best attempt to explain and harness that mechanism.

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Chewy Ideas on Magick for Engineers

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

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This post summarizes my science-focused thinking about magick, written for non-mages.

It comes from a friend who’s a professor of religion, who asks:

I have some science and religion double majors and I wanted them to see the work of an engineer on this question of “magic.” Do you have something that I can give to them to chew on?

Magic vs Magick

Magic and magick aren’t the same thing.

Historically, “magic” means a thing operates without any (known) mechanism:

  • Harry Potter magic just does what it does, no underlying mechanism.
  • When pre-scientific people saw placebo and hypnosis, they wouldn’t understand the mechanism, and called it magic.
  • Same with any sufficiently advanced technology — the mechanism is known to the advanced society (who sees it as technology), but is unknown and unknowable to the less advanced society (who see it as magic).

So that’s magic-with-a-c: Stuff we don’t understand, stuff outside science. Magic takes “X just happens, no cause-and-effect needed” as an acceptable explanation. And if we ever do scientifically explore a phenomenon, it is no longer part of magic-with-a-c.

Magick-with-a-k is simply a set of phenomena: Energy healing, creating luck, and a few others. We could choose to view them as things that just happen, outside cause-and-effect. Or we can view them as part of the natural world, and explore them, understand them, harness them the same way we harness any other natural phenomenon.

Thus, while magic-with-a-c is the opposite of science, magick-with-a-k can (and should) be explored scientifically.

Magick Isn’t Religion

Many religions include magickal practices, just as many religions include specific things you must wear, eat, or say. But that doesn’t make clothing, food, or speaking fundamentally religious. Personally, I’m an atheist, and my practice of magick isn’t connected to any religion.

The history of human knowledge is a steady shift from supernatural explanations to natural / scientific ones. We used to explain the rising of the sun as Ra in a chariot, but now we know it’s planetary rotation. Lightening used to be Zeus, now it’s Maxwell’s equations. Today, neuroscience is tackling consciousness, and we’re seeing that shift from free-floating (supernatural) thoughts to a phenomena that emerges from (natural) nerves. How long until we add psychic phenomena and energy healing to that list?

(Hat tip to Greta Christina for this observation. Also see Richard Carrier on natural vs supernatural.)

Spirits as Artificial Intelligence

I work with spirits. How do those fit into a materialist universe?

(Materialism = Thoughts, ideas, and consciousness aren’t things themselves, but emerge from the interaction of non-mental things like nerves.)

I think of magick as driven by ethereal matter. Like dark matter, ethereal matter interacts in limited ways with ordinary matter. It can be studied. With luck, it will some day be part of standard physics.

Spirits, then, are constructed from the ethereal equivalent of nerves. Or transistors. They’re artificial intelligences, built from ethereal matter instead of silicone.

Random Testing vs Science

Lots of mages experiment. They try a new ritual, a new rune, see what happens.

That’s excellent. The world needs more people testing their ideas, gathering data, ensuring they only believe in things that actually work.

But science is bigger than testing. Science starts with a model — not a story about the world, not a single idea like “belief” or “information” or “spirits,” but a model with moving parts that makes predictions. In magick, those predictions are often new techniques or rituals that you’d only think of because you have that model. Then the testing serves to confirm, refute, or refine the model.

Of course, 90% of the work is coming up with a model worth testing. And, just like drawing an accurate map of a city requires walking its streets, building a worthwhile model of magick requires doing a lot of magick. That’s where to start.

The Start of a Model

If you want to see my full model, read my book-in-progress, An Initiation into Direct Magick.

But I’m hoping you’ll start exploring and pondering your own model. So I want to give you a few ideas to start:

Many systems of magick produce similar results. Mostly that’s energy healing and luck. This suggests a common underlying mechanism that all systems of magick tap into. (If they operated by different mechanisms, it’s unlikely they’d produce the same result.)

That’s the starting point of Chaos Magick, too. It was the fashionable system when I started, and its answer is belief — “belief is the tool.” But “belief” doesn’t explain why everything is similar. In fact, if magick was “whatever you believe, that happens,” I’d expect everyone to produce wildly different results. (Belief can be a tool for driving your mind to perform magick, but it can’t be the underlying mechanism.)

Magick is complex, and complexity isn’t free. Whatever that mechanism is, it has to understand details of altering the world. It has to be able to predict which events will lead to your desired outcome, and make those events happen, in real time. Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler” — I see many models that make things much too simple.

Scientific Miracles — My Faith

I want to leave you with the source of my faith.

Every time we’ve understood a new part of science, it’s lead to amazing things. Miracles, if you will.

Newton plus 300 years lead to human flight.

Chemistry plus thermodynamics let us land on the moon.

Relativity plus lenses let us gaze into space, seeing light from the first seconds of the formation of the universe.

Quantum physics lead to transistors, and the computer you’re reading this on right now.

Evolution plus germ theory lead to vaccines and antibiotics.

DNA lead to stem cells and new medical treatments, and may one day lead to human immortality.

Science is the source of tangible miracles you and I experience every day.

I don’t know where the study of ethereal matter leads, but I have faith it leads somewhere miraculous.

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Recipes and Insights

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

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You can view magick as recipes. Do this ritual for energy healing. Use this visualization for money. Do this, produce that.

Or you can view magick as insights. When I engage this part of my mind, my thoughts create luck. When I create energy that feels like healthy tissue, and send it to this part of the ethereal body, it reduces pain.

Both are useful. Recipes are easier to communicate and faster to learn. Insights let you develop new solutions to unsolved problems. As a magick community, we need both.

But it’s important to know which you’re learning, and which you’re teaching.

That’s on my mind as I continue with my book.

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