- This article is about magic that humans can do. For godly magic, please see creationism.
|Can such things be?|
|The Twilight Zone|
“”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
|—Arthur C. Clarke|
“”MAGIC, n. An art of converting superstition into coin.
|—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)|
Magic (or "Magick") is the art of making things happen that appear to be impossible. It is an ancient art, used over the centuries for both entertainment and deceit, and knowledge of magical techniques figures heavily in the modern skeptical community as a means of detecting fraud amongst those who claim paranormal powers or phenomena.
 Stage magic
Magic is of several types, depending on the scale and techniques used. Most magicians start off with sleight of hand techniques, which are meant to mimic teleportation and telekinesis effects on a small scale, while others specialize in mentalism, which imitates the claimed effects of psychic powers, particularly clairvoyance and telepathy. Stage magic is magic on a larger scale, including seemingly impossible escapes (Harry Houdini, a well-known rationalist in his own right, was the master of these), survival tricks, and large-scale apparent teleportation effects.
Overall, unlike in the scientific community, the tricks used in creating magical effects tend to be closely held, with exposure of the mechanism considered a form of treason to the magical community. Penn & Teller have made a long career of apparently exposing tricks but have avoided criticism from the professional community by only exposing the secrets to tricks developed by themselves. Magician Leonard Montano drew strong criticism from the magical community for doing the Breaking the Magicians' Code specials on the US Fox network in the 1990s, largely for exposing other peoples' effects without their permission. Another example would be the widespread practice of placing torrents of whole videos (even DVD .ISOs) detailing the exact mechanisms of commercial magic tricks for public use upon the Internet, where college students with no money can easily download them; the puerile practice of YouTube exposure by kids with webcams is even more widespread.
All the same, Penn and Teller believe that even if you show how a trick is done, the level of skill and practice required to perform it well still makes it seem special and mysterious to the layman.
Stage magic has also been used fraudulently; much of the Spiritualist movement of the 19th century was based on fraudulent use of magic by people who claimed to be mediums, and in modern times self-proclaimed "psychics" such as John Edward, Sylvia Browne, and Uri Geller use mentalist techniques such as cold reading deceptively to fleece the desperate and credulous ("talking to the dead" has long been a conceit of would-be psychics, meaning that many such people are preying on those vulnerable after a loss of a loved one).
Several of the best-known skeptical authors, including Martin Gardner, James Randi, and Penn & Teller are trained magicians, as is debunker Derren Brown. Skeptical magicians have been critical to exposing the bad behavior of alleged psychics and faith healers; Randi's two biggest trophies are Uri Geller and Peter Popoff. Randi's team has, at various times, convinced serious and well-regarded scientists that they are psychic or posses other paranormal powers, while simply using the tricks of a magician. These men, among others, believe that while scientists are generally logical folk, they do not understand the trickery used by magicians, and can therefore be still fooled by it.
is a form of woo is a term sometimes used by the more spiritual pagan believers for what happens when magical thinking becomes religious in nature, but it's not "politically correct" to call it a prayer. It is not to be confused with stage magic, where everyone knows it's really a trick. (Of course, as with anything with neopagans, there are various shades of belief here -- some think that trying to come up with a difference in terms is ridiculous.) Remember, it's totally different from prayer. Honest.
While many neopagans claim that Magick is the "proper" spelling, used to distinguish "real" magic from stage magic, the K on the end was in fact added by Aleister Crowley in the early years of the 1900's for his Thelema religion. The distinction made by Crowley was that "magick is the art and science of causing change in accordance with will." He argued that, in essence, this made every act a magickal act.
 Yet more new definitions
As a response to the fact that magick became so universal in this definition as to be essentially meaningless, its definition was later adjusted by Dion Fortune to "magick is the science and art of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will." In this sense, magick is viewed by its practitioners as being any practice, ranging from transcendental meditation to tripping the light fantastic with a handful of magic(k) mushrooms. As such it is not a belief system in itself, but simply the practice of mind alteration. Ultimately, by this definition, both psychiatric and psychological counselling systems fall under its remit, resulting in considerable confusion about whether any proponent suggesting a visit to the shrinks (or "head shrinker") should be taken literally or metaphorically. Note that by this definition "magick" exists solely in the physical world and is in no way by definition supernatural.
 Anthropological Magic
Many cultural anthropologists use the term "magic" to describe common belief structures found between cultures. James Frazier is usually accredited with labeling the different kinds of "magic" found in cultures. He noted that most forms of ritual and belief systems could be categorized under either "homeopathic magic" or "contagious magic." Homeopathic magic is based on perceptions of similarity between ritual objects/procedures and that which they are said to act upon. Contagious magic is based on the belief that items once in contact with one another retain some sort of essence of the original contact. A voodoo doll is an example of homeopathic magic, as it resembles the individual whom it is supposed to affect. Holy water is an example of contagious magic as it is the Priest's blessing which is said to "sanctify" it. Anthropologists, then, use the term "magic," as a category of beliefs and/or rituals rather than as a supernatural phenomenon.
Even atheists can exhibit beliefs in these forms of magic. For example, many atheists would prefer a book that was signed by its author rather than a perfect forgery, and most would attribute to it more value. Though one could argue this is because others attribute more value to it, the physical contact by the actual signature vs. the perfect forgery is an example of "contagious magic" increasing the value of something regardless of the fact that there is no inherent difference between the genuine and the forgery.