Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is Magic Evil? - A Christian Perspective

Contemporary pop culture is a powerful force in our generation. The continual exposure of the modern mind to the pervasive onslaught of television, movies, music, books and video games requires Christians to be wise and discerning in what they allow their minds to feed upon. There are certainly a large number of dangerous philosophies and fallacious solutions that must be intentionally resisted and purged from the soul.

Magic, in particular, is a subject matter that incites major controversy in Christian circles. To some, magic is a harmless fictitious convention used to spice up children's books and fairy tales. To others, magic is an evil gateway that leads to demon-worship and dark rituals. This is no small semantic difference! If magic is something that is truly evil and destructive to the soul, then it should be avoided at all costs. If magic is merely harmless fun, then we needn't give it a second thought. How a Christian views magic will have a profound impact on what entertainment he will enjoy or permit his family to enjoy. With the prevalence of magic in today's world, it is important for Christians to know exactly where they stand on the issue of magic. In this essay, I hope to define what magic is, look into it's contemporary usage, and then examine the morality of magic itself. Fundamentally, this essay seeks to answer the question, "Is magic intrinsically evil?" Secondarily, this essay seeks to propose a practical Christian perspective regarding the magic that is so pervasive in contemporary entertainment.

What is magic?

At first glance, this is a deceptively difficult question to answer. As with any defining process, a working definition must include that which does fit within the category of magic and it must exclude that which cannot be properly considered magic. For now, I would like to propose that we define magic as: "anything that supernaturally differs from the ordinary." Let's look at some of the sorts of magic that are prevalent and see what this definition would include and exclude.

Magic is everywhere! There are many sorts of magic both in contemporary media and in ancient literature. The Bible itself includes a surprising amount of magic. This essay will primarily draw upon examples from Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, popular fairy tales, and the Bible. There are innumerable kinds of magic and widely varying sorts of people who do magic!

One sort of magic, divination, occurs whenever a person learns information by supernatural means. This includes prophecies, visions, revelations, premonitions and other similar sorts of things. You see prophecies in Harry Potter concerning the necessary enmity between him and Lord Voldemort, his nemesis. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy finds a magical book that allows her to witness a couple of classmates talking about her behind her back. There are magical orbs in Lord of the Rings that allow people to magically see distant places or future events. The Bible itself is chock full of prophets and revelations. Concerning the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ, there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament. In the New Testament you also see many examples of prophecy. In particular, when Paul was being transported as a prisoner by ship to Italy, he warned the centurion that a particular leg of the journey would end in disaster with the loss of the ship and its cargo. The centurion did not heed Paul and they entire crew, along with all the prisoners were shipwrecked. This is one example among many; consider what was revealed to Peter concerning Ananias and Sapphira, or Jesus' knowledge about the Samaritan woman at the well.

Transmutation is another kind of magic, which transforms a person or object either subtly or obviously. The fairy godmother who turns a pumpkin and some mice into a royal coach pulled by noble horses is performing transmutation. Alchemists of old were endlessly seeking ways to turn lead into gold. In Harry Potter, the young wizards and witches are taught by Professor McGonagall how to turn beetles into buttons and matchsticks into needles. There is the classic fairy tale of the prince who was cursed by an evil witch and turned into a frog. In Exodus, Aaron performs transmutation when he turns his staff into a serpent before Pharoah's court, at which point several of Pharoah's sorcerers also transmute their rods into snakes. In the gospel of John, the first recorded miracle that Jesus performed was to transmute water into wine. These are all examples of transmutation; transmutation is a very prevalent kind of magic.

Evocation is a kind of magic that involves manipulating energy or creating something out of nothing. In Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship is attacked by wargs after trying to cross the mountain pass, and Gandalf sets all the nearby trees ablaze with fire to scare them away. When Elijah the prophet is led by God to live with the widow of Zarephath, she has only a handful of flour and a little bit of oil in a jar left to eat, but during Elijah's stay at her house, the flour and oil never run out. In Harry Potter, there is a very frequently used spell that causes a narrow beam of light to shine from the tip of a magic wand which is used to provide light in dark places. At the beginning of the world of Narnia, there is nothing but blackness as Aslan sings the world into existence. Jesus himself performs a miracle of evocation when He blesses the five loaves and two fish, turning them into enough food enough to feed an entire multitude. Evocation is the kind of magic most commonly thought of regarding powerful spells or pulling things out of mid-air.

And these are just a few kinds of magic. There is countless more magic in all of these books including everything from teleportation, summoning angelic beings, enchanting people, casting out demons, magical creatures of all sorts, mind control, spells that unlock doors, exerting control over the forces of nature, making things and people invisible, to other darker magics which are used to torment people, make fig trees wither, clouds people's minds, curse people, places hexes on various objects, turn people to stone and much more. There are numerous sorts of people and beings that perform magic or use magical items. We see wise old men like Gandalf, young children such as Harry Potter and his friends, foreign slaves such as Daniel in the Bible, untrained blue-collar workers like Jesus' disciples, Aslan the talking lion and countless others. There are numerous reasons why magic is performed and sources of power that magic draws from. Clearly, there can be no cut and dry answer to the question, "Is magic intrinsically evil?" Instead, I would suggest there are several important questions that must be asked to determine whether any given instance of magic is good or evil.

What is the source of magical power?

The first question that should be asked is the question that the Pharisees posed to Jesus Christ, after He performed various miracles and rode the colt into Jerusalem. They asked: "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?" (Matthew 21:23) The truth is, the source of something matters very much. The potency of any sort of magic or miracle depends on the source of its power. The Pharisees were either horribly confused about the source of Jesus' power, or they were deliberately lying about it. After Jesus casts out a demon from a blind, mute, demon-possessed man, the Pharisees said, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons." (Matthew 12:24) Jesus immediately denied this by pointing out that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. In other passages, Jesus bears clear witness to the source of His power and authority."The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works." (John 14:10)

In the real world, there are really only two sources of supernatural power: power that comes from God, and power that comes from demons. The two are quite distinct in their origin, utterly different in their practical usage and acheive widely divergent ends. Demonic magic is used to enslave, to deceive, to bring death, and to cause people to rely on their own power rather than the wisdom of God. Even seemingly harmless spells that are fueled by demonic power have a darkness in them that affects the soul of those who use them. Quite clearly, God is quite opposed to this sort of magic in whatever form it takes. In the Judaic law, there is clear condemnation of mediums, spiritists, sorcerers, soothsayers and all those who practice witchcraft because all of these sorts of people do not derive their magical power from God but from demonic sources.

However, most of the magic that is recorded in the Bible does stem from God. While diviners and soothsayers were an abomination to God, He Himself sent many prophets, caused many people to see visions and made very powerful revelations to certain people whose hearts were right. Though talking with the dead through a medium or spiritist was strictly forbidden, Jesus was seen on the Mount of Transfiguration speaking with both Moses and Elijah. There are numerous accounts of God's Spirit directly empowering people with supernatural strength, like Samson, who was a mighty warrior, or the soldiers of Israel as they drove out the Canaanites, often fighting large battles without a single casualty. Countless people received miraculous healing through the ministry of Jesus Christ and his disciples. Daniel was so blessed by God that Nebuchadnezzar made him the chief of magicians in Babylon. The ark of the covenant was a powerful artifact that bore God's blessing to Israel wherever it went and brought disaster among the enemies of Israel when they stole it. Moses and Aaron performed powerful magic before Pharoah to convince him to release the people of Israel from slavery and allow them to be free. Elisha called down fire from heaven to consume the regiments of soliders that were supposed to escort him to King Ahaziah. All of these are just a small fraction of the mystical, supernatural deeds that are recorded in the Scriptures. From the perspective of the Bible, God most definitely has a monopoly on all of the really dazzling and impressive magic that actually happens!

Though there are only two types of supernatural power in the real world, when dealing with fiction no such constraints. Since the imagination is a rich and plentiful source of inspiration, there is no limitation to what sorts of supernatural power can exist. Though there are warlocks who make pacts with demonic beings in exchange for magical power, this is just one sort of power that is available. Many wizards and sorcerers in fanstasy literature have innate power of their own. In the Lord of the Rings, we see Gandalf and the other wizards who derive power from themselves. They do not perform magic fueled by any external being, but are capable of it intrinsically. Likewise, Jadis, the evil white witch in the Chronicles of Narnia, possesses magical powers innately and uses them to enslave the world of Narnia. Many fairy tales have fairy godmothers who can do magic just because they are fairies. Even of these sorts of internal power, there is quite a variety of means of gaining magical power. For example, an incantation is a type of spell whose power resides in the very words themselves. Simply knowing the right words and saying them correctly will allow a person to perform magic. Sometimes the magical power is derived from the instrument used. In the Lord of Rings, a wizard is completely powerless without his staff. When Gandalf confronts Saruman and reveals himself as Gandalf the White, Saruman's staff breaks in two and his power is stripped from him. Some wizards are capable of powerful magic because of years of study and learning. Other mages find that magic is something that simply stems from the soul and cannot be learned or studied, but must be practiced in order to grow stronger; this is akin to a weightlifter who cannot get stronger by studying, but instead must spend hours and hours at the gym to become stronger. Clearly, there is a limitless array of possibilities in the world of fictious magic, and we are not confined to specific sources of supernatural power.

What can we say then? It is clear that magic originating from a evil source will always be evil. Likewise, magic that stems from a good source must be good. However, for morally neutral sources of power, or when a power source is unspecified, we cannot make a simple determination based on the source of power. Instead, we need a different test.

What sort of magical deed is being done?

Whenever the source of something isn't entirely clear, we must critique any magical deed in the same way we would analyze any other sort of moral action. The Bible is very clear in its rules concerning morality. Some deeds are inherently righteous. Other deeds are intrinsically wicked. Yet, a large preponderance of actions are morally neutral. We could examine many examples of each of these categories. Giving to the needy, loving one's family, worshipping God, proclaiming the gospel, working diligently, treating people with compassion and being a peacemaker are all righteous actions. Likewise, murdering people, commiting adultery, picking pockets, doing business deceptively, being legalistic, living slothfully, causing dissention, spreading gossip and engaging in homosexuality are actions which are always wicked. In the third category we have things like eating watermelon, writing a book, telling jokes, going for a drive, swimming at the beach, digging for treasure, building a house, writing a song and having a waterfight, all of which are not necessarily good or bad, but could potentially be done for right or wrong motives or done in appropriate or inappropriate ways; these are morally neutral actions. If you have any familiarity with any sort of moral code, then you already have a good idea of what sorts of things are good and what sorts of things are bad.

This serves as an effective test for magic. Is the magic being done good, evil, or intrinsically neutral? Enchanting a car so that it can fly is neutral. Torturing an animal is evil. Unlocking a door is neutral. Turning water into wine is neutral. Casting a spell to harm or kill an innocent person is evil. Brewing a potion to heal a sick person is good. Turning someone's teddy bear invisible is a harmless prank. Summoning a powerful demon is evil. Traveling back in time to save an innocent animal from an unjust execution is righteous. Casting a spell to kill an evil wizard is good. Using a potion to cheat in a sports competition is wrong. I could list countless other examples, but that is hardly necessary. What is clear is that for magical actions we can apply the same tests of morality that we do to normal actions. They are not exempt from the ordinary rules of morality, nor are they too complicated to judge by standard tests of morality. Therefore, we can determine whether a specific instance of magic is good or evil by whether the action itself is good or evil. But, this still leaves us with the quandary of determining whether morally neutral magics done by a morally neutral source of power are good or evil. We need one more test.

What are the results of the magic?

Another important test is the test of results. As Jesus wisely says, "You will know them by their fruits... every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit... Therefore by their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:16-20) The Bible teaches again and again that cause and effect are inextricably linked and that even when you can't determine the moral goodness of something by its cause, the effects will make everything clear. In the case of magic, since the results are directly caused by the specific form of magic, its source of power, and the motive behind the magic, the results are the best way to judge the morality of a complicated instance.

For example, when Elijah called down fire to consume the soldiers who came to escort him to King Ahaziah, it's not easy to immediately determine whether that is a good or evil thing. Killing is righteous in some circumstances and wicked in others. On the surface, calling down fire to kill fifty people seems evil. But, we know that Elijah was a prophet of God and that God had specifically sent him to rebuke Ahaziah for seeking answers from false gods instead of the God of Israel. From the context it is clear that Elijah was acting on behalf of God since we see that with the last regiment sent to Elijah, he spared their lives because God commanded him to. Elijah was a righteous man who followed God whole-heartedly and whose magic was continually used to remind the people that they should worship and serve God alone. Therefore, the fruit of Elijah's actions were good.

As an example from Harry Potter, when Harry and his friends are sneaking out of their bedroom to prevent the Sorcerer's Stone from being stolen, Neville confronts them and refuses to let them break the rules again by wandering the school halls at night. After trying to reason with him, Hermione casts a spell that paralyzes him and they sneak out to thwart Lord Voldemort's scheme to steal the stone. This is another such instance that is difficult to immediately judge. Ordinarily, paralyzing innocent people is wrong. However, in this case we see that Hermione paralyzed him in order to prevent a greater evil from occurring, that the spell she cast did no lasting harm to Neville and that none of them had any evil motives or desire to hurt Neville. The resulting fruit of Hermione's action is that Lord Voldemort's evil scheme was thwarted and justice prevailed.

Moral dilemmas are rarely simple and easy to determine. Whether dealing with magic or not, there are often complex nuances involved in passing any sort of moral judgement on an action. Since the Bible treats morality as important, it is important to critically consider what sorts of magic a person consistently practices, by what source they derive their power, and what the resultant effects are. The only difference in judging magical actions, compared to judging ordinary moral actions, is that magic has a supernatural power source that must be considered. Beyond that, the ordinary rules of morality apply to magic and we can determine whether a specific occurrence of magic is evil by evaluating it under that criteria.

Concerning Magic In Contemporary Media

As Christians who believe in the veracity and the inspired nature of the Bible, we should be the first to affirm that there are very real supernatural forces in the world. Magic is everywhere! Both in fiction and in history, magic has existed since the dawn of the world, as seen in Ancient Mesopotamia, the Greek and Roman Empires, and woven throughout the plenteous supply of legends and myths that are as old as our planet is. From the pages of Scripture, to classic fairy tales over a hundred years old, to the modern epic fantasy series we have today, magic is in no short supply. It appears in countless forms and has been practiced by numerous people, both ficticious and real, for thousands of years. To suggest that all magic is evil would be blatantly ridiculous since that would spread a blanket of condemnation over all of Christian doctrine and all of the stories of the Bible in a attempt to root out a little evil. Obviously, we must be careful not to swallow a camel while straining out a gnat. Therefore, the simple answer to the question, "Is magic intrinsically evil?" is a very short and concise one. No. Magically is not intrinsically evil. Some magic is evil, some magic is good, and some of it is simply neutral. Like any other sort of moral action, magic must be taken on a case-by-case basis and each instance should be critiqued on its own merits. The best tests for determining whether a specific instance of magic is evil are quite simple. What is the source of the magical power? What sort of magical deed is being done? What are the results of the magic?

Should magic that appears in contemporary media be avoided? There is no legitimate basis for seeking to arbitrarily avoid or shelter oneself or one's family from media containing magic. Though specific movies or books may be deemed to be immoral or be judged to teach harmful values, they should be rejected on the basis of their moral content, not based on their magical content. Since magic is just like any other sort of moral action, we should weigh it on the basis of morality and determine whether a given work has a positive or a negative influence. However, to declare all magic as evil and seek to avoid it in any form puts a person on the path of religious legalism and encourages conformity to blatantly un-Christian dogma rather than encouraging a spirit of Godly discernment and wise judgement.

It seems telling that three of the most well-known magical series of the past hundred years are written by Christian authors. J.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of The Rings, C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, and J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, are all Christians who deliberately embrace magic and the use of Biblical allusion in their works. All three works are very powerful tales that vividly illustrate the conflict of good and evil, the inner tension that even good characters face in choosing to behave righteously, and the seductive offer of evil power. All three works have central characters that clearly allude to Jesus Christ and His sacrificial work on the cross. To me, this is no coincidence. On the opposing side, there are many liberal Christian theologicians who are continually seeking to "de-mystify" the Bible. Rather than accepting the account of Biblical miracles and the magic that flows throughout the pages of Scripture, they seek to explain away all the supernatural actions and show how none of them is really supernatural at all. Why is this? Why is it that people who don't value Scripture are seeking to deny magic, while Christians who love the rich drama of the Bible happily embrace magic and use their imaginations to create compelling epic tales?

I can't say I know for sure. But this I do know. As long as magic comes from the right source and is done for the right reason, God loves magic, Jesus Christ loves magic, and so do I!


  1. Not all who suggest that many of the magical events in the bible are allegorical or metaphorical in nature are trying to "Devalue" scripture, many such people are merely looking at the bible from a different angle while still learning from the lessons it has to teach. Not respecting scripture, and looking at it from a new angle are two totally different things.
    That is not to say that i disagree with the whole of what you have written here, an intelligent and logical monologue that raises more than one good point.

  2. If you ask me I say miracles from god are good. You can NOT call miracles -> magic. Like there are people who say there is white and black magic. I do NOT believe that at all.You can read it in the bible. magic stuff is an abomanation to god. Like there are good witches ? I dont believe that at all. You are better of sick then a so called white witch heals you. Sure you are fine when you live your life heathy for a while, but when you die of old age or something ? then you go to hell because a white witch healed you ? NO THANKS. Sorry for bad spelling, im not English.

    1. But god is the creator of the universe, and he is the only one who can give authority, so if there is a devil, then god could destroy him and demons whenever he wants to. Why are there still so many people suggesting that the devil is as powerful as god? That is illogic.

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  7. Um. I see some problems here.
    You make the distinction between magick that comes from demons, and magick that comes from God, saying they're the only two forms. Wrong. Magick is not limited to supernatural beings. We as human souls, hold our own energy that we may use to alter the flow of events around us (with God's blessing, help and approval). Therefore, magick used by people doesn't have to come from small spirits or demons, but rather simply from within ourselves and through God as we channel our energy and His energy with His permission.
    Magick is a simple neutral tool, one that doesn't belong to demons. It's much like a knife, a neutral tool which can be used to hurt and even kill someone, but is also used to help do daily tasks and possibly even help protect oneself in dire situations.
    God's magick is Holy Magick, a force unparalleled by any other, a force that has infinite strength and light that can never be corrupted. We, as human souls, have but the smallest fraction of this energy to use on small things like spells for prosperity, luck etc. (once again, God's blessing is asked in the spell. If it isn't His will, it won't happen.)
    Obviously, we as humans, are not as strong as some demons and therefore need to use this God given energy and strength that we do have in our soul, to ask His help and channel His energy and love through ourselves to protect and heal ourselves and others from such evil forces. The Bible clearly speaks out against evil magick (sorcery) because obviously God doesn't want us hurting each other and leading each other into misery and sin. However, He has no qualms with us using our energy with His blessing for small things to help ourselves and others, and with us asking for His love and light to be channeled through us in order to heal and protect and help ourselves and others in His name. He gave us literally an entire WORLD full of resources to help focus our intent and energy, help focus and strengthen our prayers, help reach more firmly out to Him for help and help connect to Him through our energies in prayer and through the metaphysical properties of the resources in this bountiful world He made for us. Magick is a beautiful God given blessing that allows us to help, and He's very disappointed when people use it for bad things (poisoning people, their faith, going to demons and other spirits, searching power outside God, desecrating the dead, abusing power, etc.) because that's not what He wanted us to do with it. He wanted us to use it for good. All of this anti-witchcraft stuff is just a bunch of superstition and old fears that still carry into this era from the Inquisition Times. You wouldn't even believe what people thought witchcraft was in those days. (Or maybe some would, people still have very warped views on what witchcraft, the art of using magick, is.)
    (An example of magick used in the Church today: The Catholic Church has an area where people say a prayer and light a candle, usually a white one, in order to strengthen that prayer. This is actually a form of candle magick! As you can see, it causes no harm and actually focuses on strengthening the energy we send to God in prayer when we ask things of HIm and thank Him for all He does for us. Don't be afraid of magick, it's another God given tool to help yourself and others through God's light and love!)

  8. Great post! You wrote a fantastically thorough and stylistic overview of the entire topic. Bravo!

  9. You miss the fact that God said not to do certain things - which makes doing them a sin.

    Deuteronomy 18:9-13
    9 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

    Isaiah 8:19
    When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?

    Acts 19:18-19
    18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.

    Galatians 5:19-21
    19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    Revelation 9:20-21
    20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. 21 Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

    Those who practice magic arts will go to hell – the lake of fire, the second death.

    Revelation 21:7-9
    7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

    Those who practice magic are tied with those who are sexually immoral, murders, idolaters, liars and deceivers and will not be allowed into heaven.

    Revelation 22:14-16
    14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

    Instead, we are to not participate in evil, but expose it.
    Ephesians 5:11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;

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