Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Magic: 5 Questions to Ask & Answer
First, what is magic? Merriam-Webster defines magic as, "the use of means (e.g. charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces." In other words, magic is something that can't be explained through modern-day earth's science. Magic is the impossible.
On the surface, it may seem as though magic is a power that contradicts God's supremacy over all the forces of the universe. But is magic truly evil or contradictory to the Bible? Can we fantasy writers actually include magic in their stories? What follows is five of the most important questions for you to consider and answer when it comes to writing magic.
1. What is the source of Magic?
Let's consider each situation separately. First, what if magic was created by God, and thus "good"? Well, there are theological implications and complications to consider in this instance (we'll get to those later), but on the surface level, I don't see a problem with magic stemming from God.
Next is magic from nature--either through genetics (which would stem back to God's creation, clearly), or through scientific laws rather like the force of gravity (in which case, it also goes back to God's original creation as including the possibility for magic). As long as the proper glory for this "natural phenomenon" is given to God, again, there's no inherent problem with this form of magic.
Now we get trickier. What if magic was created by men or came through advanced technology? This portrayal of magic, if executed with care, could provide an excellent foundation for exploring questions of man's power versus God's power. Or, on the flip side, we can reason that since God created man with the capacity to "create" magic, then God ultimately created magic.
Last but not least, magic can be caused by Satan and/or the forces of evil. Modern-day Wiccans and other people serving Satanic powers clearly illustrate this point. Evil powers are out there, and they have the power to harm. This is a clearly Biblical principle, and could be used Biblically in a story.
2. Is magic moral, immoral, or amoral?
Let's consider the first possibility: magic could be completely good, only able to be used for good by good people. It would be almost akin to the gifts and insight of the Holy Spirit, which are for Christians alone and can never be evil. However, this approach might not work very well in a story, since every story needs conflict, and conflict is often a result of the hero's powerlessness. A "righteous magic" might thus give too much power to the hero.
What if magic was immoral? What if magic was all bad, and could only be used for evil by evil people? In this case, the magic would be a result of evil forces, or perhaps a good force twisted in the Fall. This possibility could work quite nicely in giving the villain powers above the hero. However, it must be used carefully so as not to imply that evil has all the power and good can do nothing.
The last case--magic as amoral--is the most common among fantasy authors, for good reason. In this last case, magic acts like a force of nature, used by good people and bad people for good or evil purposes. If magic is amoral, it levels the playing ground, allowing heroes and villains to fight it out not based on an imbalance of power but through strength, intelligence, character, and other means of struggle.
3. What are the limitations on magic?
All magic needs limits. It's just like the real world--some things are just plain impossible. If anyone can do anything with magic, the world is not believable. After all, all forces in nature are governed by scientific laws. Magic should be too.
Here are a few examples to get you thinking: in the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini, magic drains a person's strength. The more difficult the magic, the more strength it drains. Thus, in Paolini's world, certain acts--for example, raising the dead--are beyond the strength of magicians.
In Harry Potter, magicians study and memorize spells and movements, practicing them carefully over their 7-year-long education at Hogwarts. Also, certain spells require rare or illegal ingredients, which makes them hard or impossible to execute (consider, for example, Voldemort's horcruxes, which require murder to create and yet deliver him with a form of "eternal life").
4. Does magic provide salvation?
This question may sound obvious, but, believe me, it's not. We must recognize and clarify that, however powerful the magic may be, no magic can be used in place of Christ's saving power. Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and eternal life (however you sculpt these in your work) can be attained only through the perfect sacrifice of God's Son.
However, you could use this concept to explore the effects of relying on magic as a crutch and form of salvation rather than relying on God's power.
5. Final Word: What does the Bible say about magic?
Note that all cultures who had so-called "magicians" (Egyptians, Babylonians, etc.) are condemned in the Bible. They profess to have power from idols, which as we know are truly powerless. Let's not take these powerless pagan magicians as our role models!
Acts 19:19 also warns against magic, saying that after conversion, "A number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all." This is clearly a strong warning against hastily or thoughtlessly including unbiblical magic in any written work.
And, as a final note, let's remember that God's power always trumps all other powers, magical or otherwise. As Daniel 1:20 tells us, speaking of Daniel and his companions who served the Lord, "And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom."
This is clearly an issue that needs a lot of prayer, so pray hard and think deeply. God bless as you embark on the journey of writing magic in fantasy!