Life is full of difficulties. Bills add up, cars break down, and children get sick. People get ostracized, harassed, and assaulted by others. People deal with issues ranging from minor inconveniences to chronic illnesses or handicaps. Surely I don’t have to tell anyone how hard life can be.
Neo-Paganism, and metaphysics in general, offers a unique tool in the hardships of life: magic. No matter how many extraneous letters you wish to spell it with, magic offers the ability to influence reality to a certain degree, which obviously can do much to aid in dealing with life’s problems. Unfortunately, the glamour and appeal of making life better through magic can lead some to seek it out in an effort to escape the hardships of reality. In addition, magic is very much a mental and imaginative pursuit, and it can be easy for practitioners to over-estimate their skill and influence. This can lead to at best false personas possessing vast magical abilities, and at worst full-blown delusional states. Such projections of magical competency can serve to not only help someone convince himself that he is above the problems of the mundane world, but that he is an important individual worthy of the respect and praise of others.
It is very easy for someone seeking status to convince himself – or others – that he possesses magical power, even if there is little or no evidence to support this conclusion. A young practitioner can easily believe that his mental imaginings are having real effects in the world, or that vague premonitions and desires have manifested as concrete happenings. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, many occult practitioners – especially beginners – can be susceptible to brags of advanced knowledge or achievements, again with no evidence, and even when such brags are contrary to personal experience or known limitations.
In short, we want to believe that anything is possible with magic, and if someone comes along claiming to have advanced knowledge and power, the encounter with that person can all too easily turn from healthy skepticism to eagerness to learn from a potent source. Unfortunately, this tendency means that many aspiring occultists seeking to escape from the hardships of life can easily create an image of power and status, which can shelter them from the impotency they may experience in their mundane lives. On a more personal level, it also has the potential for an individual to convince himself that he can, or even is, manipulating the events and people around him, despite all evidence to the contrary – a situation that can lead down the dark path of a psychotic episode very quickly.
Many neopagan communities are very internet based, which adds another element of distance from personal interactions, as well as reality. Lacking face-to-face contact, along with all of the subtleties it entails, makes it very easy for individuals to fabricate or exaggerate experiences or abilities. Those wishing to escape from the drudgeries of real life can find such an environment, which allows for the complete creation of a fantastic persona, a very appealing means of adding a sense of power or glory to their lives.
Forging glorious alternative personas is also fostered by the heavy fantasy element that Neo-Paganism tends to adopt. The romantic nostalgia of the SCA and the fantasy of renaissance festivals easily provide fodder for mystical glamours. Role playing games often delve deep into religious mythologies to create their story lines and beastiaries, and are also ripe sources to be mined for those wishing to create their own mystical experiences or entities. Novels dealing with vampires, young boy wizards, and magic-wielding private investigators provide their own influences on the magical community.  With so many fantastical representations of magic and those that use it, is it any wonder that so many can have such high expectations about what it can do for them? More significantly, when dealing with an art that many in mainstream society consider fictitious, it is easy to see how blurry the line between fantasy and reality can become, especially for one seeking to escape the hardships of his life.
Magic can easily be imagined as a solution to personal and social problems. When your life is out of control, the idea that you can employ supernatural means to finally end your trouble and achieve your goals is very attractive. Unfortunately, experience usually belies this notion, as people whose lives are disastrous and chaotic are rarely able to develop the discipline and practice needed to work effective magic. Similarly, those who do begin to develop such discipline often find themselves more able to deal with their problems through mundane means. Magic may seem like a miraculous fix-all, but the work required to perform it properly not only tends provide solutions to life’s issues on its own, but also to deter those seeking a quick fix from achieving any real proficiency.
In some cases, the image of magical ability or occult knowledge is used to generate status in the place of genuine social skills. Those with expertise in any given field are often accredited a certain amount of respect, which often includes deference in social settings unrelated to technical situations. When dealing with the magical arts, most interactions with other practitioners do not take place in a technical setting – in other words, you’re more likely to meet other occultists in social settings than in ritual settings, and reverence for someone who is believed to have superior knowledge transfers to heightened position for that person in a social setting. With most other fields of knowledge, expertise can easily be confirmed or disproved by most with some amount of knowledge, but magical and mystical experiences seldom conform to such a test, making grand claims difficult to disprove. This makes it very easy for people lacking in social skills to turn creative imaginations into instant status, using the glamour of magic to escape from difficulties relating to others.
Magic can be a useful tool in life, but it is just one of many skills that can be employed to make things easier. Cultivating this skill requires perseverance and discipline, and with it comes a responsibility use it appropriately. Obviously, these considerations are at odds with the escapist mentality that initially attracts some to the arcane arts. Phil Hine said that magic is about becoming more effective within the world, not retreating from it.  As such, the magician should keep in mind the nature of reality and the affairs of the real world when employing his magic, rather than the abstractions of the mental and spirit realms. Subtly influencing reality is the goal of magic, for the benefit of self or others, and such influence cannot be attained by adopting false personas and ignoring the reality around oneself. In order to live a magical life, one must actually live.
 If you doubt for a second the influence of Harry Potter, listen carefully to how many Neo-Pagans actually use the word “muggle.”
 Phil Hine, Condensed Chaos (New Falcon, 1993) p. 45
Copyright 2009 Chirotus Infinitum. No reproduction without permission from the author.