Since emerging from a colossal wombat hole brimming with closely guarded occult secrets from places most high, I felt called to learn more about the captivating but widely discredited world of magic. So began the task of searching for a good, old - fashioned, well crafted book with robust, natural immunity from censorship.
Browsing through dozens of listings in search of credibility and honed authorship, I settled for two books. One of which was Real Magic by Dean Radin PhD, best-selling author, chief scientist and associate psychology professor who spent the last forty years investigating the many facets of magic from a scientific perspective. His credentials also include a significant spell with Stargate, the US government’s top-secret psychic espionage program, and his work has been endorsed by the Nobel laureate in physics, Brian Josephson, PhD, as “A convincing case for the reality and significance of magic”. Sold.
Magic as a Forerunner of the Future of Science
Real Magic opens with a most unexpected wake-up call from the year 2915. A guest editorial in the New Seattle Province reports the discovery of a fragment of an ancient digitized file. The file appears to be an editorial from the defunct news service Galactica Today. My emotions move into mixmaster mode as Radin paints a rather bleak futuristic view of the “unintended consequences of popularizing neomagic, especially among youth”. it's potential to threaten the social order and even alter history is also of concern. One could point the same finger at some of our devilish secret society adults. However, who was I to question such a well - versed scientist?
Thankfully, the mixmaster effect is short — lived, and the real magic appears in Chapter 1, The Beginning. In his refreshingly on point style, Radin defines the three categories of magic: mental influence of the physical world (force of will); perception of events distant in space or time (divination); and interactions with nonphysical entities, (theurgy, from the Greek meaning ‘god work’). Being a daydream believer in magic for as long as I can remember, I applaud Radin’s confident stance about the reality and future of magic:
“There are rising trends in science suggesting that what was once called magic is poised to evolve into a new scientific discipline just as medieval astrology and alchemy evolved into today’s astronomy…it’s best to think of real magic not as something impossibly mysterious but as a forerunner of the future of science.”
Psi is Real Magic
Radin also shines an upfront light on the contentious discipline of parapsychology — the study of Psi (psychic phenomena), and provides scientific confirmation that Psi is real magic. When he draws attention to fictional movies where magic is often portrayed in negative terms as a struggle between the forces of good and evil, where good only wins occasionally. I am reminded of an interview with a spiritually minded Hollywood producer who described the top tier industry executives as self-appointed gods or gatekeepers who restrict screenwriters from giving too much away to the sleeping masses about the all powerful esoteric realms.
Radin also confirms that discussions from a neutral, scientific perspective are rare. Furthermore, he cites that a 2015 anthology about psi research entitled Parapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century, doesn’t even list the word magic in the index. As the perpetual wheel of ignorance keeps turning, he shares some amusing trade secrets about skeptical scientists that bear repeating:
“The upshot of the social taboo is that most academic scientists avoid parapsychology as though it’s a virulent strain of a zombie plague. If they’re secretly interested in Psi — and many are — they first swear everyone to secrecy, and then they approach it slowly while wearing a full hazmat suit, with multiple alibis set up in advance to provide plausible deniability.”
“Controversy invariably invites disagreements, but there’s something peculiar about Psi that seems to push otherwise calm, rational scientists beyond civil discourse and into rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth frenzies.”
A History of Suppression
Saving me many hours of research, subsequent chapters of Real Magic seamlessly move into the history and origins of magic. Unsurprisingly, the theme of suppression continues. Growing up with an innate knowing that magic is real, and minimal exposure to religious indoctrination, I am perplexed to learn that magic is fully accepted by the devoutly religious who perceive magic outside the confines of the church to be frighteningly demonic; religious faiths require an unwavering belief in magic, but many orthodox religions strictly ban magic, largely as a sociopolitical strategy; other religious faiths deem certain forms of magic are acceptable — but only for the priests.
“It would not do if infidels were allowed to worship anything not under the control of the proper ecclesiastic authorities” writes Radin, with his signature fluid grace. “Like any struggle for political power, gaining the allegiance of the masses is much easier by inciting fear of the “other” than by encouraging love and compassion.”
Holy, Holy, Holy
When Radin cites Catholic priests as being sanctioned to “perform the sacrament of the Eucharist, an explicitly magical transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ”. I naturally wonder what they do with the manifested ‘body and blood of Christ’ and if magician priests ever allow curious seekers to observe this ritual.
Addressing the topic of why academia is still so blinkered and prejudiced toward the world of magic; Radin explains that it boils down to the thorough marginalization of magic through to the late 20th century. Most religious scholars avoided talking about esoteric topics as though they didn’t exist, while anthropologists regarded magic as so idiotic that it was erased from the curriculum.
“…magic threatens sovereignty and transcends secrecy. Besides death and taxes, the one other universal truth is that bureaucracies never respond kindly to challenges to their authority. So, there’s enormous societal pressure to suppress the reality of magic.”
I am left pondering the hypocrisy within the upper echelon of secret societies — the self — appointed ‘ruling class’ that strives to keep magic all to themselves; materially wealthy lost souls whose covert dark occult rituals and the worship of demonic entities such as Moloch, the ancient pagan god of child sacrifice, only serve to harm humanity, and ultimately themselves. The responsible upper echelon magi need to take back the runaway magic reins sooner rather than later.
The Road to Scrupulously Willful Ignorance
Radin further explores the root cause of academic avoidance of esotericism and the “scrupulously willful ignorance” during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We meet German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber (1864-1920) who, in 1917, identified the “disenchantment of modern western society” and the growing conviction among scientists and scholars that there was no longer any need for mysterious incalculable forces, magic or spirits. They also decided that there was no need for institutions that relied on ideas such as religion.
Sadly, anthropologists whose frontline work exposed them to numerous magical beliefs and practices in other cultures, were too cowardly to defend the reality of magic. They instead chose to distinguish themselves from the “scientifically illiterate masses”, further degrading magic by ignorantly and arrogantly associating it with the beliefs of “savages” or “lower races”.
Oxford University’s first anthropology professor, Sir Edward Burnett Taylor (1832-1917), called magic a “monstrous farrago… one of the most pernicious delusions that ever vexed mankind… Belief in magic was due to the psychological need to cope with the uncertainties of life by gaining an illusory control over non-existent supernatural forces.” Small wonder then, that the mere idea of magic came to be regarded as an affront to science itself; a throwback to prescientific concepts.
The Early Sciences - Bravo Medici, Ficino and Mirandola
As we travel further back in time to the grassroots origins of magic, I relish every moment, from the Prehistoric Times through to the 14th - 17th century Renaissance, when translations of manuscripts long held in Arabic, Greek and Asian states were slowly reintroduced to western scholars.
“Religious reformers such as Martin Luther challenged the rigid authority of the Catholic Church, its increasingly corrupt practices and monopoly in defining what Christian practice meant…As all structures began to crumble, the dust generated a heavy price in the form of nearly continuous conflicts. Fortunately, it also fostered a new intellectual openness that eventually allowed for the rediscovery of Hermeticism. Named after Hermes the son of Greek gods Zeus and Maia, hermetic cosmology contends that reality consists of a single Universal Consciousness known by many names: the One Mind, the Divine, the Tao, Brahman, Allah, God and so on.”
Hermeticism was considered heretical by the church because it asserts that all humans have an inherent spark of divine power within us, or “God -like abilities” and that there were no special benefits conferred by following someone else’s dogma, because each of us could achieve enlightenment on our own. Radin writes: “As you may imagine such insolence was unacceptable, so the church applied its well-honed strategy for maintaining control and like Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, Hermeticism was forced to go underground.
Thankfully, Hermeticism was rediscovered in the 15th century largely due to the efforts of Prince Cosimo de Medici of Florence, Italy, after the Church’s stranglehold on scholarship began to loosen. He commissioned Marsilio Ficino, head of the Florentine Academy, to translate a set of 17 ancient manuscripts that were found in the Middle East. Ficino’s Corpus Hermeticum was published in 1471, igniting great excitement and debate among the scholars who were in the process of rediscovering the ancient Greek Egyptian and Jewish traditions.
One of Ficino’s students, Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494,) later added portions of the Jewish Kabbalah (Hebrew word meaning “to receive”) to Hermeticism. The Kabbalah was an ancient cosmology based on sephiroth or spheres of “cosmic vibration” that connect the transcendent divine to the everyday world. Kabbalistic text known as the Sepher Yezirah (Book of the Creation) describes a cosmology that some scholars claim is identical to the Emerald Tablet which was one of several fascinating esoteric realms that I explored in 2020 during a research project.
To avoid the wrath of the Church, Ficino described his magical synthesis as the practical part of natural science and together with Mirandola’s fine work, sparked a flood of new combinations and syntheses of the esoteric traditions, many of which were instrumental in the development of the early sciences and rise of ‘magician-scientists’.
Of particular note were German scholar Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) who authored De occulta philosophia (Occult Philosophy) in 1510; English mathematician John Dee (1527-1609), advisor to Queen Elizabeth I who combined natural sciences and magical evocations aimed at establishing contact with spirits; Italian mathematician, philosopher and friar Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), whose work proposed that the universe contained an infinite number of worlds inhabited by intelligent beings, but contradicted church dogma for which he paid the ultimate price; and Swiss physician Philipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1493-1541), one of the first modern medical theorists and founder of homeopathy who stressed that exercising the imagination was the beginning of all magical operations.
From Enlightenment to the Internet Age
Radin’s magical mystery tour continues with great fervour. Potential movie ideas dance through my mind - to hell with those gatekeepers. By the end of the 16th century, we see the formation of the Freemasons - a medieval guild of stonemasons who essentially follow the lead of the 12th century Knights Templar. Adopting hermetic symbolism and lore, they became an important forerunner for future esoteric organisations. (From what I learned about the influence of Freemasonry in the political and religious spheres, there is need of serious and urgent reform within this vast, unruly secret society that is allegedly answers to the Vatican.)
Occultists of all persuasions, please take note: “Within the magical worldview, everything is deeply interconnected, so if you intend to harm others, you are likely to end up harming yourself. This is not just because of a guilty conscience but more like Newton’s third law: for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Let’s just say it would be exceedingly prudent to avoid black magic.”
On a brighter note, Radin reveals that the single most famous scientist of the day, Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), also played a key role in the history of esotericism. This was far from public knowledge until 1936 when economist John Maynard Keynes bought Newton’s personal papers and discovered that earlier biographies of Newton as the “idealized scientist”, left out the majority of what he was really interested in - alchemy and esotericism. Referred to as “the last of the magicians”, Newton owned one of the extensive collections of alchemy in his day.
Other notables from this era and whose books are still on bookshop shelves, include Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a prominent modern scientist whose mystical experience sparked an interest in esoteric concepts that led him to write many books on mysticism, magic and conversations with what he perceived to be angels. Another major figure was German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) who created a healing practice of ‘animal (life or living systems) magnetism’ which later became known as Mesmerism. His work triggered an investigation by the French Academy of Sciences chaired by polymath Benjamin Franklin. The completed studies quietly concluded that some of the healing outcomes could not be explained by simple expectation (placebo effect).
Rise of Spiritualism, Skepticism and a New Age Industry
Moving through to the Industrial Age, we arrive in the mid-nineteenth century when the rising popularity of spiritualism created a demand for public séances as a form of “quasi-spiritual entertainment”, sparking an industry “only too glad to provide those services”. Not unlike the present - day New Age industry that has grown exponentially since the birth of the internet, many mediums claiming to communicate with the spirit world were frauds, and each time a fraudulent medium was exposed, skepticism increased.
But the late nineteenth century also gave rise to the first organized scientific studies of psychic phenomena, which attracted prominent scientists such as William James, Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge and Lord Rayleigh. They became members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), founded in London in 1882 and still in existence today. We venture into the twentieth century’s Information Age and are reminded of the new breed of magic theorists and authors who promoted the same catch cry, ‘You create your own reality’; a belief that originates directly from esoteric traditions, aptly described by Radin as “the very core of magical practice.”
Magic Made Simple
“The essence of magic boils down to the application of two ordinary mental skills: attention and intention. The strength of the magical outcome is modulated by four factors: belief, imagination, emotion and clarity. That’s basically it. The ceremonial robes, somber settings, black candles, secret handshakes, chanting in ancient languages, sex and drugs - all are good theater which may help in withdrawing the mind from the distractions of the mundane world. But ultimately, they are unnecessary.”
Arriving at the intriguing chapter entitled Practice of Magic, Radin weaves through the various aides used to develop magical skills, from gnosis and force of will to SIGILL’s and divination. I enjoy the way Radin continues to define and refine the meaning of magic through a range of quotes from other noteworthy magical souls:
“Don’t only practise your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” Ludwig van Beethoven.
“Chaos magick first emerged in 1980s Britain as a reaction against the moribund state of occultism in general, having staggered out of the 70s with malodorous coatings of Castaneda and Ascended Masters laying atop a long stagnant core of a Victorian magical order nonsense and tawdry infighting. Chaos magick lacks any certificates of participation.” Gordon White, Esoteric Scholar.
“Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.” Aleister Crowley, British Magician
“It used to be said that magic was what we had before science was properly organized...The techniques of magic will be the hypersciences of the future…The next great advance will be into the psychic domain.” Peter Carroll, British Magician, Giber Null & Psychonaut.
If You Don’t Know What You’re Doing, Don’t Do It
On the topic of Theurgy, the act of evoking spirits, Radin is of the opinion that the scientific jury is still out regarding the reality of such spirits of entities. He doesn’t propose that entities don’t exist, rather that methods are not yet available to strictly discriminate between psi effects in the living, and independent, disembodied intelligences. He describes the evidence for electronic voice phenomena (EVP) or instrumental transcommunication (ITC) as intriguing but points out that the methods do not strictly exclude explanations based on psi. Concluding that the esoteric literature on theurgy suggests that if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it, he wisely passes on providing practical magic exercises.
“Why is it when we talk to God it’s called praying, but if God talks back, it’s called schizophrenia.” Jane Wagner.
The remaining few chapters of the Real Magic present substantial scientific evidence from a range of exacting experiments that may feel ‘unbearably dry’ to those who regularly engage in magical practices. But they may also have the potential to sway the most diehard skeptics in mainstream science, where the existence of psi phenomena remains controversial. Be prepared to embark on a ‘Merlinesque’ adventure far beyond what is typically seen in a laboratory and peer into the future of science where anything is possible.
Politik Of Science
Radin briefly refers to the fascinating subject of how the realpolitik of science is central to why understanding psi and magic are taboo within the academic world. His quote from author and social activist Upton Sinclair sounded all too familiar:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
This frustrating attitude is more commonplace and potentially detrimental to humankind than people may realise, and I hope that Radin considers writing a book about the realpolitik factor one day.
Having an active interest in preventative, whole person medicine i.e. physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, I am also heartened to learn about a subtle shift in medical research from solely materialistic models of health and healing. Radin cites a US PubMed search found that from 1940 to 2016, some 2645 articles were published on the topic of ‘spirituality in medicine’ and most of them were published since 2000. Before 1980, a grand total of two were published. Speaks volumes.
“In the world of academia, the primary currency is ideas. And like any form of currency, ideas are fervently protected. This makes acceptable currents in the mainstream move like molasses. Fortunately, given current trends, this particular molasses is beginning to heat up and pour like fine Maple syrup. If that flow continues to accelerate, then formerly esoteric concepts such as magic and scientifically challenging phenomena such as psi, may soon be poised to transform into new modernised forms.” Dean Radin
In closing, Real Magic is a tightly structured, finely crafted read, offering a tantalising blend of esoteric and scientific food-for-thought. Radin’s fluid, succinct, writing style, wry humour and seamless ability to simplify complex concepts with ease, left me feeling more optimistic than usual, spiritually revitalised and excited about the truly magical future that awaits us all.