Still, I had prepared a couple of responses to the students' very specific questions, and I wanted to share them. So, here's the first of those responses, very high-level and designed for people who had never encountered the notion of "magic" in a modern, Neopagan religion before. The original question was: What is magic to the ADF?
To begin with a discussion of magic in Druidry, one must begin with a discussion of magic in modern Neopaganism and the occult movements as a whole.
Most definitions of magic trace their roots back to Aleister Crowley's: to him, magic was "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will." Crowley commonly spelled "magic" as "magick," using the "k" to differentiate the occult from prestidigitation, which comes and goes in favor (currently, most Druids use the term "magic" without the "k," while other magical and occult traditions prefer the "k" in their spelling).
Modern occultists will often divide their magical work into two categories: thaumaturgy (typically described as magic done by the authority of the practitioner), and theurgy (typically described as magic done in partnership with authoritative beings, such as deities or spirits).
Most of the modern traditions of Neopaganism deal in classical magic that you might expect when you think about the Hollywood versions of the paranormal: spells that reside in cookbook-like repositories that work because they are magical or secret. These are the "double, double, toil and trouble" spells that we think of, and they are remarkably common.
Magic in Druidry is somewhat different than it is in other areas of modern Neopaganism. Instead of being focused on the authority of the individual for its power, it is focused on the idea of the deep relationship, that concept I referred to as "*ghosti." Here, the idea is not that we "command the spirits through our authority," but rather that we have built up a relationship that involves the exchange of gifts and favors that are balanced and reciprocal.
Within our rituals, we honor a being called the "Gatekeeper," who is asked to uphold our work in our rituals and to "open the ways" between worlds. Very commonly, you will hear a telling turn of phrase, which is, "Gatekeeper, join your magics with mine. . ." And with that, we do the magic that creates the center of the worlds and allows us to access the spiritual world more freely.
This phrase points to a specific theological point in our magic: we believe that we have a relationship with the deities (and other spirits) that allows us to work with them (rather than to lord over them with our authority, or to beg them to do work for us). It also says that we can do this work ourselves, without their help, if we so desired. . . but that we prefer to do this work with them.
The way we conceptualize magic is also a bit different than other organizations within the Neopagan community, as well: while most traditions cut themselves off from the mundane world (by casting a circle and creating a "temple between the worlds"), ADF ritual does not do this. Instead, it magically creates a "sacred center" from which all places, times, and things are accessible. You might consider it a "crossroads" where all things can be affected.
If any outer limit to the space is defined, it is often stated that "the grove extends to the edge of the light of the fire," or, if we put it a different way, those who can stand to view the light of the fire are welcome at it. This conception of being "at the center" is very much influenced by Eliade's work, and you will often find the notion that we can (and do) influence events by "overlapping" centers. A quote from Joseph Campbell comes to mind: "The center is everywhere, the circumference nowhere."
The most common magical work that is done probably falls into three categories:
- we work magic to open the Gates in ritual,
- we work magic to draw the Blessings of the Kindreds into Waters that we may receive blessings and empower individuals to do work on behalf of the Earth Mother, and
- we work magic to heal or empower the Earth Mother directly.
I mention Eliade and Campbell above: one thing that we do that is very different than older traditions (we were, after all, founded in 1983) is to look at what we're doing with a critical, scholarly eye: our religion is a bit postmodern in its creation and development. This extends to both common liturgy and to magic. We read Malinowski with Crowley, or the Encyclopedia of Religion with the Corpus Hermeticum. It's religion with homework. :)