How to understand magic intellectually and spiritually

The other day on the Magical Experiments Facebook page, a commenter summed up his challenge with magic by sharing, "I'm trying to find an intellectual understanding along with a spiritual understanding of it without losing myself to it."

I think this is a challenge many people experience on their journey with magic as a spiritual practice. We can try to define magic as a set of practical techniques or describe it as a way to exercise our will, but at a certain point, in my experience, you move beyond such definitions when you recognize that magic moves and shapes the practitioner as much as the practitioner seeks to move and shape it.

The very nature of a mystery tradition is one where the practitioner surrenders to the mystery and allows the mystery to speak through them. And yes it can be an awesome experience, but it also a terrifying experience because in that moment you begin to also realize that to experience the mystery you necessarily must be willing to part ways with your own illusions of control.  

And its why I feel some sympathy for the person who's shared that desire to achieve an intellectual and spiritual understanding magic, because to achieve such an understanding is a an interesting challenge in and of itself. Where do you really begin?

I think where you begin is realizing that part of a genuine understanding of magic comes from an experiential approach to magic. That is magic is something to experience, and that experience informs any understanding of what magic is and how it shows up in your life. And you can't get experience except through the choice to actually take a risk and do something.

Your experience informs your intellectual understanding by critiquing it and testing it through the lens of experience. After all what you know is a trap until you've tested it and weighed it against experience.

Your experience informs your spiritual understanding by providing you a way to apply your spirituality to your life. Spirituality that is unexamined by experience is spirituality that has not truly tasted the depths of spirituality. Your experience gives your spirituality a medium to express itself in your life and allows you to ask questions and get answers through the actions you take. 

Here's the thing though about experience. the experiences you have will challenge your sense of self. There will be times where you feel lost, uncertain, where you ask why you're even on this journey. That's the risk you take with experience. You necessarily do lose yourself at times, but the flipside to that is that it's also where you begin to discover yourself. You discover who you can be when you're lost. You discover things you never knew about yourself. And that discovery can only happen through experience, through the choice to understand by doing.