I originally wrote this post for the Home 4 Wayward Witches blog, May 16, 2022.
It is a common trope to talk about science and magic being at odds with one another. Surely one versed in the way things work cannot support the existence of “mystical forces we cannot explain.” This rift is seen by many as an impasse. Science disproves magic. Magic ignores science. How can the two possibly exist in the same universe?
Well, funny enough, the two do work together rather well. Let’s talk a bit about how the world of science and the world of magic actually work together.
How do we define magic?
If you’ve looked into the relationship of science and magic before, you’ve probably heard the following quote:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible.
Think for a moment about the first time a child sees a TV and things seem to happen without explanation or visible reason. They might get confused and think TV characters live inside the screen. Think to the first time you got on an elevator. You walk in on one floor, stand for a moment, and then walk out on a different floor. If no one explains to you how it works, you’re bound to think something extraordinary is going on! To a small child, these pieces of technology, of applied scientific concepts, are like magic.
So how does one define magic. Well, different dictionaries will use varying definitions, but the general idea is this: Magic is the use of an extraordinary or supernatural power or influence to achieve a goal. So how do we define supernatural?
supernatural – adjective – of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible, observable universe(Merriam-Webster)
The “visible, observable universe”… Now that sounds a lot like science. Except… some things we can see and observe today are only observable because of developments such as microscopes, thermometers, or other such tools. So originally, those things just beyond our ability to detect were undetectable… unable to be measured… magic.
The Evolution of Knowledge
Now, some of you might call foul on this, that just because you can’t observe something doesn’t mean we won’t be able to eventually. I agree; we are learning new things every day. But let’s think for a minute about this.
Imagine you are living in the days before modern medicine and you have a skin problem. Your town herbalist prescribes you an oil made with birch bark. They tell you it is because the spirit of the birch tree has the power to help with such ailments and rid your skin of toxins. In a similar way, you are told, making a broom of birch branches can help remove bad energies from your home. We see evidence of this sort of thinking in ogham and other witchcraft related practices.
Looking back now, we see this sort of thing as folk tales and superstitions. However, in 2012, a team studied the medicinal potential of birch bark and found it had anti-tumor properties. Funny… something we saw as magic, a thing without observable evidence, has now been validated by new technology and science.
Magic is, at its core, humans trying to work with forces and things we cannot explain with our current understanding of science. The reason there seems to be such a rift between science and magic is simple. Once something can be explained by science, we mentally move it from one category to the other. We assume it no longer falls in the category of magic.
When you are going about your day, try looking at human achievements through the eyes of someone without scientific knowledge for a moment. Think about the miracle that is a plane flying, or the way plants will find a way to grow anywhere they are allowed to. Look at scientific concepts like the water cycle and see the magic in how water is cyclical, much like the moon or the planets. Use your knowledge of science to bolster your magic, not limit it.