What is Magic? Why Does It Work? (Baby Witch Bootcamp Ch. 1)

Note: Baby Witch Bootcamp began as a series of informational videos on my YouTube channel. This series is my attempt to meet a need for free, accessible, and well-researched information about witchcraft and other forms of magic. My background is in journalism, and this is the approach that I take with this series — I try to be as transparent as possible about where I get my information, and each episode is always accompanied by a complete list of sources. I also try to keep this series as objective as possible — my goal is not to convince you to practice witchcraft a certain way, but to provide you with the tools and resources you need to create a magical practice that fits your own beliefs, values, and spiritual needs. 

I chose to turn the transcripts for my YouTube episodes into blog posts in order to make this information accessible to as many people as possible. 


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Before working with magic, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of what magic is and why it works the way it does. Of course, there is no one answer to these questions, but I’ve tried to draw information from a few different sources and present some of the different theories of magic. 

A good place to start is by establishing a definition of what we mean when we say “magic” in a witchcraft context. 

Aleister Crowley was a racist asshole, but he was an influential racist asshole. His definition of magic was: “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformance with will.” This is still a very popular way of understanding magic among witches today. 

A more modern and accessible version of this idea can be found in the book Green Witchcraft by Paige Vanderbeck: “Magic is the art of creating change in ourselves and in our lives through acts of intention and a spiritual connection with all things natural and supernatural.”

Later in the same book, Vanderbeck says: “If you paid attention in science class, you know that everything in existence is made of energy and that it can never be truly created or destroyed, only recycled. When you use magic, you are directing the re-formation, or recycling, of available energy for a specific purpose.”

I really like this definition, and I feel like it’s a great modern take on Crowley’s ideas. 

In her book Wicca for Beginners, Thea Sabin says: “Magic, like psychic ability, depends on knowledge of the patterns of the cosmos. But where using psychic ability means attuning to and understanding those patterns, magic means bending or working with them to bring about desired change. The philosophy of magic goes back again to the idea that everything is infused with the divine. If all things contain some divine energy, we can tap into that energy to affect things that seem-to the regular five senses, anyway-to have no connection to us.”

A lot of people who believe in magic think of it as a way of manipulating the energy that makes up the universe. Magic doesn’t create something out of nothing or break the laws of physics — it only directs the energy that is already there.

If you’re going by this definition, magic is very similar to the Law of Attraction, which is the belief that you attract what you give your energy and focus to. This idea was first introduced by Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophy movement, in 1877. The Law of Attraction is all about aligning your mindset with the things you want to attract.

You could also view magic from a psychological standpoint as a form of self-programming. By changing your mindset and thought patterns, you program yourself to seek out the things you want to manifest. This is a more grounded, “realistic” way to think about magic for those who aren’t sold on the idea of intangible spiritual energy. 

In the book Owning Your Own Shadow, Jungian psychoanalyst Robert A. Johnson says, “It is possible to live one’s ideals, do one’s best, be courteous, do well at work, and live a decent civilized life if we ritually acknowledge this other dimension of reality. The unconscious cannot tell the difference between a ‘real’ act and a symbolic one.”

So basically, in order to create change within ourselves, we can use a ritual or spell to create an event in our memory that strengthens our mental pathways around certain concepts or desires.

Scientists have proved that imagination uses the same neurological pathways we use when we do something for real, and that visualization is an extremely powerful tool. So powerful, in fact, that visualization and meditation are sometimes prescribed by doctors to supplement cancer treatments.

Personally, I don’t think we necessarily have to choose one definition or the other. I think both explanations make sense and can exist together. 

 The way that people “do” magic is through rituals, aka spells. These rituals vary from one tradition to the next, and can be elaborate or simple. Any time you perform a set of intentional actions with the goal of creating change in a seemingly unrelated area, that’s a spell whether you choose to call it one or not. 

Most people who don’t believe in magic don’t realize that they literally use it every day. Lighting a prayer candle and asking a saint to help you with something is magic. Making a vision board is magic. Making a wish when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake is magic. You’ve already been doing magic your whole life. 

If you want to start working your magic, you need to start by becoming more aware of your own energy and the energy around you. For this reason, I highly, highly recommend that baby witches start their spiritual journey by establishing a meditation practice. Having that inner state of peace and harmony that you can always come back to is so important in any spiritual path, but especially in one as active as witchcraft.



  • Green Witchcraft by Paige Vanderbeck
  • Wicca for Beginners by Thea Sabin
  • Practical Law of Attraction by Victoria Gallagher (not explicitly mentioned but I did use it as a reference!)
  • Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert A. Johnson
  • Imagination Uses the Same Neural Pathways as Real Action: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases…
  • Visualization in Cancer Treatment: https://www.breastcancer.org/treatmen…

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