At my first Pagan gathering I was sitting around the sacred fire with the High Priestess of my coven and few others who, like me, were unwilling to move from the warmth of the blaze. When, a class just happened to be scheduled for that location began; the class was Magick 101. Since I was already there I decided to stay in my seat and listen politely to the instructor. The first thing the instructor did was ask each of the people around the fire their level of knowledge. Some people where members of different covens, others were solitary, and I was honest about being new to my coven and serious study. The next thing the instructor did was ask “What is the difference between High and Low Magick?”
Que me slinking farther in to my blankets and hoodie, it was going to be a long class discussing the same information I just wrote a three paragraph essay on for the woman equity buried in microfiber beside me. The instructor looked around the circle, and the second answer he received is one I remember shaking my head to. The High Priest of I don’t remember coddled his answer in the form of a story with an ending moral of High Magic was when you impose your will on someone else. I guess I was to noticeably surprised, or disused by the implications of his answer since I felt two pairs of eyes on me. My High Priestess wanted me to speak up and the instructor wanted the “new girl” to give a go. I untangled my moth from my cave of fuzzy materials to be heard and gave a short one sentence answer, before like a grumpy dragon retreating to her cave gave the instructor the floor to continue. I will not be giving you readers just the one sentence answer I spewed on that 19°F October afternoon. Instead lets brake down these forms of magick to understand better what they are.
Low Magick also referred to as Nature Magick, is any magick performed using tools of nature to incite change on this plane of existence. High Magick is ceremonial magick intended to bring the practitioner closer to deity. Normally very strict in performance or done on the astral plane. So, as you can see the high/low is not in reference to a hierarchy but the plane in which the magick is intended to affect. Almost all magick a witch performs can be considered Low Magick.
Historically speaking Low Magick was preformed by the healers and cunning folk of the village. You needed your crops blessed, your child healed, the pests out of your home; the magick preformed was to affect your plane of existence and preformed by someone of similar social standing as you. So, another way to look at why they are distinguished in High and Low is noticeable. High Magick took training and time, everything had to be preformed perfectly, and the magician was of high stature. Not to be bothered with issues of the common folk but communing with the Gods for King and State.
The first book Gerald Gardner published on Wicca was “High Magic’s Aid”. Published at the time as fiction, Gardner’s book divulged methods of Magick he learned from his time with the Golden Dawn, and how modern pagans open and release circle can be traced to High Magickal practices. So, where the distinction of high and low is not an indication of strength or one being better then the other, it does assist the practitioner in understanding the differences in both practices.
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