What decades of paganism taught me about magic

Michael Nabert
9 min readApr 29, 2021

Yes, it works, but no, not the way you probably think.

Photo by Dmitry Vechorko on Unsplash

I spent more than two decades as a practicing modern pagan. The Wiccan reverence for nature offered a compelling framework for my environmentalism, and I found the community far more tolerant than other faith groups. Eventually I acknowledged that at heart I am a rational atheist with no interest in taking anyone’s dogma literally, although I’m still close with many of the same spiritual people. My biggest takeaway from those years relates to the popular concept of magic. Whenever the topic arises, people are often confused that I reconcile accepting the idea of magic with a scientific approach to my reality. Some elaboration seems in order.

First off, we’re not talking about stage magic. I’ve known a few people with sleight of hand skills sufficient to perform darned impressive card tricks, and I’m entertained by the elaborate illusions of performers like Penn and Teller, but this conversation has nothing to do with any of that. I’m talking about hanging out with witches, casting spells, conducting rituals, and making talismans. I was first introduced to modern paganism when I was eleven years old. I threw myself into it, learning everything I could. I fervently studied mythology, oracles like tarot cards, norse runes and horoscopes, and the construction of magical artifacts, potions and spells. I participated in or conducted literally hundreds of rituals, from solitary observances just for me to large events with over a hundred participants. The life I lived was steeped in a lot of magic. It gave me a chance to see how it works. A lot of it was largely nonsensical but felt profound at the time, giving me a place to channel my emotional energies. I was pleased to slowly learn that while a lot of different, occasionally contradictory and widely irrational ideas about magic abound, there was something lurking underneath them that was somewhat more consistent and less frivolous. A kernel of truth. A tiny shred of magic that was real.

Yes, in all seriousness. But here’s the thing: I can tell you in no uncertain terms that such things can have distinct real world effects, but only — and this is the really important part — only subjective ones.

Michael Nabert

Researching a road map from our imperilled world into one with a livable future with as much good humour as I can muster along the way.