When most people think of Pagans and magick today it seems to bring up the image of people dressed in pseudo-medieval outfits peering at dusty manuscripts written in Shakespearian English or other ancient languages and involving ancient rituals deep in the woods. In some cases this is a reasonably accurate picture, but as Paganism is a living spiritual path many practitioners are actively involved in research and development.
This is not a new thing. Paracelsus, the famous healer and Alchemist of the 1500s encouraged his students to use what today we would call the scientific method of keeping notes, experimentation, and limiting themselves with outdated dogma and beliefs. This approach enabled him and his students to make significant progress in both fields, by discovering new principles and techniques, and breaking new ground. They were fortunate in moving in social circles that used writing and recording information as a normal part of life, as for many people outside urban areas illiteracy was accepted as the norm.
In order to keep a degree of social control the learning of reading and writing was strictly regulated, and the average land-working peasant was looked on with great suspicion if they could do either with any degree of facility. As part of the counter-culture of the times various groups including guilds, religions (including Pagan ones), and early workers rights activists, all had undercover schools where these skills could be learned. Since these groups all threatened the status quo of the establishment members, if caught by the authorities, might well have their literacy skills and any written materials used as evidence against them with dire consequences
This is why a healer/bonesetter or follower of a non – state sanctioned spiritual path would always keep any written notes well out of sight along with any tools for writing. Needless to say this could cause problems for any ‘research Witch’ especially if based out in the country. Any “Books of Write” – handwritten spells and rituals – were usually memory prompts and disguised as something else such as a recipe, rather than complete detailed descriptions of what to do step by step.
Even well-educated Ritual Magicians who had some degree of ‘respectability’ due to incorporating references to the Abrahamic religions in their work did not leave behind true easily understood descriptions of their art. For example Nostradamus coached all his predictions in difficult language after his precognitive skills proved dangerously accurate. In the case of grimoires from this time sigils have been left out and names changed to disguise the entities they were working with. Mentions of the ‘demon’ Ashtoreth in many spells is actually a coded reference to the Middle Eastern Goddess Astarte bringer of success in love and conflict. A lot of the time it pays to look at the context in which these incantations were used to understand the subtext.
Due to the slowing effect of these precautions and limitations, plus the lack of appreciation and tolerance of free thinking, it took until the end of the 19th Century - and science as we know it today to be accepted - before rapid progress began to happen in the magickal field. It was aided considerably by the field of psychology becoming recognised as a valuable part of the humanist arts. ‘Alienists’ – the forerunners of psychiatrists - had been practicing in the field of mental health for several decades before the advent of Freud raised the subject to something approaching a recognised field of study. The Occultist Violet Firth, more popularly known as “Dion Fortune” was a practicing lay Freudian analyst and quickly noticed the connection between successful ritual magick and dialoguing with the subconscious.
It helped that the Freud’s system was designed along similar lines to classical Kabala/Cabala which explains the schism between him and his student Carl Jung when the latter developed a more flowing symbol and synchronicity based approach to psychotherapy. This was paralleled in the Pagan field with the difference in approach of Ritual Magick vs Pagan approaches such as Wicca and Taoism as expressed in the West.
In some of her works and groups Dion Fortune expressed her concern about some members of early 20th century Pagan groups saying that they were ‘too close to the green ray’ (nature). Whereas being a follower of Kabala which emphasises ritual and intellectual learning, she favoured a more cerebral way to the Divine, mirroring the Jung/Freud split. At this time there were also individual magickal practitioners who could be defined as Shamans, such as Austin Spare, who used other subjective methods to obtain dramatic results.
In the same time frame physics and magick also began to re-unite with the advent of quantum physics, and particularly quantum mechanics. At its most basic quantum physics and the fields that have developed from it involved the interaction of all things in the universe at an energetic level. This level is so small that sometimes it can only be detected by sensitive experiments backed up by the use of probability mathematics.
At its heart quantum physics appears to support the very old ideas of resonance - the idea that by ‘tuning in’ to a particular potential event and energising it you could encourage the likelihood of it happening in shared reality (magick). Becoming sensitive to the resonance of the strongest potential future (divination), or as it manifests in concrete form (remote viewing) would explain the underlying mechanics of clairvoyance.
In this worldview the role of ritual is to clear the mind(s) of the person(s) doing it from its entanglement with the immediate environment to enable them to attune to the resonance of the object of the intent of the rite. With this system Gods and Goddesses are thought of as powerful, established, non-localized, intelligent resonance templates that can help empower any magic used, or provide information and aid when contacted correctly.
Hopefully in this brief overview you can gain some idea how much Paganism and magick as a whole have been developing over the last few centuries. In addition to the physical sciences Pagans are now active in many scientific fields from archaeology to xenobiology which will undoubtedly have an effect on their practice of Paganism and magick which will in turn feed back into the field as a whole developing it in ways we cannot yet imagine.