The Differences Between Magic, Magick and Occultism (for the Secularist)

The Differences Between Magic, Magick and Occultism (for the Secularist)

The terms magic, magick, and occultism are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings depending on context.

Read Spookywood’s Reasons to Use Magick and Occultism in Your Daily Life

Understanding these differences is important because they help identify some beliefs and practices that fall outside of mainstream religions. In this article, we will explore both religious and secular perspectives of these terms.

First, we'll delve into religious definitions of magic and magick, including their history and associations with divinity. Then, we'll outline secular perspectives of magic including its associations with illusion, entertainment and natural phenomena. Finally, we'll explore definitions of magick, including its distinction from magic, Crowley's view on magick and the Spookywood interpretation of magick as design and function.





Magic has a long history, and it's difficult to pinpoint a certain time for magic's origin. The specific practices and beliefs associated with magic vary across cultures, people and times.

In ancient civilizations, magic was related to religious beliefs and practices. In Egypt, magic was perceived as a way of invoking powers of the gods. In ancient Greece and Rome, magic was a way of worshipping specific deities and contacting them by means of divination, healing spells and protection magic.



Magic meant obtaining secret or hidden knowledge about the supernatural as well as acquiring special, divine abilities. Meditation, visualization, and other techniques were used in persuasion that they facilitate access to higher planes of consciousness and introduce the mundane to the supernatural.



For skeptics, magic isn't religious but rather the design of illusionIn Middle English between 1100-1500, magic became more popularly known as stage performance used to trick audiences into thinking something supernatural, spiritual or enchanting has happened.

Magic is the design of illusion whether it be for entertainment purposes or natural illusions that occur in nature.

Performance magic includes various techniques such as sleight of hand, misdirection and stagecraft to create the impression that something impossible or miraculous is happening. Some magicians may use technology like video projections, drones or special effects to enhance their illusions.

The goal and idea of magic is to experience elements of surprise and wonder.

Natural magic is the way nature characterizes mirages which sometimes confuse brains. Here are some examples of natural illusions:

  1. Optical illusions: These are illusions that are created by conflicting or misleading information from the senses, leading to the perception of something that is not actually present. Many people encounter optical illusions on a daily basis, such as when they see a puddle on the ground that appears to be deeper or wider than it actually is, or when they see an object that appears to be a different size or shape than it really is due to the presence of other objects or the angle from which it is viewed.

  2. Illusory contours: These are the perception of lines or edges that are not actually present in the visual stimulus. People may experience illusory contours when looking at patterns or textures that create the impression of lines or shapes that are not really there.

  3. Illusory motion: This is the perception of movement in a static image. People may experience illusory motion when looking at static images that contain elements that suggest movement, such as a spinning wheel or a waterfall.

  4. The moon illusion: This is the perception that the moon appears larger when it is near the horizon than when it is high in the sky. People may experience this illusion when they look at the moon at different times during the night.

  5. The cafe wall illusion: This is the perception that the lines in a patterned wall are bent or distorted, even though they are actually straight. People may encounter this illusion when looking at patterns or textures that contain repeating geometric shapes.

  6. The Muller-Lyer illusion: This is the perception that lines of different lengths appear to be the same length due to the presence of arrowheads or other visual cues at the ends of the lines. People may encounter this illusion when looking at diagrams or drawings that contain lines with arrowheads or other visual cues at the ends.







Aleister Crowley reintroduced the spelling of "magick" with a "k" in his lifetime (1875 - 1947) to distinguish stage performance and trickery magic from the more spiritual practices of magic[k]. To Crowley, magick was a way of discovering one's "True Will" through rituals, meditation and supernatural techniques.

Crowley believed the traditional spelling of the word "magic" had lost its essence to the art of deception and trickery, so he wanted to re-emphasize a deeper, more spiritual framework about magick. In Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley defines magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”




Spookywood's definition of magick is clarified as a more simple and neutral interpretation —  the design of function.

This is because True Will can be difficult to pinpoint or impossible to accurately determine. True Will also lacks empirical and scientific support.

"Will" is a psychological concept that relies on complex decision-making systems in an organism. If phenomena such as space dust particles or planets lack complex decision-making properties (except Willful humans or possibly a conscious robot), then does this mean they aren't magickal? This would conflict with early occult and natural philosophies that derived a sense of enchantment about even flora and fauna or space beyond.

Some early magicians and occultists believed animistic, mental or divine properties exist about all things. In the case that not all phenomena is alive, mental or divine, humans can at least have the satisfaction of knowing all things have existence and essence and are thus magickal.

Crowley was onto something by noticing how essential both art and science are to magick. Spookywood doesn't think Will is fundamental to magick.

What do art and science fundamentally study?

Design and function.

Design is the blueprint of existence, the structure(s) about all existing things. 

Functions are fundamental components of science and scientific inquiry. In the natural world, living and non-living things have specific functions and processes that enable them to carry out specific activities and perform specific roles within ecosystems. Science seeks to understand these functions or processes and how they relate to the overall behavior and functioning of the natural world.

Why would a secular person choose to use magick in this technical way?

Many philosophers, including religious magickians, have been interested in the philosophical problem of and relationship between existence and essence. In philosophy, existence is the ontological, fundamental property of "being." Essence is a phenomenon's function or process. 

Example: a rose bush exists with a rootstock, union graft, trunk, canes, flowers, hips and other features. The parts of a rose bush is the design of its existence. What the rose bush does (how the cells interact, how it grows, the way it eats, the fragrance it blooms, etc.) is its process, functions or essence.




Modern Magick

Secularists may appreciate magick as a technical reminder that anything existing has a process or formula. The way things form gives them their unique essence, or spirit, as cognitive science Joscha Bach describes it.

Magick is an opportunity to accommodate stuff that lacks Will as still being part of something magickal, which is the existence of essence, the existence of spirit. Bach describes "spirit" as a structure's unique way of existing or doing things. Spirit could be something like a ghost, but it could also be the secular processes of a tree. A tree has a unique structure and way of being. This doesn't mean the tree has a brain, a Will or is an expression of some larger, more transcendental and divine Will, but the tree certainly still has structure and spirit. It has design and function.

Magick reminds us there is always a solution for anything encountered. 

It's a good idea to use magick even in modern language to appreciate the distinction between fact and fiction, or magick from magic. Magic(k) is intended to represent the objective way in which things truly are. Illusions, on the other hand, have some degree of deception.

Magick is a cultural word that reminds us to remain active in "truth-getting" activities like investigating, reading, studying, learning, predicting, experimenting and inventing. Humans do have brains capable of perceiving magick, and this is the heart of being a magickian. To be a magickian involves Will because it is  characteristic of the brains of people who are capable of perceiving nature and making decisions about it. Nonetheless, non-Willfull phenomena are still structures of existence with essence akin magickians, and they are magickal despite not being magickians.

Magic can also still be enjoyed for elements of entertainment, surprise and wonder. Some magic is encountered naturally without having to attend any magic show. For example, the moon illusion. Sometimes the moon appears closer than it really is. That's no stage magician putting on an act unless you believe in God.




Occultism is frequently used in context with magic and magick, but they aren't the same things.

Occultism comes from a Latin word "occultare" meaning hidden, secret or supernatural.

Occultism is an activity. It is philosophy. Put concretely, occultism is knowledge-seeking curiosity.

There are certainly religious branches of occultism where it is a compilation of areas where people interact with the supernatural or divine mysteries.

There is also secular occultism. Secular occultism is the curious search for knowledge without the use of religion.

"Occult" may be used as a noun or adjective. When used as a noun, the occult is a wide field of many topics involving the exploration of and interaction with the unknown.  

Used as an adjective, something being occult means it is ambiguous, mysterious or has some uncertainty about it. Medical occult blood panels, for example, are occult tests to detect particles in the blood normally invisible to the naked eye. 

People experience occult things every day by being exposed to uncertainty in its many forms. People may participate in occultism as a philosophy of knowledge-seeking curiosity to mediate uncertainty, and this may be accomplished secularly.

Retaining a sense of curious adventure through occultism, an awareness of illusions through magic and an appreciation of the design of function through magick is useful for any person whether religious or secular.


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