In her interview with Oprah, and in response to what she thinks of the religious criticism of her use of magic in her books, JK Rowling paraphrases the following quote:


"'in magic man has to rely on himself "


She goes on to explain that magic is a way for people to take control of their own lives, and to change the world around them, unlike in religion where you have to accept the world as it is.  


This quote reminds me that we all have a certain power in ourselves, and the best we can do with our life is to use it the best we can. This means not using religion as an excuse.

She further explains that magic is kind of like having a lot of money.


My own thought and question for discussion is: do you think that atheism is like magic in this way?  As atheists do we have a responsibility to shape our world for the better, just as someone with magic or money would have?



here's the link to the video

start around 5:00 to hear her discuss the quote.

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Magick is merely another form of mysticism...just as religion. In primitive societies magic(k), plays a massive role in manipulating people, just as religion. The magic we see on TV a la bending of spoons is mentalism and trickery. JK Rowling's statement (and her books) is designed to sell the fantasy of so-called 'magic'. People who rely on themselves don't need magic. Unfortunately comic book super heroes, magic such as JK Rowlings' books create a fantasmagoric mindset in thousands of youths and could lead to tragedy as happened to my own 5-year grandson who thought he was Superman and could fly: he died after leaping off my Land Rover.

To answer your question: atheism is anything but magic except if what you mean is that it liberates the mind from the bullshit of religion; JKR's explanation that magic = money is total baloney as well; money is the reward for effort/work/creativity....not magic! Atheism is merely the view that a god doesn't exist---period no more or less! Atheists are usually skeptics as well and as such would question "magic" in all its tenets.

That's actually very intersting...i wasn't really thinking of it in that way and I totally agree, but 

I was thinking more along the lines of your second paragraph.  Yes money is earned, but I was thinking of magic as a skill you worked at, so I can see there being effort and creativity there as well.  I think the parallels between magic and money work if thought about in the context of her book actually, because Harry didn't know it existed, and learned to live without it, but then it was thrust upon him, so he knows both sides of the world...just like JK Rowling has experienced poverty, so now she has money she has a better understanding of what to do with it.  Also, many atheists have experienced religion, but now have atheism providing clarity and reason.


Maybe you should clarify what you mean by "working at ...magic as a skill"?? Not sure I follow. 

i just mean magic not in the sense that you point your finger and whatever you want happens, but magic where you have to learn and study spells, practice techniques, and magic that has limits based on your efforts, creativity, and knowledge.

The general idea of magic or belief in magic within the real world is as you described it; much more like religion.  This leads me back to the witch hunts and times when both religion and magic were at war with each other.  Both were completely ridiculous and as you said manipulating people who didn't know better than to believe what the world presented them with.  Now it is understood that except for illusions, magic is impossible, and many are starting to understand that so is religion.

But in a world where magic could exist, and in the way it does in Harry Potter, those who are magic can't really use their power unless they work at it.  The characters spend their whole life learning and improving their control of magic, just as in the real world we spend our whole lives gaining knowledge and experience so we can make a difference, make a lot of money, be happy, or whatever your motives are for being successful with your life.

I think i should also clarify that I originally thought this quote could relate to atheism because one of the ways I justify people who believe they feel god's presence, or that god got them through a tough time, is that I believe people have so much going on within themselves at subconscious levels and they feel their own strength come out at times.  they don't recognize it, however, and attribute the feelings to a higher power or some form of spirit.  When I heard Rowling describing the quote, and how magic (metaphorically) allows characters to do something and think for themselves, I immediately thought about that power we all have in ourselves, but only some are aware of it.  If you let religion guide your deepest self, you won't have the power or magic to really understand the world or your place in it.



Ok: let's see if I understand you now: your 'magic' is what others may call 'inspired actions/inspiration' or 'self-motivation' or even 'willpower'; 

I live in Africa and have worked among very primitive and unsophisticated people for many years. The notion that you are in control of your own destiny is alien to the most of them and this reflects in their traditions, belief systems and even in their languages. Some years ago, I trained illiterate people in the skills of 'supervision' in an industrial environment. To illustrate what 'motivation' was I was forced to use subterfuge as the word did not exist in their vocabulary; so I sketched a situation. It goes like this:

I placed a construction plank of about 5 meters long by 300mm wide on the ground and challenged them to walk along the plank without falling off: no problem! They all succeeded. Then I said to  them "imagine this same plank is 100 metres in the air between 2 buildings. Would you be able to walk across?"

"No ways they replied, we'll fall off"

"Why?' I asked.

"Because the ground is pulling us down"

"OK, what if your 4 year old child is on the other side and in danger?"

"Wow, now I'll run across"

"OK so what changed?"

"My child is in danger"

"OK so imagine you're halfway across and your child is saved from the danger, what now?"

"I will fall down"

and so I would carry on to explain the power of  the mind and how one's imagination can influence your behaviour...etc etc  Magic No?

In JKR's case I find that people with unsophisticated mindsets take much of Harry's type of stuff literally as they do religion....and therein lies the rub. If you have an educated/liberated mind you are normally able to contextualise fairy tales and myths within a framework of reality and logic. If you don't... mysticism becomes an all invasive influence and hence dangerous.

Yes we have power within ourselves: no it's not magic but a critical consciousness, logic and reasoning that needs to be unlocked with a liberal education and an understanding that we are the architects (to some degree anyway) of our own destinies


In my opinion, the mere analogy of magic has little to do with the hocus pocus and external agents. It relates to me more as an internal sensation, a quality that establishes our existence. At the risk of being dangerously close to a God like image, it infact establishes man in his own right as the creator, maintainer and the destroyer of existence.

This terminology may well be redefined as natural and inconspicuous as the birds and the bees. I wonder... what if it is us that cause life and death.. what if it is our energy/magic or what you may wish, that constitutes this godliness, and if, as i said before, this magic is breathing from within, then it makes us gods in our own space. If you consider to separate this from the realm of mysticism and understand that this is nothing supernatural that i am wondering about but probably a phenomenon that exists as naturally as oxygen within us. Then my religion would be to take care of this magic within and that which exists in others. and my worship would be a celebration of this power i hold- much like humanism. ofcorse then, a true sin would be to abuse this power within or outside. the use of parallel terminology is just to make an easy understanding. in other...

your opinions are welcome :) 

Yes, it all comes down to whether or not you abuse your power.  Religion gives people excuses to abuse power, or gives people the false idea that they have no power.  To believe yourself powerless and unable to act without God's strength acting through you can create passive, oppressed, or boring people who don't live their lives true to themselves, avoiding their true feelings and desires for fear they are evil temptations...of course it also creates people who do whatever they want and claim it was god's will, but it is by causing the former that is the biggest abuse of religion in my mind.  If it were a place for people to connect with their own version of spirituality,great; but when religion seeks to dim and in the more extreme cases stamp out this inner power, they are crushing humanity and our greatest power and force of good.    

So well put!  thanks for taking the time to understand what I was trying to say.  Your story about the people in Africa is so interesting.  How did they react once they understood motivation?  Did you notice a change in them, like an epiphany of sorts, or a thirst for more knowledge?  Or did most of them just continue on with their lives as they always had?


:) atleast that makes two of us!

It is difficult to say the least when you try to change traditions, hang-ups and superstition. A mere training intervention seldom achieves this. One of the most difficult issues is the external locus of control that these people have (generalisation of course); ergo, if a machine breaks down it is the fault of the machine, not the golf for example when you hit a shit shot into a tree the African caddy would say something like:

"the tree stopped your ball"! 

Thirst for knowledge? yes massive...willingness to learn? Yes enormous, hence they are like a blank chalkboard that accepts almost anything without questioning or interrogating content or source. So missionaries are literally from God and to be obeyed. Sadly this has for example led to the recent purge of gay/lesbians in Uganda due to 3 American missionaries who have convinced government to legislate against them...see what I mean?

Another VERY embarrasing story:

After a course such as I described earlier, one old man got up and in his thank you speech said to me:

"We have been debating who you are. We eventually came to the conclusion you are Jesus Christ!"

WOW, I was blown away even as an atheist as I realised that I had touched their lives in a 'magical' way.

Magic rituals are similar to both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and it's treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. They are rituals we use for anxiety mitigation and extinction.

OCD Example: knock on wood, when we say something we don't want to come true. The knocking does not actually prevent it from happening, but it does mitigate some of the anxiety.

CBT Example: Fire walking exposes people, in a controlled environment, to fire (which is something worthy of fear and perhaps a symbol for fear itself) so that they can face their fears and overcome them.

I was big into the occult for a while and I can pretty much back this up though a lot of anecdotal evidence (not the strongest, but it is supported by some neuroscience). Magic is often a means by which a person can harness the power of the placebo for anxiety mitigation and/or extinction. There's no woo woo required.


As far as magic making people believe that the power is within them, that's not necessarily the case. Many rituals make appeals to exterior agents (spirits, gods, demons, angels, faeries, etc...) and petition them for help. At best, the power lies in the ritual itself. People with OCD may feel as if they are powerless against their own rituals, for instance. I think the power lies in understanding rituals, what their purpose is, how they affect our behavior, what their limitations are, and how we can use them to enhance our lives. This, of course, requires that we ditch all the woo woo surrounding ritual and realize that it's all psychological symbolism.

i think there is a tangent here on the two meanings of magic we are referring to. what i infer from yours is a more material, may i say(?) use. you are talking about the magic with a form.. like a medicine or herb that we cultivate. 

while the other explanation could be not in reference to the occult or fairytale kind of magic but an existence within.. more on a spiritual space, if you know what i am saying..

depends on whether we confer to the conventional definitions or relax our imagination to depths beyond words :) 


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