Is prayer a form of magic? That may be the first question that arises for anyone who considers the relationship between Christianity and Wicca. And the answer: It depends on who gives you the answer.
Christian theologian Paul Tillich (arguably popularized by John Shelby Spong) divides what is commonly understood as prayer into two categories: meditation and magic. Tillich is a panentheist who understands God as the Ground of All Being. The Christian task is to open one’s self up to the Ground of Being in order to be transformed by It. We are called to participate in the Power of Being, not manipulate it. Prayers that attempt to manipulate the Power of Being in order to influence beings are not considered prayer by Tillich, but magic. Christians are called by God to be transformed into a divine image, not to attempt to recreate the world in their image. So, Tillich would answer by saying it depends on the kind of prayer being discussed.
While reading ChristoPaganism: An Inclusive Path by Joyce and River Higgenbothem, I came across an alternative view. Classical magic distinguishes between theurgy and thaumaturgy. Theurgy is magic that opens the door to communion with the divine. Thaumaturgy is magic that influences the universe according to one’s will. We have the same basic categorical distinctions. So, the witch may answer by saying yes.
I personally prefer Tillich’s understanding. I believe that prayer includes both meditation and magic. I disagree with Tillich when he says that Christians should not do magic. Humanity has a unique place in the universe. We have a responsibility to the universe to use everything in our power to nurture it. The traditional idea is that humans are called to be stewards of the earth.
Unfortunately, many Christians adhere to Tillich’s approach to appropriate prayer. Maybe it is a safer way to practice. In a mechanistic, cause and effect, scientific worldview I’m sure there are many who would not want to be seen as anti-intellectual because they believed that the universe responded to their desires.
Yet, there is a new scientific worldview that has emerged recently. According to quantum physics, our universe is participatory. We interact with it naturally and continuously on a quantum level. The way we perceive and desire affects the world around us. Influencing the universe in this way is, in a nutshell, what magic is. We do it everyday. We just don’t realize it. Human beings are wired to interact with the universe in this way.
By default, Christians do magic. The question is whether they will do it intentionally or unintentionally. As agents of divine love (that other-centered, justice-oriented, and self-giving love that is the Spirit of Christ), we need to extend the sphere of our intentional influence beyond the tactile realm. Many already do this. By praying for healing, safe passage, or a lucky break we extend our participation into the luminal dimension as well. These are all good and faithful things. We should not let the concern that we may be doing magic turn us away from them.
There are many ways to understand what happens when one asks for the grace to make a small change in the world. We can give answers that range from the mythical to the scientific, or combinations of both. I’d say it matters less what we call it, and more that we do it.