Christian Convictions: Magic in Writing

Christians and Magic

I don’t care for the word ‘magic’. It can be a touchy word in the Christian community. Is magic bad? Is some magic fine to read and other magic not? Is it fine to write? Can I love Lord of the Rings but decide against reading Harry Potter* **? The word magic is so broad that everyone can have their own picture of it without anyone being wrong.

*The answer is yes, by the way. You can choose what to read as you please. You only need to have logical arguments involved if you’re trying to prove why one shouldn’t be read and the other should be read.

**Also, I’d like to note that I’ve not read Harry Potter. I’ve read arguments both for and against reading them, but I’m not currently making any judgments one way other the other. *glances to either side, wondering if I’ve managed to avoid offending both sides or have successfully riled everyone*

Christians and magic

I split magic into two main categories. The larger category is fantasy magic, which I like to address as abilities, gifts, or powers. The second one is real-world witchcraft.

Fantasy Magic

Imbedded abilities

This allows characters in fantasy lands to communicate telepathically, animals to talk, shape-shifters to walk the land, gifts of invisibility or creating fire to be given from person to person, or an unusual ability to pass down a family line. I don’t consider any of this proper magic, nor would I call it magic in a book. There’s no mysterious force involved and no spells and chants. It’s simply the way things are in some faraway place. Why should one expect the laws of nature in a fantasy world to operate the same as natural laws here on earth? That’s the whole point of fantasy; to be able to create something new. Something different. I don’t think there is anything in general imbedded abilities which a Christian need shy away from.

Spiritual Powers

Especially in allegory, this can be fascinating to work with. Characters may have abilities which are gifts from the allegorical portrayal of God. Once again, these aren’t chants or ceremonies or something the character is making happen. It is a gift, and should be used as such or there will likely be consequences. And if there are gifts given by the Creator, there might be dark gifts given by the allegorical equivalent of Satan. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this type of power either, if handled carefully. There were prophets in the Bible who God healed through, and there were also sorcerers. As writers, we don’t try to ignore the darkness in the world, but rather we show it for what it is, reveal the consequences, and bring out the brightness of the light. That being said, even in allegory I, personally, would not go into great depth of any sort of rites powered by the darkness.

Immaterial Force

In a fantasy world there might be an immaterial force or energy which anyone trained can tap into and use for good or bad. It might be called magic. It might be called science. Or it might be religious in nature. I waver on this issue. I would not call it wrong, but at the same time I think a writer needs to be careful with this type of magic. Here, in the real world, magic is bad. There’s not white magic and black magic. The dangers of using an amoral force is that readers may bring the ideas of a force which can be used for good or bad from the fantasy world and apply them to the idea of magic in this world, especially if one is using wands and spells and chants. A lot goes into how it is portrayed. Is it a sort of energy one can draw out with the right tools in a very science-like manner, or is the tone very magic ridden, with rites and ceremonies? Like I said, I wouldn’t go so far as to say this kind of ‘magic’ is always or completely wrong, but it also wouldn’t be my option of choice.

Portal Magic

This is the ‘magic’ that crosses the borders of time and space, dropping characters into the past, the future, or even different worlds. This can be portrayed as science. Or you can mix fantasy with real-life, as if it is something which always exists, most people simple don’t know about it. I’ve no problem with either of those aspects, though I’d not condone portraying it as a magic one has to speak spells over.

Real Magic

Here in the real world, there are only two sources of power. Power from God, and power from Satan. There’s not white magic and black magic; any magic is from Satan and should not be meddled with, which is why I don’t think any character in this world should have magical powers. They might have fantastical abilities due to a science experiment of some sort, but what they can do should have a natural explanation.

As I mentioned early, just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we avoid writing about any kind of evil. How graphically we describe the evil is a topic for another conversation, but there is evil in the world and we don’t try to gloss over it for our readers. Rather we show its consequences and the power of the light. All this to say, magic is a possibility in writing, if you are working on something like a spiritual warfare thriller, but it should never be portrayed as good. And I’d deal with it only in general terms. There is no need for a Christian writer to study the occult to write a ritual, and readers aren’t going to benefit from soaking up details about the darkness which are best left alone.

So when writing, there are a few basic questions you can ask. Is the book here, or in a fantasy world? If in this world, then magic should not be tampered with as an amoral power. Are there cool abilities you want give a race of people? Go for it. Do you want spiritual power in an allegorical world? Make sure the source of good and evil are clearly defined and don’t get carried away on the dark side with blood magic and spells.

Real magic in this world is always evil and should be handled with care, if at all. But what many call magic in fantasy is nothing more than fascinating abilities. And as for the real magic in fantasy, look at the source, the uses, and the portrayal to decide if it is worthwhile or not.

Note: What I write is what I believe after reading the Bible and holding conversations with friends and parents, but that does not mean I’m not interested in Bible evidence for another point of view. If the topics interest you, I encourage you to study them on your own as well. Friendly discussion in the comment section is encouraged if you have points you’d like to bring up, but this is not the place for a full-scale debate. : )

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  1. I notice you said, “If in this world, then magic should not be tampered with as an amoral power”. “Amoral” means indifferent, not on one moral side or another, a tool which can be used for good or ill but which is neither in itself. Given the context, though, I think you meant “immoral” which is im-moral, bad.

  2. Thank you for writing this post! I agree wholeheartedly with you on this topic, and I appreciate how you handle the issue in your books. Both of your Legends of Light books will be in my top 5 favorite fantasies today. 😉

  3. Yes. I totally agree. Which is no fun, but I’m not gonna lie for the sake of a debate. XD
    One thing you brought to the conversation I hadn’t really thought through is the question of abilities. I’m always uncomfortable using the word magic to describe anything in my work, but I wasn’t quite sure what else I could call it, because as you know I do have abilities. I would be discussing it with someone, and arguing against ‘magic’, and then I would have to explain to them that I have ‘magic’ but I don’t really think it counts as magic because it’s different, and things would just get more and more confusing from there. 😛 So thanks for confirming my subconscious conclusions.

    Also just a thought— for those who’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan often speaks of the Deep Magic. That word can be confusing. The role the Deep Magic plays in Narnia is the role the Scriptures and the nature of truth play in our world. ‘If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she would have interpreted the Deep Magic differently. The Deep Magic states that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery is killed in a traitor’s stead, the stone table will crack and death itself will turn backwards.’
    That’s the concept of grace, right there. The Deep Magic is the truth of the Scriptures. Could C. S. Lewis have found a different word? Absolutely. Should he have? Personally, I think he should. But all that to say, just because something is labeled as something doesn’t mean you should take it at face value. Think. You have brains. God can give you wisdom. Don’t ever just take it for granted that anything is as it appears on the surface.

    *ahem* Yes. *descends from soapbox*

  4. This article was amazing! I’ve been struggling off and on with what magic is good and what is bad, or even what to call it. although i feel like you didn’t address superpowers. Maybe you did in the spiritual powers section and I wasn’t paying enough attention when reading, or it’s not categorized as magic. i honestly don’t know where to categorize it. Anyway, this was quite helpful, and i enjoyed it immensely. 🙂

    • Hmm, superpowers. Well, if it is in a fantasy world, I’d include the abilities as either gifts (perhaps spiritual) or ‘just-the-way-things-are’ for certain families or peoples. If it was in this world, then superpowers are normally given a scientific source and explanation which works well. It may not be completely realistic, but that’s why it’s called science fiction. 🙂

  5. It seems to be that this is a post every second Christian fantasy author (readers too sometimes) writes at some point. Maybe i should now that I’ve sorted out my opinion. But I don’t actually write books with magic, so it’s less directly relevant.

    And I whole-heartedly agree with you. I’d probably say it differently, but that’s to be expected. I like what you said about immaterial forces. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that, but not quite been able to pin down why. All I could come up with was that that sort of magic doesn’t have the characters trusting in God in the same way and that it can often be morally ambiguous. Or maybe that was just the book I read with it.
    And ‘there are only two sources of power. Power from God, and power from Satan.’ sounds very like something I would have written. I like to apply that to made up worlds as well, but putting innate abilities as really part of the natural world. What I define as being ‘bad magic’ is seeking supernatural power or knowledge from a source other than God. In fact natural power if you aren’t trusting in God isn’t that good either.

    On thing you didn’t touch on is magical objects. I think that can go all kinds of ways: Sometimes an innate quality of things in that world, sometimes a gift from God, other times it might be evil power.

    • Ooo, I forgot about magical objects. Perhaps I could have a separate post on them sometime. Though…hmm. A ‘magical’ object could just be how something is. A certain kind of dust will make you invisible or a stone is part of the weather system and controls or enhances a certain type of weather. I’d be a little more wary using it for good spiritual power. If God is going to give a gift, then I think it would be directly, not through some item which anyone could pick up and use…

      • I was thinking of Water Princess, Fire Prince. They have their rings. It requires faith in Alphego for them to work, and I don’t think it’d work for anyone else. But neither can they get fire or water without them. (as far as I know)
        So yes, I don’t think something that can be used by anyone could represent spiritual power from God. But sometimes he does give us objects to represent things and help us have faith. A symbol of sorts. I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to say here.

  6. Just wanted to say, I appreciate this article, especially for two points: One is your point on not using what you label as an ammoral force, and the second is your point on magic never being right in the real world.

  7. Great post! I loved how you defined it. I usually give anyone in my books ‘magical’ anything (unless they are a bad guy). Superpowers are what I give my characters 🙂 really nice work on this post

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