What is Magick, and Why the “K”?

Often in texts discussing the occult and mysticism, you will see the word “magic” spelled with an ending “k” rather than a “c.” Many devotees of the craft say that this was a convention developed to distinguish the arts of ritual magic; divination, incantation, sorcery, etc., from the provocative acts of illusion and legerdemain performed by stage magicians.

However, there are many practitioners of Shamanistic and ritual spellcasting practices who are comfortable with the conventional spelling. They understand that the term “magic,” no matter how it is spelled, is defined as the use of specific charms, spells, and rituals to exert change or influence over the physical world. In this regard, “magick,” with a “k” actually refers to only a particular category of such practices.

Most historians trace the origination of the use of the word magick to the famous — some would say infamous – Necromancer, Aleister Crowley, who described “Magick” as the driving ritual force of the Thelema religion. Crowley’s rationale for the specific use of the “k” was far more esoteric than to separate his very profound beliefs from prestidigitators and charlatans.

The letter K is the 11th letter of many modern and ancient alphabets. Numerology plays a crucial role in Kabalah and many occult practices. Eleven is a significant number to the followers of Thelema and users of High Magick. It is the number ascribed to Qliphoth, the 11th plane of the underworld. In Magick, as practiced by Crowley and his followers, Qliphoth, is a place of chaos and demonic forces that need to be subdued and controlled before any Magick ritual or effect can be performed.

The letter K has many other magical connections. It corresponds to the power of Shakti, the female embodiment of divine force or spiritual energy in the Hindu tradition. The word for the letter “K” in ancient Egyptian is khu, which also has been translated to mean “magical power.” Specifically, it represents kteis or the vagina, which in Ritual Magic is the “yin-yang” complement to the wand, or phallus, which is used by the practicing Magician.

Crowley defined Magick in his book, Magick in Theory and Practice as “the science and art of causing a change to occur in conformity with the will.” For Crowley, Magick was the driving force of change, which he believed was cause and effect of the exertion of the True Will.

By that description, “Magick” could be equated to sorcery and witchcraft, as any magical effects produced by these practices are also driven by the will of the Witch or the Warlock. But Crowley also points out that such mundane methods as balancing your checkbook or signing a big business deal, are also acts of Will. To him, therefore, Magick is a way of life and path to enlightenment and the achievement of each individual’s Great Work.

In Crowley’s framework, Magick can be used to effect “magical” or paranormal phenomena, but he dismisses such mystical effects as essentially useless unless they are used to push the Acolyte closer to his Ascension to the True Self.
Magick as defined by Crowley as the essential force of the Thelema religion does have some particular magical rituals and daily routines. These include magical rituals and the use of talismans, amulets and magical weapons for Banishment, Invocation, Divination, and Purification. These Magick Rituals have been written about at length in Magick in Theory and Practice, and many other tomes by Crowley.

Since Crowley began writing about Magick, a host of other occult and spiritual traditions have embraced the spelling using the terminal –“k” for Magick. But they have broadened its scope beyond the Thelemic culture. For most modern occultists, magick refers to any esoteric practice or metaphysical effect. In that regard, “magick” can be described as any power or practice used to influence events in the physical plane through supernatural, mystical, or paranormal means, whereas “magic” is pulling rabbits out of hats!