Positive Magic: Ancient Metaphysical Techniques for Modern Lives (Revised Edition), published in 2002, is a classic primer on magic written by American Witch Marion Weinstein, known as “The Ethics Witch”, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 70. The first edition of the book was published in 1978.
Raised in a Jewish family in New York, “Weinstein became interested in Jewish mysticism, but was disappointed to find the Kaballah closed to women” (quote from The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft & Wicca by Rosemary Ellen Guiley).
Weinstein describes Witchcraft as “an ancient Celtic magic-religion”, with origins “similar to many early fertility-oriented nature religions, dating back to a time when harmony with nature and healthy crops were the basis of all life and survival”. In an interview with The Wiccan/Pagan Times, Marion Weinstein acknowledges the influence on her beliefs of the late English Wiccan priestess Doreen Valiente, known as “the mother of modern witchcraft”.
A granite marker in remembrance of Marion Weinstein in the Circle Sanctuary nature preserve in Wisconsin is inscribed with the words “Positive Magic” and “Words of Power”. These are the contributions that Marion Weinstein is fondly remembered for, and the cornerstones of her first book Positive Magic.
The first half of the book covers history and theory, including some theory relating to metaphysics and psychology. The second half of the book covers practical techniques. There is a lot of information to process in the book. As I was reading, I cross-referenced other sources on topics that I needed clarification on. I made notes of key concepts as I read, to enable me to easily recap what I have learnt and for future reference.
Weinstein defines magic as transformation, and writes that “the ultimate purpose of the work” is to “transform, uplift, and so fully develop the self that the whole Universe may benefit thereby”. The focus of the book is about working directly on the self, not on others. An earlier edition of the book was subtitled Occult Self-Help. I felt like I was getting a much-needed kick in the butt to get my life in order, and felt more empowered to do so via a greater sense of personal responsibility.
Weinstein recommends only working positive, life-affirming magic, which is “unequivocally for the good of all and helps everyone” while “any form of magic – ritual, ceremonial or otherwise – which manipulates or harms any being, including an invisible being, is unequivocally negative work”. The book includes a whole section on negative magic (to be avoided at all costs), including how to recognize it and the inherent dangers including inevitable self-harm.
The most valuable part of the book is the section on Words of Power, Weinstein’s name for a positive affirmation statement or blessing that acts as a positive transformation technique. In magical terms, this is essentially about spellwork. Weinstein also emphasizes the power of words in our lives in general and I am finding myself much more aware of the words that I and others use every day, especially the amount of power we give to faithless doubt and negativity without a second thought.
Weinstein’s Words of Power statements always include phrases along the lines of “for the good of all” and “according to the free will of all”, to ensure that one is only performing helpful and non-manipulative magic. Weinstein cautions against ever mentioning another person’s name. Weinstein advises being open to the flexibility of form (versus essence) and timing in a desired outcome and that we need to “act in accordance” in order for magic to work as it is not a passive process.
I enjoyed the imagery in the book of our “Inner Bell” (discernment) and “plugging in” to the universal power source that we are all part of (but need to align ourselves with).
Incidentally, the phrase “for the good of all”, without any losers, ties up nicely with the key phrase that I have allocated to the rune Ingwaz: Win-win situation that I associate with, among other things, nature-based religion which is how Weinstein describes Witchcraft in the book.
Weinstein highlights the differences between her transformation techniques and popular New Age concepts such as Positive Thinking and The Law of Attraction:
“Witches do not ignore the dark side of the human psyche. They ritually acknowledge it, and release its negative power to make way for the Light.” “Positive Magic acknowledges pain as a step toward transforming it.” It acknowledges both light and dark aspects of the self, and Nature, as natural.
Weinstein explains the concept of Creation Manifestation as opposed to The Law of Attraction, which implies distance between ourselves and our goals: “We create and we manifest our goals”, instead of drawing them to ourselves.
For the most part, the book’s technical explanation of how to read Tarot cards does not work for me personally (not specifying a question, using yet another version of the “popular” Celtic Cross spread that is usually overkill in my opinion and not very popular these days, reading the cards “by pictures” ignoring traditional meanings). I agree with Weinstein that rigid, simplistic interpretations of cards are limiting and result in a hit or miss reading, and that our interpretations should be flexible.
The most interesting part of the book’s divination section is about performing magic with Tarot cards. The author takes the meaning of “your future is not set in stone” to a whole new level by explaining how to change one’s future by changing the cards representing an underlying reality during a reading. This “intercession” ritual involves removing cards that represent a future that you don’t want and randomly selecting new cards until the cards represent a future that you do want. I find the concept somewhat unnerving. What if I don’t know what is best for me? Do I really know want I want, or need, in every aspect of my future? This dilemma is addressed to some extent in the book via an appropriate Words of Power statement that is part of the ritual. I do not have a problem choosing specific Tarot cards to represent a desired outcome when dealing with a personal challenge. However, I personally do not believe that *everything* in our futures can, or should be, changed and I am not comfortable meddling with my future in the way described in the book.
It is unfortunate that a number of facts were not corrected in the latest edition of the book:
The author’s explanation of the deosil direction as clockwise instead of sunwise, and widdershins as anti-clockwise, is only correct in the Northern hemisphere.
The book’s description of Tarot history is flawed, containing false myths such as:
The first Tarot decks seen in Europe were carried by Gypsies.
Tarot is the ancestor of modern playing cards.
The joker card is the only Major Arcana Tarot card (The Fool) left in the modern playing card deck.
Although Positive Magic was first published in 1978, Tarot scholars compiled and issued The TarotL History Information Sheet to address such false myths before the Revised Edition was published in 2002.
I understand that some of the facts relating to the history of Witchcraft, based on the discredited work of Margaret Murray, are also incorrect.
I have another more advanced book on magic by Marion Weinstein, Earth Magic: A Book of Shadows for Positive Witches (Revised Edition), that I will be reading in due course.
This was first published on 11 July 2011