Magic and Science: Sharing a Language, Divided by Choice?
by M E Beardsley
A paper originally conceived for the cancelled 2022 Dion Fortune Legacy Seminar
The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the links between magic and science. It will consider issues that have arisen when applying the methods of one to the practise of the other and will touch on some of the challenges that face occultists and scientists today.
I discussed previously the historical cause of the division between magic and science and demonstrated that the division is not, and never was, real.  Those matters will not be repeated here.
As this paper was originally conceived as a talk for the cancelled 2022 Dion Fortune Legacy Seminar, it is appropriate first to touch on some of Fortune’s views about the relationship between magic and science.
Fortune observed that “The nearest approach to accuracy may be to say that occult science begins where natural science ends. This is unquestionably true as far as it goes, and is a useful practical definition; but, unfortunately, the boundary-line, though clearly marked, is not fixed, but resembles rather a line of demarcation between land and sea on a falling tide” and “Exoteric science may be conceived as raising a noble and permanent dome in stone, and esoteric science as being the timber scaffolding that holds the unfinished walls in place until such time as the keystone is finally dropped in position. As each fresh course of masonry goes in, the timber comes out, for it is no longer needed; and as each new discovery adds to the domain of exact scientific knowledge, esoteric science withdraws further into the Unseen, still serving its purpose as a temporary framework that enables men’s minds to operate and life to be carried on in a purposive fashion”. 
Whilst Fortune is here speaking of science and magic, it is notable that her words could equally be applied to a comparison of those things that science can explain and those things not yet fully understood by science. As scientific knowledge expands so the unknown shrinks. The fact that Fortune’s words can be applied to her perception of the difference between magic and science, and also to the difference between things that science can explain and things that science cannot explain, underlines the fact that science and magic are not as different as some may believe.
Should magicians and scientists be prepared to work together, to share and compare their experiences, then it is likely that benefits would accrue to both fields.
A potential area for such exploration is that relating to perception and consciousness.
Most people go through life observing our world in colour. Most take colour for granted, giving little thought to it, except when selecting the likes of clothes, or colour schemes for their homes. Few question why different people prefer different colours and few realise that the colours that they see are created entirely by their own eyes and mind.
The magician is aware that colour can be used as a tool to assist him in achieving his magical goals. The magician selects colours to aid in focussing consciousness. The colour chosen may depend on the specific goal of the piece of work undertaken. Colour is used by magicians across virtually the whole spectrum of disciplines in the Western Esoteric Tradition, from the colours of the Sephiroth on the Tree of Life to colours attributed to the cardinal directions and the four Elemental kingdoms. In such work the magician often explains what he is doing by reference to raising consciousness, or raising vibration, to match the level to which the magician wishes to become closer. The magician uses colour to help him to achieve that aim.
The scientist knows that colour is created by the eye and mind of the individual in response to light of particular frequencies. He knows that any colour perceived is not a characteristic of the thing observed but a reaction to the light that comes from it. When light falls on an object, some light can be absorbed. The photons of light that are absorbed are those that are vibrating (have a frequency) the same as the electrons in the thing that the light falls on. It is only the photons that are vibrating with different frequencies that are reflected from the item into the eye of the observer. The observer’s eyes and mind then create an illusion of colour that is projected out so that the object appears to be of some particular colour.
It appears likely, therefore, that it is the specific frequency of the light reaching the magician’s eyes that assists him in focussing his awareness on his goal of raising consciousness to different levels.
The frequency of light in the visible spectrum extends from about 4 to 8 x1014 Hertz (1 Hertz is one cycle/oscillation per second).
A photon is a unit of light, a package of light energy. The photon is an interesting thing, sometimes seeming to behave as a particle and sometimes appearing to behave as a wave. Photons have no mass, so they are not matter; they have no form. Perhaps it is because photons of light have no form, and so seem to exist at the boundary between force and form, and because they can vibrate across a potentially endless range of frequencies, that they can be used by the magician to help to change his consciousness, to raise the vibration.
This can be taken much further. The range of visible light forms only a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, ultraviolet light, x rays and gamma rays. There may be no limit to the frequencies that can exist, and most of those frequencies are not readily perceived by the senses of human beings. All these things of various frequencies, that we often consider to be quite separate things, are all made up of the photons. The only difference between them is their frequency.
How we perceive the world depends on the level of vibration of photons that are reflected from what we are looking at. The magician uses vibration to connect with the level he wishes to achieve. Is then the whole of our universe, and arguably any parallel universes and/or different levels of existence, dependent on, or created by, vibrations? This would be consistent with many of the theories of physics concerning the interaction of force and form. Some such theories propose that all matter is formed from some base unit, be it considered to behave as a particle or a string for example, the nature of its form depending wholly upon its vibrational condition. This again would be consistent with the magician’s use of raised frequency to connect with different conditions and beings.
In a similar way, some magicians use sound to assist in their work, whether that be rhythmic drumming or more musical sounds. All these are simply vibrations of different frequencies.
I suggest that much could be gained by the magician and the scientist sharing their knowledge and theories of the practical use of frequency/vibration to assist the human mind. The magician knows that colour can assist him in his work but he may be less familiar with the possible nature of that light and how he might use it to better effect. The scientist knows why colours appear as they do and may be familiar with theories regarding the elusive boundary between force and form, but may be less familiar with the practical ways in which colour can be used to assist the mind. A meeting of minds on those matters may prove of value.
Returning to Dion Fortune’s views of science and magic, she claimed a further difference between science and magic; “Esoteric science begins where exoteric science ends. The latter derives its knowledge from observation and phenomena; the former works by intuitive methods”. 
Any scientist or engineer who has been involved in research or in technical investigations may take issue with the second sentence of Fortune’s quote. She appears here to be saying that intuition has no part to play in science. That is far from true when carrying out original scientific research and investigations. Certainly, the first step by the scientist in these circumstances is to gather up such knowledge and facts as are known, then to identify what it is that is unknown and what needs to be known. It is not unusual for intuition to play a part when the scientist determines what may be the best course of action to try to establish those unknowns. The scientist will then test the ideas that intuition has given him to establish whether they are or are not correct. Thus, intuition has a part to play in both magic and science.
Perhaps it was not scientific research that Fortune had in mind. Her assertion appears more appropriate to the application of existing information and knowledge. As explained above, when someone first formulates a piece of scientific research, there will almost always be some intuition involved in the formulation of the way forwards. However, once the scientist goes about the programme of investigation that he has formulated, the work involves the application of scientific method and does not involve intuition. Similarly, if someone decides to reproduce that work for some reason, or if the findings are published and used by other workers, there is no intuition involved in those activities. The magician who formulates a new piece of magic, a ritual for example, relies on intuition when preparing that ritual. In contrast to science, subsequent working of a previously written ritual is not effective if it involves no intuition.
It is this difference between science and magic that gave rise to the debacle of the investigation of The Brocken Tryst. Harry Price (1881 to 1948), a contemporary of Dion Fortune, claimed to bring scientific practices to the investigation of the occult. However, in contrast to a scientist who must keep an open mind, Price appears to have shown bias against ritual magic from the start. He stated that his “principal object in staging the Bloksberg Tryst was to ridicule the idea that magic ritual, under modern conditions, is still potent…”. 
He claimed that he had a nineteenth century copy of a fifteenth century manuscript of a ritual. The purpose of the ritual was apparently to change a goat into a young man. He carried out the ritual at the specified location, Brocken/Bloksberg, Germany, and reported that there was no change in the goat in consequence of the ritual.  He noted that “The scoffer” would claim it did not work because those carrying out the ritual had no faith and went on to assert that any who believed they have seen it work were “in a state of autohypnosis or self-induced trance” and that it was an “hallucination”.
Fortune questioned the validity of Price’s experiment. [4,5] Having attended a meeting held by Price to explain what he was going to do, it appears that she was aware that Price’s aim was far from scientific. She observed “Mr Price’s purpose in undertaking the experiment is, I understand, to prove conclusively that ceremonial magic is all rubbish because, although he will carry out the instructions to the letter, the lovely young man will not appear, and he hopes that all who are misguided enough to be interested in such subjects will realize their folly and abandon their studies”. 
Fortune assessed the information regarding the ritual and compared it with her understanding of the content of effective rituals. She observed that the diagram showing the symbols to be used on the ground for the ritual appeared to be spurious. She noted that the triangle was within the circle for the Broken Tryst rather than the usual configuration of a triangle outside the circle, the circle being for the protection of the magician and the triangle being where the spirit would materialise. She noted that the goat should have been in the triangle but, in the Brocken Tryst, it was not. She questioned the use of different colours for the circle and triangle. Harking back to our discussion of colour earlier in this talk, it is notable that Fortune observes “The red-colour scale suggests one set of ideas to the mind, and blue suggests another”.  Fortune concluded, on the basis that some of the symbolism appears to be appropriate, that the manuscript may have been produced by someone who had seen the ritual performed but who had misremembered details. She observed that the experiment would be effective as publicity for Harry Price but would be useless as an investigation into ceremonial magic.
Here we have an example of the sort of circumstance that keeps science and magic apart. Price purported to take a scientific approach but demonstrated that he did not. He was evidently biased in his aim. He apparently made no effort to determine to whether the purported ritual was genuine or not, and he apparently performed the ritual as a piece of theatre. Fortune, on the other hand, being one of the folk that he would presumably condemn as misguided because of her interest in magic, assessed the nature of the symbolism and procedure laid down in the manuscript to determine whether it appeared to be a genuine ritual and so more closely followed scientific method in her assessment of the ritual.
Price observed that some, “The scoffer”, might attribute the failure of the ritual to a lack of faith on the part of those taking part. I suggest that, whilst lack of faith may play some part, the principal feature lacking in his theatrics was intent. Without the conscious intent of achieving the goal then success could not be expected whether or not the ritual was genuine. Knight observed “The main difference between magic and theatre lies in the subject matter and intention”. 
This is an important point for the researcher, be he magician or scientist. When researching magic, the influence of intention cannot be ignored. That is the fundamental difference between practical magic and practical science. The magician must be clear of his intention and remain focussed on that throughout the work. The scientist must be open minded and unfocussed in terms of seeking a specific result from an experiment if his results are to be free from potential bias.
It might generally be expected that investigations involving magic and science are most likely to involve scientists exploring magical practices. However, Annie Besant (1847-1933) and her collaborators brought occult investigation to bear on what might normally be considered to be in the field of science. Besant, who is understood to have had some scientific training, attempted to use her esoteric skills to research the structures of elements and compounds, and to attempt to determine the nature of the matter that makes up all things (the “ultimate physical atom” which Besant says is itself “an exceedingly complex body…composed entirely of spirals” ). She observed “Now man possesses senses, capable of evolution into activity, that are able to observe objects beyond the limits of sensitiveness of the five senses. These latter organs receive vibrations from the physical world, but their capacity of reception is comparatively narrow, and vast numbers of vibrations, still physical in their character, leave them entirely unaffected. The keener and more delicate senses of the astral body are latent for the most part in men of our race, and are therefore not available for general use. Yet they afford instruments for the observation on the higher levels of the physical plane, and bring under direct ken objects which from their minuteness or subtlety escape ordinary vision”. 
Here Besant refers to the human senses being limited to perception of certain levels of ‘vibrations’. Whilst she does not elaborate on that, it is likely that she is referring to the limit of human observation to colours in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum and of sound in the audible frequency range. Both of these are specific ranges of vibrations.
It is unfortunate that much of her work in this area was not published until much later,  some period after her death, and after huge advances in the field of orthodox science.
Her published findings include complex descriptions and diagrams of the structures that she said had been observed. In my reading, it is difficult to say whether any of her observations correlate with what is currently known about the structure of atoms and the elements. She referred to many different combinations of structures and numbers of combinations of ‘ultimate physical atoms’. Given this array of numbers and combinations it would be expected that it would be possible to spot some correlations with what is currently known about the structure of the atoms of the elements. However, given the huge range of proposed shapes and numbers, any correlation may be coincidence. I do not mean to imply that I believe her work to be incorrect, nor that I believe it to be correct. Whilst knowledge of the structure of the atom is far more advanced now than when Besant first started her work, it is far from complete, albeit tools such as particle accelerators, the Large Hadron Collider, for example, undreamt of in Besant’s day, are now available to assist with the investigations. Until we know the nature of the ultimate thing that is the basis of all matter, if we ever do, then it will be unwise to condemn Besant’s work as entirely wrong, nor accept it as entirely right. That does not stop the determined.
Clewell and Phillips,  theosophists, laud the work of Besant and claim “The fundamental importance of their discoveries is just dawning on scientists who dare to step beyond the confines of materialistic reductionism”. They appear to fail to provide any authority or facts to support their assertion.
In contrast, McBride,  an academic scientist at Yale, aimed a strong attack at Besant’s work. He suggested that Besant’s structures were based on knowledge of the scientific understanding of the atom at the time and claimed “From beginning to end Occult Chemistry is a tale of deception and gullibility…”. McBride drew on Besant’s work to illustrate his principal points, which appear to be notes for students. He recommended the application of “healthy skepticism” to reported findings and observed that “Repetition of experiment, formulation and testing of unambiguous predictions, and honest analysis of probabilities are better guides in scientific matters”. These are valid recommendations. However, it is notable that he did not aim his criticism at the findings of Besant’s work, but principally at the method. Indeed, he noted that some atomic models in conventional science have no greater experimental proof than do Besant’s structures. His principal criticism appears to be the possibility of “skulduggery”, and the lack of evidence of other people having been able to reproduce the work of Besant and Leadbeater.
Reproducibility is certainly critical to orthodox scientific work. It is more difficult in the area of occult science, where a limited number of people may have the skill (and/or inclination) to validate such results. It is perhaps analogous to the issue of the exciting results from the muon g-2 experiment  in orthodox science where confirmation of the results first reported in April 2021 are eagerly awaited, but, unfortunately, there are not too many appropriate particle accelerators available to reproduce the work.
McBride recommended “skepticism” yet he appears to go too far in that direction. He appears to have set out to ridicule Besant’s work in a biased way, much as Clewell and Phillips appear to have taken too much of an uncritical approach. This problem of too much credulity, at one end of the scale, and too much scepticism at the other end of the scale appears to be inherent in much work published about the interfaces of magic and science.
The scientist, McBride, did not limit his criticism to occultists “Students must be aware that reporters can be dishonest like Leadbetter, as well as misled or deceived by Nature, or their fellows, as were Crookes, Lodge, and perhaps Besant”. 
The Crookes referred to by McBride is Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), a much-respected chemist and physicist who, amongst many other things, discovered thallium and invented the Crookes tube, an early cathode ray tube. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, President of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Member of the Society of Psychical Research and Member of the Theosophical Society.
He had a deep interest in the activities and skills of mediums. However, he was shown at least once to have been duped by a young lady who claimed to be a medium. It is unfortunate that such incidents can overwhelm other researches into the occult, such that one case of proven fraud can lead to genuine clairvoyance being discounted, as appears to be the case where the occult researches of Crookes (and others) are concerned.
Here again, however, when dealing with the occult and science, much in the public domain appears to be at one extreme or the other of credulity and scepticism.
Criticised by McBride, Crookes was, in my opinion, lauded to the verge of hero worship in a 2021 talk by the Society of Psychical Research.  The speaker appeared to be entirely oblivious to the fact that Crookes was, and his work still is, well respected in the scientific field. The speaker proposed that all the accolades given to those who followed on from Crookes and developed his work should be given to Crookes. This ludicrous suggestion perhaps at best harks back to the habit up to the late Middle Ages of folk attributing their own work to a previous authority in order to give it greater credibility. During the question session the speaker appeared to discount any suggestion that Crookes had ever been duped or been wrong. In my opinion, such evidently biased and arguably ill-informed presentations are detrimental to the credibility of magic, the occult and psychic research in general.
It is notable that today few, if any, of those held out to be leading scientists admit to any interest in magic and the occult. In contrast, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many of the leading scientists had a keen interest in the occult and included it in their areas of activity and their research.
The reason for the close connection at that time is readily understandable when considering the state of scientific knowledge and the main areas of research and development.
The development of understanding of the atomic and sub-atomic was very much in its infancy. Electrons were a new concept. The Curie’s work on radiation came to fruition and Rutherford was considering the possibility that an atom could be made to disintegrate. Understanding of matter and space was very different from today. The concept of aether as being something that filled outer space, a theory dating back at least to the early Greek philosophers, was still considered valid at the end of the nineteenth century.
Telegraphy was in its infancy and was the subject of much scientific research. Scientists were seeking for understanding of what it was in space/the aether that vibrated to allow telegraphy and thought reading. If the way that brain waves were transmitted could be understood perhaps that would aid in developing telegraphic communication. If the psychic forces that allowed mediums to rattle tables could be harnessed perhaps the way space could carry messages would become evident. These areas were not seen as separate, but as potentially relying on the same matter in space that allowed transfer of the likes of thought, brain waves, and energy by vibration of that matter.
Those who have an interest in the scientific research being carried out into mediums and spiritualism over that period may find the highly readable book by Noakes  of interest. Noakes suggests that the decline of scientific interest in these areas was a consequence of the development of telegraphy to the stage where it was becoming practically applicable and had potential for commercialisation. In consequence, scientists abandoned the research into mediums and spiritualism in favour of the commercial opportunities in the infant telegraphic industry.
This is an interesting observation, not least because it correlates with my theory that the decline of scientific research into magic from the late Middle Ages onwards was a consequence of the withdrawal of the church from the field of scientific research. The church scientist was replaced by the gentleman scientist up until about the time of the industrial revolution when the professional scientist was created, thus limiting research largely to that aimed at commercially exploitable developments. It would be hard to produce an acceptable cost benefit analysis for research into the occult.
An important point to note is that it appears that scientists did not stop research into the occult because of disbelief in its capability, but because other areas offered greater opportunities for funding of research in consequence of potential commercial exploitation.
It is unfortunate that commercial reality brought an end to the close collaboration between science and magic. Had the researches continued then it seems likely that much more work of high quality would have been aimed at the nature and capability of consciousness.
It is notable that frequency, vibration, resonance, oscillation plays such a part throughout the areas of science and magic touched on in this paper. The scientist and the magician rely on vibration and things that vibrate in their work and in their researches. The magician raises his consciousness so that his vibration correlates with the level he is trying to reach. The scientist knows that our perception depends on the frequency of the waves that reach our bodies. Some of the theories of the how the universe(s) work, such as string theory, suggest that everything is created by the same base ‘matter’ vibrating at different frequencies. Is the scientist and the magician using ‘vibration’ and ‘frequency’ in the same way? It appears that they may be. The concepts are close enough that any difference is immaterial and, in any event, the concepts are not understood fully by current knowledge in either field.
Surely there is a strong basis here for the magician and scientist to work together to develop scientific and magical understanding and capability. Yet the two fields are still largely divorced. I believe that one of the factors that leads to the continuing separation of the two areas is the extreme views taken by a few. As stated in an earlier publication, in my experience as a professional scientist and engineer, most scientists and engineers are not closed to the ideas of magic and the occult.  Indeed, it would be a poor scientist who would close his mind to any possibility. Yet there are some who claim to have scientific knowledge who publish work at the extreme end of scepticism, criticising any credibility in magic and presenting science as though it has the answers to everything. Similarly, there are some who claim to have magical knowledge who publish work at the extreme end of credulity, lauding anything and everything claimed to be magical, and sometimes attacking science as something bad.
The magician and the scientist who want to move forwards in an atmosphere of closer understanding, and with greater potential for mutual development of the fields of magic and science, have to overcome the hurdle of prejudice engendered by the biased material churned out by a few.
As I write this, the countdown is underway for the launch of Artemis I as man resumes his exploration of the Moon and Mars. And as I write this, pictures generated by the James Web Space Telescope are taking us closer to some form of understanding of our origins, as well as delighting us with their majesty and beauty. And the concept of aether, abandoned at the start of the twentieth century, has, more recently, been replaced by knowledge that we have no idea what it is that makes up most of our universe.
The scientist is reaching out physically to develop a greater understanding of the universe, of our place in it and of how we might best move forwards. The magician is reaching out with consciousness to the same purpose. The tools are different. The aims are the same.
My goal is to try to assist in enabling us to move forwards, to develop closer understanding, respect and cooperation between scientist and magician. Of course, we must have the ability to apply an appropriate balance of scepticism and credulity. In that respect, I will sign off with the words of Dion Fortune. Whilst she aims her words at magic, I believe they are as equally applicable to science and those who purport to be its practitioners as they are to magic:
“I hope, therefore, my readers will realize that my interest in magic is not blindly superstitious, but is a research into certain little understood aspects of consciousness, and that when I say that I believe that there is something really worth investigating to be found in magic, I do not necessarily extend this charity to every incident and practitioner thereof”. 
1 Beardsley, M E, Magic and Science: Completing the Circle, The Inaugural Gareth Knight Conference, The Assembly Rooms Glastonbury, 26 March 2022 (online at: https://www.academia.edu/82223638/Magic_and_Science_ Completing_the_Circle?f_ri=60357)
2 Fortune, D, Esoteric Orders and Their Work and The Training and Work of an Initiate, Thorsons, London, 1987
3 Price, Harry, Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter, Putnam, London, 1936
4 Fortune, Dion, The Brocken Tryst: Part 1, The Occult Review, vol 56, July 1932, pp 21-25
5 Fortune, Dion, The Brocken Tryst: Part 2, The Occult Review, vol 56, August 1932, pp 102-107
6 Fortune, Dion and Knight, Gareth, An Introduction to Ritual Magic, 2nd edn, Thoth Publications, Loughborough, 2006
7 Besant, Annie, Occult Chemistry, Lucifer, November 1895
8 Besant, Annie and Leadbeater, C W (Jinarajadasa, C (ed)), Clairvoyant Magnification into the Structure of the Atoms of the Periodic Table and of Some Compounds, Theosophical Publishing House, India, 1951
9 Clewell, Andre and Phillips, Stephen M, Occult Chemistry Revisited, Quest, Winter 2015
10 McBride, J Michael, Direct Observation of Atoms through Clairvoyance, Chemistry 125, Yale University, 12 May 1999
11 Castelvecchi, Davide, What’s next for physics’s standard model? Muon results throw theories into confusion, Nature, 23 April 2021 (https://nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01033-8)
12 Tavares, Rodrigo Machado, The Psychical Research of Sir William Crookes, Zoom Web Event, Society of Psychical Research, 26 July 2021
13 Noakes, Richard, Physics and Psychics, Cambridge University Press, 2020