There are various kinds of magic. Essentially, it is just this: changing the world to suit your desire. It can be done gradually with tools, and then is considered no kind of magic at all, but just “doing stuff.”
As I said before, sorcery or bulldozers. It’s all the same, really.
I would try to define it differently, but really there’s nothing other than “not by normal means” that will do. I can add that in — “changing your world, not by normal means, to suit your desire.”
The simplest method is expectation — expect the future to be more suited to you than the present, and wait for that to come true. It allows for failures in faith because, instead of being one instantaneous flash forcing a change to reality, it’s more of a constant nagging, incessantly requesting a little something and reality, eventually, will give way.
You see expectation in many religions, as well as the “Power of Positive Thinking” guys, and it has been sanctified by the Scientologists. I believe in the power of scientology, because it’s nothing other than optimistic expectation (with some symbolism to power it). At least, from what little I know about it.
Not far behind expectation is symbolism. It is a very common kind of magic, and absolutely central to the idea of Social Constructionism. Symbolism uses an easily manipulable symbol (concrete or abstract) to reference a less manipulable object (concrete or abstract). Once a sufficient similarity has been established between symbol and object, manipulating one affects the other.
The ultimate example of this is language itself. We use word-symbols to reference reality and, by changing and using names, we are able to alter reality. I’m doing it right now, and every one of you is under my spell (at least for a moment, until you manipulate your own word-symbols right back into the shape you want them).
I highly recommend symbolism — it’s the story-teller’s main craft. The purpose of myths, archetypes, and legends is to provide a single symbol for a highly abstact (but highly significant) concept. By saying, “Man can be this” and putting forth Odysseus or King David or, yeah, Jesus, you can then use the symbol in direct details in ways you couldn’t trying to describe all the vast kinds of Man.
(Yeah, that’s why I capitolize it, I’m doing that very thing.)
One of the most commonly-used and absolutely dreadful kinds of magic is the symbolism of self-image. We have this idea that “I am this” and “I am this bad” and “I have these weaknesses,” and we create an entirely imaginary symbol that we call “I” — and let me tell you, self-image is a LOT more manipulable than an actual person — and we twist it and turn it and, over time, become as people more and more like the symbol.
There’s a good counterpart to the same thing, naturally. We just don’t use it NEAR enough….
I’m not positive on this, but I’m fairly confident Man is not the only creature capable of manipulating the void. I don’t know whether I draw this from the Bible, or just from Milton, but it seems like Satan and all his demons have the same faculty. I imagine the demons are those angels, Heavenly beings with the capacity to shape reality but not the ability (because there is nothing intangible in Heaven, all of it is Real Truth, all of it is Established), and so they abandoned Heaven, in their pride, for the opportunity to muck about.
I don’t imagine they’re any more powerful than we are. Probably less so. But they’re also mostly Outside — they have SEEN Real Truth, so they have no trouble recognizing how very much of reality is entirely insubstantial. So they have an easier time of it.
And that gives them the illusion of great power, superhuman strength, and so throughout time people have turned to demons (faeries, what have you), asking them to change the world for US. And that is the same as sacrificing your authority over reality in order to have one, for the moment, more like what you want. You’re stepping OUT of your constructed world, into theirs. A dangerous place to be.
This is probably closer to what you think of as magic. It’s a systematic manipulation of reality based on a pre-defined Symbol structure. I really like the classical elements (Earth, Fire, Air, Water), so I’ll use it as an example. Wizardry describes all of reality as a combination of these symbol-pieces and suggests that if you manipulate just the BASE pieces, everything else will fall into place.
You can add to the Air in a bird, and it will fly higher, or add to its Earth and it will drop like a stone.
Eventually, Wizardry becomes basically mathematical, at which point it becomes kinda boring. And, yeah, you guessed it, I’d refer to all of modern Science as precisely this.
Sorcery is really just something I like to imagine for my novels. I can’t really conceive of it existing. Sorcery is the manipulation of Real Things. Changing or controlling the base energies and powers that are reflected in our Constructed realities. Sure, God could do it, but he’s got no reason to. Even if there were sorcery, it would still only allow for manipulation of Real Things, whereas God holds the power to CREATE them, giving him still the trump card.
That said…I haven’t gotten NEARLY far enough in this conversation for you (or even me) to clearly picture what a Real Thing might be like, or how it could be manipulated (other than manipulating its reflection, which is just normal, everyday magic).