Scientific research into ‘psi’ effects – telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, etc. – has been published in peer review journals for the last 150 years, notes one of the most well-known of all parapsychologists, Dean Radin, in his latest book on the topic. These experiments were not explicitly designed to test ‘magic’, he says, but rather to use the scientific method to examine anomalous powers. But, Radin writes, when these studies are actually viewed through the lens of esoteric traditions, “testing magic is exactly what these experiments were all about”:
Force of will has been studied in the context of investigating mind-matter interactions… Divination has been studied as variations of clairvoyance or precognition. Theurgy has been investigated in the laboratory typically in the form of mediumship studies.
This is the central theme of Radin’s Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe (available now from Amazon US and Amazon UK). In this, his latest book touching on psi research, the renowned researcher takes a rather stunning leap from previous efforts in explaining the dry science and statistics of complex parapsychology experiments to the lay public, to straight up saying “magic is real”.
Those with a deep interest in both these fields, however, will be hardly surprised, as Radin really is just stating the obvious – the only shock is that it is coming from someone who usually speaks about the topic from a ‘hard science’ viewpoint. But throughout history, right back to the yogic claims about generating extraordinary psi powers through meditation – the siddhis – and shamanic tales of ‘traveling clairvoyance’ (remote viewing in the modern world), there has always been a direct link between magic and parapsychology. Radin here simply rips psi out of the sterile laboratories where it has languished for the past century, and explicitly returns it to its esoteric roots.
That’s not to say that lab research into psi has been detrimental – as both this book, and Radin’s previous books have shown, scientific parapsychology offers us a way to evaluate and better understand these strange phenomena. But for Radin, it’s reached a point where he’s moving on from the evaluation side of things. “After decades of conducting psi experiments, publishing many journal articles describing the results, and reviewing thousands of other experiments in my books,” he announces, “I’ve come to accept that psi is a real phenomenon.”
The reader gets the distinct feeling that Radin has had enough of being the dour, sober nerd explaining lab experiments that, while offering significant results, register in the decimals in turns of effects. “All fledgling scientists”, he notes early on in the book, “learn to maintain a serious, sober demeanor at all times, even if they’re secretly wearing Spider-Man underwear”. He clearly doesn’t feel constrained by those restrictions any longer.
Radin throws his “serious, sober demeanor’ aside in the first half of Real Magic, diving into the topic of magic and the occult with zeal – the first chapter discusses its omnipresence in modern culture (occulture); the second how psi and magic relate; the third chapter offers a primer on the occult and how the modern world became ‘disenchanted’; chapter four is a history of magic, from prehistoric times to now; and the fifth chapter gives tips on how you can practice magic yourself.
In this first half of Real Magic, Radin now seems more fascinated by larger scale magic/psi – including some of his own experiences, such as an extraordinary set of synchronicities that occurred in the year 2000 when he was in search of some office space for a research institute (you can listen to him talk about it here).
It isn’t until the sixth chapter that the ‘old Radin’ returns, with discussion of the scientific evidence for psi/magical effects. And it’s quite a turn-about from previous chapters, with plenty of graphs and scientific talk in what is a very long chapter relative to the first five. However, this section at least did seem to me to be a bit more reader-friendly than some of the scientific discussion in Radin’s previous books.
And then, once again, in chapter seven Radin returns to the topic of ‘large-scale’ psi effects, this time recounting tales of how certain individuals throughout history seem to have had powers beyond those of average humans (‘Merlin-class Magicians’ is the title of the chapter) – in particular, discussing the feats of St. Joseph of Copertino, D.D. Home, and Ted Owens.
Chapter eight, “Toward a Science of Magic”, then meshes up positive psi research results, areas of science including quantum physics and information theory, and the idea of consciousness being fundamental, to predict a way forward, before chapter nine wraps things up.
On the whole, with this book Radin seeks to simultaneously return psi research to its roots in esoterica, and update the “moldy” field of magic to a new and improved “scientific magic”. The former, he says, will “evolve into a new scientific discipline” which will study “the psychophysical nature of reality, that mysterious, interstitial space shimmering between mind and matter.” While the transformation of the latter, he says, involves letting go of “the baggage of archaic ceremonial practices” and focusing on the real source of magic – the mind:
The essence of magic boils down to the application of two ordinary mental skills: attention and intention. The strength of the magical outcome is modulated by four factors: belief, imagination, emotion, and clarity. That’s basically it. The ceremonial robes, somber settings, black candles, secret handshakes, chanting in ancient languages, sex, and drugs – all are good theater, which may help in withdrawing the mind from the distractions of the mundane world. But ultimately, they’re unnecessary.
I’m sure all those interested in either magic or parapsychology (or both) will find much of interest in this book (although those who have been studying these topics for some years might find parts of it relatively ‘basic’). It offers a fantastic entry-level primer to both of the main topics (magic, and psi research), along with a number of excellent insights into both topics, both from Radin himself as well as the sections where he draws upon the research of various scholars and pundits (e.g. in the section on magical traditions he quotes the likes of Ronald Hutton and Gordon White).
There are some negatives. The fictional, future-predicting preface – while obviously trying to keep things light-hearted – for me was a bit over-the-top, and not the way to start a book from a respected parapsychologist and deep thinker on these issues. And indeed, overall I did feel some concern about one of the leading lights of parapsychology offering a rather big stick to the field’s critics for future rhetorical beatings: along the lines of “he’s not a scientist, he thinks he’s Harry Potter”. And Chapter 5 had a bit of a feel of being a New Age ‘guide to doing your own magic at home’ that you’d normally find from occult publishers, with sections on how to create sigils and so on – which isn’t so bad, except for how much it contrasted with the deep dive on fascinating topics that surrounded this chapter.
But it must be noted that Radin, while obviously enthusiastic about the topics of both psi and magic, also remains cautious – so much so that on a number of occasions he warns readers that these topics require that you keep a critical mind: “the line between real and illusory can become uncomfortably thin the moment one opens the door to the possibility of genuine magic”, he points out, and anyone dabbling in it should therefore be cautious. “Dropping down the rabbit hole into the unknown is exciting, but it’s not without risk.”
But overall, Real Magic is an excellent read for anyone interested in either the occult or parapsychology research (so basically, the readership of The Daily Grail!), and is a welcome attempt at evolving both of those fields. “If we can get past the supernatural connotations, the religious fears and prohibitions, and the occult baggage”, Radin states in the conclusion, “then through the scientific study of magic we have the potential to make rapid progress in gaining a better understanding of who and what we are.” Who could argue with that?