Is Magic a Social Service?

The doctors did everything they could, but maybe I would die. I lay in an Indian hospital, and worried about it. Word got out that I'm a priestess. And whose daughter I am. There was supposed to be someone watching my door, but this lady got in. She held a little boy in her arms.

"He needs your blessing." she told me. I was in no condition to help anyone. I tried to object: I'm very ill. You're in a hospital, find a doctor. I can't help you. Please go away.

She looked confused, and a bit angry. She told me her son had seen doctors already. Then she challenged me: "You have to bless him. It is your duty."

And it was. I got (sort of) upright and put my hand, trailing the IV line, on him, I said some words. She wept with relief, thanked me, and then I was alone. I lived. I don't know if the kid did.

Religion is expected to help people. It provokes and demands our best, but more than that religion can organize people to take concrete steps. Temples can lead the charge in charity, social welfare and -- in much of the world -- education.

But what if they can't?

Christianity does charity well. They believe in helping others -- that's standard for almost all religions -- but they have the resources and organizational capacity to truly make good. That's something not all religious communities have.

Vodou is a great example. I'm a priestess of both Hinduism and Vodou. Vodou helps people face and overcome the pains of everyday life. Salvation isn't "up there" or at the end of 10,000 mantras. Salvation might mean making the rent and having enough left for groceries. This is the religion that freed a nation from slavery and helps millions of people cope with daily poverty. Vodou is in the trenches. On the streets.

But there's a limit. Like many minority religions, it's a question of resources -- a temple will (hopefully) always be there for its members, offering support during crisis. But that's a far cry from the impressive social service organizations that Christianity (or Hinduism) bring to bear. The differential is part of what keeps minority faiths minority.

Magic to the People is working to change that.

The brain child of my friend and colleague Drew Jacob, Magic to the People applies traditional religious elements as a social service to change lives. Drew is an itinerant priest of the Irish gods, a philosopher and most recently an initiate into Vodou. Like many priests I know, he also casts spells. And he intends to make those spells available to everyone.

If you're not familiar, magic is alive and well. Many communities around the world turn to traditional spells for everything from domestic problems to improving financial conditions. These are spells designed to deliver real, tangible results. If you don't believe in the benefits of religion or magic, I'm not here to change your mind. Drew and I have questions too, the subject of many late night conversations and debates. We're both agnostic about the source of magical and spiritual experiences. But we have seen that prayers and spells have a profound psychological function -- sometimes giving comfort, but often delivering results that the seeker has in mind.

We are ordained in "alternative" religions. There's a limit to how much time the clergy can give; there are few people who are able to support themselves with this work. We are often struggling to survive. That means much of the magical work falls to private practitioners who make their living at magic, and charge accordingly. A ritual spell can take hours, even days to complete and may cost hundreds of dollars.

That puts magic out of reach for the very people who need it the most.

Drew's leveraging a "street clinic" structure to remake that model. With Magic to the People, the door will be open at set times for walk-ins. Anyone who shows up gets their spell immediately. There's no charge; Magic to the People will survive on freewill donations: not donations from the people who are seeking help, but from strangers. To cover the startup cost, Drew is crowdfunding Magic to the People on Indiegogo. I believe he has the experience and integrity to make the project a reality. In addition to the ambition to try this, he has had the humility to ask the support of practitioners across the country, especially in New Orleans, where this project is based. Walk down the street in New Orleans. Magic is part of the culture. It's available to anyone who can afford it. But, I believe that if we have the ability to help others, it is also our duty to do so.

I recommend you take a look at Magic to the People yourself and, if you can, give your support.

This effectively treats magic as a social service -- something I've never seen before. Magic to the People isn't out to convince anyone that magic is real, and it's not intended to replace qualified medical or psychiatric guidance. It's for those who already believe. If we can take cost out of the equation, people of all backgrounds will have equal access. We're willing to donate to religious and social service organizations that give people comfort and help; I'm curious to see if this innovative effort will gain support.

People are knocking at the door. They believe we can help them. Will we try?