Magic: What Is the Place of Medicine?

Magic is an action or power that cannot really accomplish the effect it claims. Think of a voodoo doll. According to our modern worldview, there is no literal, causal connection between the doll and the person it represents. Therefore sticking a pin in the doll has no chance of actually hurting that person. This sense of the word is reflected in the statement, “And how exactly did you plan to accomplish this—by magic?” This is the sense in which the Course uses the word “magic.” It is an agent that, according to the way the universe really works (the universe being true reality as the Course sees it), cannot do what it says it can do.

When the Course uses the word, it really has in mind stage magic, in which you look as if you are creating a certain effect, but, according to the laws of reality, the means you are using cannot create that effect. You appear to be breaking those laws, yet, in fact, you are not. All you are doing is producing an illusion of creating that effect.

Faith in medicine is misplaced faith

“Your faith is placed in the most trivial and insane symbols; pills, money…and an endless list of forms of nothingness that you endow with magical powers.” (W-pI.50.1:3)

What promises do you see pills making to you? How is it that they can’t deliver on these promises?

“You really think a small round pellet or some fluid pushed into your veins through a sharpened needle will ward off disease and death.” (W-pI.76.3:3)

Do you believe that pills and shots can ward off disease and death? How is it that they can’t? Notice that he describes the pill and the shot as neutral forms, stripped of all content. He is implying, in other words, that they are just forms. Yet disease and death are content, and content is of the mind. How can mere physical forms make a change in real mental content? How can small pellets and fluid pushed into your veins rid you of disease and death, which are of the mind? This sentence, therefore, is very similar to the one in which he makes fun of our belief that sticking little bit of glass in front of our eyes can make us see.

Physical medicine cannot cure, only waking the mind from the dream cures

“‘Cure’ is a word that cannot be applied to any remedy the world accepts as beneficial. What the world perceives as therapeutic is but what will make the body ‘better.’ When it tries to heal the mind, it sees no separation from the body, where it thinks the mind exists. Its forms of healing thus must substitute illusion for illusion. One belief in sickness takes another form, and so the patient now perceives himself as well.

“He is not healed. He merely had a dream that he was sick, and in the dream he found a magic formula to make him well. Yet he has not awakened from the dream, and so his mind remains exactly as it was before. He has not seen the light that would awaken him and end the dream. What difference does the content of a dream make in reality? One either sleeps or wakens. There is nothing in between.” (W-pI.40.1:1-2:7)

If you imagine that you are actually in a dream, and that in your dream your body gets sick, and that you then find a magic formula that heals your body, how does this make you look at the illness and the body and the medicine? Do you feel that you have really accomplished anything? What is the real problem and has that problem been solved?

This passage is clearly suggesting that by finding the magic potion and having your dream body get well, nothing has really happened. Instead, your real sickness—being asleep—has not been cured. You are still just as asleep as you were. Your “mind remains exactly as it was before.” The only real cure is waking up.

The cure is temporary, and so is not a cure

Healing the body is impossible, and this is shown by the brief nature of the “cure.” The body yet must die, and so its healing but delays its turning back to dust, where it was born and will return. (S-3.I.:4-5)

Have you ever thought of this when you “cure” some physical condition—that your body is just going to die anyway? Do you see how this connects with the definition for magic that I gave earlier?

The body cannot be sick. How can it be cured?

“For when an unforgiveness is not recognized, the form it takes seems to be something else [a sick body]. And now it is the “something else” that seems to terrify. But it is not the “something else” that can be healed. It is not sick, and needs no remedy. To concentrate your healing efforts here is but futility. Who can cure what cannot be sick and make it well?” (P-2.VI.4)

The best way to understand this passage, I think, is to use the image from a passage two sections before this passage. That passage says that guilt is the source of illness. The reasoning is not too hard to guess. If you feel guilty, you will believe you deserve punishment, so you project illness onto your body as a way of giving yourself the punishment you “deserve.” Here is the passage I’m referring to:

“Illness can be but guilt’s shadow, grotesque and ugly since it mimics deformity. If a deformity is seen as real, what could its shadow be except deformed?” (P-2.IV.2:6-7)

Let’s break this down. Guilt is like an inner deformity. It is a deformed self-concept, a self-concept that says that you are a mutant, a monster. It views you as deformed. This deformed self-concept then casts its shadow on the body, causing physical deformity, physical illness. Your concept of yourself as deformed projects and becomes a physical picture of you as deformed.

So we have a deformed shape, and the deformed shadow it casts. If you don’t like a shadow, what do you do? Do you try to fix the shadow? No, that would be ridiculous. You have to fix the shape the causes it. Our attempts to fix bodily illness are exactly like this—attempts to fix the shadow and leave the shape casting the shadow completely unchanged.

The real disease remains and will produce new symptoms

“What is symptom cure, when another is always there to choose?” (P-2.VII.2:5)

“Only false healing can give way to fear, so sickness will be free to strike again. False healing can indeed remove a form of pain and sickness. But the cause remains, and will not lack effects.” (S-3.II.1:1-5)

“Perhaps an illusion of health is substituted for a little while, but not for long. Fear cannot long be hidden by illusions, for it is part of them. It will escape and take another form, being the source of all illusions.” (P-2.IV.7:6-8)

Going back to the image of the shape and the shadow it casts, even if you were somehow to manage to erase the shadow, that shape will simply cast a new one.

Why does medicine appear to work?

“The acceptance of sickness as a decision of the mind, for a purpose for which it would use the body, is the basis of healing. And this is so for healing in all forms. A patient decides that this is so, and he recovers. If he decides against recovery, he will not be healed. Who is the physician? Only the mind of the patient himself. The outcome is what he decides that it is. Special agents seem to be ministering to him, yet they but give form to his own choice. He chooses them in order to bring tangible form to his desires. And it is this they do, and nothing else. They are not actually needed at all.” (M-5.II.2:1-11)

When your body got sick, your mind was just engineering this to give form to its desires. When your body got well, your mind was engineering that, too. It brought to you the medicines you needed to remove the symptoms you no longer wanted. But your mind could have just removed those symptoms directly. It didn’t need to use middlemen.

I think this scenario takes two different forms. In one, the patient has decided that he no longer wants the cause of the illness—the cause in the mind. So he lets that go, and then attracts to himself the medicines that will remove the symptoms he no longer wants. In the other, he still wants the cause in the mind, but no longer wants these particular symptoms. So he attracts to himself the medicines that will remove them. Yet he will soon be selecting new symptoms to express that underlying cause.

Why does the mind use the middleman of the “special agent”? I think it is because the mind is attached to believing that it is subject to physical laws. If it just instantly changed its body directly, without any physical medicines being involved, this would too deeply disturb its picture of reality. So, even though the mind is what is puppeting the body, it needs to maintain the illusion that the body is changing because of physical agents. So it draws into its dream a physical agent that appears to effect the healing, thus keeping the patient’s belief system intact.

The compromise approach: conscious magic

“All material means that you accept as remedies for bodily ills are restatements of magic principles….The first step [was] believing that the body makes its own illness. It is a second misstep to attempt to heal it through non-creative agents. It does not follow, however, that the use of such agents for corrective purposes is evil. Sometimes the illness has a sufficiently strong hold over the mind to render a person temporarily inaccessible to the Atonement. In this case it may be wise to utilize a compromise approach to mind and body, in which something from the outside is temporarily given healing belief. This is because the last thing that can help the non-right-minded, or the sick, is an increase in fear. They are already in a fear-weakened state. If they are prematurely exposed to a miracle, they may be precipitated into panic. This is likely to occur when upside-down perception has induced the belief that miracles are frightening.” (T-2.IV.4:1-10)

This is a fascinating discussion, which almost all Course students note and remember.

The situation is one in which someone is applying (or expressing) the Atonement to someone else. This is made extra clear in the paragraph that follows this (which I have not quoted). This person, the miracle worker, has a choice: Does he perform a miracle on this person, or does he try to heal that person through medicine (or recommend that that person use medicine?)?

If that person would be precipitated into a panic by the miracle, then it is wise that medicine be used. But it should ideally be used in the clear recognition that this is a compromise approach. Medicine is used, but used in the recognition that the mind’s belief is giving the medicine its power. The mind consciously gives the medicine temporary belief in the medicine’s powers. The mind says, “My mind is what is doing all the changing in my body. This medicine is really just a placebo, just an excuse for my mind to effect the changes it wants. I will play this game consciously; I will consciously choose to believe that this medicine has actual power. But I will do so temporarily, because my final goal is to make full use of the fact that my mind is the sole power here.”

The compromise approach, then, is halfway between mind and matter. It uses matter, but in the recognition that mind is giving the matter its power—and doing so temporarily. You can see this in the passage: “something from the outside [matter] is temporarily given healing belief [mind].”

If the healer is afraid to heal with the mind, he or she should use magic instead

“Magic is the mindless or the miscreative use of mind. Physical medications are forms of ‘spells,’ but if you are afraid to use the mind to heal, you should not attempt to do so. The very fact that you are afraid makes your mind vulnerable to miscreation. You are therefore likely to misunderstand any healing that might occur, and because egocentricity and fear usually occur together, you may be unable to accept the real Source of the healing. Under these conditions, it is safer for you to rely temporarily on physical healing devices, because you cannot misperceive them as your own creations. As long as your sense of vulnerability persists, you should not attempt to perform miracles.” (T-2.V.2:1-6)

The theme of this paragraph is simple. This part of the Text points out that being afraid makes you unable to work miracles. If you are afraid, then, do not attempt to perform a miracle. Instead, give someone some physical medicine. This is magic, true. But if you tried to perform a miracle and it actually worked, you might use the results to puff up your ego (since fear and egocentricity usually go together). You might say, “This healing came from me (rather than the Holy Spirit). Look at how amazing I am.” Instead, give the person some medicine, because you cannot claim credit for the powers of the medicine.

Do not ask the Holy Spirit to heal your body

“When the ego tempts you to sickness do not ask the Holy Spirit to heal the body, for this would merely be to accept the ego’s belief that the body is the proper aim of healing. Ask, rather, that the Holy Spirit teach you the right perception of the body, for perception alone can be distorted.” (T-8.IX.1:5-6)

This clearly says that we should not pray for the healing of the body, which leads us to the next category:

False spiritual healing: healing that aims “energies” at the body

“Distinctions therefore must be made between true healing and its faulty counterpart….As prayer within the world can ask amiss and seeming charity forgive to kill, so healing can be false as well as true; a witness to the power of the world or to the everlasting Love of God.

“False healing merely makes a poor exchange of one illusion for a “nicer” one; a dream of sickness for a dream of health. This can occur at lower forms of prayer, combining with forgiveness kindly meant but not completely understood as yet….

“False healing rests upon the body’s cure, leaving the cause of illness still unchanged, ready to strike again until it brings a cruel death in seeming victory.” (S-3.I.5, II.1, 6)

False healing is where you don’t follow the counsel of the previous passage that said “do not ask the Holy Spirit to heal the body.” False healing is spiritual healing that aims at curing the physical symptom, that aims healing energy at the body. It is, in essence, no different than physical medicine.

We think that what makes a healing method spiritual or not is the method itself. The more that natural ingredients are involved, or the more that non-physical energies are involved, the more “spiritual” that method. From the Course’s standpoint, though, as long as the healing aims its powers at the body—whatever form those powers take—it is false healing. In the Course’s view, what is important is what the healing is aimed at. If it is aimed directly at healing the mind’s perception, then and only then is it true healing.

We see this in the passage about the compromise approach. There, if you read the paragraph after the one I quote, it is implied that the healer is still giving a miracle. He is still giving the same love to the patient that will heal that patient’s mind. He is just giving it in the form of some physical medicine, because the patient couldn’t handle the miracle in undiluted form. This approach is supported by the Course, while praying to the Holy Spirit for the healing of the body is not.

What does this say? It says that what is really important is an approach that aims at healing the patient’s mind, even if this approach doesn’t look spiritual. This is better than an approach that looks spiritual—such as prayer—but is aimed only at the body.

Briefly write down your personal hierarchy of healing methods, ranging from least spiritual to most spiritual.

Now go through and class them according to whether their healing powers (either physical or non-physical) are aimed at healing the body (label those with “B”), or are aimed at directly healing the mind (label those with “M”), and only indirectly aimed at healing the body.

Once you have done that, realize that that distinction is the only one that matters. All the B’s are false healing, while the M’s are true healing.



[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]