As the author of a book that takes the realness of magic in the 'real world' to a relatively extreme position, I think it's interesting to consider if magic is part of reality or plain fiction and if it is even relevant in this 21st century of smartphones, austerity, human rights abuses and social division.
What does 'real' mean?
Reality and realness can be said to be a combination of perceptions, beliefs and attitudes. Entire philosophies have been built around the ideas of reality and we can't touch them in a short blog post, so we're not going to try. But reality is likely to be relative to your experiences of the world, your perception of what is going on around you. Anyone who has a 'different' way of looking at the world---and is aware of their differences---can attest to that.
Psychic events cannot be easily said to be 'real'. Yet the opening incident in A Bagful of Dragon was inspired by an event that actually happened. When the perpetrator was confronted, they were so shocked at being discovered they admitted their intentional involvement.
But was it real? At least in that case, the admission meant there was a relatively objective agreement that the incident occurred. And there's the crux of the matter: objectivity.
For many people, if you can't view something objectively---see it, touch it, taste it---it is imaginary, and if it's imaginary, it isn't real. Sure, software exists. And electricity. But you can see the results of software or electricity, and so can your friends, your family and any random person.
Magic is often a subjective perception and it is this that keeps the incredulity flowing. Someone who doesn't believe in it isn't going to believe that an event occurred because of it. No objective proof means they will continue to disbelieve. A person who does a magic spell to obtain a good job may get what they want, but others will only see a person who is qualified for that role.
Absence of evidence may not technically be evidence of absence, but while many people are prepared to hedge their bets and say they think there might be 'something' more to the world and universe than what we currently understand, in a public space, most are not willing to state that they believe in magic.
Who uses magic and why?
In the introduction to Malleus Malleficarium (the instruction book of the witch-finding Inquisition), Montague Summers philosophises on the possible reasons why magic was ever used in any form. He misses the obvious, however. Magic is a tool of the disempowered. When nothing in the immediate real world can meet the needs of a person, they may turn to religion or magic to find resolution.
Perhaps that's why there is so much 'folk magic' out there. Not because poor people like to trick each other, but because when the chips are down and no-one is winning, magic done using free and naturally available substances such as herbs, minerals and a form of willpower, has been one of the only routes to provide hope. And not forgetting that throughout the ages, most ordinary people have been poor.
Even rich people---as detailed at length in Summers' introduction---have felt disempowered and have used magic as a means to obtain the seemingly impossible. In fact, as a political tool, magic has always been present. Even in modern times, it has been used to this end. Two cerebral haemorrhages may well be naturally occurring in an old man, but the people who inflicted this curse didn't think the probability was likely enough for their victim. They wanted to be sure. Was it mere coincidence that he died soon afterwards? If you believe in coincidence...
Is magic even relevant in our modern world?
When the mundane world is as amazing and beautiful as it is; when incredible events happen because provable science, and when we're able to do things that no-one even thought possible fifty years ago---never mind a century back---how can it be that magic is even relevant now?
It turns out that no matter what state the world is in---no matter how advanced---disempowered people continue to exist. Desperation, desire, need and want still have their place in society. Whether they have political aims, emotional needs, or buy into the individualism of capitalism and require material means by which to live, their needs are still very real and the barriers high. The modern western witch might carry a smartphone and buy crystals off the internet, but is no less likely to ask the universe to send his or her heart's desire---whether that's the downfall of the Patriarchy, their perfect lover, or the latest iPhone---via the transfer and manipulation of quantum energies.
So, is magic real?
Until science catches up, the objective proof is hard to find. Believers will continue to use it and claim that it works, and non-believers the opposite.
Where we discuss magic, this blog series intends to treat it as real.