Does magic work during depression?

Depression does not make magic fizzle, but it may make it harder to care about magic in the first place. There is some debate about whether magic is powered by belief or by will, but depression can dampen either.

First, some definitions: here, “magic” is the understanding that it is possible to manipulate forces that thus far defy easy measurement (such as probability) to influence the outcome of events. “Depression” refers to the mental state that is characterized by a propensity for a more negative outlook and reduced motivation, among other symptoms.

Ivo Dominguez, Jr. was one of the many people to generously offer time and knowledge as I wrote Empty Cauldrons: Navigating Depression Through Magic and Ritual. Dominguez told me that during an experience of depression, “the world is grey, food isn’t as good, nothing’s as lively.” During the height of magic, “it’s the reverse,” with colors seeming brighter and hyper-realistic. There is a “melding, a blurring, everything more united, yet sharper in focus.” If the sensory experience is that different, does this mean that depression and magic are antithetical, that they do not coexist?

Not necessarily. Dominguez performed a lot of magic while in depression, and found that an aftereffect is often a respite from the condition. Not everyone I spoke to found that this was the case, and I think the difference is that Dominguez has trained on magic the way some people train on weights. Perform the same actions often enough, and they can be taken over by autonomic functions of the brain. Depression directly impacts conscious thought and deed, but if it doesn’t touch the unconscious and automatic parts, that may explain the difference.

Courtney Weber, another of my sources, recalled a spell cast during depression that worked to tremendous effect. It also seems to have had a much more destructive impact that the target desired. Dominguez says that emotion is tied to the movement of energy, including through magic. What I draw from this is that the subtle senses used to calibrate the spell are dulled or blocked. I think of times when I have had to walk on feet numbed from being sat upon: I can do it because my muscles know the drill, but it’s clumsy because my nerves aren’t sending any feedback about the terrain.

Magic does work during depression, but 1) this is not the best period to learn how to use it and 2) your awareness of the effects may itself be depressed. Training and practice are the best ways to ensure your resilience to do this work, because during depression your casting may seem like it’s into a boundless void. Cast with care, because relying solely on reflex and training may be disconcerting. Cast with need, because love and duty can help you find reserves about which you were unaware. Cast with faith in the unseen ones with whom you are allied.

Yes, Virginia, there is magic, even during depression.

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