Magic and Miracles

My AP History teacher was talking about animism and it’s relationship to magic, when on a completely unrelated note, she mentioned that Jesus “did magic”, but that to avoid offending people, we should call his “magic” miracles.Judging from her innocent tone but deliberate wording, it seems like she was trying bash Christianity without making her seem insensitive (not an uncommon occurrence), despite the blatant hypocrisy of her statement. But what is the difference between magic and miracles? Is it that miracles come from God and magic from elsewhere?

Every miracle I’ve heard of has been attributed to God either directly from Him or through someone with faith. Even in fantasy stories, miracles are attributed to the deities of the fantasy world.

From what I’ve read on why magic is condemned, it’s because one’s depending on one’s own methods or calling on powers they don’t fully understand.

Also going off the definitions from an internet search.

Miracle: a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

Magic: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

When it comes to your teacher, I’m not fully certain but I want to say magic is the term used by animist shamans hence it’d be appropriate to that religion. From a secular view, there’d be no difference between shaman magic and Jesus’ miracle (we know the difference of course) and I’m assuming you’re in a public school so while it could be a jab at Christianity, it could also be her way of trying to not offend the Christian students while also avoiding an overreaction from a parent that thinks any mention of religion in school is an affront on their rights.

There is the miracle of birth.
There is the miracle of life.
There is the miracle of Christmas.

These things are all real. Inexplicable, but real. Sure we know some facts about them, but each is mostly miraculous. We MUST take these miracles for granted. We know they are true first. Then we can start to explain some things about them, but not all.

Miracles are real. VERY real.

Magic on the other hand is deceptive. A trick. Magic plays with your perceptions and exploits your vulnerabilities to fool you.

Not the same thing at all.

My answer is: magic is manipulation. Magic is not real; it is trickery: there is no such thing as magic. Magic belongs in fairy tales and fantasy movies.

Miracles really happen: they are real events which are without natural explanation.

Now if by magic we mean the devil performing actions in the world that also can’t be explained, that’s not magic either. Rather, it’s the opposite of a miracle, and here we get poltergeists and some fortunetelling, and the manifestations of demonic possession. It’s the devil doing things which are also inexplicable.

Yes: your teacher was putting Christ down while pretending not to. Her attack is bad, and her pretense makes it much worse.

So Christ is a magician like a cheap con man or entertainer. Or Christ is no more real than His miracles: since your teacher equates the latter with magic which doesn’t exist, it would follow that she is saying He is not real.

I wonder what would happen if you asked her to clarify whether she meant Christ is a trickster or is Himself a fairy tale. If not either of those, then what exactly did she mean by Christ’s “magic”?

(And why does she feel so free to insult your religion?)

Keep the Faith!

Jesus’ miracles are worthy of being studied.

Start with the book: “Eucharistic Miracles” by Joan Carroll Cruz.

Also: “The Eucharistic Miracles of the World”

Also: read the most recent book and view the most recent video on The Shroud of Turin.

Here is the difference.

Modern Catholic Dictionary:

MIRACLE. A sensibly perceptible effect, surpassing at least the powers of visible nature, produced by God to witness to some truth or testify to someone’s sanctity. (Etym. Latin miraculum, miracle, marvel; from mirari, to wonder.)

MAGIC. The art of making use of the forces of nature by certain occult observances that have a religious appearance, or of courting the secret influences of the invisible world. Magic may be either natural or preternatural.

Natural magic is based on the theory that nature is full of many objects whose hidden, protective or curative, properties can satisfy practically every need or drive away a host of evils. The problem is to find these objects. With their uncritical mind and animistic prejudice, tribal worshipers easily turn from a valid exploitation of the physical forces of nature to a superstitious cult of the unknown, in the form of charms, philters, auguries, omens, the art of divination, and respect for scores of sacred prohibitions and taboos.

Preternatural magic is a kind of antireligion that has its own orders of worship, incantations, evocations, rites, fetishes, sacrifices, priests, and meeting places. It is black magic when the purpose is malevolent, and white magic when the intention is to obtain some benefit for oneself or another. The basis of preternatural magic is some form of animism, which believes that material objects or nonhuman living creatures possess preternatural powers that can be invoked or appeased by hidden or occult means. (Etym. Greek magikos, magician, magical, from magos, Magus, magician.)

Then we should also call Science “magic”, no?


The difference between magic and miracles is very much like the difference between idolatry and true worship; by understanding this second set of opposites (idolatry vs. true worship), we can better understand the first set (magic vs. miracles).

FROM A RESPONSE TO ANOTHER TOPIC THAT I PUT UP ON THIS SITE: “ancient idolatry involves a belief that there is one God, but he’s too important, ignorant, or perpetually angry with people to be involved with them. In order to deal with this, ancient pagans, knowing that they did not have a Divinely revealed and established covenant with him, and, probably on account of the fact that they did not therein know him, or, because they rejected his true covenant high priestly representatives (such as the Hamites rejecting Shem and building the Tower of Babel), deified their kings (ancestor worship), made the sons of the deified kings into “living images” of the new “gods.” When these kings died, people believed that they could conjure the spirits of these dead “gods” (although, in reality, these were the demons, according to the Book of Enoch OR the fallen angels pretending to be the souls of dead kings, according to Catholic Tradition) into stone or wood items of worship, idols, which were also “images.” The people then offered sacrifices (signifying total dependence) to these, and inquired of them for secret knowledge or power. Idolatry is always associated, even in the Bible, with magic (the use of ritualized actions, names, incantations, in association with an idol, to manipulate reality to a desired end, rather than depending upon the True God to work for what one prays or asks Him for), animism (the propitiation and magical use of the souls that were believed to be in all things, or of disembodied spirits), fetishism, etc. Technically, then, idolatry is the worship of death itself, dead persons, deliberately against the Living God who also eventually incarnated and rose from the dead! Our faith is the fulfilment of the distorted longings of the pagans, making straight their crooked lines, as well as the ultimate antidote to idolatry! The reason I wrote this long explanation is because, knowing this, it is liberating to never again doubt the valid use of icons and statues in our parishes! The Saints are more alive than us (in the fullness of Grace, alive in the Heavenly Temple with the Living Lord, unlike fallen kings or evil spirits) and we certainly DO NOT conjure the wicked dead and evil spirits into icons or statues! And, besides, we don’t offer icons or statues actual sacrifices! lol”

BACK TO OUR TOPIC: Our Lord, as the True and only God, when working miracles, allowed his Divine Nature to manifest itself through his Human Nature (he touches, spits, speaks). The power came from his own Authority and Majesty, as a Divine Person, and from the One Shared Divine Nature that he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit acted with Him, and the Father acted through Him). Whenever he used matter, such as when he spit in the mud to give eyesight to the man born blind, he never invoked any “dead” spirit within the mud, like an animist would, nor did he conjure up and place any such evil spirit into it.

You’re absolutely right, then, when you said that miracles come from God, and magic comes from the author of death, satan himself. Another important thing to remember is that magic will be limited because satan and demons are limited creatures, whereas a miracle done by God can be unlimited in power, such as the creation of the universe from nothing. Consider also the duel between Moses and pharaoh’s magicians; while they could, for example, make their staffs turn into a snake, Moses’ staff swallowed up theirs, and, later, they could no longer do what Moses was doing.

One more important note: in the ancient world, magic was at times feared but also mocked as being weak and unimpressive, or, recognized most often to be mere deception. When Jesus and the Apostles, however, did miracles, the people (many Jews even practiced magic then) were shocked, having never seen such power!

Why would God allow such a thing to exist in the first place though?

What a peculiar question.

Why *wouldn’t *God allow such a thing to exist?

Catholic Encyclopedia:

Catholic theology defines magic as the art of performing actions beyond the power of man with the aid of powers other than the Divine, and condemns it and any attempt at it as a grievous sin against the virtue of religion, because all magical performances, if undertaken seriously, are based on the expectation of interference by demons or lost souls. Even if undertaken out of curiosity the performance of a magical ceremony is sinful as it either proves a lack of faith or is a vain superstition. The Catholic Church admits in principle the possibility of interference in the course of nature by spirits other than God, whether good or evil, but never without God’s permission. As to the frequency of such interference especially by malignant agencies at the request of man, she observes the utmost reserve.

Arendzen, J. (1911). Occult Art, Occultism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Miracle (Catholic Encyclopedia)

A miracle is a manifestation of God’s power; so long as this is not clear, we hould reject it as such.

Miracles are signs of God’s Providence over men, hence they are of high moral character, simple and obvious in the forces at work, in the circumstances of their working, and in their aim and purpose.

Driscoll, J.T. (1911). Miracle. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Science has nothing to say about either. They exist beyond its limited sphere.

Miracles are anything God can do that violates the law of nature or physical circumstance without the use of any instrumentality whatsoever. Jesus raised the dead, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind because He is God. Plus He did other things as well.

Magic is a calling on a force, that is forbidden, and is not permitted. There are accounts in the Bible where magic was used. And people who had some unnatural ability.

Acts 16:16

Parallel Verses
New International Version
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.

New Living Translation
One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters.

English Standard Version
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.


Parallel Verses
New International Version
She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”

New Living Translation
She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

English Standard Version
She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”


Parallel Verses
New International Version
She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

New Living Translation
This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

English Standard Version
And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

It is interesting to note that some will consult books that claim to be real but which contain falsehoods, deceptions and the means by which evil spirits can enter them under false - nice sounding - names to “help” them. Beware.


This was such a good question, thanks for asking it! I learned something today. It’s funny how this very same thing nibbled at the back of my brain for awhile but never thought to really pursue why some things are miracles and why some things are magic, and define the difference between the two.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit