This is part 1 of a 2 part series about theory and practice in magic. I've started with theory, because in my opinion the word theory is not accurately used by the majority of people including it in their writing. The word theory is one that has become conflated with a variety of meanings and associations. I'd argue that how theory is often used, in Paganism and in general, isn't really in line with the meaning of the word as it applies to the scientific method. In other words, a person chooses to use the word theory but how s/he uses it has less to do with the scientific method and more to do with cultivating a certain image associated with the word. If theory is used in context to the scientific method then the theory is a 'proven' hypothesis which has been tested and replicated by multiple people, all who have gotten the same results. The theory is valid as long as the same result is replicated each time, but becomes disproven if the result isn't replicated. In that context, theory is actually a part of practice and is used to demonstrate what a person understands about practice, but also is used to test that practice.
How the word theory seems to be applied, when people use it, is more along the lines of providing a generalizing statement about a topic. Said statement is speculative and nothing is really proven. The word theory becomes a kind of paper shield. It looks impressive so we use it to make what we discuss seem impressive. Used in this way the word theory seems to be used in the classic Aristotelian sense of the word, where no doing, no practice occurs beyond the formulation and expression of the theory. In contrast there is practice (which I'll cover in my next post), which involves doing, an essential activity to really experiencing anything life.
The latter use of the word theory is unfortunately used a lot. It leads to a lot of speculation, a lot of discussion and very little doing. Armchair magicians, in particular, love this kind of theorizing. I find it to be boring and less than useful. Theory without practice is a lot of hot air, with no engagement, no experience occurring. I find that when the word theory is employed in discussions about magic and metaphysics in general the result is a lot of speculative conjecture thrown around for the sake of doing it. Theories abound about why magic works or why deities are or aren't real, or any number of other metaphysical topics. But does it even matter? All that kind of conjecture leads to is an intellectualizing of magic, which in turns creates a distance that from doing the actual work. My question is: Does your theory work?