These specialists claimed to be acquainted with and comprehend the multiplicity of religious traditions around them. They knew the secret words and rituals required to communicate with the demons, deities, spirits, and the dead across a broad spectrum of religions. At their disposal were mysteries that had been handed on from generation to generation that permitted them to regulate, control, and manipulate these invisible forces. A Jewish book of mysteries (Sefer Ha-Rezim) recounts how Noah was the recipient of mysteries he was unable to master but that he and successive generations passed on until received by Solomon, who mastered them. These experts had in hand remedies for the many ailments that inflicted human beings: from spells for binding a lover and charms for direct vision and winning at dice to healing fevers, coughs, scorpion stings, and discharge from the eyes. Wondering sages such as Moses, Apostle Paul, Jesus, Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the Circle Drawer, and Plotinus, among numerous others, were endowed with power to exorcise demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and bring an end to drought. These ritual experts had been gifted from on high and given access to a higher spirituality. Because they were powerful, ordinary mortals sought them out so as to receive from them what they desired most-a hedge against a hostile environment and union with the gods.
Magic was not the exclusive reserve of the specialist but was inclusive of all who wished to avail themselves of it. The literature of antiquity is extensive and documents an astonishing array of techniques and rituals designed to assist humans in their quest to communicate with divine beings. Recitation of prayers, fasting, meditation, abstention from certain kinds of foods, staring at fixed points, hyperventilating, bellowing, and using the body to achieve altered states of consciousness were just a few of them. A common desire of mortals was to seek union with the gods in order to achieve direct vision, heightened awareness, foreknowledge, and memory. On other occasions, mortals yearned to ascend into heaven as an enquirer and behold the secrets of the universe. Or, they longed for encounters with the divine for the purpose of being imbued with a god-like nature. Remarkable prayers were part of the repertoire for encounters with the divine. Prayers guided and protected the initiate from the advance of hostile gods angered by mere mortals daring to trespass on their territory. Proper preparation was absolutely essential because direct encounters with deities were fraught with danger.
As in the ancient world, success and health are important for many in today's world. So also is mediating the celestial powers for the benefit of humans. In many parts of the world today, ritual performances to achieve success are alive and well. Powerful patrons of the supernatural, such as voodoo priests, shamans, witch doctors, medicine men, clairvoyants, preachers, and priests continue to ply the trade of mediating the sacred for anxious and troubled human beings. These ritual experts of sacred power are common in Eurasia, the Americas, and Australia. Shamans worldwide engage in vision quests and seek internal transformation, cleansing, and reconnection with the spirits of the earth and universe in order to facilitate the healing of body, mind, and spirit. Moreover, rituals integral to spiritual magic, such as meditating, praying, reciting mantras, staring at fixed points, abstaining from food, and centering the self, continue to be of significance to humans. These rituals frequently trigger ecstatic states in which one becomes possessed by the spirit and enters into a mystical union with the gods. States of spirit possession and mystical union with the gods are found in almost all known religions of the world and sought by both old and young.
A resurgence of interest in ancient and modern spiritualities is particularly noticeable among young people. Without the religious inhibitions and habits of adults, along with a healthy dose of curiosity, tolerance, and imagination, they are willing to experiment with spiritualities that depart from the traditional paths of religious expression. The New Age movement, Wicca, and Neopaganism with their focus on spiritual magic are but a few examples of current religious expression appealing to the youth of today.
It is during the transition from adolescence to early adulthood that a self-defined spirituality in youth begins to emerge. With the influence of family and extended kinship waning, and the influence of peers rising along with a clearly developing sense of autonomy, religious expression in adolescents takes on new shape. No longer obligated to hold on to the religious values and sentiments of the family, they favor a renewed spiritual vitality that suits them individually. Organized religion with its dogmatic formulations and staid expressions of piety during this period of increasing independence is exchanged for an interconnectedness with the universe in which other expressions of spirituality are actively sought. They are attracted to the multidimensional character of spiritual magic because it helps not only to cement a firm sense of self and identity but also to mold a spirituality that is in character with what that redefined self and identity is coming to be. Consequently, expressions of spirituality that focus on rituals of empowerment, self-expression, autonomy, and a connectedness with the universe are highly attractive to adolescents.