What do the following three things have in common: David Eddings’ ‘The Mallorean’, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Disney’s Aladdin. I’ll give you a hint; it is something about magic and is something the protagonist learns from a more learned person or teacher figure. Each of those three texts has a rule about magic in it. In ‘The Mallorean’ the immortal sorcerer Belgarath tells his grandson that you don’t use magic on the weather (and within the same conversation also includes Time), in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 5 I believe) Giles tells the eponymous Buffy she can’t use magic for healing and in Aladdin the Genie informs the again eponymous character that he can’t make a person fall in love (although technically speaking the Genie has three rules). In each situation there are reasons why the rule exists and for a change the reasons aren’t of the common sense variety. Respectively those reasons are: the grandson isn’t a 7000 year old sorcerer with an understanding of how the weather works, trying to do healing with magic doesn’t work but when it does it goes that special kind of wrong and though the Genie doesn’t specify why there is an implication that there is a reason.
The reality of things however is that there seem to be very few rules or restrictions, if any, on what magic can accomplish. Certainly, different paths and traditions and people all have different approaches. Perhaps the most famous ‘rule’ in Paganism and Heathenry today is the line “An’ harm ye none, do what thou will” from the Wiccan Rede. Far more numerous are the perceptions of the limitations of magic are, typically with an accompanying caution not to loose the boundary between fantasy and reality. Beyond the Rede and really that single line, and a few different ways of phrasing ‘do what you think is best’ and ‘do what you feel comfortable with’ you might almost think that there is an agreed upon aversion to rules within the community. Obviously I cannot speak to those traditions whose details are not for public dissemination for the obvious reason of my not being privy to their workings. However I can speak to the reason, which is quite simply because of Oaths.
Of the great plethora of topics that a group of Pagans and Heathens can talk about there is I think only one on which there will not be any discussion. Oaths are, for obvious reasons really, inviolate within the community and to break one is as close to a collective taboo as we can get. On the one hand this taboo doesn’t really make sense given a prevailing opinion that, very simply put, secrets are bad and certainly it makes things harder for those coming to Paganism and Heathenry to do research and develop an informed opinion. On the other hand there is a reason for taking oaths and having oaths and providing information for newcomers without breaking those oaths is not something that is overly difficult to do. I focus on newcomers researching Paganism and Heathenry because that has been the most regularly encountered reason for secrets being bad.
Given the prevalence of healing practices it seems highly unlikely that healing with magic is something that cannot be done. Similarly despite the many ways people say ‘no, I don’t do love spells’ there again seem to be sufficient methods to suppose that making someone love another person is also some that can be achieved. The weather starts to move into the realm of being a limitation or restriction to magic, its big and complex and already in a very delicate state so there are certainly lots of good reasons not to do too much magic involving the weather. Then there are things like raising the dead or throwing fire. Are these things really acts of magic that mark the limitations of our magic or are these things which we only believe are restricted to us because such acts are seen as impossible?