I want to pick up on something Jack discussed that I didn't get to cover in my previous post.
It's to do with destiny and the will of the gods.
He quotes Crowley as writing "it is impossible to perform the simplest act when the Gods say no."
We have all experienced this. Sometimes the universe is malleable. Othertimes it just say non. (The universe is French, by the way.)
So what are the implications of this? If the broad sweep of destiny isn't in your hands, what's the point of practical magic at all?
Here is where I go to Tolkien for advice.
When the Lord of The Rings came out, Tolkien expressed surprise at readers thinking it wasn't a very Christian book. Presumably they meant it wasn't an execrable, horrifying, Biblical allusion like that other inkling's appalling work.
But he was surprised because, in his own words, Catholicism "was on every page".
I don't think it was the early readers' fault because it confused the screenwriters, too. Particularly when it came to the Eagles, which Fran Walsh referred to as "Middle Earth taxis".
In her eyes, it looks like lazy writing: Tolkien must have written himself into a corner and got out of it by saying "and then the Eagles came and got them". This was particularly frustrating as a screenwriter because the cinema audience was liable to ask why they didn't just hop the nearest eagle to Mount Doom and drop the ring in.
The convoluted answer the writers came up with was that the Nazgul would have taken them out before they arrived.
Except that isn't it.
The answer is hidden in some of his other works: The Eagles aren't actually part of Middle Earth. They are the eyes of Valinor. They are how the Valar watch what happens in Middle Earth. The ring has no power over them because they are not of the earth, and none of the wizards (specifically Radagast and Gandalf) can call them for the very same reason.
When they appear in the narrative, that's Tolkien saying -essentially- "God showed up". God did something He rarely does, which is directly intervene in a miraculous way in worldly affairs.
The Eagles, like miracles, are something you can't count on. They may show up, they may not. You just have to get on with it anyway. You have no choice.
At the end of Return of The King, when the Eagles appeared: That was a miracle. But the battle had already been joined. They were hoped for, but they weren't counted on. The men of the West were prepared to fight to the very end for the tiny remaining hope that Light would prevail.
One of the best descriptions I have read for Lord of The Rings is that it is a "rallying call against despair". Remembering that Tolkien was at the Somme in WWI, it is no surprise that his understanding of Catholicism was "on every page":
Even in the face of absolute darkness, or horrendous odds, we must strive, we must fight, we must always choose to act as if the outcome is not God's to decide.
But we must also know that, ultimately, it is.
I like to think of myself as pretty Catholic in that way.