I’ve been reading with interest ideas about magic on Cat’s Blog and Red’s Blog this week. Red’s really got me thinking about how we square honourable relationship with magic. Now, what is normally called ‘white magic’ could be described as ‘asking for something nice magic’ while going round cursing people would be ‘black magic’ being horribly simplistic for a moment. But take apart ‘white magic’ and what are we doing? Asking for something we haven’t worked for, maybe something we want and can’t have. Nothing comes without consequence, even prayers for healing. If we all lived forever, magically, this world would not be viable. If we use magic to violate the laws of nature and the natural cycles of life and death, how can we square that with the idea of honourable relationship?
If we pray – let’s imagine that’s for a miracle to save a dying person – we are inviting a deity to look over the idea and, from their more enlightened perspective, figure out whether it’s a good idea. Sometimes the answer to prayer is a ‘no’ which is as well. Humans do not make decisions for the best reasons. We never see the bigger picture, it is inevitably beyond us. Driven by fear, hunger, greed, loneliness and all manner of things, we can and do want things we should not have, that aren’t good for us, and that harm others.
The more I think about magical acts that are basically demanding something be different, the less I like them. I don’t work that way myself, I’ve moved away from ideas of spells. Mostly the transformations I seek to achieve are within myself, where, as Red points out, I have every right to make change.
However, a magical perspective of the world has always been intrinsic to my paganism. I believe in the transformative magic of ritual and bard craft. I’m increasingly fascinated by prayer as a concept. I believe in the power of oath and pledges made to the gods. I also believe that magic flows and exists in the world – if I didn’t, there would be precious little point considering the ethics of using it!
I went down to the Severn this morning as the tide was turning. I watched the muddy curve of the river start to refill with water. There were seagulls, and an egret. The reeds were rustling and talking, the wind soft, the air warm. Everything was very alive, me included. The sheer intensity of presence intoxicated me. I sat for some time, just being there, and a thought began to formulate in my mind.
I don’t want the kind of magic that gives me the power to step outside of nature. I don’t want fireballs to zoom from my hands, I don’t want to live forever. I absolutely reject the magic of high fantasy. But when everything is humming with life, there is magic. Everything is full of it, me included. I am recognising what is. What if I understand magic as the means to enter into a dialogue with everything else? Much of ‘everything else’ couldn’t care less how I feel, or what I want. I would have to listen and give at least as much as I asked for things. There would be scope to learn, to deepen understanding. I might not change what is happening, but I might instead learn why it is happening and through that be better able to work in harmony with it.
I think about the people who firewalk, able to do it because they trust that the fire will not harm them. That’s a kind of magic. I think about asking the hills if I can share in their slowness and peace for a little while, or sitting with a tree and listening. That’s magic too. It has the power to transform. We can change each other by mutual consent. I can give, or receive. I can ask for help or guidance. I’m not asking some external force to obey my will or forcing anything to give me what I want. I may be asking for a favour, a kindness, conscious that ‘no’ is an answer that I might be going to hear. I might also hear ‘here is the thing I want in return’. I would also need to be open to the idea that other things could come to me for help in just the same way. The creature in the canal calling out for rescue. The land that wants litter removing. The air that wants to be clean. Sometimes I’m going to have to say no, too.
I think I’ve been trending this way for a while, between the prayer work and the contemplation of relationship, but between Red’s words yesterday, and the river this morning something has come into focus in my head. I have changed, consentingly, to a magic that has been worked upon me from outside. Red’s magic did not require me to change, but it gave me the opportunity to do so, and from here on, that’s the magic I am dedicated to working with.