Category Archives: Magic

Of writing and magic

For various and somewhat complicated reasons, I stepped away from magic more than a decade ago. I found I could not afford any ‘woo-woo’ thinking in my relationship with reality. I had prior to that been a person who worked with all kinds of interesting stuff and for whom enchantment was a significant thing. I do not regret the choice to step back – it was absolutely necessary in the situation I was in. I have, however, missed it greatly. I’ve missed feeling that I could connect with anything.

Sorely beaten up by events, and obliged to be very consciously un-enchanted, I came to feel that this just wasn’t for me anyway. Of course no deity would want to deal with me. Of course there would be no fairies, or encounters with spirits of place, or ancestral magic, or anything else numinous. My shattered self esteem did not leave a lot of space for anyone, or anything to love me in return. I certainly wasn’t going to risk deluding myself with the imagined love of Gods when I’d become pretty convinced that I was too rubbish to do love of people.

It’s been a long, difficult road. There have been moments of surprise and wonder along the way, but I have never made anything of them.

And then this happened. I wrote an obituary for the Hopeless Maine kickstarter that was, quite accidentally, loaded with significance for the person I wrote it for.  There is a blog about it over here – https://scottishdruid.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/a-death-a-rebirth-a-claiming

Reading it made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve felt there was any magic in my writing. How long it’s been since I’ve had a sense of anything outside of me tugging on the threads of my life. How much it cost me for it to be absolutely necessary to step back from all of that. How much of myself I lost in the process.

I don’t know if I can have those parts of me back. I’m in a much safer situation now, the external pressures and threats are no longer there. But I don’t really know how to do it any more. What was once innate, seems dead. What was at one time integral to my sense of self and how I moved through the world is lost to me and I do not know how to seek it. But, for a moment there, in a state of some kind of grace, I put together the words someone else needed, and that seems significant for my journey as well.

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Natural Magic

I turn my head without knowing why, and in the seconds when this happens, I see a deer moving through the undergrowth. Or a mouse running across the path. Or a buzzard swooping low through the trees, visible for a few seconds only to vanish from sight again. It happens a lot. After years of walking together, is also happens a lot for my son and husband. We’re alert to each other when walking so often when one person spots something, we all get to see it.

Some of this is about being present, paying attention and knowing where to look. There’s a knack to letting your eyes wander over your surroundings, not being too focused on anything, but being attentive enough to pick up movement and signs of life. There’s a knack to having your ears on alert for rustlings and other sounds, even when you are chatting. These are skills that anyone who has those senses available to them can develop with practice.

Some of it can be attributed to the way we are also sensitive to being watched. It’s not unusual to find the deer I notice were already watching me. But sometimes it isn’t that. A few nights ago I crept up on an owl from behind – it was some time before it became aware of my presence. Said owl was perched on a fencepost in low light conditions and I only saw them because I was checking the lane for hedgehogs.

But, there’s also the magic thing. Turning your head before there was anything to see in your peripheral vision. Stopping at just the right moment. Being in the right place at the right time. Some creatures have timetables they follow and some don’t, so being on the path at the moment when a deer takes her fawn across it is unlikely, but that sort of thing happens to me quite a lot.

Wild things tend to have an awareness of what’s around them that enables them to avoid human contact. I’ve watched deer watching people. Stay on the path and act oblivious and the deer could be motionless and yards away and will keep still and remain invisible. If you see the deer and watch them in turn, they become alert to you in a totally different way – often more wary, sometimes fearful, sometimes curious. There is an awareness in wild creatures about who and what is around that humans have the potential for, but mostly don’t bother with. To be outside and a little bit more like a wild thing is to be in a different and more aware kind of relationship with everyone else.

 


Then the magic thing happens

Magical thinking – as separate from a belief in magic – is the enemy of getting anything done. One form it takes is the belief that the magical thing happens and this is how you get from A to D – rather than having to do B and C. This can show up for example, in looking at the work a creative person does and assuming that this is because they have innate talent, not that they worked for it. The idea that talent is a magic thing that just happens to special people ignores the work that goes in.

I’m rather tired of seeing people treat social media as a magical thing that happens. The notion that we will put it on social media and it will go viral and that’s the marketing plan sorted… social media is not a magic thing. To make it deliver anything at all takes time and effort.

There is no fairy who comes round to bless people with special skills and alert them to those skills. We find out what we have some aptitude for by trial and error. And then, if you seem to have some innate knack for something, or enough enthusiasm for it, you have to take that and work with it. For years. Ten thousand hours is generally considered the necessary level of investment to become truly good at something.

I notice that the idea of a magic thing happening is especially prevalent in publishing – the larger the publisher, the more likely they seem to be to believe it. You publish books and then, for some of them, the magic thing happens and many copies are sold. Books to which the magic thing doesn’t happen are kicked into the long grass and their authors get no second chances. That books are in many ways just another product to promote and sell, and that many more of them would do well if anyone promoted them doesn’t seem to feature as an idea. Small publishers tend to be more realistic about these things.

Serious magical practitioners talk about the work involved in magic. The time needed to invest in developing skills and knowledge. Magic does not mean that a magic thing happens effortlessly and right out of the air. If you want to make something happen you have to put the time in laying the foundations. Magic will be unlikely to get you a job if you don’t do some active job hunting. Magic will be unlikely to bring love into your life if you don’t connect with people. Even in magic, there is no magic thing that sweeps in and does all the work for you.

The belief in the magic thing that happens is often a simple way of letting yourself off the hook for not doing anything. The magic thing did not happen to you, and so you did nothing. Failing to realise that you were the magic thing all along, and it was your action that had the power to make something happen.


The power of belief

Normally when we talk about belief in a Pagan context, it’s about what we believe in. However, there is also considerable power in who we believe in, and who believes in us.

When you believe in someone, it’s often because they lead and/or teach. That belief can bring all sorts of problems and benefits with it. The inspiration we can draw from good leadership and informed teaching is valuable stuff. The cost of belief in a fraud or scammer is enormous. And in between those two points are the people who are better at PR than they are at content, and whose shinny, alluring surfaces turn out to have nothing much underneath. Your belief in someone is a powerful thing.

Being believed in can be transformative. When I first met Tom, I was not in a good way. I had little confidence in myself and a great deal of anxiety about all the many things I’d been told were wrong with me, or not good enough. He saw something in me that I could not see in myself. He saw a person worth bothering with, worth getting excited about even, and he put that where I could see it. Repeatedly. I was intimidated by the distance between how I saw myself and how he saw me, but I also wanted to be the person he thought I was. Trying to live up to his faith in me has required me to grow and become a better sort of person. He’s also helped me question many of the things I’d been told about myself.

When we invest faith in each other in this way there isn’t the same kind of power relationship you get with leaders and followers. We can believe in each other. When we are able to believe the best about each other, we can lift each other up and inspire each other to be the best that we can be. When we share what we can see of each other’s potential, we can help each other reach into that.

A lack of confidence isn’t something most people achieve on their own. It’s a common side effect of abusive and bullying relationships. The person who has no confidence has far less means to resist a bully or abuser so dismantling confidence is often a deliberate part of that process. Lack of confidence can come from ancestral stories, it can be a wounding passed down through generations. It can come from prejudice and from ignorance. People whose dyslexia wasn’t recognised, whose autism wasn’t diagnosed, whose dyspraxia wasn’t acknowledged and all other things of that nature may have had a terrible time in the school system and come out with little self esteem. It takes the confidence of others to help undo that and to change the story. It’s very difficult to fix on your own what’s happened as a consequence of other people.

Placing your faith in another person can be a powerful gift. It can be a life changing action. To imagine that someone else sees you as worthy, and worthwhile can change everything. There is, without a doubt, magic in the power of belief.


Manifesting your desires

I find it interesting that there are a lot of new-age concepts out there about manifesting your intentions and positive thinking your way to the life you want, and far less about the process of making your life. There are times when positive thinking helps – visualising the way you want to handle a situation to help combat nerves is a good example. There’s only so far positive thinking can take you, and when it comes to manifesting things, if you don’t do it, who will?

Working with your own through process is a good first step towards making change. You have to picture it, dream it, shape it before you can put your will into the world. Magical thinking tends to be a good deal clearer about backing up the magic with relevant action. If you want the perfect job for you, there’s little point doing spells if you aren’t also filling in some job applications and doing some networking and getting the relevant qualifications.

It is so easy to miss the power of what we manifest in small ways on a daily basis. Body language and tone of voice. Small choices to do and not do. Little things we tell ourselves in our heads when we aren’t repeating the positivity mantras.

We don’t get to decide the course of our lives in every way – everyone else’s ideas, intentions and efforts impact on us. But, the more deliberately we live, the more we undertake to manifest what we value, the better. Which quickly flags up another interesting thing. You can’t simply choose to manifest wealth, or fame – you can pretend, but fake it until you make it is often a route to debt in this context. You can manifest love, generosity, patience, kindness, you can manifest your spirituality in all kinds of ways. You get to choose who you are, one action to the next, one word to the next.

The decision to live kindly, thoughtfully and well, from one breath to the next makes for a rich and interesting life. In terms of what we experience, how we choose to feel about things, what we choose to dwell on and prioritise has the most influence on us. If your basic needs are met, then the choice to experience joy and abundance is already in your grasp. Many of us would be much happier people if we stopped obsessing about how to be younger, richer, thinner and more popular, and learned how to take joy in what we have.


Druid Magic

There is a great deal of magic in the stories that modern Druids look to for inspiration – Cerridwen brewing in her cauldron of inspiration, Gwydion creating illusions, and making a woman out of flowers, supernatural feats of strength, love potions, fairies, giants, monsters… But very little that suggests what a modern Druid might do in terms of following a magical path.

For Druids who desire magic, this can mean simply picking up witchcraft approaches and either running that in parallel to Druidry, or finding ways to integrate it. That’s never really appealed to me.

What I have found over the years of doing Druidry, is that it has magical consequences. The process of seeking and deepening my relationship with the land has changed me over time, and opened up how I perceive and experience. It tends not to be a high drama path, and it is slow, and it is not the magic that can be deployed to serve ego or short term desire. Not that I think this is inherent in what witches do, it’s just that you can if you want to on that path.

I’m coming to think of Druid magic as something that flows from relationships. I’ve noticed my understanding and my capacity for intuition have improved somewhat. What I’m able to think has changed – these are hard things to explain and I think one of the tasks as I move forward is to work out how to more usefully talk about all of this.

For me, as for many Druids, inspiration has always been the key magical force within my path. However, how a person seeks inspiration will inform where it takes them. If we start with our own will and intent – as is often the way in magical work – we don’t get anything outside ourselves. The process of opening to whatever we hold sacred – gods, spirits, the land means that the inspiration we’ll find will come from somewhere other than ourselves. Where that takes us will not be where we would have taken ourselves if left to our own devices.

I’ve put in some years now of simply going out and making relationship. I feel like I’m at the very early stages of a process that has a lot of potential in it. I have no idea where it might take me. At the moment I’m asking questions about what comes next, and waiting to see what the answers are. I know at this stage that it is not the kind of magic that will give me much power for myself, but I think it might allow me to be a vessel, or a catalyst, or something of that ilk.


Dreaming your full time Pagan Life

What we do is informed by what we dream. That’s true of our daydreaming, and or our less intentioned night dreaming. What we absorb resurfaces in our desires to shape our intentions and our actions. Magic is all about will, but will is informed by many things we might not be aware of. Take a step back from your intent to check where it comes from and what’s feeding it.

Make time to dream your Pagan life. This is especially important if you can’t meditate or don’t have time for a daily Pagan practice. Make time – whatever time you can – to just sit down and daydream. I recommend a plant or a good window view or a nice outdoors setting for company if you can. Failing that, some Pagan art, your oracle cards, a crystal – anything that gives you a bit of Pagan-flavoured headspace. Imagine what it would be like to live a totally Pagan life.

What would you eat? What would you wear? What would your sleeping arrangements be like? What would your job be? How would you pay your bills? How would you get around? What would your family life be like? What would you do in your time off? And how would your spiritual practice fit in to all of this?

If you work with guides, gods or any other spiritual forces, you can invite them in on this process. Ask for guidance. Ask for inspiration. Keep doing it in whatever moments you can find and see what emerges. Find out what you really want from a full time Pagan life. Explore it imaginatively. Play with ideas – your first impulse is not necessarily your best one, you may need to dig in a bit.

Now, here’s the fun bit. There’s no direct action stage here. Just keep dreaming. Except that all our ideas are born of dreams and imaginings, and that what we invest energy in shapes us. You may feel moved to run out and make radical changes – feel free, it’s your life. You may not feel able to, you may not be able to see how to get to your dreams from where you are now. But, as you go along, your dream infused life will change, because you will make small, every day choices based on those dreams. The odds are it won’t be the dramatic shifts that really count in the long run – it will be the small, every day things that change everything. It usually is.

Dream who you want to be. Dream the life you want. Dream how best to manifest your Paganism in your life. I don’t particularly believe that like attracts like, or that what we focus on, we get. But I do know that what we think about colours every experience. How we think shapes our perceptions. What we focus on, we invest in. So often, things we are not conscious of get the steering wheel in our minds and lives – it’s the expectation of this that underpins every single advert you encounter. Take back your dreaming. Change everything.


Light, mist and intuition

Walking across the hills on Christmas day, the light was unusual. There was a thin mist or low cloud, with the sun coming up. The light was diffuse. Everything around me seemed quite colour intense while things further away had a washed out quality. There weren’t many shadows, and what there was served to emphasise what was nearest. This kind of lighting creates a strange, otherworldly feel.

What struck me, was this is how I’ve been colouring Hopeless Maine landscapes since the autumn. When I made the decision to approach colouring this way, it was about what I thought would work for the storytelling, and what I could consistently do. When it comes to conscious thinking, I have a really poor visual memory. Unless I concentrate on something, I won’t consciously remember what it looks like. However, I’ve clearly seen that misty light effect before. Some part of me probably knew and remembered.

For me this is an example of how apparently magical intuition often isn’t so inexplicable after all. We take in so much data, we can’t process all of it consciously. What comes in unconsciously will act upon us without our knowing it. This is part of how our environments shape us. When it happens this way, it is a blessing. We turn out to know more than we thought we did, we have inner reserves of wisdom and experience to draw on that come out as a feeling or an idea, not something we can immediately explain and evidence.

However, what else gets in, to inform our feelings and shape our responses? It depends a lot on what we expose ourselves to.


Cold Spots

In magical terms, cold spots are often associated with supernatural activity – usually of an unwelcome variety. They can of course happen for all kinds of reasons, and being wired the way I am, I like to look at those reasons before inferring anything.

I live in a landscape of folded hills and numerous valleys, with a lot of trees. This is a place where the shape of the land and the different positions of the sun through the year combine to create microclimates. If I walk anywhere, sudden cold spots are something I will encounter. There’s nothing uncanny here, or threatening, just the way the land and the sun interact. Frost lingers some places and seldom even forms in others during the coldest part of the year. Summer turns some places into suntraps, while others remain cool and shady.

This is not the kind of thing you can learn about a place by looking, or by passing through it at speed. A body needs time to notice this, to enter and depart slowly. This is the kind of knowledge that only comes with walking a place over time.

It would of course be easy to enter one of these natural cool spots without a body of knowledge about it, feel the temperature drop and experience that as a magical effect. I’ve talked about this before in terms of how we read signs from nature in the behaviour of birds and wildlife – if you don’t show up all the time, you can’t tell what’s unusual. A cold spot may be a highly significant thing – but only if you know whether a place should be cold or not.

Whether a cold spot seems welcoming or forbidding also depends on the context in which you encounter it. On a hot day, those naturally colder places can be an absolute blessing. If you are cold already, a really cold spot can seem threatening – that’s a perfectly reasonable body response to what’s going on. It may be tempting to read presence, malice or intent into the cold when the cold is harmful. What happens to a place if, over time, people passing through it interpret its conditions as unpleasant, negative or threatening?

Intuition is a response to a situation that you haven’t got the details on yet. We absorb a lot of information – far more than we can consciously process. Often, intuition is the result of a deeper level of processing identifying something before the conscious bit of the brain gets a look in. What we experience as ‘intuition’ can be a really reliable source of spotting and knowing, and a wholly rational experience. It’s when we start attaching stories to that experience that we can trip ourselves up. A sudden drop in temperature does represent a threat sometimes – but it doesn’t imply an intention.


Magic with Elen Sentier

A guest blog from Elen Sentier

Magic – such an evocative word! But what is it? There are probably as many definitions as there are people who talk about it.

There are many synonyms for the word magic – occult, enchanted, charmed, out of this world, supernatural, paranormal, mysterious, weird. I’ll bet many of you find some of those words very attractive. Magic’s opposite is the mundane and run of the mill. Those antonyms offer excellent clues why magic fascinates people, they want exciting and strange. Think holiday – going somewhere different, surprise is delightful, out of the everyday world for a couple of weeks. People think magic does this too.

Magic, for many, tends to be spells and rituals, dressing up, playing at being goddess or god, part of a theatre in which magic may happen. Theatre’s a Greek word and in ancient Greece it was sacred to the god Dyonisos, the god of wine, darkness, mystery, ecstasy, and madness in the sense of being out of the everyday mind. He’s shown as a sensuous, naked, androgynous youth and described as womanly or man-womanish – interesting thought for our times.

The dark womb is the place we can rebirth, get out of the box, free ourselves from the other-peoples’ scripts that have ruled our lives so far. Dionysian madness is necessary to break out of old ways and lifelong habits. It’s much easier to exchange one set of habits for another than to become naked, defenceless and vulnerable in order to discover one’s own true nature. But this is what magic can do – if we allow it. Getting to the point where we can allow ourselves to escape requires a kind of Dionysian madness, as I know from long years as a transpersonal psychotherapist and still know from helping my students enable themselves.

Like our own Merlin, Dyonisos is a fatherless child in the sense of not having a human father; he is a son of the god Zeus and the woman Semele. You find this all around the world. A boy-child has a human mother and an otherworldly father; a girl-child has a human father and an otherworldly mother, as does Merlin’s partner, Vivien, who was mothered by the huntress goddess Artemis, see Merlin: once & future wizard for more.

Most people find this weird and scary. Scariness added to weirdness is so attractive and secretly many people would like to have an otherworldly lover; some who work with otherworld actually do. For those still deep in the everyday that’s terrifying even though they likely want it in their secret hearts. Ordinary life is dull, boring, restricted, same-old-same-old, most people want different and excitement – like those holidays. Magic is shadowy, clouded, obscure, hidden, hard to comprehend and all that is so attractive; people want it, search for it, go on course after course to find it.

In my long experience magic is always there, in everything, hidden in plain sight. You don’t need to go to Glastonbury, Stonehenge or the Pyramids, it’s all around you, always. What you need to do is change how you look at things and that is just so difficult because it’s incredibly scary. We want scary … and we don’t. People go after “safe scary” and that’s always a mishmash of garbage dressed up in sequins and candles, it deludes the mind, gluts the emotions and takes the participant nowhere new at all. There is no such thing as safe magic, not in reality.

To practice magic you must risk all, go out on a limb, jump off a cliff, scare yourself shitless. I use that word advisedly. Until you scare the shit out of yourself there is no room for the magic to come in – because you are still full of shit!

Clearing and composting your shit is always painful and terrifying because it takes you out of your comfortable normal-box. People want excitement but they don’t want the frightening consequences, they want insurance policies and firm contracts that they won’t be hurt.

Not possible. If you go for magic you will be pulled inside-out and upside-down, your whole life will change irrevocably, and that word irrevocably is what stops people. You mean we can’t go back and be the same as we always were if we don’t like it? No, you can’t, not once you set off down that path. Dyonisos will find you and dance you into his mysteries amongst the pine woods.

He comes in many guises depending on the land spirit where you meet him. Here in Britain, he may come as Merlin, or Gwyn ap Nudd with his wild pack of red-eyed, red-eared hounds, or Pan. Always, he will come as the Trickster, the ultimate, most perfect teacher and shifter. Likely you will fall in love with him … then you will waken, look in the mirror and not recognise yourself any more. You will be changed.

Magic is magic. It’s wonderful, powerful, and in every single atom and particle of creation. You find it by opening your eyes, looking at everything without any expectations but full of expectancy, full of wonder. You let go of everything you’ve ever known and go in empty, never knowing first, never knowing best, you come to magic from a place of unknowing. Nothing you’ve ever read, known or heard will be like the reality you discover has always been there, quietly waiting for you to notice it. It will teach you how to remain still, how to ask useful questions, how to ask it to show you about itself.

Magic is learning to be empty, learning to un-know, learning to let go. As my Dad, who taught me to walk the old ways of our British magic, used to say, “Life/magic is so simple, but nobody said it was easy!” Right on, Dad!