Category Archives: Magic

Visions and Fever Dreams

Brains do funny things during fevers. I had a memorably strange experience some years ago involving the ‘revelation’ that reality is just tiny boxes inside other boxes. This week while being very ill, I had the ‘vision’ that the universe is just a Twitter thread about Our Flag Means Death.

Mess up your brain chemistry, and strangeness will ensure. I tend to hallucinate when I’m sleep deprived. Anything that pushes your body into some kind of altered state has the potential to bring weird and random insights. However, I am inclined to mistrust any vision that wasn’t actively sought.

I’m lucky because the kinds of things my brain offers up as mystic truths when I’m simply ill, are so clearly ridiculous. I can have a good laugh about them when I surface, and they make for good stories. I’ve never mistaken one of these for a serious insight into the nature of the universe. I can’t help but wonder how many other people’s religious experiences – especially in times when fevers were more common – were really fever experiences. In the absence of Our Flag Means Death fan art, you might well go for the powerful images available to you – angels and demons and so forth.

A hunger for meaning can be a misleading thing. The desire to be important can lead a person to take themselves far too seriously. If you are more interested in being spiritual than in being important, there’s a lot to be said for not taking yourself too seriously.


Learning to read the signs

Sign reading isn’t just a mystical art, although it often feels that way even when it’s largely pragmatic. Appearing to have magical insight can sometimes be about being better at reading the world than most people are. Knowing how to read the clouds when they move over your specific bit of landscape is a good example of this.

Many other animals are better than humans when it comes to spotting the early warning signs for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. Observing and knowing how to read those reactions can be a life saver. Understanding how everyone else responds can provide you with a lot of information.

At the moment I’m trying to learn how to read the signs in my own body. The immediate future can be divined from the behaviour of my heart. I’m trying to outwit anaemia, and the earlier I can read the signs, the better chance I have of staying well. It’s all very of-this-world but compared to where I was a month ago, it looks truly supernatural.

We can tell a lot about what people might do by paying attention to body language, word choices, and the tells they have that indicate lies or bluffs. Good poker players are often good people-readers. I prefer not to have to infer things, but it is often necessary.

Human systems are complex and can be difficult to make sense of. Even so, the lines of cause and effect are often there to be read, even by someone who does not have a deep understanding of everything going on. I remain amazed by the people who seem unable to see what the impacts of the UK leaving the EU are. In pragmatic issues just as in mystical ones, it is all too easy to only see the signs you can interpret in the way you wanted to all along.


Of writing and magic

Any act of writing can be a spell. Simply putting words into the world is an act of will, intended to cause change. It is a process that can change the person undertaking it, as well. I write things on this blog because I intend to cause change.

Sometimes I write in order to understand. I find it a powerful tool for processing. There have been many times when insights have come to me as I was writing, rather than having set out to write about insights I’d already had. Even when I think I know what I’m going to say, the process of writing often opens unexpected doors and allows something new to come through.

By this means, I can take ideas out of my thoughts and place them in your mind. Thanks to the additional magic of the internet, I can do that without necessarily knowing you. Written words travel freely through time and space, connecting us with people in ways that go far beyond what many of those writers could ever have imagined. I can sit at my computer and read in translation the first known novels from around the world – something I doubt those authors could have imagined would ever be possible.

Anything you can do through meditation, trance, visualisation or similar inner working, you can do by writing. It’s all about the kind of states your mind can enter and how you choose to explore that. For me, if I want to know about something, my best bet is to try and write about it. The headstates I sometimes enter when writing are much akin to those other, more obviously spiritual states. 

Much of my writing is deliberately constructed by me, in a conscious way. Much of what I do depends on knowledge, experience and years spent learning technical stuff and honing skills. However, every now and then, something else seeps in. Not always when I’m trying to court the numinous, sometimes when I’m being entirely silly, even. Some of my best animist writing is in Wherefore – which was written to be an amusing distraction during lockdown. 

Opening up to the flow of words and ideas always makes a space where something else is possible. Just occasionally, something else comes through that is more than I expected, and takes me to places I did not know I could go. Sometimes, the act of writing is one of being enchanted – not being the spell caster, but being the one on whom the spell is cast.


Excitement is the best magic

This winter I have been obliged to think about what lifts my spirits. I struggle a lot with depression, especially in the cold, grey months of the year and especially when my body is unwell. There’s been a lot of that lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that while there are no 100% reliable magic bullets for anything, excitement is about as close as it gets.

Excitement is apathy’s natural predator. It also deals with invasive problems like despair and disenchantment. When there is excitement there is often also hope, activity and room for joy. Having things to be excited about can pull me out of terrible headspaces.

There is, in here somewhere, an excitable inner child. It’s complicated. Like most younger humans I had a fair capacity for throwing myself wholeheartedly at things. Excitement is also something I remember getting told off for, a lot. On the grounds that I would end up in tears if I got too excited, or would make myself sick, or wouldn’t be able to sleep.

There was a night at an event last year when I was so excited about so many things that I really couldn’t sleep and just lay there being excited. That wasn’t really a problem. And yes, sometimes if I get really emotional I cry, and that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with crying. As for the throwing up – I don’t think that ever really happened and it’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

I need that inner child excitement, unfettered by anyone else’s beliefs and expectations. I need the people who make me feel excited. I need to do things I can feel excited about. Perhaps most importantly, I need the space to be someone I can feel excited about. I need to squeal and roll around with pure delight. I need to be so excited that I can’t actually sleep. I always did.

For me, that particular emotion is not only powerful but is the foundation for most of my other positive feelings. An absence of excitement will leach the joy and hope out of me. I’m now trying to work out what I can do on my own to cultivate more excitement in myself, and who I can collaborate with to create more excitement generally. 


Taken by the tide

The prompt for this blog was ‘Openness to the winds of how and what next’. I’m starting with a little detour around how important it’s always been to me to use the language and metaphors that resonate. Wind is not what happens to me around change. I’m a water person on this issue, and for me it has to be the language of tides, flows, currents and waves. Metaphors like this are part of our soul language, so I think it’s really important to use the words that open you up to those deeper layers of meaning and possibility. 

The tides are something I primarily feel in my gut. Sometimes there’s not much to feel, which is fine. Not everything in life is a big drama or a huge shift. Sometimes I feel when change is coming, or possible, or is happening in a way that I need to be alert to. It’s never really occurred to me not to be open to this sort of thing. Change is inevitable, and fighting it can be exhausting and pointless. Learning when and how to go with the flow and when to swim fiercely against it is a thing.

Dead things go with the flow, and life often swims the other way. Then there’s the salmon, swimming upstream to spawn. Sometimes flowing with the tide isn’t the answer, but often it is. When you aren’t going with the flow it can take a lot of effort just to stay still. 

The metaphor that has become most important to me comes from surfing. This is curious because I’ve never tried to surf and never will. About as close as I’ve got has been floating towards the shore on my stomach. It’s all about catching the waves, letting the approaching swell of it lift you and knowing how to travel with it. When that happens as a life/magic issue, I feel it keenly. I get a strong sense of the rising wave and the possibility of riding something out to good effect. And like actual waves, there’s usually an element of danger in working with this energy, trusting to it, surrendering to it and seeing what happens.

It’s not always a passive choice. Often to ride this kind of wave I have to be highly alert to what I need to do and willing to trust my intuition and time my moves based on that alone. Of course there’s often no rational, external way of monitoring any of this, and I don’t talk about it when I’m doing it – except to Tom. 

Being open to change often means being open to being changed, not just having the situation alter. It means being willing to become an agent of change, an active participant in a rising tide, part of the flow, part of the wave. Sometimes it means deciding to be the water rather than being something in the water. No one gets to be static, whether they like it or not. The question is how we choose to participate in change, how we make change, and how we let change happen to us.

(With thanks to Karen for the prompt)


Every Pagan Is An Activist

If we are to have any kind of relationship with any aspect of the natural world, we have to be activists. I firmly believe that it is not possible at this point to be a Pagan without being an activist. The person who feels entitled to simply take from nature – be that magically or practically, has a destructive relationship with this planet and everything on it.

There are, however, many ways to be an activist. If you are working from a place of care to try and protect, nurture, and support life, you are already doing this work. You might want to consider dialling it up, making it more explicit and more visible. There is always more that can be done, but if everyone did something we’d be in a much better state.

All compassionate work is a form of activism – up to a point this also includes self care. Promoting rest and health means pushing back against the idea that we should work and consume endlessly. When self care is sold as a product, it becomes part of the problem. When self care is the excuse we use for not bothering, then it stops being activism.

We have to be careful to avoid things that are primarily undertaken to put ourselves centre stage. Activism that is mostly ego doesn’t get much done. 

Pagans are especially well placed to talk about power. Anyone on a magical path has a considered relationship with power. There’s a lot of philosophy in Paganism around power-with rather than power-over, and this is key around activism. Mainstream culture teaches people to feel powerless and ineffective. Paganism teaches people to stand in their own power and use it well. If we can model how to do that for people who are not Pagans, we can help people overcome the feelings of futility and powerlessness that stop many from acting.

Everything can be changed if there’s enough willpower to make a difference. We have the resources. We have the knowledge. Anything can be changed, but only if people believe they can change things. What we know about will, belief, and intent could make a great deal of difference. 

And so I write this to remind you that you are powerful. The things you do make a difference. Your words are spells. Your actions have an impact. Your will affects the world. 

(With thanks to Helen Woodsford-Dean for the prompt to write this.)


Confidence is a form of magic

So much of what we do depends on having enough confidence. Day to day life is full of decisions – many of which we may not even notice making on a normal day. However, if fear has paralysed you, or experience has shattered your confidence, those small decisions can become overwhelming. Shower? Breakfast? I think often people fall down on self care because they just can’t figure out what to do, and end up doing nothing.

Every communication we enter into depends on confidence. If you don’t expect to make sense, then speaking at all is hard. If you don’t have the confidence that you will be listened to, heard and taken seriously then communicating is hard. This is part of why it is often so hard to ask for help when you’re in trouble.

It is more normal to frame this in terms of what we can’t do when anxious, but I think there’s some use in flipping it over. Almost everything we do depends on confidence. Without confidence it is so difficult to make choices, act or speak. How much confidence a person has is going to greatly inform how effective they can be. Curing someone’s anxiety is far more complicated than the idea of boosting their confidence, but the effects are going to be much the same.

We can all support each other in being more confident. We can cheer each other on. When we shoulder burdens together we can better manage the difficult choices. When we put our faith in each other, and make that explicit, we can lift and empower each other.

Confidence is belief. Belief is most assuredly magic. We could all use more of that, but it’s a magic we can make together, and for each other.


Messages from Dreams

The house I grew up in has always featured heavily in my dreams. In my teens, those dreams tended to involve me trying to escape from the house. Often the dream would end with me jumping out of a window.

In my twenties, having moved out I would dream that I was back in the house. I wouldn’t be able to remember where I now lived, or how to get there. I might escape the house, but then I would just be running, sometimes chased. At that point in my life my dreaming had reduced to a handful of anxiety nightmares. I wasn’t living in a good situation and it took me a long time to admit that, and to get out.

There weren’t so many house dreams in my thirties, and my dreaming became much more diverse and involved. I became as likely to dream about my grandmother’s house as I was about the parental home. The level of menace reduced.

I’m now seeing a new pattern. I am back in my childhood home. I leave of my own free will – not through windows or to run away. I go out through the back garden and into the field beyond. What exactly is beyond the field, varies. In real life there is woodland. Mostly in my dreams there are people, and otherworlds and adventures that have no connection to my childhood or my lived experiences. 

Those house dreams have always had a lot to tell me about myself. I didn’t always want to listen to what they had to say. The dream dictionary I had as a child said that when you dream about houses you are dreaming about yourself. I detest dream dictionaries. That house isn’t me. That house is about my past, my childhood, my sense of belonging. I haven’t found a house that could be me, although sometimes in dreams I go house hunting, and that feels like a really hopeful thing to be doing.


Some years ago I wrote a whole book about dreams and dream interpretation – you can find that over here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-dreaming


Magical thinking

When we think we can manifest what we need, we’re at the risk of mistaking our own worldly privilege for magic. Alongside this we may be persuaded that people suffer because they are unworthy – not because of capitalism, oppressive systems, systemic prejudice and so forth. It can make us unkind and complacent, complicit in the exploitation of others, and needlessly smug. It also means we are in no way equipped to deal with personal setbacks. Not being able to manifest what you need can turn out to be distressing.

Expectations are an important consideration for anyone exploring spells or prayer, seeking transformation through ritual or journeying. We can change ourselves through our intent, that is certain. By focusing our intent, we can change how we move through the world. If the world is consciousness made manifest then the scope of intent to influence things might be considerable. 

Whatever your beliefs are, it is important to consider what happens if magic doesn’t work. How is your faith going to be impacted by prayers that go unanswered? What effect will it have on your confidence if you invest heavily in magic that does not work? What if there is no healing? What if things are awful and all you can do is slog through? Magical thinking may incline us to believe that magically, it will all be ok, but this can leave a person even more exposed when things go wrong.

If you ask for the means to cope, rather than everything handed to you on a plate, all you have to do is keep going. If you ask to see the opportunities around you, to be given a chance, a sign, an insight – these kinds of things are reliably available. If you ask for the inner resources you need, that works, too. 

Magic that is basically about having material success and doing well in an exploitative capitalist system that is killing the planet… has never seemed inherently that magical to me. I think it’s usually existing privilege manifesting and not people manifesting anything magical anyway. For me, the idea of magic has always been more about relationship and engagement. It’s a way of moving through the world, not a way of making the world give you what you want. 

If you believe, as I do, that everything has at least the capacity for will and intention, then reality as we know it is a massive weave of many different desires and plans. When those coincide, amazing, serendipitous things may seem to occur. When we’re all pushing and shoving against each other, nothing much gets done. Real magic, for me, is what happens when enough intentions are aligned that things happen easily. Which in turn means that the most magical thing is to enter states of harmony and cooperation that make this possible. I prefer magic as power-with to the idea of power-over.


Why I don’t have a spirit guide

Once upon a time, many years ago I went to a workshop where we had a guided journey to meet our spirit guides. I’d never really tried to do this sort of thing before. So, I lay down, followed the instructions, and went headlong off script.

I was met with incredible anger. I was supposed to know better. I was supposed to know that this wasn’t for me. I have no idea who or what was angry with me. I then had a very intense experience of being fruited from a tree and dropped on the ground to rot, over and over again. I had no idea what it meant at the time, I still don’t know, but it was alarming and uncomfortable in the extreme. As soon as I could, I pushed out of the visualisation and waited quietly for the session to end.

Everyone shared their experiences. Everyone in the room aside from me had found something lovely, affirming, uplifting and so forth. I felt very alone with what had happened. The chap running the workshop didn’t have much to offer me beyond his own confusion and his feeling that what we were doing should have been totally safe.

That belief in the inherent safeness of spiritual endeavours continues to perplex me. A glance at any folklore or tradition from pretty much anywhere makes it clear that there are risks. The universe is not made of light and fluff and a desire to make us feel comfortable at every turn. If the universe has our best interests at heart, it does not operate from an assumption that our best interests are served by being really nice to us.

Many years later, I’m still not sure what to make of that experience. I have however, taken the clear message to heart and have never since sought any kind of guide.