Tag Archives: magic

The validation of creatures

Often what I do when stressed or distressed is walk. The rhythm of it helps resettle my body, and the activity can help get the stress toxins out of my system. Green spaces are known to be good for mental health, and beyond that, there’s the powerful business of encountering.

I walked last night, with my husband and son, because I needed to try and clear my head and straighten my thoughts. We saw rabbits, deer, herons, a kingfisher, numerous small birds, fish, moths, bats… We got close to several of the herons, who opted to stay put and tolerate us moving through their territory. The deer watched us back. The bats flew close to our faces.

Wild things make their judgements in very different ways to humans. They judge our speed and direction, how loud or quiet we are, what kind of attention we pay to them. If they tolerate us it is because we are interesting and unthreatening. As far as I can tell, they do not care one jot about our body shapes, faces, bank balances, or social status.

To be in a space with creatures, to be in your creature body and in sympathy with wild things is a powerful kind of magic. It is one of the most affirming and healing things I know of. I have a lot of issues around how I deal with people, and whether I’m good enough. Last night reminded me that I am good enough for herons. Little grebes have no problem with me. Deer find me curious.

Domesticated creatures can be incredibly affirming too. The dog who rushes towards you, delighted by the mere fact of your presence, the cat who decides you are worth bothering with. The horse who comes over for a scratch. If a creature has the space to choose, and they choose to engage, it feels like a blessing, to me.

We humans make up a lot of stories and complications over who and what we are to each other and what it means, and what might be important. It’s exhausting, disorientating, and when you’re on the wrong end of it, painful. Sometimes it’s good to just go and hang out with a heron for a while.


Knowing the Land

I love visiting new places and exploring unfamiliar landscapes. It’s very easy to get excited about the unfamiliar, and the rush of discovery and encounter. The new view, the unfolding of a landscape that surprises at every turn – there are adventures to be had.

It’s all too easy (and I say this because I’ve done it) to come in for the first time, get caught on the wave of excitement and feel that you’ve got a deep and meaningful insight into a place. It’s possible (again, I’ve done it) to psyche yourself up into an especially magical Pagan mindset so that every part of the experience is charged with symbolic resonance and a sense of the divine. It’s easier to do this with an unknown landscape than a familiar one, because the unfamiliarity makes us pay more attention and tends to leave us more open to being awed.

It’s possible (yes, yes I have…) to come away from a very superficial encounter with a new landscape feeling powerful, charged up, spoken to… or whatever else it was that you wanted to feel.

Walking in a familiar landscape won’t give you that rush. When your feet know the shape of the land, and you’ve been there season after season, and you know what’s normal, and the land going about its own things and not therefore any kind of sign meant just for you… it takes effort to go out into the familiar and really see it. Seeing the familiar as magical is much harder work, because you have all the baggage of your everyday life and self in the mix.

What comes from a slower, deeper relationship with the land is less likely to make you feel big and important, and more likely to make you feel part of what’s around you (and thankfully yes, I’ve done that too).


The curious magic of childhood fear

If you breathe very quietly, they won’t hear you, and you will be safe. It is essential that you keep your eyes shut because even though you know this doesn’t work in other circumstances, if you can’t see them, they can’t see you. If you see them, they will become able to act. Keep still and pretend to be asleep, because then they will leave you alone. Don’t be tempted to get up and look under the bed, or in the wardrobe, because that’s how they get you. If you have to go to the loo, there will be a magic thing you can do to stay safe in transit. Hold your breath. Be back before the flush does that thing…

These rules are widely shared, and I was reminded of them the other night when a poet I didn’t know mentioned the whole not breathing too loudly thing. Where do these rules come from, and why do so many of us have them in childhood?

It’s something I remember fairly well. It wasn’t always an issue, but some nights… some nights it was important to get under the covers and not move a muscle. Some nights I did not feel at all alone in my room, and what was there felt hostile. And I find myself wondering what I knew as a child that I cannot explain as an adult.

 


Reclaiming my intuition

The trouble with intuition, is that some people will use it to replace evidence in a way that cannot be argued with. The experience of people magically ‘knowing’ things that from where I was standing, looked like utter bullshit, left me reluctant to use my own for many years. I’m equally troubled by the way we use confirmation on social media ‘I have a bad feeling about today, does anyone else?’ Of course someone else does – the internet has a lot of people on it. I’m wary of how we can all use ‘intuition’ to tell us the things we want to hear, to affirm our biases, prejudices, personal insanity…

But life without intuition is thinner, paler and missing a lot of tricks. We absorb far more information than we can consciously process, and what emerges as a ‘gut feeling’ may not be ‘magic’ but instead the result of unconscious processing. If I let myself, then some of my best thinking happens this way.

How do you tell if what you’ve got is intuition, self indulgence, or madness? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for years. It’s especially loaded for me, because depression and anxiety create feelings of doom and misery, and I can persuade myself that I must be psychically knowing that something dreadful is going to happen, and spiral down into it, and make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or I can attribute it to dodgy brain chemistry and let it go… How do I tell which is which?

The only thing I’ve got as a method of testing, is whether I can use it to make fair models of what will happen. If my gut feel about a person, or a situation, fits in fairly well with what happens, then regardless of whether that’s psychic-ness or unconscious processing, I’ve got something I can use. If my impressions don’t relate to reality, then something less helpful is going on. It requires an uneasy amount of self-honesty. Who doesn’t want to be magical, intuitive and special? It’s hard to look at a gut feeling and say ‘you aren’t real, my brain chemistry is playing up’ but sometimes that’s the path to sanity.

Then there’s the question of how we use intuitive insights in social situations. Some people are assholes. If that’s where you’re coming from, then aggressively asserting intuition as a means to power, to subdue or impress others, is just asshattery. It’s not good to go deliberately trying to poke around in other people’s heads and lives, either. It’s an invasion of privacy. If insight just turns up, then there’s a responsibility to use that kindly, and not as some kind of power trip.

I’ve spent some years now trying to be more open to my unconscious mind, to insight and intuition and at the same time to not let my depressive and anxious tendencies latch onto it. I’ve got a way to go, and I’m a long way from entirely trusting myself, but overall I like the trajectory.


Bardic: Performance and the Awen

The awen (a Welsh word) is invoked by Druids in ritual, usually by chanting it. This is one of the traditions we owe to revivalists, not to ancient history. However, the experience of flowing inspiration is something that can and does happen – during periods of creativity, but also sometimes when performing.

For me, it’s a sensation of being completely taken over by what I’m doing and being able to do it in a totally different way – with more drama, intensity and depth than usual. On rare occasions, it’s had some very odd effects indeed. I recall a ritual when three of us spontaneously improvised music together, and another ritual where I re-wrote one of my own songs as I went to better fit the situation. I had no real memory afterwards of what I’d sung.

Awen is something that turns up when it does – it cannot be summoned by force or will. You have to be open to it, welcoming of it, ready for it, and also perfectly able to keep going if that other level of magic doesn’t happen. Sometimes it comes as a trickle, adding a sparkle to what you were doing. Sometimes it’s a tidal wave that will wash you away.

When it comes, it is best to let that flow direct things rather than trying to control it. If you want the kind of magic controlled by will and personal intent, this is not something to try and court. If you are willing to be a flute the awen can play its own tunes through, it may do just that.


Bardic Magic – collaboration

There are a number of aspects to bardic magic, but I think inspiration and the flow of it in a creative context lies at the heart of the experience. If you’ve set out to walk the bard path, creativity obviously speaks to you already, but how does a person take that up a level?

Working with other people offers some options. For me, just being around people whose work I find exciting and inspiring can have a huge effect. Being in a space where other people are being creative – be that a workshop or something less formal – can be an encouragement to create. Having people to share your own creativity with can be an incentive to get busy.

Doing creative things with people is really interesting stuff. I’m going to write about singing just to give it a focus, but from experience anything you can do collectively will create similar possibilities, although I think collective singing has a particular magic of its own.

There’s an intimacy, and a sense of involvement when you put voices together – as true for chanting protest slogans as it is for songs. There’s a real sense of being together. Any participation will give you that if you are open to it.

When people are skilled and experienced, they can fall into singing together really easily – improvising together, playing with the playing. This can be possible just from a depth of musical experience. It can be a powerful and moving experience to share with people in this way.

However, sometimes, for reasons that defy explanations, something amazing happens. It’s not always about the quality of music produced – although often the results are beyond what could have been expected. People sing together, and something emerges that is more than the sum of its parts. For me, it’s a sense that the music is coming from somewhere else, as though between them, the people involved have opened a doorway into magic. A sense of enchantment enters the song. It’s hard to put into words what is, for me, a deeply numinous experience.

When music becomes magic, it’s a soul nourishing, heart lifting sort of thing. I’ve been blessed, in my past, with two long term musical collaborations that reliably had this effect, and I’ve sung and played with a few other people where magic showed up.

So, how to do it? It’s not the sort of thing that can be reached by any kind of mechanical process, but it is about having your heart open, and being willing to be open to the people or person you are singing with. Willing to bare your soul, and give everything of yourself, and open to their baring of soul, their complete giving.


Fairycraft

I read Morgan Daimler’s Fairy Witchcraft some time last year, and very much enjoyed it, although if I reviewed it here I’ve managed to hide it from myself. Fairycraft is the recently released and much longer and deeper look at fairy orientated magic. There isn’t much overlap between the two books so if you’re keen on the subject it is worth reading both, start with Fairy Witchcraft.

Over the course of the book, Morgan explores the folklore and mythology of faeries – her main focus is faeries in British folklore (especially Irish, quite a lot of Scottish) but she does encourage people to find out what’s traditional for their part of the world. As an American she’s faced with the complexities of ancestral ideas about the Otherworld, and ideas associated with the land, and has some interesting things to say on the subject.

There’s a fair amount of the history of fairy witchcraft , and the very revealing linguistics of it. Morgan Daimler does a lot of translating from Irish, and in the nuances of language use, all kinds of things emerge.

Alongside this, Morgan talks in detail about personal practice and experience, and what happens when you take the things from the folklore and start trying to do them. This is really fascinating stuff, and is presented with a balance of reverence and questioning rather than any kind of desire to impress. It’s made very clear that fairy work is all about relationship, so what happens for one person is a very limited indicator of what another person might experience while doing the same things. The personal qualities required to work in this way are flagged up and explored.

I suspect that what Morgan says about fairy magic is true of pretty everything to some degree – that relationship is key. Who we are, how we think and act and feel informs what we take into any situation. How that relates to whoever or whatever we’re working with will also have an impact. Care, respect and knowing where the boundaries are, will be important in all things. What this book offers is an explicitly co-operative approach to magic. The Fairy Witch needs a very strong will and great clarity of intention, but isn’t generally forcing that will onto the world, but working with Others. As an animist, I’m always more drawn to ways of being that are co-operative and consenting rather than about forcing will.

I’ve always been fascinated with faerie, it probably started with childhood exposure to the myths of Tam Lyn and Thomas the Rhymer. At the moment my personal practice is very quiet, and in an incubating stage, so I didn’t read this with an eye to acting on it. I think it’s worth noting that even if you aren’t planning to *be* a fairy witch, this is a great read. The wealth of folklore is wonderful, and the content around practice is really engaging to read anyway. There’s some genuinely innovative material about seasonal celebration (I say this as someone who is otherwise bored sick of wheel of the year sections in books). If you do want to take up this path, these two books are well worth a look.

More about Fairy Witchcraft here –moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-fairy-witchcraft

More about Fairycraft here – http://www.moon-books.net/index.php?id=99&p=4684


Worm Magic

To call someone a ‘worm’ is usually an insult. If you ‘worm your way’ into anything it tends to imply that you aren’t entitled to be there and that your method for getting in was dodgy. Linguistically, worms get a rough deal, but out there in nature they are tiny powerhouses and worthy of our respect.

In terms of the life of the soil, worms are essential. They aerate it as they pass through. They help break down debris, alongside the micro-organisms and fungi also at work. Worms will draw plant matter from the surface down into the soil, eat it, poo it out as soil, and thus add to the fertility of the land.

Worms provide food for a lot of other beings. They are eaten by a number of birds – although I always think of blackbirds as the main worm eater. Moles of course eat worms, and so, more curiously, do badgers. Given the size difference, it may seem like an odd menu choice, but scruffluing up worms to eat is a big part of what badgers get up to of an evening.

Taken as an individual, a worm isn’t much. It’s just a squishy, mobile stomach. Things go in one end, and come out the other. One worm more or less doesn’t change anything much. Taken collectively, the value of worms to the rest of the living world is vast.

As humans, we make up a lot of stories about the triumph of the lone individual. Most of us will never be the lone, standout hero, and condemn ourselves to a life of feeling jealous, mediocre, unsuccessful, irrelevant. We could learn a lot from worms. As with worms, small actions from large numbers of people have huge effects. Our one small bit, more or less, doesn’t seem very relevant, but what we do as a whole has considerable consequences. At the moment, those consequences are grim, but it need not be so.

If we all took ourselves a bit more seriously as one chewing worm amongst many, perhaps we’d be a bit more careful about what we put into the soil. If we learned to see the power of small things, like worms, we might better be able to see pour own power, and to use it effectively. We might be less afraid to worm our way in to places of power and influence rather than believing we don’t belong there. We might be less tolerant of the way those bigger humans, with power and resources, use labels like ‘worms’ to discount the masses. We might see the power in numbers, embrace our inner worms, and make some real changes.


Pigeon magic

I’m interested in re-enchantment – for me, I assume the world is plenty enchanted enough and that I’m just not always good at seeing it. Some things make it easy to feel awe, gratitude and enchantment – a fabulous sunset, a bat skimming low over your head, a close encounter with a fox. And then there’s pigeons. Not the brightest, or the prettiest, or the best singers. Numerous, foolish, occasionally shagging on the roof opposite my window. It’s hard to imagine anyone proudly announcing the pigeon as their spirit animal…

I like to challenge myself, to see the good in things, or the other dimensions of them, to see wonder in the mundane, and so on and so forth. So I set myself ‘pigeons’ as a challenge.

They are a challenge. They’re the noisiest things in the wood, the exact opposite of a ninja with their flappy, quirky flying. They panic each other, walk out in front of cyclists, forget they can fly away to safety, peck anything that might be food. In town they sidle up to anyone eating – not aggressive like seagulls, but optimists and opportunists. Sometimes they ‘sing’ loudly outside my window at first light, and it is hard to hear the beauty in their song, or to be charmed by it.

They have been loved, of course. There’s a history of pigeon racing, because they will find their way home, no matter what, and those same home-finding urges have been used to carry messages in the past. They, and their eggs were also an important part of the mediaeval diet, so far as I know. They have been more valued than they are now.

Mostly we meet the pigeon as an urban creature, more feral pigeon than woodpigeon, eating fast food and crapping on statues. It doesn’t cast them in the best possible light. I’ve also seen pigeons rise in a flock together, coming up out of the mist and bare branches of a winter wood. They had a majesty then, and it was hard to think, watching the flock, that these were the silly birds I am used to.

Which only goes to show how importance context is, and that most things aren’t very enchanting when you catch them in an urban setting with dodgy takeaways. Humans included.


Blackbird magic

Photo by Andreas Trepte, http://www.photo-natur.de

Blackbirds sing the sun down, as well as singing it up. To my mind, this makes them threshold guardians for the passage between night and day. In quiet surroundings with a fair density of blackbirds, it’s possible to hear them exchanging fragments of melody. They have huge repertoires.

Being modestly sized garden birds, and birds of the wood and hedge, they can turn up pretty much anywhere that worms might be available.

I am entirely convinced that blackbirds also sing about the weather. Between dusk and dawn, they call individually – alarm cries when there are predators about, the odd moment of song, unless a storm is coming. They can get it wrong but on the whole their weather sense is far ahead of mine. I’ve found this reliable enough that hearing a blackbird rainsong will cause me to bring in the laundry even if I’d thought the sky was ok. They’re usually right.

When the rain, or hail, or snow has stopped, they’ll sing again for a little while.

The photo shows a male blackbird – females are brown and do not do as much singing.