Tag 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.

 


Standing and Not Falling – a review

Presented as a workbook for those wanting a spiritual detox ahead of working magic, Standing and Not Falling is a text you could work through over 13 moons. The idea is to deal with the kinds of things that might get in the way of a magical practice, and pave the way for a deeper and more effective kind of sorcery. For anyone interested in serious magic, this is well worth a go.

I didn’t read it or work with the book in that way. I pick up this kind of book because it is always useful to research for the fiction. I’ve learned a lot that I can no doubt apply in my speculative writing. What I didn’t realise when I started reading the book, is how valuable it is as a philosophical text.

Lee Morgan has a great deal to say about how we navigate inside our own minds, how we perceive the world and relate to it, and how our thinking shapes our experiences. There’s a lot here about being embodied, about animism and relationships based on animist philosophy. There’s great content about ancestry, our relationship with the land, and how we deal with mainstream culture – and for that matter, how it deals with us. There’s a great deal to chew on. Much of it aligns with my own thinking, so that was pleasingly affirming, but at the same time, it’s a very different perspective on those familiar issues and it opened up a great deal of new territory for me.

I recommend that Druids pick up Standing and Not Falling to read as a philosophical text. It has a great deal to offer on those terms. Anyone interested in the bard path will also be interested in how the book is written – the crafting of it, the way language is deployed, the poetic qualities the author brings – these are all worthy of your attention and may well be a source of inspiration.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as a magical text because it’s not my path. However, what I can say (having read a fair few magical books for research purposes) is that I’ve never seen anything like this before. There’s a world view here, and a way of relating to self, world and magic that, while it has some familiar elements, really isn’t like anything else I’ve run into. It’s well worth a look.

More about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/standing-not-falling 


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.


Practical Magic

 

Like many people with witchy sympathies, I have seen the film Practical Magic, more than once. I own a copy, even. It’s charming if a bit overblown. I only found out recently and by accident that there is a book. And a prequel. This is not exactly a review.

 

 

I am so glad I saw the film before I read the book, because I’ve enjoyed the film for what it is. Had I read the book first I suspect I’d have hated the film for being so far off the mark. Much of the magic in the book is subtle. There’s more of it in the background than there is deliberately enacted by the characters. The book is a complex, subtle, fascinating thing, and the youngest generation are teenagers and people in their own right and it makes a world of difference. The backstory with the curse and the accused ancestor is a good deal more complicated as well.

 

 

The prequel is called The Rules of Magic, and is lovely, and sad and thoughtful. What author Alice Hoffman does in both these books is to square up to how love and grief and relationship play out across a lifetime. It’s powerful stuff. And of course when you tell the longer story, inevitably, everyone dies. What you love, you lose, because that’s the essence of life. The understanding that the answer to this is to love more, is deeply affecting.

There are two things I particularly loved about these books. Firstly is that magic is ever present; a permeating force that creates possibility. It’s just there, around and between people, and creatures, and places and stories. I’d much rather have more of this kind of magic, and less of the spellworking we see in the film.

Thing number two is technical. The book Practical Magic is pretty much all ‘tell’ and little ‘show’. There’s a bit more ‘show’ in the prequel, but still not as much as is fashionable. This makes me really happy. This is a story told in its own way, on its own terms and as it has a lot of ground to cover, just telling you what happened is much more efficient and effective. We don’t have to play out every key scene with dialogue and let the reader come to their own conclusions. The narrator will tell you what to think. Sometimes the narrator will turn out to be wrong, or misleading and that adds to the charm.

You can’t tell multi-generational stories about love and relationship if you have to show every key scene, and that makes certain kinds of stories impossible. Writing in a way that supports the kinds of stories you want to tell, is essential.


Druidry ritual and changing yourself

One of the key ways in which a person on the Druid path may seek to change themselves, is through ritual. The act of doing ritual creates change. We may use ritual to set intentions, seek transformation or work magic, but there is a magic worked upon us through ritual that isn’t about the things we set put to do.

Getting into the habit of showing up for seasonal celebration can change a person’s relationship with the seasons. If you’ve lived a modern, insulated life, then going outside to do ritual through the year will change your relationship with the world. Making a conscious decision to stand on the earth and think about the elements, the land, the Gods… or wherever you go with this, will itself change you. Ritual has power because it is a process of creating a different environment so that you create a space in which you can change.

Usually in ritual we create sacred space and time. Now, this is odd in all kinds of ways because I don’t know really how you can have non-sacred space or non-sacred time – there are whole essays to write about this. What we’re doing is not making a bit of land sacred for the few hours we are there. What we are doing is undertaking to engage with a patch of space and time in a sacred way. What changes is not the space, but how we understand and interact with the space.

Get into the habit of showing up to treat a place and time as sacred, and you will change. Show up to talk to spirit, or God, or Awen or however you choose to do it, and you will change – not for the greater part because something is being done to you by gods or spirits, but because the very act of choosing to engage is one that will transform you. How well you can do it, how reliably, how wholeheartedly is what will make the most odds. I think that’s why it matters that you find something that is meaningful to you. I am not much affected by ritual focusing on deity because I have such a lot of trouble with belief. I’ve been much more affected by seeking ways to connect with the land, with trees, the elements, and the wildlife because I don’t need to believe anything much to find that meaningful.

I walk as an act of engagement with the seasons and the land. There’s an aspect of pilgrimage in it, and repeating patterns that, over the years, start to create a ritual feel. There’s showing up, and caring, and acting. I am aware of changes in myself that come from the process of doing this.

Critics of religious practice tend to focus on the lack of evidence for supernatural response to human rituals. I think this may be missing the point. What is most likely to change us in ritual, is the choice to do ritual, and the environments we create for ourselves when we do ritual. It is the process that has definite power. For some people, there will be experiences beyond this. How much of this is because of the passion we bring to ritual I cannot say.

I feel certain that ritual done out of habit and with little care probably doesn’t help a person much. Showing up to mumble unconsidered words and go through motions that have no meaning for us is of course also creating an environment that shapes who we are. It may be a space of complacency, conformity, habit, doing what you think you’re supposed to do. This also shapes a person. Ritual done badly can have just as much impact on who we are as ritual done well.


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.