Tag Archives: magic

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.

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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.


Daughter of Light and Shadow – a review

At the surface, this is an erotic romance novel with magic in it. There is a lot of very sexy fairy content, and great fun it is, too. But that’s not really what the book is about. This is a novel about a young woman coming into her own power, dealing with why she is, what she is, where she comes from and, seeing all of that, starting to make deliberate choices about her life. The sex might be wild, but it certainly can’t save her. The love is there in her life, but it isn’t the magic answer to everything. And as for the magic – until she deals with her own shadow self it is as likely to trip her up as it is to help her.

There’s a nice balance here between escapist, folklore-based fantasy, and concepts a person can get their teeth into. If you like your fantasy well rooted, this is the business. The fairy side is steeped in folklore and tradition, giving us fairies who are cold, other, unreasonable, fickle, charming and exceedingly dangerous. These are more like the fairies from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell than the pretty things of standard modern urban romance. The magic has a strong elemental component to it, and again there’s folklore in the mix as well as material drawn from modern Paganism. There are the witchy ancestors who so often a feature in witchlit, and there’s the question of ancestral wounding.

I’ve seen this come up a few times in various novels now. Anyone writing a modern witch with a witchy ancestry immediately hits the issue of historical persecutions. This book tackles the issue of ancestral wounding head on, while making clear that many of the people persecuted for witchcraft historically were victims who had nothing to do with witchcraft but were vulnerable in some way. It’s nicely done.

If you’re looking for fairy romance, this probably isn’t the book for you because it doesn’t uphold the habits of the romance genre very well. If like me, you prefer stories that surprise you, this is much more interesting. If you’re looking for stories about love and sex that don’t make them the only considerations in a young woman’s life, then Anna McKerrow is an author I can very much recommend. If you want passionate, full blooded witch lit with magic you can relate to and characters who live in the real world at least some of the time, this is a good book to pick up.


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!

 


Magic and birthday blogging

Some years I write the blog for my birthday ahead of time, and take the day entirely off. It’s one of the perks of being self employed. I’m mostly not working today, but I thought I’d see where the mood took me for blogging. I note that in most ways, I feel much as I usually do on days when there’s not a great deal of work lined up.

As a child, I was hungry for magic. Christmas and birthdays were days I thought I ought to feel something special, something significant. I didn’t. What I got was a mix of longing and disappointment. We’re sold the idea of special magic times – especially as children, and it is easy to feel let down when you experience nothing out of the ordinary. Wedding days are supposed to be magical too – having been married twice now, those seem to be stressful, anxious events with a lot to sort out.

Why would magic show up on a designated day? Why would that day be filled with love and joy if the other days mostly aren’t?

What I’ve noticed over the years is that significant dates can bring into focus all the longing we have for things to be different. If a relationship is miserable, the anniversary and Valentine’s Day can be sources of longing where we try to make it all better with some kind of temporary magic. Christmas is a time to want all the love and support you aren’t getting from your birth family. A birthday may highlight the shortage of friends to have a party with.

On the other hand if things are good, the designated days seem less important. Yes, I’m going out tonight and tomorrow, I’ll see a lot of friends over the next few days – friends I typically see in the course of any given month. There will be good things because this is a good excuse for some silliness. I often find good excuses for silliness.

The desire for a specific day to somehow just bring magic is, in my experience, a desire born out of insufficiency. The better life is, the less important any specific day is, because they all of the potential to be good. The better life is, the less need a person has for a fantasy of something better. Also the less need there is to imagine a magic thing that just makes it all good. Wanting magic to manifest on a special day can be an expression of all that is missing and cannot easily be fixed.

When it comes to the days of our lives, the real magic isn’t a showy birthday thing, or the magic of Christmas, or the romantic powers of St Valentine. Real magic is what we make every day out of the relationships we have with other people, and all that we encounter. Real magic may be quieter and less self-announcing but it shows up, every day, adding a shine to life.


Audio fiction at the centre of the world

I am delighted to announce that my speculative novel – Fast Food at the Centre of the Wold – is now entirely up at bandcamp and you can start listening to it here – https://nimuebrown.bandcamp.com/track/fast-food-at-the-centre-of-the-world-part-one

This is a novel recorded by me in 22 episodes – each episode is about twenty minutes long. If you listen on bandcamp you can hear the whole thing for free, so far as I know. I encourage you to do that! (If you want to throw money at me, that’s lovely, but you definitely don’t have to.)

This is a story with a lot of magic in it. While the magic is considerably more dramatic than the kinds of experiences Pagans tend to report, I’ve tried to root it in ways that make sense. The most obvious sorcerer in the mix – Dunsany – is very much a will worker and comes from the kind of tradition that draws complex sigils on things and reads a lot of books. He’s also touched by otherworldly influences.

Some of the magic is wild, chaotic and instinctual. There’s also a lot of bardic magic here and I think that’s the most realistic part of the mix. I firmly believe in the power of song, poetry and story to act on people and radically change them. There’s a lot of that sort of thing in this story. And it is a story that has managed to cast a spell on at least one person – resulting in her now writing poetry. This is something I’m enormously proud of.

I’m pondering what the next audio project might be. Poetry? Chants? Short stories? Songs? Another novel? Obviously some of these things I can do more quickly than others. If there’s anything you’d particularly like me to do, please say.

And in the meantime, if you want to help me get more stuff out there free at the point of delivery (this blog, youtube videos, informal mentoring, etc) consider supporting me on Patreon if you want to make a monthly commitment (and get more of my creative stuffs). Or, if you want to do a one off thing, throw money in the ko-fi hat below (everything helps). Thank you!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


Magic, illness and discipline

Most forms of magical and spiritual practice depend to some degree on concentration. It is feasible to do contemplative meditation when you can’t concentrate – by having an object that you return your thoughts to, for example. It is feasible to undertake prayer or ritual with an unfocused mind, but it is probably less effective.

Spell based magic is all about your will. There’s nothing like pain or illness to reduce the power of your will, and to make that kind of focused intensity difficult to maintain. All of us will go through times when we don’t have what it takes to act magically. Some of us will be like that most of the time. So, what do you do if you want magic in your life, but can’t rely on having the attention span, the concentration, the focus or the willpower to work it?

Aim small. Ignore the useless advice that if you can’t meditate for half an hour you should meditate for an hour. Better to have five minutes of quality engagement than a longer stretch full of frustration and misery. Look for acts of magic and spirituality that operate on a scale you can handle. Look for ways of working that allow you to come back regularly and do a small thing. Don’t tie yourself to fixed times because you might not have the clarity at those times. Work when you can.

People who are hale and hearty can be very comfortable telling people who aren’t to try harder. If you are ill, the limits of what you can do are often a simple fact. Trying to push for more can often result in a backlash that lets you do even less. Only you can judge this. Experiment on your own terms and don’t feel pressured into doing things the way other people think you should.

Look for opportunities for magical experience and transformation rather than acts of deliberate change. Being in a ritual can be transformative. So can sitting out with access to trees and birds or water or sky. Having an altar and spending some time with it can make room for things to come in. So can creativity.

Pain and illness can make it hard to think that good things of any shape can happen. The longer it goes on, the more it can lock you down and make you feel limited. Looking for small moments of beauty and wonder can be a way to offset this a little. Sometimes there are blessing amongst the miseries. There don’t have to be, and it isn’t your job to be relentlessly cheerful or to find shiny blessings in a shit storm. But at the same time, there’s much to be said for making the best of what you’ve got in whatever way you can.


Belief, self and Paganism

‘Know thyself’ might be one of the most ancient Pagan instructions out there. Let’s look at the interplay between faith, and who we believe we are.

To be a witch and to put your will into the world, you have to believe that your will is powerful enough to change what’s around you. You also have to trust that your judgement is good enough to make those changes wise.

To work with any spiritual entity – Gods, faeries, ancestors, totems, guides, not only do you have to believe in them, but you also have to believe in yourself. You have to believe you are someone a Goddess or others would want to work with. You have to believe that your experiences represent something valid and profound. You have to be confident it isn’t the voice of ego or wishful thinking in your head. You have to be confident that what you experience is not madness.

To work with intuition you need that same confidence that you aren’t just perceiving your own fantasies. If you suffer from anxiety or depression it is much harder to trust your perceptions, much less your intuition. You need to be able to believe in your capacity to see clearly, un-muddled by fear, over-optimism, desire or distress.

Often in Paganism, you need to be able to hold the belief that your individual action matters on a bigger scale than your own life. You may need to believe that the universe has a benevolent attitude to you. For almost all magical practice you need to believe that you are worth having things changed for. Sometimes by extension it becomes necessary to believe there are reasons why other people aren’t as valued, protected and blessed. It can lead you to a place where you have to do some really interesting thinking to explain when you do all the things and aren’t protected or blessed.

You won’t go looking for Goddesses if you do not believe that a Goddess would be interested in finding you. You won’t do magic if you don’t believe your circumstances could change. You won’t pray for intervention if you truly don’t believe you deserve any better. You won’t undertake rituals unless you believe those rituals have some kind of effect. What we believe about ourselves can be as influential on our spiritual lives as any belief we have about how the rest of the universe functions.


The flight of birds

Ancient Druids could read the future from the flight of birds. For the modern Druid, I think there’s a lot to be said for learning how to recognise the flight of birds. It is possible to identify a great many birds by seeing them in flight, even if they are just silhouettes. How a bird flies is a combination of its body shape, what kind of bird it is, how it relates to other birds and what’s going on in its environment.

Water birds for example tend to carry more fat to keep warm. They are heavier, more awkward in the air. Birds that fly longer distances fly higher than those who are foraging. Journeying birds form V shaped flight groups for efficiency, while foraging birds have rounder flock shapes and aren’t obviously organised. Large groups of birds fearing predation will rise up in deliberately confusing swirls in order to try and put sparrowhawks off. The black and white wings of lapwings seem to sparkle in the air and you can tell them as a flock from a great distance because of this.

Courting birds can have very different ways of flying from birds involved in other activities. Crows and ravens fly in pairs and sometimes roll, and sometimes roll so that one bird is flying upside down under the other bird. Knowing this kind of thing can stop a person from inferring strange omens when in fact what’s happening is normal courtship.

Birds who feed on insects in the air fly in curves and swoops – swifts, swallows, and housemartins particularly. Ground feeding birds like blackbirds and pheasants are more likely to explode out of the bushes in front of you. Buzzards are masters of the wind – if you can see a tiny speck circling so far above you that you can barely make out the bird shape, that’s likely a buzzard.

Some birds gather together as they come in to roost for the evening, and may set out together at first light. Big flocks can form around roosting, with large numbers of birds rising up and resettling repeatedly. Twilight behaviour is not always the same as what happens in the rest of the day. Flocks of pigeons in woods look and act differently from urban pigeons because they are affected by the context.

Birds have their own patterns for hunting and foraging. A grebe may work in one direction along a stretch of canal, a kingfisher will do the same on a body of water, or may take several dives from a preferred spot. Water birds may be affected by tides, going out to the mud flats when the tide is out and returning inland at high tide.

You may not be able to identify a bird by its flight, but you can tell a lot about what it’s doing. Is it going somewhere? Is it a high flier on a long journey or just off to the next tree, or making a short mid-height journey to the next pond? Is it hovering or circling to hunt for something on the ground or is it flitting to hunt in the air? Is it acting defensively as part of a flock, or is it the predator the flock fears? Is it showing off to a mate or hanging out with friends?

Winds aren’t the same at all heights. Sometimes, you can only see there’s a faster wind further up because there are a bunch of lunatic seagulls playing in the gusts.

If you want to work magically with the flight of birds, it helps to get to know what they normally do, first.