Tag Archives: magic

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.


To keep talking

In witchcraft, keeping silent can be an important part of what you do. In Druidry however, I think it is more powerful and important to keep talking. Our magic doesn’t depend on secrecy anything like as much as it depends on communicating. Bard magic is very much not about keeping silent.

Talking, writing and communicating are key parts of activism. If you’re interested in peaceful protest and non-violent ways of making change, then it has to be all about communication. Education, information sharing, awareness raising – it all counts. Speaking truth to power, speaking personal truth to anyone who needs to hear it – this is all part of the Druid’s work. In many circumstances, silence is complicity.

There is magic in what we can share with each other. We can enchant, uplift, support and encourage each other with music and with words. We can put beauty into the world, comfort the uncomfortable, challenge the people who are too comfortable.

Druidry tends not to be secretive. We meet in daylight, often, we meet in public places. Many Druid groups offer public ritual at least some of the time. The heart of our magic is inspiration and for many people its also found in the transformative power of ritual. This is the kind of magic where to keep talking is more powerful than to keep silent. We all benefit from ideas shared and knowledge passed on.


Intuitive Magical Practice – a review

Pagan Portals - Intuitive Magic Practice

Intuitive Magical Practice by Natalia Clarke is one of those  books I had the privilege of reading long before it came out. That’s been tricky because it had a significant impact on me and I didn’t want to pre-empt the book too much by talking about that.

This is a small book that offers things you can do to bring your intuition into your practice. It’s a gentle, generous book with a lot to offer in this regard, written by someone for whom intuition is at the heart of magic. Its clear reading this book that Natalia had to work to find and reclaim her intuition, and that raised a lot of questions for me.

It seems obvious – especially after reading this book – that magic should be intuitive. It shouldn’t be entirely prescriptive of about going through someone else’s instructions. I know there are intensely prescriptive high ceremonial approaches to magic out there, but those leave me cold. There should be room for wonder, and surprise, and… well… magic.

Reading this book made me ask a lot of questions about my own relationship with intuition. When did I stop trusting it, and why? How do I feel about it now? I came to the conclusion that it was something I wanted back. Natalia’s book was really timely for me, and it set me on a path that has radically impacted on my life. During 2020 I did a number of things that were leaps of faith, based on gut feelings and intuition. I started making space in my life for intuition and started acting on it. This has had a huge impact on me.

I’ve also tested my intuition a great deal. I’ve had some challenging opportunities to explore what I might intuit, and was later blessed with feedback about how well I’d done – and it was certainly enough to have steered by, and steered well in adverse circumstances.

This book opened a door for me. It also brought a lot of uneasy questions about my past, and it was good to be able to work that through. If you’re reading this review and wondering about your own intuition, and whether you have any, and whether you could work with it, then very likely this book is for you. If it feels right, go for it.

More about the book here –  https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-intuitive-magical-practice


Druidry and Magic

Recently I encountered a chap who said that the only magic in Druidry is communing with the ancestors. I offered a counter list – communing with the land and the old Gods, the magic of inspiration, or beauty, spirits of place, and so forth. He said that was magical, not magic. I have no problem with disagreeing, but it struck me as curious.

I know there are Druids who go in for spells – Kris Hughes talks about it, inspired by the magician Gwyidion, from the Welsh myths. Druidry is certainly not short of polytheists, and a prayer to a God is most assuredly an act of magical intent. I know for many Druids, magic is less about ‘doing’ and more about connection, about the numinous experience and a sense of wonder created by encountering wild beauty. You don’t have to believe in anything much to be a Druid. Magic can be found in the transformative power of ritual – whether you think that’s woo-woo magic or a simple consequence of showing up and doing the things.

The magic I have most deliberately sought it the magic of inspiration. I know no more powerful or glorious feeling than the moment when it crashes into me.

There are many ways of defining magic. Which is excellent. There are many ways of experiencing magic, feeling something as magical and feeling like a participant in something magical. There is however a world of difference between saying ‘this is what magic means to me’ and insisting that your take on magic is the only one available. Magic is personal, Druids are diverse, Druidry is full of possibilities. There is more wonder and delight to be found by being open to other people’s experiences than by insisting that yours is the only real one.


The Fiery Crown – a review

Here is a truly beautiful thing. The Fiery Crown is a comic written and illustrated by Charles Cutting. The cover art is indicative of what’s on the inside so it is easy to tell if the art style is for you. It’s full colour and lush and has that arty, painterly quality throughout. It’s a style that fits the story perfectly.

The Fiery Crown is set in some-when that resembles England in the early twentieth century, but clearly isn’t England as we know it. Much of the difference seems to hinge on a play called The Winter Solstice, and the story around it of the human who wiped out the fiery folk. Only it seems as though at least some of the characters are alive, and passably well and have plans.

This story does one of the things I love most. It tells a tale that feels like folklore. It feels like tradition and fairy lore and it is almost, but not quite familiar. It does draw on tradition, but it isn’t a straight borrowing from tradition, it is largely new, but with its roots deep in the rich soil of folklore. Charles Cutting clearly gets fairy folklore and is thus able to write something that both feels right, but is original. So I have no idea what’s going on or how the story will play out in future instalments and this makes me really happy.

I was fortunate enough to be sent a hard copy for review – it is a beautiful object. There are, I gather, 12 copies remaining from a limited edition print run, at time of writing this. You can pick up one of those here – http://charlescutting.com/The-Fiery-Crown

Or, if you don’t manage to snag a hard copy, there’s also a Comixology option over here – https://www.comixology.co.uk/The-Fiery-Crown-Act-1/digital-comic/897850?

Heartily recommended for anyone who loves fairies and living tradition, or who finds themselves in need of a bit of uplifting magic.


Nature, silence and quiet

Silence isn’t especially natural. In most places where there is life, water or wind, there will be sound – deep caves may be silent, and there may be silence in very thick fog, but that’s about it. However, in an insulated human home, it can be truly silent. I find this disconcerting, and it is always an issue for me at the point in the year when I have to close windows at night. Sometimes I can still hear the owls, but I have to be incredibly quiet and paying attention.

Nature tends to offer us quiet and subtle soundscapes. Some things are loud and raucous – seagulls, high winds, fox songs… but many wild things are subtle and easily missed. For me, the soundscape is as much a part of the experience of being outside as the visual appearance of the landscape is. Unfortunately, a lot of people miss out on this – interested in the picturesque, but oblivious to a lot of what is around them. I say this with confidence having observed other people out walking in parks and at beauty spots.

I’m always amazed by people who go out into ‘nature’ and are then so busy with themselves that they don’t seem to see, and most assuredly cannot hear whatever is around them. People for whom landscape is aerobic exercise, parental guilt appeased, or post-lunch attempts at virtue. I see them not seeing the wild things – where I have paused for a buzzard, raven or deer and they walk on by with no sense of what’s looking at them.

When you talk loudly with other humans, the sounds of the landscape are drowned out. The subtle tinkle of a small stream. The rustle of small rodents in the undergrowth. The calls of small birds – and larger ones. Sound is often the best clue for spotting wild beings and the person intent on a good conversation won’t pick up these clues. What frustrates me is the number of people who are really loud in beautiful places, not just wiping out their own scope for hearing anything other than their own voices, but filling the landscape with their banality. Perhaps they can’t hear how quiet it is. Perhaps the quiet unsettles them, so they fill it with noise. There’s nothing quite like walking in a beautiful place and having the landscape filled with someone’s loud and wholly tedious conversation about some TV show.

At this time of year, if you are quiet, you can hear the leaves falling. You can hear them as they brush against other leaves on the way down. You can hear them as they meet the undergrowth, or land gently on the earth. It is a soft, subtle sound, and it is beautiful, and enchanting, and not available when people are talking loudly. Life is full of such opportunities for small beauty and magic, but often we’re too busy talking over it to even notice.


Candles, prayers and magic

My first experience of using candles for prayers was in my late teens, visiting Gloucester cathedral. The cathedral continues to offer spaces where a person can light a candle as an act of prayer, and it’s something I and my family continue to do. The cathedral is a place I go to connect with my ancestors, amongst other things.

There’s an immediacy to using a candle – the flare of light as you strike the match, or the transference of flame from one lit candle to another. You literally put light into the world. It’s a good focus for will, for petition, for need. The observable effect of the lit candle feels like having done something, so it makes the spell, or the prayer seem more real, more in the world. Then, if you so desire, you can spend time with that candle and with your intentions.

I’ve become uneasy about burning things and using fire in any spiritual context. With so much of the world burning and overheating, I’m ambivalent, these days, about the role I think fire can play in my spiritual practice. Gone are the days when I would want to do ritual around a fire.

There is however comfort in a candle. It’s a small flame. A small gesture of hope even at a time when fire seems problematic to me. The warm light of it is inherently comforting, and when you are praying from a place of need, distress, discomfort, that small comfort can be worth a lot. When distress makes concentration hard, the focus of a candle flame can be a welcome thing indeed. There is light in the darkness. There is warmth and cheer. There is hope, be it ever so small.

So long as the candle flame holds, there is hope. So long as there is the means to light it, there is hope. So long as I refuse to give up on hope, there is hope. Sometimes, small symbolic actions can make a great deal of difference.


Druidry and diverse experience

One of the terms that floats about in contemporary Paganism is UPG – Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis. It’s a useful phrase for flagging up things you know from personal experience but can’t necessarily back up in any way. It’s good to clarify how we know what we know because other people’s mileage can and will vary.

However, there is a natural human desire to substantiate that personal gnosis, most often by agreeing with each other that we have experienced the same things. It can get a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ if we aren’t careful. It can feel vulnerable to have an experience that doesn’t sit well alongside the consensus experience. I’ve been that person in workshops a few times, and even in a friendly space it is uneasy being the person whose UPG does not fit in with the emerging SPG.

When we share experiences, there can seem to be a pressure to have at least had some sort of woo-woo or meaningful experience. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly in meditation sessions, and learned with the Contemplative Druid gatherings how much gentler the process is when you aren’t expected to give feedback on your experiences. To sit together meditatively and not have to say what your experience was is surprisingly liberating. It taught me a lot about the kinds of pressures I’d felt in other places, and how performative spiritual feedback can become.

Does it matter if we all have the same sort of experience? On one hand, it is validating, and some conformation that you have not gone quite mad. There’s being away with the fairies, and then there’s really being away with the fairies… But, I have also experienced people sitting together and not having the same experience around what’s going on in the room.

I feel strongly that diversity of experience should not leave anyone feeling like they got it wrong somehow. If one person has a woo-woo experience and other people who are with them do not, it does not meant that some of the people were less inherently magical. It does not mean that the person experiencing the uncanny is mad, or lying, or otherwise out of kilter. We have to have room for diversity of experience even when we are in the same place and doing the same things.

There is more to magic. It’s complicated. All kinds of ideas, entities, traditions, and ways of working exist in paths and in individual practice. It seems less reasonable to me to expect similar experiences than to expect diverse ones. I am reminded of the Jain story about the blind men trying to make sense of an elephant – it’s a good story to spend time with. Limited as we are, we might easily sit together and have a spiritual experience that is unique to each of us and have no way of knowing how it connects to a coherent whole anyway. And if it doesn’t, that should be ok too.


Spirits of Place

When Dr Abbey first arrived with us, he did a great deal of drawing at high speed. There were many pieces, and it was a really interesting process to observe. He hadn’t done much art in a long time and was drawing his way back into a more creative headspace. This image leapt out at me as he was working on it.

 

Last week I sat down with it and attempted my own version. I used pens –  I haven’t gone straight  in with coloured pens since childhood. That was a challenge. It also raised issues of how much to try and do my own thing and how much to emulate the loose style Abbey has when working unconsciously. I ended up with a mix.

My main aim in doing this was to engage with the image, and the energy of the being depicted in the image. I spent more than an hour on this, while the original took a couple of minutes. I will go back and have another go – most likely using materials I’m more used to. It’s harder doing ambiguity with pens, and this is a figure who I think needs more ambiguity in the mix.

One of the things that has struck me this summer, in my process of inviting magic in, is that drawing is something to explore. Not everything is best handled with words. I could not have had this experience by writing it, but finding this presence on the paper and making room for it opens something up and creates possibility. Drawing can, I realise, be a way of knowing, encountering, experiencing, connecting and honouring.  I will make more time for this, and share any interesting results as I go.


Making an altar

Ten years ago and more, altars were part of my life as a Druid. I like having dedicated space in this way. However, for a couple of years I lived on a narrowboat, and there wasn’t any space to dedicate. Horizontal surfaces were at a premium. So there was no altar.

This flat is also small, and horizontal space has also been at a premium. We live and work here – three of us, and for a while, four of us. There have also been cats, and cats and altars do not mix well unless you can keep the one off the other reliably.

The last week has been really hard. There is now no cat, and we’ve been unexpectedly a household of three when three of us thought we were a household of four. It’s complicated, painful and I write this with no clarity on what’s going on. There’s nothing sensible or useful I can do.

My Druidry has always, to some degree, been what I do in self defence.  This is something I may need to look at and rethink. Often I am at my most willing to dig in with magic and spirituality when I am most in trouble. I tend to manifest my Druidry more on the service and creativity side when life is ok.

So, I made an altar space. For the first time, I made a cooperative altar space. In the past, James was simply too young and not really interested in engaging with the spaces I made. He was interested in Druidry as a child, but more the bard stuff and having an invisible fairy dog (it’s a long story).  This is the first time Tom and I have had shared space we felt willing and able to dedicate in this way.

We’ve talked about what should be on a household altar. We’ve put some things together, and talked about how and when to change that. We’ve made a heart space that we haven’t had before in this flat, and we’ve made the decision to give that some priority. I’ve pulled out old ritual kit that’s been stashed and I’ve started thinking about what it means to me to have dedicated sacred space inside the flat, and what I might do with that, and who it is for.

An altar raises all sorts of questions around intent, and connection, who to honour and how. It raises issues about what it makes sense to do symbolically. Who are we inviting in by making offerings? What do we want to change in our lives by doing this?

In part I wanted to change the energy of the space. I wanted to make something good that could be a focus for love, for beauty, for connection. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how to better invite magic and wonder into my life, and this is in part a consequence of that process.

I feel better for doing it. I feel like I’ve reclaimed a part of myself that I’ve not been able to make enough space for in recent years. I feel that making this altar space is an act of commitment to a certain kind of future and an expression of how I want to be in the world. I’ve done all of this from a place of feeling grim and lost, and I’ve done it as an act of dedication to not giving up on myself, on the future, or on hope.