Tag Archives: magic

Magic in the creative process

As a Druid, I hold inspiration sacred and I see creativity as an inherently magical process. However, there’s one aspect of this that is stand-out magical for me, and it has to do with how I work with other people.

Without a doubt, I do my best work either when I’m collaborating with others, or writing for someone very specifically. It gives me focus. Ideas are easy to find, for me the key moment of inspiration is when I see how to pull a selection of ideas together to make it into something for someone.

What I write depends a lot on who I’m writing for. When I’m writing for someone specific, my relationship with them colours what I create. There will be a moment, or moments when I’m thinking about them and drawing on all the emotions that go with that. What happens next is like opening a door. Until I open that door, I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what will happen to me or what I’ll be able to do.

I feel this in a tangible way. I feel it in my body, in my thoughts. The door has a reality. Opening it changes things. Stepping through is a shift. I have no idea what I’m stepping into, what this space is or how it works, but it changes things for me. It lifts my creativity out of the stuff I can do from practice and experience, and elevates it into something with more inherent enchantment in it.

The door opens, and I pass through it. I write whatever it is that I could only have written by taking that step. Some people I will only ever write one or two things for because there turns out not to be much magic on the other side of the door. Some people I will keep coming back to because writing for them brings out the best in me. I’ve been writing for Tom for more than a decade now, and that door always leads me to good places.

Inevitably, this process impacts on my relationships with people. I’m drawn to the people I can create for in this way. I’m even more excited about people who are prepared to be a bit more active, engaging with me around whatever I’ve written for them, and deliberately opening doors for me by asking me to write specific things.

It’s a giddy feeling, when it works. Wild and wonderful, unpredictable. When I open those doors to write for someone else, I go places I would never have gone on my own. I’m able to think differently. Possibilities open up before me. I am at my happiest and my best when I can do that.


Druidry and Poetry

We tend to think of poetry as a ‘Druid thing’ because of its association with historical bards, and the way in which modern Druidry holds the bard path within it. There’s a lot we don’t know about historical bards and how that related to Druidry, and that’s an issue for another time, perhaps. What I find much more interesting is the way in which a modern Druid can use poetry.

Poetry impacts on the brain in a different way from prose writing. It’s more like how we respond to music. The science is out there if you hit the search engines. What it means for a Druid is that poetry gets in differently. It is a better vehicle sometimes for arousing empathy and engaging people’s emotions. It can get you passed another person’s blocks and defences to touch them in ways they might have resisted had you come in with regular speech or prose.

And if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is!

It raises some interesting questions about the way rhyming verses so often feature in spells. What are we doing to ourselves when we do that? Is that act of making an intention into a verse impacting on our brains in some way? I suspect so, but to the best of my knowledge no one is studying the science of poetry in spells as yet.

Poetry can be a lot easier to remember than regular text. If there are rhymes and rhythms, they prompt us to recall them more readily. There are things about sound and rhythm here that speak to us in deeper ways than the words themselves. There’s something powerful and impressive about recalling from memory, and that poetry can make this easier doesn’t diminish the impact at all. A poem quoted from memory seems more powerful to me than a segment of script or a book quote.

Despite all the research, our brains remain wondrous, mysterious things whose functioning we have barely begun to explore. Poetry seems to be as ancient as civilizations, suggesting that our ancestors knew that approaching language in this way has power. It’s a way of stepping out of regular conversation and exchange and into some other realm of heightened sensibility and sensitivity. We may be taken outside of ourselves, or more fully into ourselves. We may be transformed through metaphor and allusion to other lives, forms, ways of seeing and being.

To read, write or speak poetry is to perform magic on ourselves.


Performance magic

Sometimes, when you take a piece out and perform it, it does not go as planned. Sometimes, there is magic in the moment and the whole nature of the piece and your relationship with it can change. I’m not talking here about things that go wrong, or things that come up when you are under-prepared, but the way in which a space, an audience or an atmosphere can radically change a piece.

When you learn and practice a piece – be that a song, story, tune or poem – you’ll bring certain emotional tones to it. Much of what you bring will be about your feelings for the piece itself and what it evokes in you. Context can shift that – the mood of an audience, the impact of the performance space and so forth. I’ve done a little bit of singing in churches and those are massively unpredictable spaces for me, and I’m never sure how that kind of setting will shift how I perform.

The acoustics of a place can have considerable impact on performance. The differences between singing in a cave, and in a windy field are enormous. Some places invite you to slow down, to linger, while others encourage livelier performances. Some places you can use your voice quietly and still be heard. Some performance spaces can only be shouted into. This can mean you are working against the vibe of your piece, but sometimes it’s a magical shift that brings the material alive in new ways.

Sometimes it’s all about the audience. It’s effective to dig in with whatever suits the collective mood. Some audiences don’t respond well to certain tones and feelings. The feminist fury that gets you a ‘hell yes’ in one place may fall in awkward silence in another. Some audiences respond well to bawdy humour, others less so. The presence of a child in a room can encourage you to skip hastily over some kinds of detail.

One of my best audience moments was in a poem where I made a joke about bestiality, and the one dog in the room picked that moment to emit one loud bark!

I find it’s best not to fight these things. Going with what happens in a space, in a moment, with an audience gets powerful results, while fighting it seldom works.


Fool Magic

There is incredible power in foolishness. There is freedom and delight in being willing to make an arse of yourself, but it goes further than this. Being willing to be foolish opens up space for people. If we all have to be super-good, correct, dignified, and successful then it’s really hard to jump in and have a go for the first time. Willing fools create spaces in which it is possible for others to safely participate.

The man who taught me most about performance and stage craft had this down to an art form. While I learned a lot at the time about how to perform, it’s only in recent years that I’ve started thinking in earnest about the impact of his playing the fool. Because however badly I messed up, he would guarantee to make a bigger fool of himself than I could manage on my own account. I learned to feel safe in that space. I’m thinking more about how I might do that for other people.

I’ve always done it around dancing. I will be the first person up, I do not fear the empty dance floor and I do not need lubricating with alcohol. My often sore and weary body has led me towards ways of dancing that involve more drama than effort. It is easier to get up and dance when someone is already there waving themselves about excessively, as is my habit.

For my fortieth birthday party, two friends donned a selection of colanders with the intention of being the first ones up to make sure people got moving. It was all rather wonderful.

I see this kind of thing in the gleeful preposterousness of Steampunk. The permission we create for each other by not taking ourselves too seriously. The way in which you can go into something with enthusiasm, and wholeheartedness and absolute willingness to be ridiculous, and how this creates joy.

Mirth can triumph over fragility and ego alike. It can overcome fear, and undermine insecurity and undo pomposity. It’s a powerful tool for growth, it enables happiness and helps us engage gently with each other. If we can be ridiculous together, we never need to fear certain kinds of judgement.


Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill

At the weekend I went to see Johnny Coppin’s All on a Winter’s Night – a beautiful evening of seasonal music. I came home with a CD that included all of the album Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill and it has taken me on something of a journey. This album was part of the soundtrack of my childhood, and is full of songs about Gloucestershire. This is not a review for the album, but it is a wholehearted recommendation to check it out.

There are many Gloucestershire writers of course, some of whose poems are set to music on this album. Child-me knew nothing of this before I encountered the album, and had little sense of who the poets were. What struck me, between the words and the music, was the experience of having my own landscape expressed. For me, this album captures a sense of the Cotswolds and Severn Vale as an enchanted place, full of beauty and wonder. I think it likely that my sense of the possibility for enchantment in the landscape began here.

When I left the Cotswolds for the Midlands, these were the songs I turned to. I learned some of them and sang them as a way of retaining a sense of connection with the land I grew up in.

Listening to Forest, Vale and High Blue Hill as an adult, back in this landscape I’m painfully aware of what I’ve lost. I’ve been examining my feelings of disenchantment, and much of it comes down to cars. Car noise is everywhere. You can see, hear and smell them. There are rare places where the sound doesn’t permeate, and going out at night and early in the morning can be quieter. I find the intense presence of cars in the landscape a source of disenchantment. I can’t hear the wildlife, or smell what’s natural. Heavily used roads distort my experience of the land. The lanes are dangerous.

Cars do such a good job of turning the land into something we can use and consume. They insulate us, give us the big views, take away the experience of being in a place. There are so many people driving up onto the commons, and out to the beauty spots that it impacts on the very reason they are there. Leading to people traipsing round carelessly, often with dogs, leaving poos in plastic bags, filling the landscape with their noise. What could have been magical becomes a playground for those who can afford it.

I don’t know what to do about my own disenchantment. Johnny Coppin’s voice has, at times, something eerie and otherworldly about it, which I love. A quality that cuts through to the part of me that still wants to be enchanted, and reminds me that this is possible. Which mostly results in me crying pathetically, but there we go – it’s what I’ve got at the moment. Better to feel grief than to feel nothing.

No doubt the Gloucestershire poets have contributed to the making desirable of this part of the world. The weekend homes, the retired money moving in, the unaffordable villages. People come here looking for Laurie Lee and cider with Rosie and all the rest. They come here because rich and famous and royal people have come here. And there is no silence left in the hills most days where the magic can seep in.


Notes on the Use of Mystic Rhythm

A guest post by Ing Venning

Many kinds of spirit work involve rhythmic patterns: drum circling, sacred movement, chanting, writing verse, sacred sex, and a number of others. Indeed, energy itself is constantly being described as being in motion, as flowing or ebbing, as pulsating, as vibrating. If energy can exist in completely static form, then that form must surely be quite rare.

We should, therefore, consider what energy patterns are most appropriate for the task at hand. Some tasks don’t require much thought. Most people can easily fall into a meditative pattern of slow, regular breathing without much conscious preparation. Likewise, it’s easy to go along with a chant, dance or song lead by someone else (assuming they are competent at what they’re doing). But what should we do if we need to facilitate rhythmic energy work? I find a handful of factors – namely, numerology, accent, and the balance of tension and release – to be key to the process.

There are a number of important numerical patterns associated with common spiritual practices. There are four or five components in most systems of magical elements. There are four (or three apparent) phases of the moon. There are three aspects of many deities. There is an in-out duality to breathing for meditation and a trinity of worlds in many geocosmic systems. We can use these sacred numbers, associated with patterns of accent or emphasis, to inspire our spiritual practices.

Here are a couple of examples:

– Alma is hosting a drum circle on the night of the full moon. In her practice, there are four main phases of the moon. Therefore, she decides to enact a drumbeat in 4/4 time (each measure, or musical section, has four beats). If we begin with the new moon, the full moon is the third phase. Alma decides to honor the full moon by accenting each third beat. Her musical pattern sounds something like this:

da da DUM da/ da da DUM da/ da da DUM da

(If she only recognized three moon phases – or recognized the new moon as a dark or hidden phase – she might opt for the following pattern in 3/4 time: da DUM da/ da DUM da/ da DUM da.)

The drummers create variations, of course, but they are anchored by this rhythm in honor of the full moon.

Another example:

– Sylvan is facilitating a ritual where people will share their musical talents with both worlds. He decides that, instead of calling the quarters, he will dance them. Like Alma in the first example, he chooses a four-based pattern (but, in his case, to honor the elements), but he decides to shift the accent to honor each particular element when he is summoning the energy for its quarter. His pattern might, therefore, go something like this:

DUM da da da (at air quarter)

da DUM da da (at fire quarter)

da da DUM da (at water quarter)

da da da DUM (at earth quarter)

 

As he dances each of the quarters, he makes a significant motion (a twirl, a jump, an arabesque) on the accented beat in honor of that quarter.

Considerations of phrasing and accent are also very important to the practice of writing spiritual poetry.

Here is an example:

– Mary has decided to write a poem that honors the sacred feminine and sacred masculine in the context of the elements, describing how the elements must balance inside each of the two before they can, in turn, balance with each other. She opts for a poem that switches back and forth between iambic and trochaic tetrameter. She chooses tetrameter because this kind of verse has four feet (in honor of the four elements); she chooses to switch between iambic and trochaic because they emphasize the different accents in sets of two syllables (one for each foot). She decides to accent the first beat of some feet (trochaic tetrameter) to honor male energy and to accent the second beat of other feet (iambic tetrameter) to honor female energy.

A “male” verse might read:

Echoes reach us, brightly spinning

Air, please tell me how to begin.

Fire, come kiss me. Touch me, wake me.

Stir the cauldron, season freedom.

 

(Roughly – DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, DUM da/ DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, etc.)

A “female” verse might read:

The river sweetly flows beside

Where water sings and lilacs grow,

Where trees thrive long and blind moles dwell.

Come, stir the cauldron, lullaby.

 

(Roughly – da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM/ da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, etc.)

Last – but by no means least – is the consideration of how to balance tension and release. The principle of their management, in fact, is quite central to many concerns in life. We build a decent character by balancing relaxation and work. We forge a good novel by balancing exposition and climax. We create a fulfilling orgasm by balancing foreplay and intercourse proper. We can apply the same principles to spirit work.

Our goal is to build toward the climax of our work (whether that be invoking a deity, casting a healing spell, reaching the fastest tempo of the drum circle, etc.). But we cannot simply rush headlong toward our goal. We need context; a progress of nothing but tension will make the tension stop seeming tense and will create an anti-climax. We need to build by raising our tension and then relaxing it – but not quite as much as we raised it. We then continue to raise and relax our energy – always moving toward the final climax, which will be followed by a period of deep relaxation.

Here is an example:

– Herne is facilitating a sex magic ritual. He asks participants to chat with each other beforehand, but only about trivialities. He then encourages participants to touch each other over their clothing and kiss for a few minutes, after which he asks participants to separate and talk to each other about their most interesting sexual experience. Next, he requests that participants undress and touch each other sexually. Next, he asks them to sit while cuddling and talk about a sexual experience they’ve always wanted to try. He follows this by asking them to proceed to performing fellatio on each other, but then asks them to back away to touching if they near orgasm. Finally, after edging (almost reaching orgasm and then backing off to make the final orgasm more powerful) several times, he allows them to climax as they invoke deity. By building tension, releasing it, then building it again toward orgasm, the facilitator will help participants to reach a better climax, both in terms of body and spirit.

This is not an exhaustive piece and won’t prepare you for every situation involving spirit work and rhythm, for there are simply too many to document. I do hope, however, that it leaves you more conscious of the role that rhythmic patterns play – both in your mundane life and your life of the spirit.

 

Ing Venning is a pagan indie author who draws upon his experiences of being multiply different from the mainstream. His first two books (an eclectic sampler of his work and the first novel in a portal fantasy series featuring pagan protagonists) are available for free through https://ingvenning.com/


Consuming the landscape

I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to get to grips with the issues that underpin my depression. One of the things I’ve identified is that I have a deep need for wildness, and without the experience of wildness, I am depleted and spiritually under-nourished. This led rapidly to the question of why my immediate landscape isn’t nourishing me.

I don’t need to be miles from people, or in pristine wilderness. Some of my best ‘wild’ time in recent years was spent on the edge of the Severn – locations that certainly had other people in. I’m not automatically upset if I go for a walk and encounter other people. The presence of other people does not automatically undermine my experience of wildness.

Back in the canal days, we’d find that about 5pm, the noisy, careless people would go home, and the canal would start to feel wild again. People who came in the evening did not disrupt the experience of wildness. It is, I realise, the same here, especially in the summer.

There are a lot of popular places to take your car, dog and/or children. The landscape is full of people talking noisily and walking carelessly. Some of them stare at their phones, or play music everyone in area can hear. Some ride their mountain bikes over the barrows and insist on offroading in the woods, causing damage. The paths on the commons have expanded as they stomp carelessly through the grasses, apparently oblivious to the delicate ecosystem under their feet. Their dogs chase the skylarks. Their children pick flowers.

I’ve come to the conclusion that certain kinds of human behaviour bring disenchantment into the landscape. It is a temporary problem alleviated as soon as they are gone. I can avoid it by walking the places they don’t go – chiefly the country lanes. It helps if I stay away from the car parks. I find it distressing to encounter a stream of people for whom the land is just an amenity to use, a product to consume. It’s better in the winter because I go out and mostly they do not. It’s better at night and at twilight, but that really limits my options. It is better to walk in the week than at the weekend.

To some degree, I can flex around this. I can’t see any way to change the culture here. Wildness is everywhere, but some kinds of energy and presence from people simply wipes out the magic of that.


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.


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