Tag Archives: magic

Love and magic

Love is supposed to magically save you. The mere existence of the right person is supposed to make everything right. I’ve had people ask me in the past why being in a relationship hadn’t cured my depression. I’ve had people who love me distressed because they believe their love should be enough to fix me.

Love is magic, and can fuel magic, but at the same time it isn’t a magic cure for all ills. It also isn’t reliably enough. Love isn’t enough if you are cold, hungry, exhausted and in pain. Sure, love might carry you through a short bout of that, but it will not let you live there long term. Nor should it. Love is not a substitute for all your other basic needs. 

Depression has many causes – massive stress being a common underlier. Love won’t save you from a toxic work culture. It won’t fix your financial insecurity necessarily, or cure your health problems. It also won’t undo past trauma. Your lover is not your therapist, not your life coach, not your psychoanalyst, not a substitute for your parents… It is not the job of the person who loves you to make up for everything in your past, fix all your problems and sort your life out. 

When we think love is supposed to magically fix everything, we can end up putting impossible pressure on the people we love.

What love can do, is provide a safe space where people feel able to fix themselves. The love, belief and support of another human can help us feel resourced enough to square up to our problems and see what can be done about them. Love opens us up to the idea of helping each other and supporting each other. Rather than a hetranormative romance take where one person magically saves the other, we can have networks of support and care. Love doesn’t have to mean romantic love, and the idea that the person we are shagging is supposed to meet our every need is questionable. 

There are many ways to love. In that love, we can grow together and find shared solutions. Most of our problems are not individualistic. It’s just that keeping us focused on individual solutions that don’t really exist keeps us from making real change. I don’t think this is an accident. Love can save us, but not in the way that happens in movies. Love of life, of community, of friends – that can save us. Love of fairness and justice, compassion and dignity can save us. We can definitely save each other, but not by magic. It’s going to take work.

But then, it’s when you show up to do the work that both love and magic become truly possible and truly powerful.


Planning a ritual

Rituals can be very small things for one person, through to elaborate hours or days of activity for a group. When it comes to group rituals, there’s a huge amount of scope for getting things wrong for some or all of the people involved. That might be a topic for another day. When it comes to solitary rituals, you can approach this from the position that you can’t get it wrong.

You can of course set yourself up to fail. You can load your ritual with expectations that you are unable to meet. This is most likely to be an issue if you focus on the outcomes you want from the ritual and not the process of doing it. Rituals that centre on spells can be very outcome oriented, but for a Druid there are other ways of approaching things.

I don’t do a great deal of solitary ritual, but when I do, I like to treat it as a process. The first part of this process is to make space for whatever needs and feelings I have that incline me to think that a ritual gesture of some sort is appropriate. I need to understand what’s going on with me and what I need to deal with. Working that through will help me understand what I need from a ritual.

For me, a ritual is a conversation with the universe – or perhaps with some specific part of it. I make rituals because I want to change something. I may not have a clear sense of how I want things to change, or I may not be able to make the changes I need by conventional ways. It may be that I just want to make something for myself – an intention, a dedication, or just the desire for change. I may find in my ritual-making process that coming up with and enacting the ritual gets a lot done for me. Undertaking a ritual is an act of will and intent and can also be a way of having a conversation with myself about how I want to change my life.

For me, the planning part of ritual activity is often the most important bit. Building the understanding, shaping intentions and working out how to meaningfully express that to myself and the universe gets a lot done. You don’t have to have a magical world view to see the useful psychological impact this process can have. I do however have a magical worldview. I see clear ritual action as an invitation to possibility. Everything out there is informed by someone’s intentions, (I say this as an animist – everything is someone). To speak your intentions clearly to the rest of existence can and does change things. It’s not something I do very often, but I’m always surprised by how powerful it is when I do feel the need to engage in this way.


Spirits in the land

Some places have very distinct atmospheres, and sometimes this can include a feeling of presence. My understanding of this is cautious, but based on long term relationships with places that have very distinct atmospheres, and places that do not.

If I walk from my home along the nearby cycle path, there’s a gentle atmosphere, but nothing much. This is a place heavily used by people, bats, foxes and others. There are some very distinct individuals amongst the trees, and there are places other creatures frequent. When I walk this way, I experience a great host of individuals, including two springs and a stream, and all that lives amongst the trees.

Not far from the cycle path is an old cemetery built on the site of a Roman villa (look up the Orpheus mosaic in Woodchester if you’re curious). This is a place with a lot of history and ancestry in the soil and it has a distinct atmosphere. Again I experience this as the combined effect of a lot of individual presences.

However, there’s a lane I can follow from here up towards the top of the hill. There is a place on the lane where a stream crosses the path, and here there is a presence. There is something beyond the many individuals living on the land. I’m always keenly aware of this presence when I come to this spot and my guess is that it’s associated with the spring at the head of the stream. The only way to reach the spring would be to wade up the stream and I have a strong feeling that this would not be good or welcome.

Coming into contact with this presence is something I find powerful and affecting. I don’t bother it in any way because I have a strong sense that it wants nothing from me. This is often my experience when I have a sense of presence in a landscape. They don’t want anything from me and they don’t want to offer me anything. My sense of their existing is enough for me.

I’m wary of the urge to extract meaning from this kind of experience. It’s really important to me to go to these places where I feel presence and to remind myself of enchantment and possibility. I don’t ask for anything beyond that. I am not called upon to do anything. I actually like feeling that this is not a purposeful relationship. I am not being taught, or guided or otherwise improved by the experience – because this is simply a presence doing what it does. I am not needed or significant. I am not singled out for specialness by having a special relationship. I’m fortunate in having these experiences and that’s all there is to it for me.

I acknowledge that there were many times in my life when I longed to have something spiritual or supernatural single me out for attention in some way. I wanted to be important. I have a lot of personal issues around needing to feel like I matter. I’ve learned to be glad simply to have experiences, and I’m becoming more relaxed around not seeking significance. Increasingly, it is enough just to be and to feel.


Learning to read the signs

Sign reading isn’t just a mystical art, although it often feels that way even when it’s largely pragmatic. Appearing to have magical insight can sometimes be about being better at reading the world than most people are. Knowing how to read the clouds when they move over your specific bit of landscape is a good example of this.

Many other animals are better than humans when it comes to spotting the early warning signs for earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. Observing and knowing how to read those reactions can be a life saver. Understanding how everyone else responds can provide you with a lot of information.

At the moment I’m trying to learn how to read the signs in my own body. The immediate future can be divined from the behaviour of my heart. I’m trying to outwit anaemia, and the earlier I can read the signs, the better chance I have of staying well. It’s all very of-this-world but compared to where I was a month ago, it looks truly supernatural.

We can tell a lot about what people might do by paying attention to body language, word choices, and the tells they have that indicate lies or bluffs. Good poker players are often good people-readers. I prefer not to have to infer things, but it is often necessary.

Human systems are complex and can be difficult to make sense of. Even so, the lines of cause and effect are often there to be read, even by someone who does not have a deep understanding of everything going on. I remain amazed by the people who seem unable to see what the impacts of the UK leaving the EU are. In pragmatic issues just as in mystical ones, it is all too easy to only see the signs you can interpret in the way you wanted to all along.


Of writing and magic

Any act of writing can be a spell. Simply putting words into the world is an act of will, intended to cause change. It is a process that can change the person undertaking it, as well. I write things on this blog because I intend to cause change.

Sometimes I write in order to understand. I find it a powerful tool for processing. There have been many times when insights have come to me as I was writing, rather than having set out to write about insights I’d already had. Even when I think I know what I’m going to say, the process of writing often opens unexpected doors and allows something new to come through.

By this means, I can take ideas out of my thoughts and place them in your mind. Thanks to the additional magic of the internet, I can do that without necessarily knowing you. Written words travel freely through time and space, connecting us with people in ways that go far beyond what many of those writers could ever have imagined. I can sit at my computer and read in translation the first known novels from around the world – something I doubt those authors could have imagined would ever be possible.

Anything you can do through meditation, trance, visualisation or similar inner working, you can do by writing. It’s all about the kind of states your mind can enter and how you choose to explore that. For me, if I want to know about something, my best bet is to try and write about it. The headstates I sometimes enter when writing are much akin to those other, more obviously spiritual states. 

Much of my writing is deliberately constructed by me, in a conscious way. Much of what I do depends on knowledge, experience and years spent learning technical stuff and honing skills. However, every now and then, something else seeps in. Not always when I’m trying to court the numinous, sometimes when I’m being entirely silly, even. Some of my best animist writing is in Wherefore – which was written to be an amusing distraction during lockdown. 

Opening up to the flow of words and ideas always makes a space where something else is possible. Just occasionally, something else comes through that is more than I expected, and takes me to places I did not know I could go. Sometimes, the act of writing is one of being enchanted – not being the spell caster, but being the one on whom the spell is cast.


Every Pagan Is An Activist

If we are to have any kind of relationship with any aspect of the natural world, we have to be activists. I firmly believe that it is not possible at this point to be a Pagan without being an activist. The person who feels entitled to simply take from nature – be that magically or practically, has a destructive relationship with this planet and everything on it.

There are, however, many ways to be an activist. If you are working from a place of care to try and protect, nurture, and support life, you are already doing this work. You might want to consider dialling it up, making it more explicit and more visible. There is always more that can be done, but if everyone did something we’d be in a much better state.

All compassionate work is a form of activism – up to a point this also includes self care. Promoting rest and health means pushing back against the idea that we should work and consume endlessly. When self care is sold as a product, it becomes part of the problem. When self care is the excuse we use for not bothering, then it stops being activism.

We have to be careful to avoid things that are primarily undertaken to put ourselves centre stage. Activism that is mostly ego doesn’t get much done. 

Pagans are especially well placed to talk about power. Anyone on a magical path has a considered relationship with power. There’s a lot of philosophy in Paganism around power-with rather than power-over, and this is key around activism. Mainstream culture teaches people to feel powerless and ineffective. Paganism teaches people to stand in their own power and use it well. If we can model how to do that for people who are not Pagans, we can help people overcome the feelings of futility and powerlessness that stop many from acting.

Everything can be changed if there’s enough willpower to make a difference. We have the resources. We have the knowledge. Anything can be changed, but only if people believe they can change things. What we know about will, belief, and intent could make a great deal of difference. 

And so I write this to remind you that you are powerful. The things you do make a difference. Your words are spells. Your actions have an impact. Your will affects the world. 

(With thanks to Helen Woodsford-Dean for the prompt to write this.)


Confidence is a form of magic

So much of what we do depends on having enough confidence. Day to day life is full of decisions – many of which we may not even notice making on a normal day. However, if fear has paralysed you, or experience has shattered your confidence, those small decisions can become overwhelming. Shower? Breakfast? I think often people fall down on self care because they just can’t figure out what to do, and end up doing nothing.

Every communication we enter into depends on confidence. If you don’t expect to make sense, then speaking at all is hard. If you don’t have the confidence that you will be listened to, heard and taken seriously then communicating is hard. This is part of why it is often so hard to ask for help when you’re in trouble.

It is more normal to frame this in terms of what we can’t do when anxious, but I think there’s some use in flipping it over. Almost everything we do depends on confidence. Without confidence it is so difficult to make choices, act or speak. How much confidence a person has is going to greatly inform how effective they can be. Curing someone’s anxiety is far more complicated than the idea of boosting their confidence, but the effects are going to be much the same.

We can all support each other in being more confident. We can cheer each other on. When we shoulder burdens together we can better manage the difficult choices. When we put our faith in each other, and make that explicit, we can lift and empower each other.

Confidence is belief. Belief is most assuredly magic. We could all use more of that, but it’s a magic we can make together, and for each other.


Inspiration and Performance

Often, we talk about inspiration as being the act of creating a piece of work. That’s not quite what happens around performance. It is possible to be a really good performer – of music, poetry, theatre, dance… without creating original pieces of work. There are a number of ways in which inspiration can manifest.

Firstly there’s the choice of material. An inspired choice will be a powerful thing. This is about finding the perfect piece for the setting, the time of year, the audience, the mood on the day. When this works it can be truly magical. As you’re preparing material and won’t necessarily be able to fettle those choices in situ, how inspired you are in your choices can make a lot of odds.

There’s a lot of work involved in learning and arranging a performance. A lot of your own creative energy will go into this. What you do with your voice or body to bring a piece to life is very much yours. The preparation work you do will also inform how you are able to interpret and perform the piece in the moment and what you can do to tailor it to the space, audience etc. Whether you prepare with the intention of doing it in a way you’ve settled on, or whether you prepare to try and have many options on the day is also a factor.

Then there’s what happens in the moment. When you step into a space and decide how to perform what you’ve brought with you. The more confident you are, the better. The more sure of your material you are, the better. But there’s also always that scope for something magical to enter in and influence what you do. Performance itself can be inspired, and when it is, there is a considerable difference.

Creativity is a way of being in the world, a way of being open and interacting with the material, the spaces, the audience. Inspiration is a strange, glorious process that can strike at any time. Anything we do can be lit up with inspiration and can be made more wonderful by having that extra spark in it.


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.