Tag Archives: magical

Magical Thinking

Rather a long time ago now, I went through some experiences that left me not only disenchanted, but feeling unsafe about allowing myself to think magically in any way at all. My universe was a cold, hostile place and I could not expect it to treat me kindly. Before that, I’d been a person who was not just into but really good at divination. I’d lived with intuition and awareness and felt open and alive. I lost it all. Those of you who have read my books will know that I’ve mostly been doing my Paganism from a maybeist/atheist kind of position.

For some years now, Tom and I have known that we could see no way to level up from our current arrangement. There are things we want to change in our lives – where we live, what we do creatively – but we’ve been unable to get there from here. We’re not affluent or prominent enough and we’ve not got the right connections. We’ve been in a processes of resigning ourselves to this being our lives, while habitually saying ‘and then the magic thing happens’ if we want to imagine something ambitious we can’t see how to achieve.

It was, with hindsight, something a lot like a prayer or a spell.

In the last few weeks, we have instead ended up looking at each other and saying ‘and then the magic thing happens’. Because it turns out that we have invited magic into our lives in a very real sort of way.

It’s been a strange few months, where I’ve had to depend on the intuition I’d stopped using and didn’t trust. With important stuff to do and nothing like enough information, it’s the only tool I’ve had. But every prompting from that has been right. Verifiable stuff with significant implications. I’ve started doing divination again and started paying attention to the world in very different ways – I have been re-enchanted, no two ways about that. Something I had not been able to see how to do for myself, but… the magic thing happens.

What I know right now is that there is magic coming into my life, and that what I need to do with that is trust the process. Let go, and be swept away by it all. So I’m going to trust that intuition, trust what’s happening, trust what will happen and be open to anything and everything changing.

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.

Then the magic thing happens

Magical thinking – as separate from a belief in magic – is the enemy of getting anything done. One form it takes is the belief that the magical thing happens and this is how you get from A to D – rather than having to do B and C. This can show up for example, in looking at the work a creative person does and assuming that this is because they have innate talent, not that they worked for it. The idea that talent is a magic thing that just happens to special people ignores the work that goes in.

I’m rather tired of seeing people treat social media as a magical thing that happens. The notion that we will put it on social media and it will go viral and that’s the marketing plan sorted… social media is not a magic thing. To make it deliver anything at all takes time and effort.

There is no fairy who comes round to bless people with special skills and alert them to those skills. We find out what we have some aptitude for by trial and error. And then, if you seem to have some innate knack for something, or enough enthusiasm for it, you have to take that and work with it. For years. Ten thousand hours is generally considered the necessary level of investment to become truly good at something.

I notice that the idea of a magic thing happening is especially prevalent in publishing – the larger the publisher, the more likely they seem to be to believe it. You publish books and then, for some of them, the magic thing happens and many copies are sold. Books to which the magic thing doesn’t happen are kicked into the long grass and their authors get no second chances. That books are in many ways just another product to promote and sell, and that many more of them would do well if anyone promoted them doesn’t seem to feature as an idea. Small publishers tend to be more realistic about these things.

Serious magical practitioners talk about the work involved in magic. The time needed to invest in developing skills and knowledge. Magic does not mean that a magic thing happens effortlessly and right out of the air. If you want to make something happen you have to put the time in laying the foundations. Magic will be unlikely to get you a job if you don’t do some active job hunting. Magic will be unlikely to bring love into your life if you don’t connect with people. Even in magic, there is no magic thing that sweeps in and does all the work for you.

The belief in the magic thing that happens is often a simple way of letting yourself off the hook for not doing anything. The magic thing did not happen to you, and so you did nothing. Failing to realise that you were the magic thing all along, and it was your action that had the power to make something happen.

Magical thinking for logical people

The trouble with magical thinking is that it can look distinctly irrational. Why would a few whispered words, a candle or a sprinkling of herbs change the outcome? And if there’s reason to think it did, there’s no way to prove it did.  However, to write magic off as irrational, is also to hold a set of assumptions about what reality is and how it works.

Cause and effect are not simple, mechanical procedures and we know this because the future is not predictable. Intention – human and other – is part of the mix. How we feel about things informs how we experience them. There are elements of unpredictability – weather systems being a fine case in point.  It’s the uncertainty that creates the feeling that other forces beyond our knowing could be involved, and with it the sense that we could take control.

We can take control of the insides of our heads, although most people don’t. Knowing what we want rather than being buffeted about by repressed desires and unconscious urges gives us a shot at being deliberate co-creators of our lives. We are shaped by our environments – to the degree of switching on and off genes. The person who deliberately shapes an environment has control of themselves and a significant influence on others. We become our choices. The more knowing and deliberate the choice is, the more control we have over who we become, how we feel, and how we experience life. Obviously the less control you have over a dreadful environment, and the less scope you have to escape it, the less true this becomes.

Intention shapes action. The clearer our intentions, the more able we are to deliberately follow through on them. The more open we’ll be to the things that take us in the right direction because we’re better placed to recognise them.

There is every reason to think that a spell operates inside the head of the caster – shaping, affirming, defining intent, clarifying, focusing, making way for possibilities. There’s nothing irrational about thinking we can use our thinking to change our lives – the conventional mental health intervention – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – is no different from this.

If we start from the belief that physical matter is the essence of reality, then the application of willpower is only relevant in so far as it lets us direct our bodies to interact with physical things. If you think about the nature and behaviour of atoms, the way forms of energy move, there’s certainly an argument for saying that energy and not matter, is the primary thing. Does matter lead to consciousness, or does conscious lead to matter? We can’t prove it either way, at the moment. Matter is certainly influenced by consciousness – you only have to look at what placebo effects (belief) and depression do to the body.

Of course if you do a spell, there are no guarantees, but that’s just as true of launching a marketing campaign or propositioning someone you fancy. Ours is never the only intention in the mix. Other intentions, other energies, other balances of probability are involved. If your magic aligns with a lot of other intentions and probabilities, your odds are better. The more unrealistic your magic, the less likely your chances. Again, this is just as true for the marketing pitch and the chat-up line.

Perhaps sometimes magic is better understood not as forcing your will upon the world, but being able to fit in with the world well enough to get what you want out of it. Akin to creating a product people may want to buy – always the easier sell, and chatting up the person who was already interested in you.

Dirty Druids and magical cleansing

Cleansing is a concept that comes up a lot around magic practice. I think there’s much mileage in thinking about what we might want to cleanse, and why, and how that relates to your world view. In witchcraft it tends to be about the removal of negative influences or unwanted energy that might conflict with your intentions. In spiritual practices, cleansing is often about the idea of purifying body and spirit to be more acceptable to the gods, and to help you transcend dirty, earthly things for the life of spirit.

Before you can cleanse anything then, you have to figure out in what way you consider it to be dirty, and what ‘clean’ would mean. Now, I have to say that in nature based religion, cleansing, cleanness and purity are all tricky words. Nature is dirt, and shit, and decay just as much as it is pretty flowers and nice birds. Some of it I’m more inclined to get close to than other bits, but if I start from the premise that nature is sacred, I want to be careful around ideas of cleansing in case it turns into a rejection of some part of life and the natural world.

What about cleansing myself? I make some effort to be sure the outside of my body is passably groomed and not unpleasant smelling. I also consider what I’m putting into my body in food and drink so I’m not dirtying myself with pollutants any more than I can avoid. I have a lot of mess and pain in my history, and dubious mental health as a consequence. Do I want to try and cleanse that away? Well, it’s part of my journey, it has been a great teacher, there’s a balance to strike between what to take with me and what to let go of. It’s not simple.

Might I want to purify my thoughts to be more spiritual? Yes, but I don’t believe I can do that in single acts of ritual cleansing. What I have to do is look at and work with my thinking over time to make sure I am not carrying about ideas I don’t believe or perpetrating ideas I don’t like, or inflicting on myself attitudes I would find unbearable if inflicted on anyone else.

When it comes to cleansing other things, there’s also the issue of free will. I have an animist perspective, give or take. I see the potential for not just spirit, but also intention and autonomy in things around me. I can’t assume that anything else has no opinions and won’t mind me waltzing in, and imposing my idea of spiritual cleanliness on it. This means if I want to do a ritual and my chosen space has picked up a bad atmosphere, I need to take time finding out what’s going on there, what the problem is, what would help. Sweeping out the negative influences may well not solve the problem, and might cause bigger issues in the longer term.

Traditional magic seems to me to be very much about imposing your will. If you’re looking at a largely unaware reality then this may feel comfortable. If you think everything else might have will and preferences too, forcing your will onto anything becomes ethically problematic.  When that will expresses my understanding of purity, cleanliness spiritual acceptability, usefulness, there are a lot of value judgements involved, and a value judgement is not the same as being right.

On the whole, I would rather be open to experiences that might change me, than seek any means of ‘purifying’ myself.

Belief as a form of magic

Belief has a great deal of power. The person who believes themselves invincible will act very differently from the person who believes they are doomed. Belief in medicine gives us the remarkable placebo effect, belief in the stock market holds our economies together… or sometimes doesn’t.

From what I‘ve seen of chaos magic, there are systems in which cultivating your capacity to believe whatever seems expedient, is a source of power. I could easily say the same thing of politics. I have no doubt that our ability to believe has a huge influence on the world. If we used this power to improve things, it probably wouldn’t worry me so much.

We believe that the market will magically solve everything, acting with god-like intelligence to resolve all problems.

We believe that we can have infinite growth with finite resources and can persist in taking more from our planet than is sustainable and that somehow, magically, there will be no consequences.

We believe that polluting the air and the drinking water is not a problem even though we know that some 11,000 people have already died in the UK alone this year as a consequence of air pollution.

We believe that fracking is safe and will solve our energy problems, and not poison the water or really contribute to climate change, and we don’t really believe climate change is happening anyway.

We believe that short term profit is more important than quality of life and long term survivability, because the market is going to magically fix everything.

We believe that nuclear is a safe and clean option, telling ourselves that business in Japan was really unlikely and could never happen here, and not believing that the thousands of years required for the cleanup process will be an issue. It’s not our issue at any rate.

We believe that giving more power to corporations so that they can sue governments if their interests are harmed, will be just fine because the market will magically solve everything, and if business is happy, the market is happy.

We believe that poor people caused the recent economic meltdown and should be punished, while bankers are fabulous people who need a big pay rise to reward them for their mistakes.

Every now and then someone will try to tell me that Pagan beliefs are irrational. We believe in nature, in so far as one can do that. We believe in stuff that exists, all too often. But even the most exciting of fluffy new age unicorn Atlantis theories starts to look quite sane and harmless when you compare it with the beliefs western humanity seems to be holding about where the magical powers are and how the world works.

History of the troubled mind

I recently read a book on witchcraft – looking at historical witch-hunters. One of the things that struck me is that there was a time when what we now call depression, could be interpreted as magical attack – the consequence of a curse, or being afflicted by malign spirits sent to harass you. The same book also referred to melancholia, the condition of unbalanced humours. Back in the days when a person had a mix of choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic that made up the balance of their personality and physicality, a person with too much melancholic influence, would be mournful. Depression explained!

Once upon a time, if you heard voices you were either divinely inspired or afflicted by demons. Now you have schizophrenia. Go back a few hundred years, and the uncontrollable voicing of obscenities would indicate you’d been attacked by a witch. These days, you’ll have Touretts syndrome. To be a lunatic, was to be under the strange influence of the moon. Today you might be diagnosed as having a psychotic episode.

The language of mental health has changed. It sounds scientific. You get syndromes, not curses. We talk of brain chemistry rather than lunar influences and humours. Sometimes medicating to rebalance the brain chemistry solves everything. Sometimes it doesn’t. Yes, the language has changed a lot, and how we relate to mental health has changed alongside the language. The very ailments that are labelled as ‘mental health’ issues would, in other times, have been understood as moral ailments, or afflictions of the soul, instead. Modern medicine does not like to think in terms of morality and soul. It prefers ‘healthy lifestyle’ as a term.

The same core issues remain. The labels have changed, along with the logic of the labelling. How we relate to treatment has changed, but not, really speaking, the way in which we tend to stigmatise the sufferer. Perhaps the biggest change is that, as a crazy visionary, you are much less likely to become a saint or prophet these days, that door is closed for now. You just get to be ill.

Perhaps there was a good thing about ascribing poor mental health to curses, and other magical influences. The afflicted person in this context was an unfortunate victim, but might not be responsible. They could have been cursed because of envy. In a world view that saw witchcraft as tending towards evil (and the mediaeval mindset most certainly did include this perspective) the victim of wicked enchantment is not to be blamed. On the downside, some poor scapegoat may be blamed instead, and the consequences when that happened could be dire, and probably of very little use to the person suffering from what we would understand as mental illness.

We’re not much better at curing malaises of the mind and spirit than were our medieval forebears. We are better at medicating people into compliance, but in terms of fixing afflictions, not a great deal has really changed. Tranquilising people is not the same as curing them. We have new words for some very old problems, but I’m not convinced we have any more functional understanding of it than our ancestors did. Yes, it may be more technically accurate to talk about a neurotransmitter in the brain, than a demon, but as I can’t see the chemicals in my brain, that’s as abstract to me as the little chap with horns and a pitchfork. Wonky brain chemistry or demon infested, there’s still not a heck of a lot I can do some days to put myself right.

It makes me wonder if we are in fact still as wide of the mark on mental health issues as our predecessors probably were with afflictions of unbalanced humours and malevolent witchcraft.

Different threads of inspiration

The inspiration it takes to write an essay is not the same as that which is needed for improvising a tune, or writing a poem. Problem solving inspiration is still a ‘ping’ moment in the mind, but is sought out, often, in very different ways from the approach taken to writing a poem.

I used to be fairly passive about inspiration. I would wait for it to come along, and when it did, I would work with it in whatever way seemed to make sense. This is fine if you’re creating purely for your own amusement. However, when having to produce new things to order, courting it so that it turns up dependably becomes more of an issue.

I think one of the big differences between people who create purely for the joy of it, and people whose work revolves around creating, is the relationship with inspiration. I’ve struggled a few times this week and several well-meaning people have suggested I need to just chill out and see what comes to me. It’s not an option I always have, when pieces of writing need to go out in a timely way.

When you are able to just go with the flow and respond to inspiration as it comes, the creative process is a lot more relaxed. However, it also tends to be true that if nothing automatically turns up, nothing happens. That inspiration through grace process is easily lost, and you can spend a lot of time not having inspiration and not creating as a consequence – I’ve done it, sometimes for years. It’s not a reliably happy process.

I have to know what I’m seeking inspiration for before I start. It’s not a case of being open, but of being focused. If I need a blog post, there will be a logical going over of likely topics, recent issues, and whatever prompts I’ve been given to see if any lights come on. I deliberately poke about, testing ideas, because the flash of inspiration for a blog is more likely to show up if I am trying to figure out a blog. If I need a short story, I have to not be thinking about essays. I need to be playing with scenes, settings, characters or fragments of dialogue so that the right light can come on and start me connecting thoughts into narrative.

If I want to write poetry, the process is very different indeed, calling for entirely different thinking. I have to be less linear, less structured, I need a whole other thinking process with which to court inspiration.

It is very rare that ideas come to me unsought. If inspiration manifests out of the blue, I was usually doing something with my mind that enabled it to show up. Maybe I was remembering, or trying to unpick the sense of something. Perhaps I’d been speculating, or consciously empathising with something around me. Most likely, I was not being a passive recipient hoping for some magic to happen. Most of the time that leads to very little. I’d add that those pings of random, unsought inspiration are often very hard to use for me, because they don’t belong anywhere. I’m much more likely to get a great idea for something I was working on, than a great idea where I need to figure out the application and am able to follow through on that.

From what I understand of brain functioning, much of the important stuff happens at a not-conscious level. We are not privy to the majority of our own processing. Much of the creative process happens inside our own heads, whether you believe there’s a magical component, or not. If you are using your mind, the odds of your mind making connections between things, is much greater than if you just float around in a happy cloud of indifference waiting for some magic to spontaneously show up.

Working with energy

For me, working with energy is not some kind of esoteric or magical practice. It is a daily concern about how to manage my energy levels so that I can do as much as possible. It’s not a wholly practical issue either. Energy is a basic necessity of life, so treating it as a more supernatural issue seems really bizarre to me. But then, much of my take on magic has far more to do with life as experienced, than that which cannot be pointed at.

I’ve learned some simple, practical issues around how much sleep I need (a lot in the winter, less in the summer) and what kind of diet actually sustains me. Getting that right has helped me a lot. I’ve looked at how I pace myself, moving between different kinds of work in order to stay mentally fresh. I’ve found I may be more of a morning person than makes emotional sense to me, but working late into the night burns me out far faster than starting early does. There are no one-size-fits-all answers here, it is a case of exploring and finding what works.

I’ve spent the last ten years and more trying to run flat out, writing, working, parenting, keeping a home, volunteering… I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve misjudged and burned out. The last few years I’ve been trying not to do that. Exhaustion is my single biggest trigger for depression and anxiety, and I’ve got to a point where body and mind simply cannot endure much more of that. It is essential for me not to spend too much time in that state. I get really ill. And so managing my own energy and learning to work within its limits, only pushing those edges gently and some of the time, has become vital for my viability.

It is clear to me that there is only so much I can do by getting the physical underpinnings right. Sleep, diet and exercise are important, and if I get those wrong I suffer. However, they will not do the whole job, and sleep especially is affected by my emotional state. If I am demoralised, if I feel unvalued, if the people around me give me a hard time and feed feelings of uselessness, then nothing works. Equally, if I have the right kind of engagement with people, my energy levels rise dramatically. What I need are intense, emotionally honest, heartfelt interactions with people. Preferably enough people to feel a bit like a tribe. Soul friendship, sharing of life and self, people who are being authentic… this makes worlds of difference.

Thus far 2014 has really brought into focus for me which relationships in my life give me this. I’ve been able to step away further from connections that make me feel tired and low, investing more in those heartfelt interactions that feed my soul. I am seeing the effects on my output. I’ve written nearly a novel’s worth of short story material in the last month, I’m writing non-fic at a pace, I’m doing arty crafty things, and it’s all flowing. My morale, which is rooted in my relationships, is what makes this possible.

There is an incredible magic in connecting open-heartedly with people. New thoughts and feelings, new experiences, are possible. It’s not your wand waving magic of spells and determined change, but a more organic and unpredictable magic, no less life-changing. Energy work… it’s not all auras and acupuncture language.

A magical spell

After some deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I do indeed have a favourite magical word. It is a charm against abuse, ludicrousness, greed and exhaustion. It has the power to protect the planet from human predation if only we use it properly. As a charm it works in a number of ways, layered with meaning and possibility.

That word, is ‘enough’.

To recognise that we have enough, is a powerful thing. Many people in the world are out there grasping after bigger piles of stuff they cannot use, because they lack the magical insight an ‘enough’ charm will bring. The flip side of the same issue fails to recognise that far too many people in the world do not have enough, do not have food, clean water, shelter or peace. They too need the magic of ‘enough’ to lift them out of misery.

“Enough” is the magic word that enables a person to walk away from bullshit, time wasting, crappiness. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to say it, and not to let people who just enjoy giving me a hard time get their jollies. I have learned to say no, and not to show up. I have taken enough already. I will take no more. It is a final, potent ward when used in this way. It can be said fiercely, and with feeling. Enough! No more time wasters, no more needless dramas, no more pointless misery for no good reason. I will be where I am needed, I will look out for the people who do not have enough in some aspect of their lives, but I will not stand around to be kicked.

Using the word ‘enough’ I will undertake to find out what that means in the context of my own life. I have not had enough peace, but I may have some hard fights to win it, because peace for myself alone would not be enough. I need more rest, and more time off, and more things that make me happy, and I need to learn how to say ‘enough’ to the work and the striving and the trying to make things better. I do not believe that the ends can be assumed to justify the means. Treating myself in ways that I find wholly objectionable when they manifest elsewhere, therefore does not work. I need to learn to say ‘I have done enough for now’. There are things to work on.

Words are power and magic, they are intention given shape and directed into the world. We do not need long and elaborate spells in order to make changes. We need focus. Sometimes one word is enough.