Tag Archives: wonder

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.

Reclaiming Innocence

I had a dream about a week ago, in which a unicorn spoke to me. So, that’s my unfluffy cred spoiled for ever, but hey ho. It was a good sort of dream and I am not averse to unicorns. It said that the whole maiden and unicorn thing was a misunderstanding. It wasn’t about virginity, it was about innocence, and that’s something we make, and can reclaim. Innocence is not something you inevitably have to lose, or lose forever.

Part of the problem is that we muddle the concept of innocence up with ignorance and inexperience, as though all three words are interchangeable. They aren’t. Innocence is about not choosing to internalise all of the things that experience and knowledge bring. It is a deliberate dedication to not becoming cynical, jaded, and narrow.

I’ve put this blog in the ‘magical’ bit of the listings, because for me, a deliberate decision that informs your choices, perceptions, emotions and prospects, is without a doubt an act of magic. To choose innocence of soul is a magical act, and allows us to deal with the world in entirely different ways.

I met a girl, years ago, who had been kidnapped and abused as a child. She’d survived, and somehow, against all the odds, it hadn’t stuck to her. She had a sweetness of self, an ability to trust, and an open heart. In the face of horrendous experience, she had chosen, and kept in tact, her innocence.

We can decide that what happens to us, is who we are. I’ve been along the edges of that one, feeling worthless because I was treated as worthless, feeling defiled because of what had been done to me. I do not have to take anything into myself, I do not have to become the consequences of any particular experiences. I can choose. I can pick to be the consequence of open skies and good friendships, to be shaped by dancing barefoot on the ground, and laughing, and playing. It is a choice, and one that I cannot claim has been easy, or that I’ve always managed, but not letting the shit get in is a powerful thing.

When pain, loss and betrayal cut us down, it is so easy to start imagining all the world is made of hurt and there will only be evil. The more self protective I’ve been, the more remote I’ve been from the good stuff, from the nurturing, soulful, healing stuff. To let the good stuff in requires a degree of vulnerability, it isn’t without risk. That same vulnerability allows you to fall in love, wholly and unconditionally. Not just with people, but with cloud formations, the sound of flowing water, orchids in a meadow, owls calling, and all manner of other things. When you can, not just love that which is beautiful and around you, but keep on actively falling in love with it, being blown away and left gasping, being reduced to tears of awe and wonder, then that sense of mystery is ever present. There is an absolute sense of the magical, or possibility, and the numinous.

Innocence is the choice that enables us, perhaps not literally to see unicorns, but to stand a chance of not disbelieving one into invisibility if it did show up.

Druidic Arts: Looking for wonder

A great deal of how we experience the world comes down to choice. The art of seeking wonder begins with the recognition that we do indeed have a lot of choice about how we experience life and interact with it. There are days when life experience, pain, gloom and stress make the quest for wonder seem hopeless, futile, childish. Part of the art involves steadfastly reminding yourself to bother, remembering that it can be done, and that the doing will nourish you.

Sensing truly and being open to the world is an art in its own right, and I’ve talked about it in a previous blog. If we aren’t letting anything impinge on our awareness, then it is a certainty that wonder will not come in to us from the outside. It is possible to generate feelings of wonder and the numinous from within. Through meditation, prayer, contemplation and imaginative exercises, it is entirely possible to feel a sense of wonder without any reference to anything else. There are times when going within in this way makes a lot of sense. However, there is an escapist quality to it, and it is better, frequently, to deal with external problems. To be a druid is not just to be wandering the inner plains, but to be engaging with the world our bodies move through. One of the dangers of seeking wonder within, is that our inspiration can easily become threadbare over time, and the method ceases to give us anything. Another danger is that we become divorced from consensus reality.

Natural beauty can be an easily available source of wonder, and there’s a great deal of it out there. Even in the most squalid of urban environments, plants strive to grow and creatures still manage to exist. Few environments are entirely sterile. Sometimes those determined, struggling urban plants can be the most heartbreaking and poignant things imaginable. The urban tree is as much a place of peace and refuge as one in a forest.

Watching for the good in others, and giving people the chance to step up and do something remarkable can be part of the quest for wonder. It’s easy to become cynical and remote, but for all the crap out there, humans are capable of amazing, generous, inspired, beautiful, wonder-laden actions. The more carefully protective of ourselves we become, the harder it is to access this. It’s only by speaking of pain that we can invite others to treat us with compassion. It’s only by trusting people that we can give them the chance to prove how worthy they were of that trust.

The art of seeking wonder will sometimes lead us to disappointment. In opening eyes a little wider we may also see things we don’t want to find. In taking risks in interactions and in what we expose ourselves to, we may not always find what we seek, but sometimes we will. Being open to wonder specifically calls for being open to risks as well. Wonders can be overwhelming, shocking, fearful, awe inspiring in the awful sense. That which is wonderful can break down our sense of how reality works, challenge our assumptions, even our sense of identity. There are stories about places that will turn you into a poet, or a madman, and I think this is part of the nature of encountering wonder. Small wonders may be gentle with us, but the big ones might well not be.

Reclaiming Magic

In my teens, I had a strong belief in magic. Not so much the spells and wands variety, but the essential, magical nature of reality, the importance of will, the strange complexities of existence. It’s one of the things I’ve lost along the way, and that wasn’t any kind of good or natural ‘growing up’ experience, or a deliberate embracing of another paradigm. Simply, I had my sense of magic stripped from me.

Over a period of years, I was exposed to a number of people with deeply disturbing and psychotic beliefs. People who claimed to be deities, who claimed to have cursed others and caused illness. People who claimed sole responsibility for keeping other people alive, the fate of others dependent on their whims. I also encountered people who claimed to be highly intuitive, but used their claimed intuition as a way to bully. It’s very easy to use the assertion that you have magical powers to control, intimidate and manipulate others. When modern writers criticise ancient cultures, it is often with the very assertion that people claiming magical powers used them to bully the credulous into serving them. It certainly does happen and is both alarming and destructive to encounter.

Exposed to this kind of behaviour and attitude, I became increasingly unwilling to think about anything in magical terms. Rational causality became ever more important to me. I felt a strong need to defend myself from what I was experiencing by becoming ever more conventionally rational. Magic became the word for experiencing the numinous or feeling a sense of wonder, but the idea of spells or deliberate will working I rejected. And oddly enough, that sense of the numinous, of the magical within life and nature, also began to diminish within me. I became, quite literally, disenchanted.

It is absolutely vital to maintain an understanding of reality that allows you, me, to functionally engage with others in viable and meaningful ways. However, humans are not wholly rational creatures. All things that we do begin in thought, will and imagination. We all have experiences we can’t explain, and the further reaches of science are so full of complexity and strangeness that getting my head round them is endlessly challenging, and much of the time, it might as well be magic. So often historically, ‘magic’ has been the word we’ve used for things we had no other explanations for. Letting that sense of wonder and possibility back in does not mean letting go of sanity or reason.

I am setting out to rediscover my sense of wonder, to rebuild my trust in the world and my ability to perceive it as a place that is not openly hostile to me, and that is rich with beauty and goodness, even amongst the pain and challenges. It is my intention to actively seek my own re-enchantment. The belief of my youth was just what naturally occurred to me. I didn’t put much work into it, so while it had an inherently innocent quality, it was also somewhat unformed, untested. To set out deliberately to rebuild in myself a sense of wonder and magic, is not going to give me back what I’ve had stripped from me. What happens, if this works, is bound to be different. I have no idea what to expect. Gone are the days when my sense of the future was keen and I trusted to my intuition.

I am choosing to step out into the darkness, with only intent to guide me. I want my magic back. I want my sense of magical possibility back, and my trust in both myself and the wider world. I want the rich, unconscious dreaming life I once had, and also I want those things I do not yet know about, that will be part of this journey. I’ll be blogging what happens alongside the other issues I tend to tackle here, and as ever, will be glad of anything anyone feels moved to share along the way.

Magic, fiction and paganism

Often in fiction, magic exists as a plot device, and alternative to science and a means to get things done. Sometimes, the mechanics are laid bare. Fictional magic often lacks mystery. Spell casting wizards whose magic is reliable if they say and do the right things are commonplace in fantasy. Psychic powers and magical attributes are usually well defined, predictable, reliable, and (to borrow from Red Dwarf) other words ending in ‘ible’.

As a pagan, my whole idea of magic is completely at odds with this. For me, the very essence of magic is mystery and wonder. I don’t perceive magic as an alternative to science either. I see them in far more complex relationship. That which we do not understand, is magic. That which we have an explanation for, is science, in terms of how humans deal with things. But science can engender wonder and a sense of the miraculous.

Brendan Myers defines magic as that which inspires awe (my books are in storage, I can’t do references!) I think this is a great place to start. The fireworks and thunderclaps of fantasy magic are no different from any other pyrotechnics. They inspire excitement perhaps, but not any sense of wonder.

In fiction, magic just isn’t magical very often.

The desire to explain, to pin down and regulate seems to be on the increase. We confuse understanding, with pinning a thing to a board. To understand a butterfly is to see it in flight, watch how it sits on a flower, to marvel at its colour. Pinning it to a board will help you define and quantify it, but destroys the butterfly. All the mechanical explanations in the world cannot really give you understanding of any complex thing. There is a world of difference between theory and practice, between figures and insight, between taking a thing apart and understanding how it works.

There are some authors who offer wonderful expressions of magic – Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Charles De Lint, Robert Holdstock, Jonathan Carroll, Terry Pratchett with his witches. There’s the whole genre of magical realism, inspired by pre-colonial ways of knowing the world – I’m not a huge fan of Salaman Rushdie, but he’s a fine example. Isabelle Allende is a personal favourite.

These are authors who write experiential magic, and who embrace the numinous. Magic is not, for them, a tidy and coherent system that works like a science or a technology. Magic is wild and wonderful, unruly and full of mystery. It does not explain itself. It will not sit down and tell you where it came from, how it works, and what you can and can’t do with it. Instead, it is the magic that transforms lives and brings inspiration.

There are a lot of people out there who perceive stage magic, fantasy magic, as the aspiration of actual pagans. They imagine that we want to be Harry Potter. They watch impossible, crazy things and understand that magic is impossible and unreal and not available to them. So much magic in fiction is actually taking away from people the idea that magic exists, by turning it into high fantasy. I’ve yet to meet anyone who does Harry Potter style magic (I assume no one would admit it if they could), but if this vision of what magic means defines it in the public conscious, most people will understand it is not for them, and that only crazy people would seek for it.

Remystifying magic, re-enchanting it and bringing it back into a spiritual and meaningful context, would be an epic task. But not impossible. It’s just such a nuisance that Hollywood pyrotechnic pseudo-science goes round calling itself magic, when it’s about as unmagical as you can get.