By Jesse Wolf Hardin
“They gave him a seashell: ‘So you’ll learn to love the water.’ They opened a cage and let a bird go free: ‘So you’ll learn to love the air.’ They gave him a little bottle sealed up tight. ‘Don’t ever, ever open it. So you’ll learn to love mystery.’”
— Eduardo Galeano
It’s a scene replayed over and over again throughout the history of human kind: the shadows of a circle of elders tilting and gesturing like giants on the faces of surrounding rock. Children, more curious than obedient, watch from behind a concealing oak or jungle hedge, straining their ears to make out the strange words and glorious sounds being carried starwards aboard the roar of a ceremonial fire.
In every case the elders would be Adepts, having both taken the training and survived the tests that prepare one to intercede with the powers of Nature, or win favor with the Gods and Goddesses for a besieged or hungering tribe. They first wore little but fate and feathers decorating taut black skin, then the furs of reindeer and cave bears, the horn headdresses of Tuva and Lascaux.
A gathering of Druid priests. Norse Soothsayers. Apache Medicine Men. The aboriginals of Australia. Greek Orphics. The Pythoness. The Priestesses of Aphrodite and Diana. Witnesses could only imagine the secretive motions of hands concealed behind flowing purple robes or ashen hooded cloaks — as the practitioners of every nature-based society, at each stage of history, performed their sacred rites.
They mystify not only the wide-eyed children but those adults who have neither been selected for, nor yet completed the special training required by any esoteric tradition. There is indeed power in the focused attentions of the inner circle.... and there is power for all, in the mystery of the unknown.
Magic is the venerable art of storing and manifesting that power, directing subtle energies in accordance with a vision or mission. It is the physics of imagination and intent. Since the days of the Paleolithic shaman we’ve known that a combination of personal intention and will, rituals and spells can by their selves influence the likelihood of a particular intended effect, result or outcome.
Some are born more predisposed to such practice and calling but everyone has a degree of ability to magically affect and alter events, and the power is amplified many-fold by those alliances of intention sometimes called covens, nests or clans. Even without physical real-time participation, a common group vision can move human evolution in any direction, positive or negative.
As with fire or any other energy, magic is in itself morally neutral. And because of this, it becomes incumbent on the magical traditions to dedicate their intention and skills to doing good: contributing clarity, defining priorities, serving the needs of the heart and the hopes of the children. Continually healing and binding the relationship between self and others, and between the people and the Earth. Giving thanks and praise for every lesson and gift. Guarding, restoring, sacramenting and celebrating the actual places of power that provide us with inspiration and instruction.
While there are certainly cases of magic being used for evil, the majority of sorcerers were always “source-erors”: pledged to the natural and spiritual source, the mother of sustenance and imaginings. The word “magic” is derived from the Greek “magos,” meaning “wizard” or “wise one,” and from the earlier Persian “magus”: royal magician-priests. These “Magi” were diviners, healers and astrologers known to have honored the divinity of the entire living cosmos, and the sacred haoma (soma) they drank likely included psychedelic mushrooms that helped reveal the intricacies of the magical universe.
The Celtic Druids protected the sacred oak groves where they gathered. Native American practitioners bless the modes of human perception and human activity that contributes to the health of the land, creating taboos and curses to limit any behavior that could damage the ecosystem, denigrate the holy, or demean the spirits. Respect for God (Gods or Goddesses) has meant respect for creation and the creative force — Mother Earth, Pachamama, Assaya, Prithivi, Gaia.
The natural world was seen as a embodiment of Spirit, and the place one goes in order to glean the wishes, insights and suggestions of the sacred Whole. The veneration of a pre-Christian horned god was no precursor to satanism or devil worship, but rather, the affirmation of the noble wild within us all, the ways in which the magical human combines the strength of the stag, the inner-sight of the owl, the loyalty and insistence of the wolf.
An intentional change in consciousness is magical in its own right, it’s true. But the greatest magic may be the ways we focus and extend out that consciousness in order to actively influence the world for the better. It is this most selfless manifestation, that in the long run, empowers, validates and fulfills the magical self. There are able individuals who can and do direct energy in order to win romantic dates, cast a spell for financial success, or even ensure a parking place at work.... but the most intense magic — the greatest miracles — occur when we’re aligned with and act in collusion with natural and native forces, with ongoing evolutionary processes, and with the intent and will of the self-directed Earth.
And so it has often been. Alchemy was more about the mutability of natural elements and the transformational processes of consciousness, than it was the transmutation of lead into gold (although that possibility undoubtedly earned the alchemist more benefactors than the rewards of personal growth and change). Animism was not only the recognition of disembodied spirits, but the knowledge that all things in nature are imbued with spirit.
Wicca is an Earth-honoring practice informed by the ground-ed wisdom of healers and midwives, land stewards and agents of love. A megalith is not only a reminder of the power of the Earth, but its spokesperson, spokes-rock. Clairvoyance, the ability to discern that which is beyond the immediate senses, exists because we are connected at greater energetic levels to all that is and all that has ever been.
Divination is the knowledge of unfolding events, provided by an more intense than normal understanding of the past and engagement with the present. The tarot deck doesn’t foretell fortunes so much as clarify patterns and potentials, for what every magician knows is the always decisive moment.
A talisman connects us to the natural sources of information and power. Portents and omens are easy to interpret, when one is conscious of their cellular relationship with the natural world. Such practices and powers are not supernatural or beyond nature, but intranatural, intrasensible — of, by and for the magical world of which nature is an essential component.
In the vernacular of modern society, magic is often maldefined as synonymous with “illusion” and chicanery. And indeed there has always been an element of showmanship and trickery to the practice of magic. But while prestidigitation, pyrotechnics and the power of suggestion have long been used by magicians as part of their art, it’s generally been to alert and enlist rather than to overawe or manipulate.
These kinds of perception-altering skills can wrest the audience’s attention away from assumption and habit, provoking a suspension of disbelief, opening eyes to the less obvious and more complex processes and manifestations of real employable magic. There’s nothing quite like a sudden explosion of sparks or a voice from the beyond to grab people’s attention. Then once they’re fully in “attendance” every manner of enchantment, every act of magic becomes possible.
Similarly, technological gadgetry may be inscrutable and even amazing but it is not magic. Video, holographic projections and biofeedback machines are readily employed by modern wizards to arrest the certainty and doubt of the people they work with, making them more susceptible to the true magical processes. Real magic cannot be adequately verified, quantified or qualified by any present or future scientific means, and neither controlled nor harnessed, reduced nor replicated. It is always that which lies just beyond the understandings and manipulations of the scientific paradigm. Magic itself remains invisible, though we are often both instrumental to its success and witness to its effects.
We hear different magical and philosophic traditions referred to as “Mystery Schools.” This is because they each honor the power of the mysterious, not because their rites are withheld or their rituals beyond our understanding. They are schools of belief that embrace the “mysterium,” the combined forces of Spirit and Nature that one comes to know through intimacy and intercourse rather than reasoning and comprehension. Magic is the application of the uncanny and unlikely in the service of transformation: our own. And with our personal realization comes the opportunity to fulfill our most meaningful purpose, to honor the needs of the Earth and the will of Spirit.
The ceremonial fires die down sometime between the setting of the moon and the rise of a new day’s sun. One by one the hooded figures make their way from the circle and down the darkened trail towards the sea. The children have long ago returned to their straw-filled beds, all except perhaps a single young man or woman determined at all costs to learn the Adepts’ fateful practice. From the ranks of the insistent few a new generation ever rises to take the baton, the walking stick, the magic wand. The root and reason for their power is Gaia, they know.... and that from the fertile soils of mystery, all magic flows.
Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of Earth-centered spirituality, living seven river crossings from a road in an ancient place of power. He is the author of Gaia Eros: Reconnecting To The Magic & Spirit of Nature (New Page 2004), and performs on the GaiaTribe CD “The Enchantment.” Wolf and his partner Loba share a river-side sanctuary where he offers men’s quests and intuitive counsel, and she hosts women for quests, wildfoods gathering, special resident internships, and the annual Wild Women’s Gathering: The Earthen Spirituality Project & Sweet Medicine Women’s Center, Box 820, Reserve, NM 87830. Please see the website www.earthenspirituality.org
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