Let’s Make Magick!
by Janice Van Cleve
When I began this article two years ago, I got nowhere. Either I was not ready to write it, or the article was not ready to be birthed, or maybe the world was not ready to see it. It languished for months until one day my editor gave me a deadline. Suddenly I was ready, the words came forth, and you are reading it. Was it magick? Certainly my skills and knowledge continued to grow over the years, but they were not enough. It took a need to kindle the will. The will found the path that knowledge alone could not. A deadline is a powerful spell!
So what is this thing we call magick and how does it work? Its very name conjures up images of mystery, delight and power. Its tools are everything from “an eye of newt and toe of frog” in Macbeth to “the Force” in Star Wars. It has been judged both good and bad, depending upon the outcome or the perceiver. It either explains the unexplainable or creates it. Magick reaches beyond the reality we know.
The reality we know is relative. Science continually extends our capabilities to discover and to document our reality. We all recall the old movie: Natives capture explorer. Explorer uses magnifying glass to start fire. Natives are awed. They embrace the event as an act of magick. To the explorer, it was just basic science. What is magick for one person may not be magick for another.
Thousands have died of HIV/AIDS, but now new combinations of drugs are apparently able to restore T-cell counts and hold the fatal disease in remission. Lives that used to focus on early death are now faced with the challenge of life, career and old age. Was that magick? It took years of methodical research and countless tests to produce the drugs, yet the effect was to transform lives and create futures where none existed before. So what was a reality yesterday may not be a reality today.
As science continues to observe, analyze, synthesize, replicate and document the unknown, it converts the latter into knowable reality. This act itself may seem magickal to those outside a particular field of research, but the fact that we know that somebody knows how it works — even if we don’t ourselves — removes it from magick to science. Even the practitioner does not need to know how it works as long as the procedure produces predictable results. Many medicines were invented by wise women of the village from their own experience, which later have been revalidated by modern doctors. Shamans at Stonehenge may not have known modern astronomy, but their observations allowed them to predict the seasons and eclipses with accuracy.
Most everybody loves to watch magic tricks. My favorite is the rope trick. When the magician slides that knot off the end, we marvel and applaud. Yet we know that the magician presents us with a disconnected reality, by hiding the intermediate steps in the process. We deliberately participate in this disconnected reality for our amusement. While we ourselves may never discover just how the trick was performed, we are nevertheless confident that it is indeed a trick and not really magick.
Changing Reality at Will
So if science continues to expand reality and trickery only manipulates our perception of it, where is the magick? Somewhere the power of the will must operate to make the impossible possible, to span realities, and by definition to do so with deliberate intent.
Who can do such things with more deliberate intent than marketers? Think about it. “Things go better with Coke.” “The Friendly Skies of United.” Joe Camel. The engineering that goes into a marketing message is one of the most highly developed sciences in the world. Millions of dollars and countless hours are invested in creating a perception that will catch on with the public and become a household word. Nobody uses tissues; they use Kleenex — even if the tissue in their hand is a Crown Z product. Nobody photocopies; they Xerox — even on a Canon copier. These are examples of very successful brand marketing achievements created and abandoned as business dictates. They have no basis in science. After all, things go very well without Coke, the skies have no friendly emotions, and camels don’t smoke.
Marketing creates powerful realities, not all of which are intended or beneficial. The Nike swoosh is a registered trademark with legal standing in court, while a 20-year relationship between two lesbians with children has no standing. A high-school student is suspended from school for wearing a Coke T-shirt on Pepsi appreciation day. (I’m not making this up. It happened in Atlanta!) A child in Detroit was even killed for his sneakers because their brand and style had been elevated by advertising to have a higher value than a human life.
Is this not magick? It is an act of will that deliberately alters reality on many dimensions in symbolic language. It is widely understood, and it has clear, tangible outcomes that are not always intended. By extension as a tool of the state, it has created nations like the two Koreas and has eliminated nations like those of the Native Americans. It both imposed apartheid in South Africa and overthrew it. Marketing’s magick bubbles only bursts when marketers cannot sustain the illusion, as when the lofty rhetoric of clashing ideologies is reduced to counting chads.
The Internet has also changed reality at will. A Montana rancher, hundreds of miles from the nearest library, who has never been out of the country, is completing his doctoral thesis on eighteenth-century Russian literature from the University of Minsk in Belarus. A surgeon in Kinshasa, Congo, is performing a delicate operation with the help of a team of specialists online at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York.
The Internet has created a connectedness of human consciousness unparalleled in history. It has created a new dimension where virtual images have all but replaced the tangible entities they represent. The almost instantaneous transmission of human thought and emotion, brain to brain, across hundreds of miles is very nearly an out-of-body experience — a “sending.”
Is this not magick? Parties can transcend physical reality to operate with deliberate intent in a virtual cyberspace and affect tangible outcomes. They can enter and exit multiple webs at will. From warfare to Wall Street, lives and fortunes are directed by digital images.
Disappointed? Were you looking for magick in a cauldron and found this article telling you to look in a computer? Were you looking for magick in an incantation and instead found it in a commercial? The word “magick” has been used in many different and often conflicting ways. Starhawk in The Spiral Dance defines magick as “the art of changing consciousness at will.” She calls magick an art of elaborate metaphors, not truths. She warns us that if we use these metaphors “for glib explanations and cheap categorizations, they will narrow the mind instead of expanding it and reduce experience to a set of formulas that separates us from each other and from our own power.”
From this viewpoint, magick is not only an alternate reality to be reached and relinquished at will, it is also a personal consciousness of ourselves in relationship to the interconnectedness of all people, and ultimately the interconnectedness of the whole universe. Magick is not about changing tangible things or intangible images so much as it is about changing our own personal relationship to them.
Years ago, I bought into the patriarchal, suburban, career Yuppie philosophy and alternately valued and despised myself by those yardsticks. Then came the layoff, the collapse of my savings, resume rejections and finally the emergency room at the hospital. I had to let go of the old yardsticks. From inner values, I visioned a new place for myself in the world that had more to do with who I was instead of a corporate title. I learned to give generously and to receive graciously, to be part of the flow rather than looking for paybacks. As it turns out, I prospered even by the old yardsticks, but it didn’t matter anymore. I took risks I could not have imagined earlier, and I achieve incredible goals as commonplace occurrences in the new flow of my life.
Was that magick? Indeed it was. Often we read stories of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. We read about their courage or determination, and sometimes we reflect how different their attitude is from our own. Coaches say attitude is everything, and counselors teach us that affirmations help build our self-esteem. However, unless these become integrated parts of our lives and we become integrated as well into the whole universe, they will have no magick for us.
A cup may be half-empty or half-full. Neither science, nor tricks, nor marketing, nor computers can change the volume inside the cup. A pessimist may complain; an optimist may be grateful. But the worker of magick? She drinks!
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