Poor Magicians, Good Magicians

The recent post asking if a poor magician is a poor magician has generated what for Under the Ancient Oaks is a ton of comments.  Most make valid points, although some have wandered away from the gist of the initial essay.  That theme was succinctly summarized by Phaedra Bonewits when she said “he seems more to be talking about the difference between a life in perpetual chaos and one where the magician has his or her crap reasonably together.”

For another perspective on this question, read this post by Jason Miller, author of Financial Sorcery.  Jason ends his post by saying:

Are you a poor magician? I dunno.  Do you like your life?

That’s what it really boils down to:  DO YOU LIKE YOUR LIFE?

If so then no matter what your financial state, you are probably a good magician.

If you don’t like your life, and you hate living in financial chaos, but you resent being thought of as a poor magician because of that then the question is:  WHAT DOES MAKE YOU A GOOD MAGICIAN?

A few of the comments on my post have taken a different perspective, one that is reflected in a quote I see floating around Facebook from time to time:  “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”  The stability (financial and otherwise) that shows up when someone “has his or her crap reasonably together” requires a certain amount of adjustment to and cooperation with a social and economic system that some people find highly unethical.

This is not a new thing, and it leads to thoughts of changing the world and of withdrawing from the world.

There is a current of renunciation in virtually every religion.  We see it in the monastic traditions of both West and East.  The modern Pagan image of renunciation is the witch living deep in the forest, tending herbs and brewing potions, dispensing cures and wisdom for those who seek her out but mostly keeping to herself and her work.  This idea is mostly mythical, but there is a small but growing number of Pagans whose major work is sustainable living, to one definition of “sustainable” or another.

When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, the fundamentalist church my family attended rarely preached politics.  They preached the need to be “born again” and while they frequently commented on the wickedness of the world, their primary focus was on being “in the world but not of the world” – a kind of personal holiness.  But in the late 1970s, with the emergence of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, and the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, fundamentalist Christianity became political Christianity, attempting to use the ballot box to turn the United States into their vision of a Christian nation.

While the fundamentalists’ political movement won some battles and continues to make a nuisance of itself in the march for marriage equality, ultimately, they failed.  They failed because the average Christian doesn’t want to live in a 21st century version of Cotton Mather’s New England any more than the average Pagan or atheist.  Our evolutionary urge to indulge in pleasurable activities – and to live our lives the way we want to live them – far outweighs empty threats of Divine retribution.

There is a place in any religion for prophetic witness – for a stern call to return to core principles and values.  For Nature-centered Pagans that call is usually to remember our place as part of Nature, not above it.  For Deity-centered Pagans that call is usually to remember that the Gods are mighty beings with Their own goals and areas of responsibility and that our personal development – much less our comfort – isn’t at the top of Their list of priorities.  But prophetic witness is only effective within a community that accepts the values the prophet is proclaiming.

In 2011 I wrote this post titled Why Occupy Wall Street Will Fail.  Go read it if you like – here’s a key quote:

Protests and demonstrations have generated publicity, but they aren’t going to create real change.

We have a strong evolutionary instinct to take care of our own needs right now and not worry about people we don’t know or a future we can’t see. Occupy Wall Street simply isn’t generating enough momentum to uproot a critical mass of the general public from a system that works, even though it only works sort of, for some, for now.

The contemporary Western lifestyle is not sustainable.  Even if the fossil fuels could last forever – and they won’t – the Western economy is based on growth and growth cannot continue indefinitely.  Climate change is already happening.  But proactive measures to deal with these problems – and to promote a more equitable society – have precious little support among the majority of Westerners who are doing OK, sort of, for now.

If the Moral Majority couldn’t implement their social reforms through the political process, what chance do Pagans have?  We have far smaller numbers, we don’t have their claims to be preserving a glorious heritage (even though those claims weren’t historically accurate) and we can’t threaten people with eternal damnation if they don’t play along.

Yet society has changed, is changing, and will continue to change.  How can we push that change in the direction our values and our vision tell us we should go?  While we certainly have the right and the obligation to participate in the political process, demanding others change is unlikely to be effective.

This is why I like Jason Miller’s thoughts on poor magicians.  Do you like your life?  Is it a life other people can see and say “he must be doing something right – maybe I should live more like he does”?  Do you live with integrity?  Are you working to build the kind of society you want to live in, even if only a few people are interested in living in it with you?

If so, then keep doing it.  Keep doing it in the full realization that your work may go on long after you’re gone.  Keep doing it while remembering that the Wiccan call to “sing, feast, dance, make music and love” is good advice for all of us.  Keep doing it because it’s how you’re called to live.

And if you don’t like your life, what do you need to do to change it?  What do you need to do to turn dysfunction and disorder into something you can work with?  What do you need to do to bring your lifestyle more in line with your values?

What do you need to do to dive head-first into the calling of your True Will?

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Thanks for the mention :-)

  • H Kenneth Porter

    Yes… this!

  • Elizabeth Creely

    Nicely put. I was floating in the San Francisco Bay the other day in the middle of the day- a time when most people are in the middle of their workday- and I distinctly heard a voice telling me that I had good values..floating in the bay being an prime example.
    So, yes to everything you wrote.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/starandsnake/ Brandy Williams

    I love this conversation – these issues are what I struggle with every day in my life. This is exactly what we need to be talking about right now.

  • Stephie Michaels

    Wow! There are a lot of folks putting their thoughts out in the blogosphere and, as one would expect, some are good and others not so good. This, though, is coherent, well thought and well written – a joy to read and a catalyst for thought.

  • Erin Lale

    I agree. Not being rich by the standards of the USA doesn’t mean the gods don’t love you. Maybe they don’t care about money. Maybe you’ll work harder if you don’t get a free ride through life, and maybe they want you to have to grow through work, like a gardener turning their tomato seedlings in side light to make their stems stronger. Maybe you’ll make more of whatever it is they want you to make — books, art, whatever — if you have to sell it to survive, and they want you to make more of your inspired works. Maybe they know more than you about what’s good for you. Maybe they don’t want everybody to have a yacht because it would destroy the world. People are too hung up on measuring success by personal wealth. Sometimes I have to remind myself of all that, because sometimes I too succumb to feeling like I should have more, especially if I have to stay home from a convention or not buy a book because I don’t have the money. I strive to remind myself that just having enough food and running water puts me in the top living category in the world and in world history.

  • Constant Reader

    Interesting post! I was, for most of my life, a Very Good Girl — hard working, polite, crap reasonably together, towels kept neatly folded in thirds — until about 6 years ago when things were thrown into chaos not of my choosing. I’ve gone through periods of struggle, periods of acceptance, periods of depression… until I finally realized that chaos, for the present, is my path. When I make peace with it, synchronicity happens alarmingly fast and help I barely knew I needed turns up. When I fight it and do all sorts of things I’m “supposed” to be doing, I generally find myself pushed back with a bump. Mostly, right now, I seek equilibrium in the chaos (think 2 of Pentacles).

    Am I aware that this could all be an excuse? Absolutely. But I’m also aware that the way my life was before, my True Will couldn’t have gotten through to me with a bullhorn. I wasn’t even listening for it. Now I am, and we shall see. Folding towels neatly in thirds is a very meditative practice.

    (Edited for typo.)


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