I walk down a darkened corridor, barely able to see. Turning to the right, light disappears completely. My feet shuffle, my hands grope for anything that might give me a clue as to where I am and what might be lurking ahead. Now I hear voices. A soft wail rises, not a full-throated keen, but there’s an unmistakable ache that fills my ears and my body with a profound sense of loss. A few tentative steps forward and I see something. An amplifier rests in the halo of a dimmed spotlight. A microphone, doubling as a pendulum, swings in and out of view. Each time it nears the amp, a jolt of feedback ruthlessly interrupts the solemnities. This is Art and Magic and Ritual and when they collide and combine, I am transported effortlessly and completely to a place between the worlds.
Magic and the Art Entering The Space
My description of the darkened corridor and swinging microphone was inspired by “Lull”, an installation at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, by Camille Norment. The lack of visual clues changed my perception. I relied on my ears and hands to navigate my way through the darkness. The artist encouraged me to listen and, of course, that’s when I began to hear the singing. Just when I thought “Aha! Singing in the darkness, Okay that’s cool”, the amplifier/microphone/feedback combination, arrested my attention again.
Seeing the lighted, near empty stage, struck me with such melancholy. Instantly I thought of a dear friend that recently died quite unexpectedly. They were a dancer, actor and singer. I thought too of my own angst ridden and fraught relationship with the performing arts. Like a pendulum, I’ve vacillated between the sheer ecstasy and abject misery of being a performer.
I brought all my life experiences with me to this installation and entered the space with my own story and expectations. The magic of this artist lay in creating a place for me to enter into relationship with the darkened room and interact with their experience and what I brought simultaneously. That’s high ritual in my book.
Magic and the Art of Shifting Perception
There are too few places where magic-workers agree, but one such place is that a good definition of Magic is “Shifting consciousness at will”. The Polish-American author, Jerzy Kosinski asserted that “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”. American mystic and Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, posited that “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” I find that tremendously effective rituals point us in much the same direction: losing and finding. Rituals may use storytelling, music and costuming to set the time and place of the working but it’s the space, left purposely empty, where true magic happens.
Magic and Art of The Liminal
A common thread weaving its way through magic and art and ritual is the notion of the liminal; the places where light and shadow, magic and science, joy and sorrow, touch each other and become indistinguishable and inseparable. Those places of transition, where this becomes infused with that, in such a seamless way, fascinates me. It’s why I come back to magic and ritual and art in as many ways as I can , as often as I can.
It’s been my experience that the art in magic, or the magic in ritual, or the ritual of art intersect so perfectly. What compels me to examine myself and my magic lives right there on the edges. Sometimes I can tease it out and other times I just get lost in it. Both outcomes are welcomed.
The magical communities I find myself in are chock full of artists. Dancers, writers, singers, poets, and painters are present at most of the gatherings I go to. When I chat with folks that aren’t part of the magical world I inhabit, they’re surprised that “art is a thing” that people can do or experience daily. There’s artwork on the walls in my office, painted by beloveds and friends and every day I hear music, created by people I know. My bookshelves are filled with poetry and prose written by people I love. And the rituals I attend blend these all together.
For me, Art and Magic and Ritual are ever present and ever needed for my life to work. Without the magic of the darkened room, how would I know the magic of the light?
Note: The quote by Thomas Merton is from his book, “No Man is an Island”.