Sphinxes in the Library: A Review of T. Thorn Coyle's "Make Magic of Your Life"

T. Thorn Coyle
Make Magic of Your Life: Passion, Purpose, and the Power of Desire
Red Wheel/Weiser Books, 2013

"Desire" and "passion": in the world of religion and spirituality, these two terms are often thought to cause more suffering than they solve, and they are often viewed more as liabilities and obstacles rather than opportunities. Some religious systems have this notion to a greater extent than others, with particularly negative notions accompanying them in some of the dharmic religions, ancient stoicism, and of course several mainstream forms of Christianity, at least historically. Yet, the same is not true of modern forms of Paganism and polytheism, nor some of the more ancient and indigenous religions of the world. In many of these religious systems, desire and passion are the very essences of and driving forces behind life and the wider cosmic processes. But how can we as individuals learn to recognize our desires and pursue our passions without burning ourselves out, leading ourselves down the paths of self-delusion or self-aggrandizement, or mistaking more passing wants and needs for our True Will?

These topics, and many more, are the subject of T. Thorn Coyle's latest book, Make Magic of Your Life. The virtues of this book are multiple, and the critiques I have of it are extremely few and marginal to the larger question of "does this book accomplish what it sets out to do?" The only answer that I can see to the latter is a resounding and reassuring "Yes!"

When sitting down to read a book and evaluate it, a book reviewer is really sitting down with two books. The first is the book in hand that an author, with editors and other contributors and behind-the-scenes individuals, has toiled tirelessly to produce. The second is invisible and often inscrutable to the individual reviewer, and it contains all of the hopes and expectations and false assumptions about the author, their work, and what the reviewer hopes the book should contain. This process is the same for any casual reader of any book—and, for that matter, it is true for readers of blog posts or other pieces of writing as well. The negative comments on blog posts and news articles across the internet are a lengthy testament to people's mistaking the invisible text for the visible one: the text that they have brought with them and have created in their own minds, in comparison to the actual text on the pages, whether virtual and electronic or paper from once-living plant matter.

In sitting down with Thorn's book recently, I was perhaps more aware than ever of this dual textual reality. I was often painfully aware of how easy it is to get caught up in the invisible text when the actual text went in a direction that I wasn't expecting, wasn't comfortable with, or that for some other reason simply didn't connect (or, occasionally, connected too deeply) with my own process. I can say that it is the easiest and simplest difficult book I've ever read; and I mean every adjective in that evaluation in the most positive and praiseworthy sense.

The deceptive ease of the text is part of why it is a difficult book to read. The concepts are challenging, speaking directly to questions of existential import for every individual. The grace and skill of this book comes through in the imparting of these penetrating insights and difficult questions. These insights and questions do not come as rapid-fire metaphysical machine gun shots, or even as well-aimed spear thrusts that twist upon impact. Instead, they arrive as Thorn, a gentle surgeon who is master of the scalpel, wields it to explore one's own bodily integrity and health (from the most material physicality to the outer edges of one's divine self). The effort is not to hurt or destroy, or even to begin the process of excising cancerous growths—that task is left to the reader upon finishing the book's five individual sections, or the entire book—but instead simply to illuminate those areas of dis-ease and potential for ill health. These can then be dealt with by the individual as appropriate.

Reading this book came at an important and opportune moment for me, as I had just returned from a busy and successful PantheaCon. In certain respects, however, I had more questions than I had answers for, more anxieties and uncertainties than I had complacencies resulting from recent successes, and a generally difficult time attempting to re-integrate my new insights and responsibilities with my quotidian life. (I've written a bit more about this here, and wrote along the very same lines last year as well in a previous "Queer I Stand" column here.) Despite still not feeling "quite right" with my world and my existence, and not having had nearly enough sleep, I made the time to read this book, and relished every moment of doing so, including the difficult moments. Reading this book has, perhaps, been one of the best integrative activities I've ever done following PantheaCon; perhaps marketing it at PantheaCon (and other conventions) in future years with that use in mind might prove very useful for everyone!