Are There Downsides to Living in a Magical Universe?

Are There Downsides to Living in a Magical Universe? November 22, 2018

I don’t close comments on blog posts unless the conversation gets nasty. So occasionally I get responses to stuff I wrote a long time ago, and sometimes those comments are thought-provoking.

In September 2017 I wrote The Benefits of Living in a Magical Universe. It explains what a magical universe is (and just as importantly, what it isn’t) and why we should be happy we live in one. The promotional excerpt (the line that appears in a Facebook post) said:

We live in a magical universe full of Gods and spirits, where nothing is fixed and everything has odds… odds that can be manipulated.

13 months after it was posted, Hyponema Mousai left a comment that said:

You say nothing of the disbenefits of living in a magical universe:

  • evil spirits
  • demonic possession
  • hauntings
  • malicious magic by others
  • cursings
  • the fear of unpredictability and inexplicability of events (although this is also a source of magic’s charm. I suppose it’s a matter of degree)
  • the evacuation of justice and moral values from the universe

Magic might bring wonder and enchantment into life, but it is also a source of horror and monsters. Your article seems a bit too one sided and sanguine for my liking.

I take issue with the claim of “the evacuation of justice and moral values from the universe.” Justice and moral values are not unique to either a magical universe or a mundane universe, something I went over in some depth with a Christian proselytizer back in the summer.

But the rest of this comment is fair criticism, so I’d like to explore it in more depth. Are there downsides to living in a magical universe?

The universe is what it is

I wrote that post last year to encourage people to start seeing the magic in the universe: the presence of Gods and spirits, the opportunities that randomness brings, and the ability to influence situations using magical methods. Our mainstream culture tells us none of those things are real, and unless we actively look for them we’re likely to miss them.

But whether the universe is magical or not doesn’t depend on whether we like magic, or whether we acknowledge it. The universe is what it is. It’s not like we can decide the downside of living in a magical universe outweigh the benefits and so we can just change the nature of the universe.

People have been trying to understand the universe for as long as we’ve been human. We’ve always used a mixture of science, religion, and magic – except for the last couple hundred years in the West. Now we think we can explain it using only science. We’ve gotten really good at using science for the things science is good at, but we’re missing the religious and magical parts.

The magic is there. Let’s explore it too.

Your problems aren’t magical – except when they are

I’m a public Pagan, a published author, a Druid, and a priest. I field questions here on the blog, but I’m also called in for spiritual counseling on a fairly regular basis. I hear about problems, and while I can’t solve them, I can point people toward helpful practices and processes.

You might think I get a lot of referrals for “evil spirits, demonic possession, hauntings, malicious magic by others, and cursings.” I don’t.

I’ve never come across a case of demonic possession. Apparently the demons prefer to possess Catholics and Evangelicals. Make of that what you will.

I’ve seen the rest – just not very often. The vast majority of spiritual problems are ordinary in nature. But when I come across a legitimate magical problem, it requires a magical response. A couple weeks ago I wrote about House Cleansings Gone Wrong. If a house feels wrong because you didn’t really want to move, that requires one response. If it feels wrong because the spirit of the previous owner is still hanging around, that requires a very different response.

There may very well be “disbenefits” to living in a magical universe, but again, the universe is what it is. We’re better off recognizing magical problems when they occur so we can find a magical solution.

Use the right tool for the right job.

Chaos brings opportunities

“The fear of unpredictability and inexplicability of events” is a real thing, but it’s not unique to a magical universe. A materialistic universe has unpredictability too, and an even a deterministic universe has inexplicability. Weather forecasting is a lot better than it was when I was a kid, but storms still pop up unexpectedly and sometimes take courses that even Jim Cantore doesn’t see coming.

But in a magical universe, we aren’t helpless victims in the face of chaos and uncertainty. We can use it to our advantage. I wrote about this in September in the context of climate change and political upheaval in a post titled Chaos Brings Challenges, Chaos Brings Opportunities:

What chaos takes in certainty, it gives back in opportunity.

At Samhain, we talk about the gifts of death: how the death of the old and tired makes room for the new. Too often we simply mouth the words and go on trying to deny the reality of death.

People, relationships, communities, and systems don’t have to die to be renewed. Sometimes all it takes is the sudden appearance of a bit of chaos.

I did not want to leave Atlanta in 2001. But chaos appeared in the form of a layoff notice. I looked around and found an opportunity in Texas – only when I got here did my spiritual life take off. Could I have done the same thing in Atlanta? Possibly. Would I have done it? Unlikely. I was comfortable in a very non-spiritual setting and likely would have tried to continue it. And that would have been a very bad thing.

I still don’t like unpredictability. I still don’t like chaos. But I’ve learned to deal with it, and I recognize how I’ve benefitted from it.

So, are there downsides to living in a magical universe? Of course there are. Everything in life has upsides and downsides. But if we are wise, we learn to see things as they are. We learn to look out for the magical and Otherworldly problems. We learn when to use magic, when to use mundane effort, and when to use both. And we learn to take advantage of the opportunities chaos brings us.

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