The Other Side of the Hedge: What is Magic For?

The Other Side of the Hedge: What is Magic For? April 2, 2017

Magic can be used for anything you want it to be. Magic can help you find a job, find love, or find your lost keys. Anything you can do, you can enhance your performance with magic.

Now, magic will not insulate you from living in the world. It won’t do your job, keep your relationship healthy, or remove uncertainty from your life. Magic does not make your life simpler; it makes your understanding of the world more complex. It can extend your perceptions in ways and directions that are hard to imagine.

But there is also a deeper answer to the question, “what is magic for?” After all, there are other ways to find a job and find love. (The jury’s still out on better ways to find your keys.) While we can use magic to accomplish mundane goals better, there are questions that only magic can answer.

Photo by Polly Peterson.  Used with permission.
Photo by Polly Peterson. Used with permission of the author.

Magic is aimed to help you answer the most basic questions on the deepest level. You can use magic, and the truths it reveals about the universe, to accomplish many things. But at its root, magic is meant to lead you on a quest for these answers. Where that quest will take you depends as much on who you are as it does on what path you follow.

THE TWO TASKS OF MAGIC

There are two key spiritual tasks. The first is that we must truly become ourselves, in a way that is beyond words and beyond doubt. We must find our core, our souls. The second is that we must learn to break the barrier between self and other. While we can talk about compassion or universal love, these are gateways to a deeper and more visceral experience. Only the opening of this barrier allows us to know more than ourselves.

Until we have accomplished the first goal, we are at the mercy of the world to define who we are. Until we have accomplished the second, the world will only show us what we already know, and we will be blind to what it truly is.

To accomplish the first task, we must seek silence and depth.

When I was a child, I loved swimming in pools. Playing, I would get turned around underwater, so I couldn’t tell which way the surface was. It’s scary. I learned quickly that with a lungful of air, I would naturally roll to face downward and start to rise. By becoming calm, I would suddenly know up from down.

Finding our deepest, wordless self is the same. In the hectic act of living life, we can get turned around. We lose sight of what is up and what is down. But if we stop all our thrashing and become calm, things will make a little more sense. What is more, it will allow us to dive deeper into ourselves.

For the second task, we must drive ourselves against the barrier until it gives way.

When I was seventeen years old, I accidentally shattered the barrier between self and other. It happened when I was in the wilderness, by a lake. I sat there, trying to meditate without a clue what I was doing.

I had just read Sybil Leek’s Complete Art of Witchcraft (1971) and I figured ‘why not pray to a female aspect of deity?’ I was terrified of the idea in the way that only a teenager can be. I thought I might be struck by lightning! And I was, but not in the way I imagined.

Falling Water – Polly Peterson (2010).  Used with permission.
Falling Water – Polly Peterson (2010). Used with permission.

I prayed, and then I opened my eyes. Everything about me, all living things, were connected to one another with golden strands. The strands seemed to extend in a web from every tree, from each leaf, touching the water. Everything connected. I sensed, or imagined, the web extending around the whole world. This lasted maybe a good three seconds.

In some ways, the rest of my life has been a journey to understand what happened and what was revealed in that moment. It was the first piece of magic I ever did, and it was either an amazing piece of beginner’s luck, or the most foolishly dangerous thing I can imagine.

The barriers between ourselves and the world are certainly useful things. By the time we are adults, however, they have stopped solely protecting us and started imprisoning us as well. But we are not eternally trapped. With hard work and discipline, we can break down the barrier between ourselves and the world.

ProTip: Breaking the barriers of the self can be terrifying and has been known to induce madness. The walls and defenses given to us by culture are all the safety and identity we know. When they break, we lose our old sense of individuality, with its sharp edges and defined limits. It’s scary stuff. But if we’re seeking a deeper truth, it’s the only game in town.

"Circe" by Wright Barker.  From WikiMedia.
“Circe” by Wright Barker. From WikiMedia.

VIRTUE, THE HIDDEN TASK

The finding of the deepest self. True knowledge of the other. These two things, once truly understood, change us. We find ourselves in a strange, in between place.

Life becomes a matter of trying to balance the two, all while existing in a world that doesn’t want or need to know. We discover that a peek behind the curtain hardly cleared anything up. We know who we are, but still must fit that into the larger world. Our work’s not done. It’s the task of a lifetime.

And yet, there we have it. We’ve learned these impossible things that make other impossible things possible. Expressing the inner self into the outer world is a mystical performance art we call virtue.

Virtue isn’t just doing “good,” any more than sin is simply doing “evil.” Virtue is harmoniously taking your place in the world, and working to make it better. Virtue is something that we can only accomplish after we have completed the first two tasks.

Yes, magic can help you find your keys. But to treat magic as a servant is to misunderstand its true potential. If you allow it, magic can show you who you truly are and allow you to change the world.

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