What is magic? Where does it come from? Did Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or similar come to replace the "Open sesame" and do they hold the same power? In this post we take you to a place where the ordinary and awesome are just a blink apart. Blink if you dare.
I will start with a personal story. I was about ten years old. My family and I lived in a town close to Moscow, while my grandmothers lived in the countryside, a two-hour travel away from us. It was winter, and for the second day I was staying in bed with a fever. Suddenly, the doorbell rang, my mum opened the door and there they were, my grandmothers. Mum was pleasantly surprised and I was over the moon. We didn't even have a land-line to communicate at that time, the grandmothers didn't have technical means to find out about my illness, yet they came.
The night before this event, one of the grandmothers had a dream that I was seriously ill. It was a dream, yet they both knew the illness was real. So, after work they embarked on a journey to check on me, brought me a present and their love and they left home the same night to go to work the following morning. It only happed once. It still stays with me. I know they are always looking after me.
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystery”, Albert Einstein
Was there magic at work in my grandmothers' story? What is it, magic? Before we try to define it ourselves, here are a few definitions drawn from a few sources and demonstrating different outlooks:
Student's Dictionary, Collins Cobuild Series, edition 1995 states (1) "Magic is a special power that occurs in children's stories and that some people believe in. It can make apparently impossible things happen", (2) "Magic is also the art of performing tricks to entertain people, for example by seeming to make things appear and disappear";
Gustav Kuhn, Reader in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and author of the book "Experiencing the Impossible" defines magic as "the experience of wonder that results from perceiving an apparently impossible event";
Alan Moore, an English writer, in his interview with New Scientist magazine defines magic as "any purposeful engagement with the phenomena, or possibilities, of consciousness" (New Scientist, 5 December 2018, Alan Moore interview);
During my workshop at the Bristol Museum in May 2020 dedicated to shamanism and magic, I divided participants into six teams and asked each group to come up with a single definition of magic. Each single team had as many statements as the number of people in that group. We had over 20 perspectives on the matter.
So what is magic? It is not science, yet science is part of it. Science is born out of magic and similar to a rebellious teenager, science tends to discharge parental guidance and follow its own righteousness. Unlike science, magic doesn't require any proof. It doesn't require believers. Art, music, poetry, love, mathematics in its pure form are all manifestations of magic. One side of it, anyways. It is real in the moment of unfolding and it's often accompanied by awe and wonder. A thought can eat away magic from experience, but never completely, as one has already been touched and transformed by it. What's important is not where it comes from but the fact that it arrives where there is presence and permission. It can not be fully defined or explained. It has many names.
Saying all that, for the purpose of this article we need to anchor our definition somewhere. So we see magic as "any purposeful or non-purposeful engagement with the great mystery, or consciousness, that leads to experiences outside of reason and are often accompanied by awe and wonder".
To simplify, let's divide magic into two categories: hard and soft. The first one, hard or "raw" magic, has immediate noticeable effect on the physical reality as we know it. It deals with defeating science as it currently stands. Shapeshifting, telekinesis and materialisation are examples of it. Science is catching up with this one when it starts to think in quantum terms [e.g. check 4 February 2015, Scientific American article, Scientific Seeker Stuart Kauffman on Free Will, God, ESP and Other Mysteries]. The soft one is subtle and will probably never be explained by science as we know it. Mastery of the word, poetry, song and love are examples of this second kind of magic, and that's what we are exploring in this article.
Let's take a look at each of them separately.
From the shamanic perspective every word has power. More importantly, word's power will vary from person to person and from the state of consciousness in which it is spoken. That is, the same words spoken by Dalai Lama, Donald Trump, our friends, co-workers or family will have different impact on us. The meaning and magic of "I love you" or "You are marvellous" will differ, depending on who says it.
Any word having its own power, works together with the state of consciousness and intention. Shamans are aware of this.
Imagine a match. It carries a potential of light. I can work with this match in many different ways. I can treat it differently, can relate to it differently. I can mindlessly strike matches one after another and throw them into a field around me. Usually, in these cases matches just die away. However, given certain conditions, they can set dry lands on fire, destroying lives of the many. In the right hands of presence and respect, a match is a magic of warmth, light, hot food, nourishment, ceremony. While used without presence or without kind intention, it can bring disturbance.
The same goes for the word, either spoken aloud or internally. Intensity of one's presence in the word is reflected in the vibration of the web of life and engagement with the great mystery, resulting in different manifestations.
All of us have a distinctive grip on the web of life and it is directly linked to the mastery of the word. One of my teachers when talking about the art of manifestation was saying, "either do what you say, or say what you do". While practicing either of these tools, a physical manifestation starts to follow your word. The closer my doings to my words, the stronger the grip on the web of life. That is where the mastery of the word starts, the magic of it.
I want to quote Don Miguel Ruiz, a renowned spiritual teacher of the Toltec shamanic tradition. In his book "The Four Agreements" he talks about four main life-affirming principles. One of them is: "Be impeccable with your word". He states, that mastering just this one agreement, will completely transforms one's life.
A Tool: When something really good or meaningful happens in your life, say thank you to it. Let the universe, great mystery, consciousness, or however you call it, know, that you are grateful for this happening and welcome similar experiences in your life. Traditionally, one would create a ceremony around it. Speak thanks out loud, be the gratitude. Gratitude is the beginning of working with the word's magic.
Poetry and incantation
I will tell you another personal story.
When I was a little child, every evening my mother read me a book. There was a poem that mum would read me again and again, until I could recite it back to her, from my memory. The poem read like this:
Водичка, водичка, Little water, little water,
Умой моё личико, Wash my little face,
Чтобы глазки блестели, So, that my eyes shine brightly,
Чтобы щёчки краснели, So, that my cheeks blush fine,
Чтобы смеялся роток, So, that my mouth has a smile,
Чтобы кусался зубок. So, that my teeth bite ably.
This poem is an incantation, an old form of magic. The words are carefully put into place to create a rhythm. Each recital of this rhythm was weaving itself deeper into my life, my magic. Those, who know me, will tell you that every line of this poem is reflected and lives in me. This poem and my mother's love enchanted me in this way.
I will share a real incantation with you, taken from the book "Great Russian Incantations" by Leonid Maykov published in 1869. The book represents a collection of incantations recorded by ethnographic scholars in different parts of Imperial Russia. Most of the incantations in the book have rhythm, similar to poems. The following verse, spoken by a healer would stop the bleeding "На море на Океане, на острове на Буяне сидит девица, Она шьет, пошивает, золотые ковры вышивает, не ниткою, шелком. Шелковинка оборвется, и кровь уймется". It roughly translates like this - "In the sea and in the Ocean, on the Island of Buyan, a girl sits. She is sewing, stitch embroidering, knitting golden carpets, not with a common thread, but the silken one. Silken thread gets torn, thus the blood finds its home".
Similar to incantation, each word in a poem is carefully placed with the ultimate precision. Message and power of it is condensed to bring the exact right dose of medicine, which unfolds its magic differently inside each person. It can be extremely potent, when read in the right time by the right person. Unlike an incantation, you don't need a healer to utter it and make it work. With the poems, we can all make and experience magic by reading ourselves or listening to others.
A Task: Please sit comfortably, take a few breaths in and out. Rest in your heart. Press the play button below and listen to Derek Walcott's "Love after Love". After the poem, stay with the last line of it for a few moments.
… to be continued
In the next and final part of this article we will look into the other two magics, - music and love. We will answer the last question of the opening paragraph "Did Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or similar come to replace the "Open sesame" and do they hold the same power?".
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If you want to explore this work further, I will give you a few exercises to help you.
(word) In the morning, state the intention not to judge or say anything negative about yourself. If you did, be kind to yourself, just celebrate that you caught yourself, have a little smile and say the opposite affirmative statement. Make it feel real.
(word) Next time you have written an e-mail allow it to rest. Don't send it right away. Come back to your e-mail and remove half of the words, thus condensing the power of your message. Send your word.
(poetry) Write a three line poem that could help you to awaken a certain quality when read to yourself (e.g. clarity, focus, forgiveness, love).