Marta and I just got back from an abortive trip to California. As I told the poor hotel receptionist in Green River, Utah, “You see, our plans exploded at 30,000 feet and dropped us in a farmer’s field near here. We left quite a divot. Now we need a room to wash up….”
Anyway, on the limp back home, watching the car instruments with paranoid intensity all the way, I dozed briefly while Marta drove us through the fantasy-canyons between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs as temperatures again started to soar toward the low 100’s. When I snored myself awake, an insight was lodged in my head.
‘Twas an insight about Magic. The neo-Pagans call it Magick, but I think they may have it … well, wrong. Completely wrong.
Our entire civilization has been ardently pursuing Magick for at least five centuries, perhaps longer. We call it Technology. Back in the day, the difference between Magick and Technology was razor-thin: Francis Bacon, often called the father of modern science, was both a mage and a scientist, and he gave up magic because it simply wasn’t as effective as science.
“As effective at what?” you might ask. A good question. As the mage Aliester Crowley put it, as effective at “causing change in conformance to the Will.” It’s a fancy way of saying, “Getting things done.”
We’ve become fabulous Magicians over the past five centuries, capable of turning mountains into plains, building our own islands, raising food from nothing, turning lead into gold (all right, mercury into gold, and in very small quantities, mind you, but still). We fly through the air in metal birds that can take us to any point on the earth in less than a day. We speak instantly to family and friends around the world, and can even see them as we speak. Music pours forth into the air at command, though no instrument or singer is present. We have written spells in arcane languages that bind our invisible (electronic) servants to attend to our needs. We can even raise the dead, provided that they aren’t too dead.
But in the process, we’ve lost our souls.
While Magick has prospered and grown far beyond the modest measures of the Medieval imagination, all of the Magic has leached out of our world.
The Medieval mind used to call it God, but all the Magic has gone out of that, too, leaving behind nothing but a bludgeon for use in our Culture Wars. Magic is so absent from our world that it’s become hard to even describe. Yet its absence is so clearly felt that people drown themselves in material possessions, alcohol, mind-altering drugs, or bizarre cults just to get the smallest taste of Magic.
Magic is what you saw dancing in the darkness the first time you ever saw fireflies as a child. Magic is what embraces you the first time you see the sky turn golden in a Colorado November, or the first time you see the Milky Way at ten thousand feet elevation. Magic lives in the first kiss. The first lover’s embrace. The first grandchild to fall asleep in your lap.
I speak of firsts, because Magic has to trick us moderns. We are masters of Magick, and Magick is about control, whether we use servo-mechanisms or red candles. Magic, however, cannot be controlled, so we work hard to drive it from our lives, to explain it away, to bottle (and sell) convincing substitutes with our Magick. But those firsts catch us by surprise, and slip past our defenses and explanations and denials. They remind us that there is Magic in the world, and that we would gladly sell our souls to taste of it.
The paradox is that it is already there, abundant and free for the taking, and that we find our souls when we taste of it.