The Conjuring (Magic 2)

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You have to believe we are magic. Nothing can stand in our way. From Magic, Olivia Newton John, written by John Ferrar

I confess. I went to a psychic once. It was more of a diversion, really, a unique event to throw into the mix one year with my sisters, on Halloween.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I learned about this mysterious, old, African psychic, but I certainly hadn’t envisioned the middle-aged suburban white woman who greeted us in the doorway. She offered us chamomile tea in her disappointingly cookie-cutter kitchen and sat us down in an equally blah living room, bereft of any mystique beyond the magic of a chrome, touch-on desk lamp from the 90s. We divided the (somewhat pricey) hour between the three of us. Not surprisingly Madame Marie did a mediocre dry read on each of us: my sister with the form-fitting skirt, the fiery red hair and the dragon tattoo, my other sister dressed in black, with combat boots and a coffin ring, and me, with my beaded bracelets, hippie blouse and bell-bottom jeans. We might as well have told her our names were Restless Adventure, Grim Reality, and Utopian Daydreams.

The reading revealed predictions both true and false, which took years to prove either way. Having been sucked into Christianity by then, I was slightly worried about our escapade, but neither I nor Madame Marie was struck down by God for having dabbled in witchery (though, admittedly, this would have broken the appalling boredom of the read). Afterwards, Madame Marie went back to her creepily normal afternoon, and my sisters and I went about our Halloween, and that was that.

In Magic 1, I touched on the idea that magical thinking can be just as harmful as religion. But there is a subset of superstitious thought that I find completely non-threatening. It comprises everyone from the casual churchgoer, to the teens attempting to levitate their friend or summon the apparition of Bloody Mary on a sleepover. In-between these extremes falls the Deist who seeks spiritual answers to life, but whose view of god is undefined. She may attend a UU Church to participate in social equality demonstrations. She may even pray or connect with God through meditation, and these actions bring her internal peace and joy. Here also reside the philosophers who wonder about reincarnation, or the agnostics who think this life might not be what it seems.

There are many people who are happy to live in this ambiguous middle place, and I am probably one of them. Anytime I give the universe godly characteristics, I am standing in symbolic solidarity with the hippie who partakes in a puff of nature and gazes into the universe, waiting for the stars to speak. In our group is the elderly woman who never misses Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (but only because her parents used to go, and her grandparents before them). There’s also the teen who decorates her room with gargoyles and lights black candles at midnight, hoping to hear from ghosts, or the edgy artist who buys a Victorian fixer-upper and burns sage in it to drive the ghosts away.

As far back as human history can be traced, there is evidence of belief in the supernatural. It is so commonplace, that we probably don’t notice how prevalent it is even in rational, modern-day society. We say things like, “This place gives me a bad vibe.” We attach personal meaning to external events and call them signs. At times, we base business or romantic decisions on these signs, whether a song that comes on the radio, or the coincidental words of a stranger. And we practice magic for the novelty of it, in the form of an energy crystal from a vacation destination, or a scented candle that promises success. We toss coins in wishing pools. We cross our fingers.

Religion and magic can work, but it is because we are the magic. We are wired to survive and to thrive. Our brains have an incredible capacity to guide us toward healthy choices, peace, financial success, and hope. We can even convince ourselves that we have seen figures or messages in everyday objects. We find ways to externalize thoughts that are already present within us, thereby allowing ourselves to focus and reflect on them in more powerful ways. In our primitive ancestors, belief in divine protection and sacred spaces provided a survival benefit in the form of courage and endurance. Still today, we use magical thought to reaffirm our own positive insights, or to help us process grief, fear, and anxiety. But the truth is, all of that power is already present within us. Perhaps we use the magical props to simplify it for ourselves and help us channel it. I would venture to guess that the more we learn about the brain, the less we will be reliant on magical thought processes as our personal assistants for success.

The fact that our thoughts can create an entire universe of information unique to each of us, can perceive and interpret information real and imagined, and can effectively control our destinies is like magic. We have only begun to tap into the awe-inspiring capabilities of the human brain.

Meanwhile, our creative capacity to envision a supernatural world of gods, demigods, evil beasts and picturesque afterlives has embellished the story of humanity. Though I’m not convinced of any religion or supernatural belief, I would miss both in a world void of them. It would be like an entire world history as endlessly taupe as Madame Marie’s living room. But, as I divulged in last week’s blog post, magical thinking can be harmful. So where is the line? I think I have figured out where it is, and I will share my thoughts next week.

PS: Here are other magical things I’ve done: Carried a lucky charm, gone on ghost hunts, wished on 11:11 (I still do this) or on a falling star, sat through a tarot card reading, prayed and attended church, played with a Ouija board (more on this later), hung a dream catcher, participated in a drum circle, knocked on wood, consulted with “my angels,” flipped a lucky cigarette (back in my wilder days), put out candles with a snuffer so as to not offend the spirits, and said “God bless you,” after a sneeze. (Wink wink!)

Have you ever participated in magical thinking? If so, how?

18 thoughts on “The Conjuring (Magic 2)

  1. The magical thinking that I remember partaking of all centered on my Christian faith. Ever since deconverting, I get this weird feeling whenever an old magic thought pops in my head. One example I can think of is prayer.

    Personally, I can’t afford to live in a world where magic is real. Such a world is a terrifying place, with spirits and unseen forces able to change one’s fortunes on a whim. It’s more chaotic than a world governed by natural law.

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    1. Sirius, you are not alone in that. I often find myself putting thoughts and feelings in check. Certain things are hard to unlearn. Christianity can take root because it plays on those very elementary feelings that we experience as young children, fear, longing to be loved by our parents, a need to eat, rest, be cared for. Christian messages appeal that fundamental, helpless stage in the life cycle. Religious thought is probably one of the hardest things to break away from.

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      1. I don’t know if it appeals to me so much as it formed neural pathways I’m having difficulty unmaking. How much of this magical thinking is something that started out as a strange, fanciful thought that never got corrected? How much of it is something nobody’d ever think to do without the help of someone else who’d been taught the woo?

        For every magical idea, there is usually at least one person who never thought that was a thing. I envy those people. And I suppose I should be glad that I’m ignorant of some strange practices myself. Case in point, ancient Romans used to sweeten their drinks with lead.

        Lead.

        Everyone living today’s dodged that intellectual bullet.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Four thoughts:
    1) I chuckle that you characterize our world as a ‘rational, modern-day society.’ The “woo” (as Serius Bizinus says above) so permeates our culture that we are anything but rational or modern.
    2) I totally agree: ‘we are the magic.” Humans possess great power and magic when we utilize rational thought to improve our lives, help each other flourish, and find the level of kindness needed to make this a better world.
    3) I would not miss religion (or any other supernatural belief) at all. I think our creative capacities would be better employed trying to master just this one principle of modern Secular Humanism: “We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.”
    4) Three areas of REAL human magic that I adore are nature (the natural world), love, and the magic of laughter.

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  3. I have had a reader inform me that his comment didn’t post today and we’re not sure why.I hope this is not happening frequently. If you ever post a comment and it doesn’t show up, please let me know via the contact page. I don’t ignore or delete readers’ comments, with the exception of extremely offensive or flaming ones.

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  4. I have done many things magical over the years, several of them similar to what you’ve done Danica. 😁 But to clarify, my “magical thinking” was mostly due to my supercharged Explorer personality, what I like to describe as my Marco Polo spirit. I will try just about anything and volunteer to go anywhere. This sometimes gets me into some precarious moments. LOL 😄 But I truly enjoy that adventuring and saying… “Perhaps, but I’ll see when I/we get there!

    I am open to the magical unknowns, e.g. how the Monarch butterflies return to the exact same northern and southern migration spots, BUT only after 2-3 generations have made the journey. Why do human beings HIDE (via “maturity”) their basic primal expressions under social norms of shaming? I could list many more.

    More often than not that courage to go, to know, are how things become wonderfully KNOWN. It’s a process. It’s evolution! It’s understanding more and more of the nature of self, others, life, this world, and this vast Cosmos. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much like a smartphone, or a vaccination might seem like “magic” to someone from the past, many mysteries will be revealed through science, as time goes by. I think it’s important to relinquish “magical thinking” when it replaces the quest for knowledge, but not when it fuels it. 🙂

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  5. Things like ‘not walking underneath a ladder’, ‘ask a small coin, from the person, before I give a sharp tool as a present’, ‘knock on wood’, these kinds of things I do. But to me, it has nothing to do with magic, but with superstition.
    The way we are all connected through the same energy, can use this energy to spread around positive vibes and do harm, that’s I belief kind of magic.
    I don’t know if numerology and astrology falls under magic, but I do believe in this. I also believe in healing through energy. Maybe it is magic, maybe it is superstition, but just because there ain’t no scientific proof, that doesn’t mean many ‘things’ aren’t happening.
    The largest magical fact I can think of; that despite the fact we humans created so much chaos throughout the centuries, inflicted so much damage on earth and towards each other and we are still not extinct.

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    1. I didn’t know about the “ask for a coin” one. How interesting! I think there is a lot that we don’t understand about the universe and about our brain’s role in everything. I love your final thought. So, so true!!

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