Magic (part I)

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic the past few days. What exactly it is, its role in my own practice, how others may or may not perceive it. There would seem to be an abundance of blog fodder here, indeed, there are many excellent blogs already dedicated to the subject. I’ll start by giving my own frame of reference, and hopefully expand upon the nature and societal role of magic in later posts.

Most of my workings tend to fall into the “low” or folk magic category. I’ve done the occasional soup-to-nuts ceremonial working as well, but I can count the number of times I’ve needed that sort of oomph on one hand.  I started practicing magic in the form of divination when I was 10 or 11, adding homemade herbal and flower potions to that as I went. I found a book in the town library called Stars, Spells, Secrets, and Sorcery, which furthered my interest (and also led to a classmate accusing me of being possessed by Satan). Thus my interest in the occult was born—and imagine my surprise when I found my father’s tarot deck dating back to his graduate school days. Seems the interest ran in the family!

In college, I took a wonderful class on magic in the Greco-Roman world (and in fact served as a TA for the class my senior year). Not only did I feel bolstered in my own practices—clearly humans have been doing these sorts of things for thousands of years—but it also again broadened my practical knowledge through experimentation. Trying to use the materials that the Greeks and Romans had available to them is a wonderful exercise in cultural understanding. Poring through the PGM and seeing same the patterns and rituals used over and over again not only shows what was popular, but why certain practices were thought to work.  In addition, the class covered scholarly perspectives on how magic served a function in society, and how it still fulfills important parts of our psyches today (more on this in a future post).

College itself was a wonderful time of magical exploration for me, allowing me to connect for the first time with others who had both interest and ability. It was also my first opportunity to work energy in groups, and to learn what my strengths and weaknesses were. In some ways, it was a sort of energetic trial-by-fire since we were completely open to experimentation, but in the end I think it gave me quite a good grounding and reflexes. This was also when I was first exposed to the ideas of Chaos magic, which still greatly influence my thinking today.

Soon after college, around 2005, I found my first Druid group.  It was so very different from the college experience: there was one liturgist, rituals had to go exactly according to plan, and the only magic “allowed” was the channelling of the gods and goddesses. I loved the idea of Druidry, the scholarly aspects especially, but there really wasn’t any room for either improvisation or energetic workings. “Those Wiccans” were very much looked down upon by the group leaders, and being young and impressionable, I tried to fit in. I eventually ended up parting ways with the group, but by the time I left, I had largely abandoned my magical practice (with the exception of divination, which I just can’t quit, no matter how hard I try!).

I joined another Druid group which was much more willing to experiment, where I received some desperately needed encouragement for journey work and the like. Two of the other members were wonderful mentors to me, helping me grow into Druidry in a way that really fulfilled me. One of them told me to look into OBOD, that I would be much better suited to it than I was to the previous organization. She was absolutely right and I haven’t looked back since.

The evolution of my magical practices continued when I met my husband and his family. He and his siblings were all taught reiki by their parents, and my mother and father-in-law (in addition to being accomplished musicians) were very accepting of psychic and magical phenomena.  My husband taught me reiki soon after we started dating. It could be argued (probably quite loudly and at great length) that reiki is not magic, but it allowed me to really pay close attention to energy work for the first time since college. As I spent more time with my husband’s family, I felt more and more accepted, allowing me to branch out more fully into other areas of magical practice.

These days, divination still makes up the majority of my workings. But I’m also now completely comfortable (again!) casting the odd spell in the kitchen or whispering a prayer in the garden. Little things like drawing runes or other sigils over soup or tea for a sick friend, or singing to the plants—simple, everyday folk magic to help friends and family.

Looking to the future, when I finish the Ovate grade in OBOD (which focuses heavily on divination and magic) I hope to work my way through John Michael Greer’s Druid Magic Handbook, which is a more ceremonially-influenced style, but still very friendly to the polytheist. There is the eternal argument between so-called “low” and “high” magics, but I honestly feel that one should know both styles in order to become the best practitioner possible. I may not end up with as much depth in one as in the other, but at least I’ll be familiar with the territory.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the changing perceptions of magic from the ancient world to today, and what roles magic still fulfills for people that still can’t be found easily through other venues.

—A.V.

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