A New & Old Creation Story
Look. You can believe anything you want. This is just the story I tell myself. Not because it is provably true, but because it is a useful map of meaning that explains the most number of things which are provably true.
To be clear, I have no interest in wiping out the last remaining regions of Mystery from my map of the world. But I am interested in getting my bearings straight as best as I can as we move forward into what could prove to be very difficult times.
My dream is for this story to become a seed crystal that grows into an Open-Source Cosmology that transcends my or anyone else’s personal blind-spots and limitations. One requirement then for such a story would be that it not only answers the cosmological questions (who are we, where are we, why are we here), but also maintains enough “wiggle-room” for each individual to offer and unfold their own unique contribution, from their own relationship with Mystery.
Fortunately, there is a story that meets these requirements, at least to my own satisfaction. Fortunately, I didn’t have to create it. It’s a story most folks already know to some degree.
In essence, this is a new & old story about magic. And here is where we encounter our first frustration, our first stumbling block. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings book or movie as much as the next person. But we’ve got to start admitting that these types of ongoing cultural narratives continually trick us into making dangerous assumptions about magic – assumptions that keep us from realizing the usefulness of this story – not to mention the usefulness of magic.
We have continually been tricked into assuming that magic is about the “supernatural”, and the “pretend”. My ancient (1980) New World Dictionary definition of magic: “the use of charms, spells, and rituals in seeking or pretending to cause or control events or govern certain natural or supernatural forces; sorcery.”
Well, let’s remove any assumptions about magic being “supernatural” or “pretend”, and try again: “methods that seek to cause or control events or govern certain natural forces; sorcery.”
Now, I chose to keep the word “sorcery” in this revision because it leads exactly back to the new & old story to which I have been alluding so far: the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Even Disney has provided us with a popular, relatively modern version, Fantasia.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The sorcerer's apprentice is in the sorcerer's study one day, believing the Sorcerer to be gone. Out of curiosity, he starts thumbing through all the big magic books. He takes no time to read the introduction, the footnotes, or the epitaph. He takes no time to undergo the appropriate training, the learning of discipline, the humbling apprenticeship. He goes straight for the juicy spells.
In his unbridled ignorance, he uses the power of the spells almost as amusement, but specifically - to forego his chores of carrying water up from the well. “Chop wood, carry water” – have often been understood by traditional peoples to be some of the most sacred human tasks - from which we cannot be absolved.
Any magician could have told the apprentice to take heed of the age old practices of 1) casting a circle - appropriately orienting oneself as being in one of the infinite centers of the cosmos; and 2) grounding the spell - paying heed to the power of the source, and giving the appropriate thanks and acknowledgment to that power - in essence, returning the power back to the source.
He casts a spell so that the broom will do the work for him. The spell works wonderfully for a while. But only for so long before it spins out of control. He had not cast a circle, so he did not know where he was. And he had not ground the spell, so the powers that were raised had no place to return, and therefore developed a life and mind of their own, which spells more and more trouble.
But no problem, he thinks. He'll just cast a new spell (or simply resort to brute force) to fix the problems caused by the first miscast spell. Once again, everything seems great for a while, but he had not grounded this spell either, so it inevitably spins out of control as well. This goes on and on. The ensuing chaos happens after shorter and shorter lapses of time. The sorcerer's apprentice scurries around more and more, pulling another and another spell out from his sleeve. It is starting to become painfully evident that he is not going to be able to keep this up.
We have been led to believe that this is where the Sorcerer returns to find his home falling into fracturing chaos. The Sorcerer then casts one powerful over-arching spell that puts a stop to all of the miscast spells and brings his home back into harmony. The apprentice looks up sheepishly with a new found humility. The End.
My sense is that this ending is a lie because the Sorcerer is not going to come back and clean up our mess. My sense is that the Sorcerer will never come back. And the reason he’ll never come back is because the Sorcerer never left. The Sorcerer is the Source.
There is nothing, including nothingness itself, which is not the Source of our lives. How can the Source leave?
Once again, I am proposing that we will need to rid ourselves of all assumptions that magic is about the “supernatural” and the “pretend” to fully benefit from what this story has to offer. So let’s return to our revised definition of magic: “methods that seek to cause or control events or govern certain natural forces; sorcery”.
Well, that’s almost another way of saying “technology”. So why do I persist in continuing to use the word “magic” and “sorcery”, instead of just using the word “technology”?
I’ll stick with the word “magic” because I believe that we can exorcise from it all notions of the “supernatural” and “pretend”, but still maintain the essential sense of mystery, and the sense of working with great powers, and more than anything else - the sense that when we use magic inappropriately, when we fail to ground our spells by not returning the power back to the source through gratitude, that the magic we unleash takes on a life and mind of its own, as in the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
One could even argue that the word “conjure” is a better word than “magic”. “Conjure” is from the Latin conjuro which means to swear together (as in an oath), or to conspire (which itself literally means “to breathe together”).
So I’d like to offer up a new definition of magic: to call or summon into existence what was previously only potential; to breathe together with Mystery.
Check out the next Clueless Honky Blog for more.
Thanks for your time and attention.
(I ask readers who are practitioners of actual magical traditions to bear with me for a little while here on this evolving train of thought. Perhaps a long while. Thanks.)