Magic, Nature and Flow.

Having finally crawled out of the fug of winter (I know it’s almost June!) with enough clarity to make sense of my own scattered soul to make words, I realise how long it has been since I last wrote and poignant that my last post was about the snow. Such a contrast to the heavy rains of April and the beautiful sunshine of the past week. Getting to this point has been a journey of will, determination and creative thinking. Life looks quite different now to how it did six months ago. The process of working out how we have arrived at a certain point – if we have not done so consciously and assessing moment by moment how we might move forward in the best and most honourable way, is a foundational part of my Druid practice, particularly when it seems that all we can do is take the next step or the next breath. How we actually go about that, often says quite a lot about our own individual philosophy and paganism.

We get all sorts of questions into the Druid Network office from the mad to the media and everything in between. This week we got a question asking about ‘Druid Spells’, if there was a book available and what Druid magic would be like. Cat has already blogged on this here http://druidcat.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/magic-spells-and-creation/ (although this theme seems to be having its perennial linking problem so you will just have to copy and paste!) and it’s amazing to see how differently we deal with this issue even within the Druid community, like anything, ask a Druid a question and you will get as many different answers as there are Druids. Those answers will be similar, but definitely not the same. Being the first to pick up the question, I responded  from my own experience, which is that magic, in its most usual definition of being the art of producing a desired effect or result through the human control of forces of nature using spells, is just not really a part of modern Druid practice at all, at least not as I have experienced it. I do not use it in my own religious practice and I have not yet met a Druid who spends hours slaving over spell books, ensuring that they have the right colour candle, scented oil, incantation and herb for that perfect love spell. More usually there are too many sunsets to watch, paths to be walked and bird song to dance to, the real business of living to be tended.

For me too, there is the question of ethics in considering magic. My religion is about recognising and responding to the sanctity found in every particle of Nature. In creating conscious, living, healthy relationship with Nature and all its elements there is the constant striving to see and experience Nature in its own sense of self, rather than the assumptions and beliefs I impose upon it in my own stumbling, clumsy human perspective. For it is only when we allow something to BE, in its own right that we are able to create the honourable relationship that Druids so often speak of. If we are constantly placing our own expectations and needs upon another creature we do not allow it the freedom that we are constantly seeking ourselves, to exist within its own sense of self; whether that creature is a rock, a tree, the lettuce for lunch or a relationship with a partner or friend. So is it right, honourable or ethical to impose our will upon nature so that we can get what we want magically, particularly if we start to understand that in getting what we want, another thing, person or creature may have its own intention or freedom compromised.

In her post, Cat asks an interesting question “if we take magic to mean ‘creating change in conformity with will’, then yes, that’s a definition perhaps most closely tied to Witches. However, when you think about it, don’t we all do that on a daily basis? It’s a good question and my answer to it is not straight forward. Yes, humanity does do that, we do it all the time; we dig for oil, throw our rubbish away, eat food that has been air freighted, fly off on holiday and poison the sea. That’s the big stuff. We also eat, wear clothes, drink tea, swat the fly; all of the small things of our day to day lives that mean that someone somewhere has compromised itself so that we can carry on the necessities of our daily lives in an unconscious fashion. Is that magic? Does that justify the use of magic in our practice? For me the answer has to be unboubtedly ‘no’. The process of learning Druidry, certainly as I was taught it, it to constantly strive to expand our consciousness of what we are in relationship with so that we do not use and abuse, imposing our will on the world, or at least hugely reducing our own impact in that way. Of course not one of us is perfect, that’s an impossible task. I drive to work, I power my home and I probably use more that my fair share of water simply by living in the west. There are a myriad of things that I do on a daily basis that I impose my will on, using them to my advantage largely because I have no idea of my true impact. It is this ignorance that allows us to do this and it’s a constant journey of learning how we can do it better, rejecting the ignorance that allows us complicity. It is a fine balance, choosing consciously where we compromise in order to survive and letting go when it is greed, rather than need which drives us.

Of course, I understand Cat to be talking about the will to get things done being a good thing, rather than justifying the abuse that humanity consciously or unconsciously imposes on the world around us, but it can be easy to confuse the two. The will and determination to move forward, that imposition of will on the self to get the job done is of course just as necessary to survival if we don’t want to spend our lives in a small dark hole. There is a difference, though, between asserting will upon another and will upon ourselves to create change, the latter I would argue, being desirable and necessary. The absolute key to honourable relationship is working from the principle, however impossible its complete realisation, that we only ever have the right to change ourselves. In understanding the mammouth impossibility of this task, as consciously striving Druids, we seek the relationship, co-operation and consent with other beings in order to make life viable, understanding what our effect is and working to minimise our impact wherever possible. Magic in the classical sense is about maximising our impact, forcing a change which otherwise might not naturally have come about.

So what do we do when we need something we don’t have: a lover, a new job, money, or simply a way to breath through the next crisis or feed the kids? Do we crack out the coloured candles, oils, 3 feet of red cord and perfectly worded spell? Well, no. Without really good deep working relationship with which to affect that change within ourselves such things start to look like superstition. I have trouble understanding how an orange candle (and I understand that it must be orange!) will help with finding the money to pay the electricity bill. We could of course just accept that we are not meant to have whatever it is we crave and work on ourselves to find the acceptance to that affect; that might well be what we need to do, however difficult. Yet the the Druid also understands that existence unfolds, created moment by moment as an inevitable creation of all that has gone before in that unstoppable web of Wyrd. We have a certain degree of influence over what we will become, how we will change and our direction and what will happen to us from moment to moment.

How much of an effect we can have is down to practice and consciousness,  it is a process we can learn, and continue to learn through out our spiritual lives. We learn that we cannot fix it all and we cannot always have what we want. Wyrd is bigger than all of us, there are elements and relationships that we will never be aware of but this is where the real magic begins. Not in asserting ourselves upon the world, to change it to fit our needs, but in understanding how we can consciously shape ourselves to best fit the world, creating ourselves in every moment, rising to challenges and finding ease, and accepting the things we have no power over, the gifts we are offered by the gods, for they are gifts and opportunities even if we perceive them as challenge.

Today, I will make magic by going outside to lie in the sun. I know that with my back to the mud I will feel my roots extending through my skin and into the earth, respiring with the soil, the bugs and the water deep below. I know that there, I will find the wisdom and guidance of my grandmothers who have walked this road before, facing the same challenges. I will feel them in my body and blood, their strength a part of my own, the skill of their hands the skill of my hands. As I look up at the sky, sparkling with the brilliance of the sun I watch as the waves of colour move across it, blue and silver, white and violet and yellow, the different colours of heat and wind that move over the land. I feel the breeze on my skin, the breath of the wind, the song of the birds, as it ruffles the feathers of my back and I lift off into the air playing in the thermals above, watching my body below. I will arrive back having found the strength to walk into the next moment with the company of the ancestors, the freedom and clarity to make the right decisions and the knowledge of where the money for that electricity bill will come from. And the only thing I will have changed is myself. Magic.

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16 thoughts on “Magic, Nature and Flow.

  1. druidcat says:

    Beautiful words, honey 🙂 And absolutely – I guess I really am a closet optimist, but the lack of comprehension about just how some people inflict/enforce their wills can blind me to it a little.

    However, the phrase that comes to mind with the quest for that balance is ‘Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?’ 😉 Like you say, it’s not simple. And as Druids, whatever the choices, we make them and move forward honourably.

    Fly well, lovely lady xx

  2. Nimue Brown says:

    That description there at the end sounds a lot like my sort of magic – magic as perspective as a way of experiencing the world. Magic as a way of reaching out, not pulling things towards us. Magic recognised, not undertaken, participated in as part of the dance that is life, not hammered out in a solitary way.

  3. […] previous post struck a chord with the lovely Red, in her post here, elaborating on her own views about magic and its practice as Druid. Beautiful words, wonderful to […]

  4. Tony Faulkner says:

    Beautiful thoughts about magic. I remember the old magus’ words ‘As above so below. As within so without.’. Magic is often thought about and practiced as wielding the will to influence the world. But perhaps it can be seen a different way. Magic could the thought of as perfecting that which is within to perfect that which is without. Red talks about the ethics of magic and here it is beautifully resolved. Sadly so many practitioners of the magic arts have not delved deeply enough into the mystery of what is within and what is below.

  5. Phil Ryder says:

    Well, just to prove that asking druids you end up with differing views 🙂

    I see magic as a result of an understanding and sympathy with the wholeness that is Nature. An understanding that if something is done here a result happens somewhere else. If we have awareness of that then our actions can be directed to make a change that we want to see happen. Now here comes the rub – we must take responsibility for those actions if directed with our good friends Will and Intent. We all do it – some just do it with awareness of what they are doing – and that is what distinguishes ordinary actions from those who practice magic.

    It is easy to say that magic is not a part of Druid practice – but I must disagree – every word we speak, every word written, every song wrote, every ritual preformed has effect. If we do it with a focused intent to make change then in my understanding that is a magic practice and we must take responsibility for those actions. We can do it for personal growth, and that is a spiritual practice. If we do it as a service to the gods and community then it is a religious and magical practice.

    There is the other view that considers magic as a collaboration with spirits who cause the effect and that is a valid definition when the “spirits” are considerd as discrete forces of Nature.

    As Druids we try to live with awareness and an understanding of relationship with our suroundings. We know that to damage a part is to damage the whole. And so our magical practice is focused on the greater good rather than personal gain.

    But, it is still magic in a magical world.

  6. […] been reading with interest ideas about magic on Cat’s Blog and Red’s Blog this week. Red’s really got me thinking about how we square honourable relationship with magic. […]

  7. Phil Ryder says:

    We quest divine inspiration. That inspiration MUST result in creativity. That creativty is magic – inspired by the divine. Nothing to square with honourable relationship. The wholeness of Nature is one of constant change, constant creation. We can sit on the sidelines and be unaware or we can engage and work with the gods to make the changes that are needed. Yes it is using the forces of nature to do our will, but we can’t force them to do it, we work with them. The forces of nature just do what they do – they create – they destroy. Of course those same forces can be used to benefit ourselves. But can they really? There is always a pay back! There are few if any who have gained materially from the practise of magic in the long term.
    To say that using magic to create change in the whole is wrong is to misunderstand magical practice. We can’t violate the laws of Nature, we can’t step outside of Nature. We are Nature. Nothing supernatural or occult or esoteric – just Nature creating.
    There is the question of how do we know it is for the greater good? Is it divine inspiration or personal gain? How can we be sure? My take is if you are not sure then don’t do it. But if you do then be prepared to make the pay back when you find out you were wrong.
    I can’t accept the path of “if it harms none” – I take the more interesting path of least harm – considering the options, making the choices, taking the action.

  8. Like you Phil, the path of least suffering/harm is what guides me. I do not believe there can be a path of no harm, but then I suppose that depends entirely on what we would define has harm or suffering.

    Generally, magic in the accepted sense of the word is not something I practice because I cannot ever be sure of the wider effect. I always have doubt; so over the last few years whenever I have considered it I have never been certain enough to work upon anything but my own perspective, intention and relationship with the world. That is not to say that I don’t believe magic works, it does and I have used it successfully for many years, but more and more have let it go at the focus of my devotion became relationship.

    That is not to say, though, that I don’t perceive the world as deeply magical in the mystical, sacred and wonderful sense of the word.

  9. Phil Ryder says:

    I think the problem comes from the accepted definition of magic – but it is a modern definiton that considers it an imposition of will to make change. But it can also be a conscious decision to make change by working with the sacred, however we perceive it. It is active creative participation in a magical world, founded in relationship with the sacred. And I doubt there are many on the druid path that don’t use magic – by any other name. If we use anger as a force for positive change rather than as a destructive force then we are practising magic. So next time we get angry at some injustice and use that anger to write to our MP with the power of the bard – then that is magic at a simple but effective level. We have consciously used a force of Nature to make a change that we want to see.

  10. Natalie Reed says:

    I see magic as a prayer. It may be more complicated than an average prayer, but a prayer none the less. When a Catholic lights a votive candle in church, this is magic, when one says a Novena, this is magic. When a Pagan makes a request of the gods or devas for assistance, lights a candle or burns incense or spirit journeys, this is all magic, and it is all prayer. I suppose my definition is more broad than most, but I find the line difficult to place and therefore find it unnecessary. We are far more alike than different, and the various paths to the gods wind closer than we know.

  11. Gwion says:

    I’ve been following the blogs about magic here and elsewhere with interest. As a relative newcomer to active involvement with the druid and pagan world, even if only at internet level, I’m still forming my views on this topic and enjoying seeing others’ interpretations.

    My own current classification of magic recognises three types (excluding the “illusionist” stage magic). First there’s the fantasy magic of Harry Potter etc, second there’s the ritual/ceremonial magic which seeks to bring about change by performing actions which influence nature and third there’s the magic of simply attuning yourself to nature, giving you insights which extend beyond the conventional senses.

    In general, I dismiss the first to the realm of fiction – though that’s not to say I don’t sometimes enjoy it there. The second is the one I have most trouble with. It seems, from most of my reading so far, to be concerned with this “creating change in conformity with will”. The thing that has made me feel most comfortable with the druidic path is its lack of anthropocentricity – but if I start to think that I know best and that nature should conform to my will I’m back in the same old anthropocentric/egocentric universe.

    Every action produces an effect. Where we can explain the links, the pathway, between cause and effect, we call it science. Unfortunately most of our methods of explanation rely on measurement. We cannot explain scientifically that which we cannot measure. We try to overcome this by building machines which extend our senses but we’re still limited because we’re only extending existing senses. We can’t design machines which measure phenomena which don’t correspond in some way to these existing senses but that inability to detect links outside our senses means that we also have no way of predicting them. If you don’t know how something works you don’t know the side effects. This causes a major problem. You only have to look at the often misguided ways people have sought to influence natural ecosystems, expecting one action to produce one simple response but getting instead a huge variety of often unwanted outcomes. (Check out the introduction of Opuntia to Australia, sparrows to New York, Japanese Knotweed to British gardens etc). So using magic to produce an effect needs to be undertaken with great care and a willingness to take responsibility for the consequences, both those experience, though not necessarily scientific measurement, allowed you to predict and those which inability to measure made you unable to predict.

    I can’t utterly condemn this sort of magic – I’m prepared to used non-magical, “scientific” means to change my environment to suit me so why not magical means? In a way, there’s no difference between using a magical ritual to bring about an effect and using any other means. I could sow my seeds and perform a ritual to make them grow or I could water and feed them: I’m still trying to influence their growth. For now, though, I’m not prepared to take the risks of and responsibility for the unpredictable consequences of such magical actions so I’ll leave ritual magic alone.

    The third type of magic is “my” magic. I’ve felt it in woods, by streams, on mountain tops and in songs. It doesn’t seek to do anything or to control anything – it just is. For me, it carries no moral dilemmas and, once felt, all the other forms pale into insignificance.

    Thanks for stimulating these thoughts!

    • ravenspriest says:

      Your magic and mine also. I don’t think that I could presume to change what the ‘gods’ have ordained, by the exercising of my own will, over theirs, if that were at all possible, by the use of spells and/or rituals. But ‘Their’ magic can work within us, both for our benefit and for the benefit of others, if we are truly open to them and are willing to become their instruments, as it were.
      So, in woods, by streams and on the mountain tops, we feel the magic. It lifts us up and inspires us. We in turn can share that inspiration as our lives are transformed.

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