Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Essentiality of Magic



I've started reading Briana Saussy's book Making Magic. I'm not pagan, but my Celtic ancestors undoubtedly were and I increasingly share paganism's focus on and admiration of nature. What most attracted me to the book though was its promise to discuss "a way of directly engaging with the extraordinary in your everyday life." I'm skeptical by disposition, but like Fox Mulder, want to believe. And I do believe that there is much more in the universe than I'm aware of. Call it faith or magic or whatever you want, I love the idea that some things are best left mysterious and not fully knowable. And I paradoxically love that idea even as I can't help skeptically seeking to uncover those mysteries so that I can know and understand the truth behind them. It's a weird, inconsistent balance.

My hope for Saussy's book is that it'll help me embrace and celebrate and even seek out mysteries that I don't intend to solve. I'm encouraged by this passage early on:
"All mysteries, so we are told, have been discovered, named, bagged, and tagged. There is nothing unknown, nothing of wonder to find here, nothing to see. This conventional wisdom has been the greatest teacher in the present age, and it has taught us incorrectly. A world without wild things is greatly diminished; this we know. The same is true for lives lived without the touch of magic. In all places we look, magic is a mark carrying depth and scope, an essential ingredient for a life well lived."
I'm even more encouraged by this insightful and sensitive paragraph a couple of pages later. It begins with a warning about cultural appropriation and ends with reassurance that magic can be found wherever we live without stealing it from someone else:
"Many who seek magic look for it in faraway places and exotic lands, convinced that it has been housed and preserved in its pure form somewhere out there by indigenous peoples and tribes. The hard truth is that no culture exists in pristine form, unfractured, unfragmented. Further corrosion of these already damaged cultures takes place with each attempt to capture, cage, and smuggle out ways, traditions, and practices from their native lands, transplanting them, without thought to harm or health, into unfamiliar habitats that are not made to support them. Appropriation of indigenous cultural practices is often done in the belief that some people in some places have a deeper relationship to the things that matter than we are capable of in our wealthy, developed, formally educated societies. While it is true that there are tribes and communities of people who live within vast wilderness areas with a high diversity of wild creatures, it is also true that access to the wild animal that is magic has never been truly closed - even, sometimes especially, in the most urban concrete-and-asphalt streets or the most urbane boardrooms and classrooms, and even in such unlikely places as the digital realm. Our work is to see this and remember it. Furthermore, we shall come to realize that the intentional or unintentional theft of another person's or people's magic comes at great cost - the ignorance and neglect of our own deeper good and the harming of those we claim to hold in highest esteem."

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