An Awareness of Magic
by Wilfred von Dauster

Do you believe in magic? Most pagans do. Most of our ancestors did, if we go back not all that far. In the history of the human race people have believed in magic far longer than they have not. Some people would say this resulted from an inability to explain the basic nature of things and how they operate, and that belief in magic is rapidly becoming obsolete as we gain a better empirical understanding of our universe. That as we gain more knowledge, there will be no need for supernatural explanations, hence no need for magic.

These people do not have the slightest idea what they are talking about.

This limited understanding of magic is one small level up from the magician who performs tricks at children's birthday parties. It is a mechanistic view, one which sees magic as the ability to control or manipulate one's surroundings, including the people one encounters. Magic is something far greater, and at the same time, far more mundane, than the ritual magician's attempts to play at being a god. A friend recently asked how one "feels the magic." This is one of the larger questions one can ask in this life, and one of the most important. Odin himself is a magician, among other things. To better understand the All-Father, it is necessary to better understand the magical nature of reality.

Everybody feels the magic, or has felt it at one time or another. What is magic? Do not expect a handy abbreviated definition. Magic is nothing which can be constrained by, nor adequately explained in, a dictionary.

Magic is not some earth-shattering, black-cloaked ceremonial nightmare of monstrous proportions. It does not require animal (or worse) sacrifices, does not require years of study to discover, nor does it always change the lives of people when they encounter it, especially not if they are busy denying it can exist. The awareness of magic begins as the amalgamation of small, and some times not so small, often serendipitous occurrences. To feel these requires first and foremost an awareness of one's surroundings. The more complete that awareness, the stronger the perception of the underlying transcendence of all of reality. Recognition cannot happen without this awareness.

It should be mentioned here that it is better for the would be magician to detect the flow of the transcendent forces surrounding him or her, and seek to harmonize his or her being with that flow. To seek to arbitrarily change these patterns for the sake of one's own momentary desires is foolish. At the least it invites much struggle, at the worst one can prove inadequate to the task and be destroyed by the universe. This is not to say the course of events cannot occasionally be influenced, indeed they sometimes cry out for it, but the magician must be aware of the tremendous implications of such actions, and approach them with due reverence and respect.

The idea of magic as super- , as in somehow not-, natural is a result of Christian thinking. The idea that there is a titanic unified entity with all of the power at the "good" extreme, along with a just slightly less powerful, still titanic unified entity encompassing only evil at the other extreme, is inherently contradictory at the very least. But the next step Christianity takes is the psychologically devastating one. As their god has all of the power, puny useless humans have none. Humans are suited only to grovel and proclaim unworthiness before this other extreme of universal power. This dualistic approach allows only the two extremes, with nothing in between.

This sort of thinking, which one encounters primarily in the fundamentalist sects, is the underlying reason for the denial of that part of transcendent reality we each encounter every day of our lives.

In fact, if one believes that there is something beyond the everyday physically verifiable world, a supernatural, then to separate it so completely from the reality we are taught to accept is absurd. There is only one reality. Different perceptions, of course, but as Ayn Rand said, "reality exists." There are many, many levels of the supernatural which surround us, many levels between whatever, if anything, holds ultimate power in the universe and us. And below us. People are not the lowest form of life, nor the least powerful. Indeed, it could be we are too powerful for our now artificially limited perception of reality.

It is those who do not recognize the magic of an old growth forest who cut it down.

It is in these levels in between the mundane and the Gods, that magic lives and where it is most easily discovered. The Earth is magical. Unfortunately, the idea of the immediacy of the supernatural is frightening to a person raised with the comfortable idea of a far-distant though somehow ridiculously powerful, God one need face only at death, when one is finished here anyway. The apprehension of a near supernatural is one of the fears one must dispense with before one can feel the magic.

Some might ask what role religion plays in magic, if any. Religion is the foundation for approaching the transcendent. It gives one both the strength to face the dangers, real or imagined, and the direction in which to use magic if the situation demands it. Religion is, in other words, the compass of magic, but not its anchor. Religion, at least the elder religions of northern Europe, is not the enemy of magic. Christianity (along with the other Abrahamic religions), even though it took many of the forms of traditional ritual magic in its orthodox ceremonies, is the enemy of magic precisely because it would deny individual empowerment, not to mention the enhanced life just the awareness of magic gives one. The Northern European tradition has a healthier view of magic, formally recognizing Galdhr, word-magic, Hamr, shape-changing, and Seidhr, or trance-magic (Ordhasafn of Gamlinginn, p 131). But although these encompass some active aspects of magic, magic extends beyond even those classifications.

It has been said that magic is the individual attempting to influence the course of events, and that religion is asking the Gods to influence that course for the individual. Ultimately, this is no real difference. When one views the Gods as partners, their strength stands ever ready to aid in the honorable attempt to change things which need changing. Therefore, the magician is acting as a de facto "godlet" when attempting to change the flow, but acts alone when pursuing dishonor able actions. She or he can likewise the count on the aid of the gods, should it become necessary, if the results sought are honorable.

So begin by opening the mind to the idea that there is more to reality than those narrow aspects sanctioned by the pervasive worldview of late twentieth-century society. Where is magic? Everywhere. The creative spark is magic, the act of creating something from scratch, whether it be an outhouse or The Next Great Novel.

The paradisiac vision, the different, somehow "more real" glimpse we occasionally get when looking at something ostensibly familiar, is magic. It transcends the jaded image we carry of the object, be it a forest or a friend. Sehnsucht, that untranslatable longing for the distant unachievable, is another version of the same thing, and just as magical.

Love is magical, so is true friendship. There is little science can do to explain love. Its effects, maybe, but not love. That we sometimes find a kindred spirit (spirit? hum ...) we can relate too far too deeply for a simplistic, "talk the same language" explanation. "Einem Freund geprüft im Tod," Schiller said, a friend proven even in death; this, too, is magic. Schiller's Götterfunken, the divine spark (lit. Sparks of the Gods!) of life itself is magical. For that matter, the music that grabs us, moves us, whether it be von Beethoven's Ninth or a rock anthem, is more than a hypothalamic response to external stimulation....

A great entertainer has a "presence" which can be immediately felt when he or she enters a room or walks on to the stage. Some of this "magic" can be explained by physical factors, gestures, posture and such, but not much.

There are a number of techniques which can help one become more in tune with the magical. Two are worth mentioning. The first is what could be called the "sacred grove," a place apart from the daily grind, where one feels, well, different. Preferably it will be a place of ancient life, a place apart from our everyday world, yet fully and more completely a part of the earth and her ancient magic. This has always been a part of the religions of our ancestors, precisely because so much of the earth itself is magical. It is not always practical to actually visit an ancient grove of trees. One's "sacred grove" could just as easily be a secluded viewpoint over looking city lights. It should be a place where one can be alone, and apart.

The other technique which seems useful is visualization. This has become a byword for the new-age "white lighters" attempts to influence their lives. That's OK, perhaps, but a directed study of the runes makes a better foundation, and the individual runes better objects for visualization, than a "glow." To visualize the rune while concentrating on its meanings makes it a part of you that can be "conjured up" (chuckle ...) when its properties are needed or felt. One side benefit of visualization is that it can help shape one's attitudes to more closely reflect one's desires. This is more helpful than it might sound.

Edred Thorsson's books provide expansion of this technique, and are a good place to follow up.

To a large extent, it is the elimination of those things that block or prevent one from feeling the magic which allows one to experience it. Other than the Abrahamic religions world view already discussed, what other things interfere? The single worst inhibition on a practical level comes from other people who do not themselves believe there can be such a thing as magic. These people, and they can be friends and family, are bound and determined that no shred of the supernatural will intrude in their dull lives. That it is simply not possible that the supernatural could be so accessible. It is not necessary to drop such friends, just be aware of this attitude when present, and be aware that it is the enemy of perception.

Bureaucracy stifles magic. It may in fact be the very opposite of magic. The form-without-meaning proceduralization of daily life is certainly the opposite of the spontaneity which is characteristic of magic, not mention creativity. To the extent which magic is equated with life, bureaucracy stifles life itself. Anything which stifles creativity tends also to block magic.

Unresolved personal dilemmas tend to distract from a magical world view. Perhaps more importantly, it can lead to the unstable person seeing magic as a quick and dirty way out of personal problems. It is not. Attempting to use magic in this way inevitably leads to more problems. Yes, an awareness of magic adds tremendously to the meaningfulness of one's life, and makes one a more interesting person to be around, which can also help. But the idea that magic is simply a tool for personal power is wrong, and calls for a reminder of the "law of threefold return." An act of good or ill will is returned three times stronger to the sender. Truer words were never spoken: Heed them!

Do not worry if you do not feel the magic everywhere. Some things take time and effort. It is nonetheless there to be discovered in one of life's greatest adventures. Take the time to enjoy the "strange" feelings you get in the woods, the longings which crop up in your heart if you let them. They are the tip of a magical iceberg that never ends. Pay attention to the world around you, and the world will pay you back with a delight in every experience, even those we would rather not go through. Senses are not magic, per se, but can trigger that response which leads to an ever greater appreciation of the transcendent nature of all of our lives. The hero's life transcends the mundane by facing the unthinkable head on. Face all of reality, become aware of life, and magic will be everywhere.