The word “magic” has many meanings—it is linked to ideas of deception, trickery, and irrationality. But let’s put the negative associations aside and focus on the magic that interests anthropologists and psychical researchers.[i] There is in fact real magic in nature. In each of us there is what we can call a master magician. This “magician” inhabits the secret depths of our minds. Most of us are oblivious to its existence and its strange potentials. The magician within? What else but our own mind, our own soul? Magic is about the elusive powers we inwardly possess to transcend the obstacles of matter, time and space.
The problem is that with the modern triumph of capitalism and rationalistic materialism, a condition set in that Max Weber called disenchantment—in other words, the death of the magical imagination. In place of the latter, we have witnessed the triumph of the calculating mind. The apotheosis of the computer and the mechanization of experience are symptoms of this disenchantment.
Disenchantment is the deadening of the psyche, the paralysis of the spirit, the murder of mind. What can we do about it? Be steam-rollered or fight back? That is the question. What to do to re-connect with the neglected magician within?
Human beings from early history discovered and codified methods of waking up our inner powers--fasting, meditating, chanting, etc. All sorts of mind-body exercises, ascetic practices and group rituals are used to carry on dialogues with the latent powers of our own minds. A wealth of information on this is available, waiting for us to pick up on the trail of our onward journeys.
Is it possible to transcend the common constraints of mundane life—and create magic? It would seem from a thousand stories that the answer is “yes”. There is no simple formula for how such ventures into Magic come about. More often than not they arise in the course of a crisis, perhaps when it feels as if our back is up against the wall and the situation is hopeless.
But one can be proactive. The spectrum of magic-inducing practices seems to me as infinite as the mind is inventive. Along the journey of everyday life are opportunities to make magic out of our choices and perceptions. And there is the field of coincidences that we move through at all times, sometimes so resonant with meaning that they seem like magic.
I could recount many such stories. Some are dramatic, as is one recounted to me by a nurse. Driving her car, she wrote that she came to a stop at a busy cross-section in the town of Edgewater, New Jersey. About to step on the gas pedal when the light turned green, she saw her dead mother in the street before her, and jammed on the brakes. Just then a Mack truck ran the red light, shooting past her. Had she not braked, she would have been killed.
Something acted through her mind that produced the apparition that saved her life. I call that magical: an extraordinary phenomenon of suddenly expanded mental capacity. Somehow her mind produced an apparition of her mother at the exact instant necessary to get her to brake, and thus save her life.
Who knew that we had such strange capacities? Common sense and mainline science are baffled, and walk away, usually quite silent, after hearing such stories. Even so, such stories are a constant throughout history—a perpetual metaphysical tease.
In this case, we have two ways to interpret the story, assuming, as I do, that it’s true. Either the apparition was produced by the nurse’s subliminal mind or it was produced by the ghost of the nurse’s Mom herself. Just as likely, the event may have required the cooperation of the nurse’s subliminal mind and her Mom’s spirit. On either interpretation, we have a piece of evidence for the reality of an unknown master magician within.
[i] De Martino’s The World of Magic explains how 19th century anthropologists and folklorists ignored the reality of magical powers. Much of what we call magic overlaps religion, and in fact the magical pervades almost everything that humans do.