Monday, September 25, 2023

Is Reading a Form of Magic?

The word magic may suggest much that is negative, like conjuring and con-artistry.   But there are positive senses of the word.  I would mention a brilliant book by the scientist Dean Radin, Real Magic, a report on what parapsychology tells us about the ‘magic’ of our own mental life.  In  essence, it consists of our minds having the potential to sense beyond the limits of the senses and to know and do things beyond the constraints of time and space.  In this strong sense, we are all potential magicians.


What I want to suggest is an unnoticed sense in which we are magicians.  And this turns out to be something ordinary that most of us do a little or sometimes quite a lot.  I am talking about the psychic ability to read. It does seem  that with the Internet, smart phones, the omnipresence of podcasting, etc., reading in the soulful sense as a form of communication is dying out.   Of course, people read for information, for the news, to play all sorts of games, and, needless to say, to buy and sell things.  There’s a certain magic in all that, I’m sure.


But a recent Gallup shows that since 1990 Americans are reading fewer and fewer books.  No doubt this in part is due to the more passive forms of mental activity based on lapping up what appears on the screens of our smart phones and computers. 


Reading a book requires the participation of an active mind, all the powers of our consciousness—books on history, drama, poetry, novels, short stories, philosophy, spirituality, all the arts.  I call this soulful reading—reading that stretches the intellect, calls for our empathy, excites and refines our imagination, is attuned to wonder and adventure, and challenges our critical skills.


Soulful reading is really a kind of out-of-body experience.  To learn, feel, embrace something new is to get beyond oneself , expand awareness and enrich one’s identity.  When you discover a new idea or emotion through something you’ve read, it’s a kind of telepathy.  Your mind provides the feeling and brings the content of what you’re reading to life. Reading inert words on a page is nothing without feeling, intelligence and imagination. Reading with soul is a creative act; without soul, words are signals without meaning.   


The Nazis and other Fascist movements burnt books, aiming to extinguish the option to free thinking.  Efforts to crush the freedom to read are turning up today in the United States, centered on books deemed inappropriate by Christian nationalists  and other fanatics.  This seems to complement the already documented decline of reading, tracked by Gallup.


Knowing how to read with soul is not only the key to engaging deeply with our human history and the treasures of world culture, it’s essential to being an intelligent  citizen, capable of grasping the written laws, rights, and ideals of our nation. Book reading skills are essential to understanding and supporting the principles of the U. S.  Constitution.


As we plough on toward an increasingly problematic future, there are two ways that promise to color the outcome, two different objects to lay on the table beside our beds before we retire: a gun or a book.





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