I trained as a scientist, paid for by Her Majesty in return for carrying a gun and being badly used by a succession of governments who let us bury far too many good men and women because it was cheaper politically to let our gear rot, crash, and sink, bow your head over the corpse of one to a dozen of our “noble heroes” than pay the treaty mandated 2% GDP we swore binding oath to our allies and our dead at the end of WWII we would do. Neither of these professions lends one to mysticism, and one of them leaves you prone to cynicism that make the average nihilist think we need to lighten up. Yet here I am to talk about magic.
Recently I had the ironic joy of hearing someone tell me how well I recovered and suggest I take up the kind of life destroying job that requires the ability to carry a demanding full time job on top of your demanding full time job, because of course, I can.
I can’t. I had my neck broken, my brain injured, lost the sight in one eye, the ability to sleep, the ability to lie down, lost the ability to see in sunlight, lost one of my two balance and equilibrium systems, gained permanent nausea and timpani (ringing in the ears, less fun than it sounds), I lost the ability to lay down short term memories, the ability to retrieve memories without multiple functional duty and context tie ins to connect them to the part of me I carved out of the wreckage during my recovery.
Yet I work a high function job seven nights an week. I don’t get sick. I don’t make mistakes. I regained the ability to write. I gained back the ability to function when my family requires it in whatever capacity they require it.
I do this sleeping one night in three, I do this throwing up everything I eat about one day in three or four.
Yet those who work with me, either professionally at my work, or in ritual at events “know” I am restored to full function. I am not, but I have gods who cheat. If you are willing to pay the price, and you are willing to walk the path in all the places it leads, then the limits of your flesh, and even your mind can be, if not overcome, then patched with tools not your own.
There are times I have to act for the community, where for days and nights at a time I must function as I did of old, and I can. I am not paying the price, I am using the energy of my gods to carry me past my limits, more terrifying, I am using their mind to fill in the empty and broken places of my own when I serve their needs. When it is done, the energy leaves, and I fall broken in ways that my doctors would freak over. Nothing is free, and magic isn’t Hollywood, it’s a set of disciplines that connect you to things that tie to the flesh, that speak to the mind, but are neither wholly in, nor wholly respect the limits of either, but that can use utterly dissimilar tools to approximate functional equivalence to the bits of flesh and brain that don’t exist, or don’t work anymore.
Magic. I won’t tell you what it is, I don’t use all of it, don’t know all of it, don’t want half of what I know and yet the part of me that reaches greedily out for every bit of it I find in lore, I am taught in journeying, or learn through shared ritual I horde in ways that a billionaire or dragon would understand.
I began my practice a long time ago with the sure and certain belief that magic wasn’t real. I softened this to its OK for others (ie women, and men who weren’t as strong, smart and idiotically convinced of their invincibility as I was), because I could see it work, and had to admit I had a raven’s eye for shiny, and a scientists desire to know how things worked, and I was figuring out how it worked even as I swore I saw no utility to it.
Until I got hurt. Until flesh failed, mind was shattered, and the tools needed to command the flesh, to process sensory information, memory integration, were lost. Until I had pain that could not be escaped, that drugs could not take away, and whose side effects made me too dangerous to live.
The senses learned in journeying between states and between worlds became the tools used to map my broken mind. The tools learned for moving energy in magical ritual became the tools used to force my nerves to reroute around broken pathways, using tools that didn’t always need to cross the space between two points to carry your will from one part to another long enough for the nerves to find away to connect the controlling machinery to the bit it used to control again.
Lost in a mind I no longer knew or controlled I walked the paths of madness, to the tree of the hanged one, offered myself to the tree as one of the hanged ones own, and laid myself along the bark as he drove his spear into me, and whispered the secrets of the first necromancer to make the dead parts of me bend to my will, to make the madness serve, to throw myself into the storm so that if I could not walk the path, I could go from the place I stood, to the place I needed to be, even if no one could fathom the path I took to get there, even me.
Sounds a bit like poetry, and a lot like gibberish. Honestly its both. Magic is part intuitive, part experiential, part pouring over the lore and writers of others whose poetry and madness echo your own enough that you come to understand they rode the winds you rode, enough that you can listen to their talk of how they flew enough to use your own wings.
I know a lot of Wiccans and ceremonial magicians I have worked with over the years think I am a bit of a prude about sticking with only Heathen practices, but it is a matter not of superiority, but comprehension. Inside the idiom of my own lore, I can draw upon writings that I understand on intellectual, emotional, instinctive, and poetic levels. If I see something, I know what it means, in that time, place, context. I know what I know, and what I don’t. The former is small, the latter is huge, so I stay in my own so that the new things I find, am given, or forge can be fit into what I already have, or will acquire.
None of the tools I needed to survive, to thrive, to recover, and to regain my ability to function at or above my previous professional level were acquired for purposes of work. None of what I use to master my mind and body, to make me safe around my family, to make me able to help others dealing with their own damage, none of it did I ever dream would be of use. Magical tools picked up by a raven because they were shiny, and I was greedy.
Twenty years of collecting useless magical tools I swore I would never use, but occasionally took up for the communities need. Then in one blow, they became all that stood between me and the grave, all that stood between me and helpless uselessness.
Magic is nothing but lies and mummery. Magic is just primitive misunderstanding of things science explains. Except when its not.
I am not what I was. It is not possible for me to be what I am, to do what I do. Science and medicine gave me a sentence, and magic and my gods commuted it. What I have I earned, and pay for each day, and each bloody night, but what I have is more than science and reason allows.
Magic, for those who find it comes to their hand and mind is not a way around doing the hard work yourself. Magic isn’t cheating. You pay for it. Anyone who offers you something for nothing is setting you up for something you can’t afford to lose and needs a quiet knife someplace vital before they get around to showing you what.
What you can do without magic you should. What you can do with magic you should learn. I spent twenty years learning something I didn’t even think as useful as playing tafl, or writing amusing limericks, only to find out the gods saw to it I had all the tools I would need to survive and thrive when my mind and body both were shattered and taken from my command.
What will you need it for? I don’t know. I do suspect strongly the day will come you reach out in desperation with instinct and wield that useless bangle picked up because it sparkled to save the life or health of yourself or one you value more.
I am a magician. Eight in ten of you will just laugh, the ninth will have some delusions founded in bad video games and worse fiction. The last will understand. I have learned to throw myself into the winds of the universe, to find my way in the chaos, and find my way to a place where the thing I need exists and hold on to it strongly enough that when the universe pushes me back to myself I drag it with me. For the sea is vast, the storm is strong, but the gull that soars with it, not against it may hunt right well.