Magic: Who Are You and Why Are You Here?

Twelve years ago, Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret was in the news. The description on the home page of the book’s website says of Byrne, in part, “In The Secret, she explains with simplicity the law that is governing all lives, and offers the knowledge of how to create – intentionally and effortlessly – a joyful life.” People bought the book and sought out other books and websites that spoke of the law of attraction and how to make it work in our lives. Some people have called the book a placebo while others claim it changed their lives.

Long-time students of magic claimed that most of the information in the book had been around for a long time, but that Byrne had repackaged the information in a new way for today’s audience. In a way, she did for our time what James Allen did for his time with the publication in 1903 of his now-famous book As a Man Thinketh. (Allen’s book is available on Amazon and can also be found in various free versions.) I read As a Man Thinketh when I was in high school because my father had an early edition of the book on the living room shelf.

The purpose of this post is not to critique The Secret or even Allen’s book. Nor do I have access to any statistics that show what percentage of those who bought either book found within their pages the route to a joyful life. As I read The Secret and a related books, it seemed to me that many people were focusing on the law of attraction for health and wealth. I’m not surprised. Needless to say, if a person is physically ill and living in a slum, health and wealth sound like reasonable goals as long as one isn’t greedy and wants to become a superman or superwoman and have a billion dollars in his or her checking account.

Magic, whether it comes from the ancient crafts, hoodoo, the mystery schools, or self-help books like The Secret can, I think, change us, especially when our approach includes a reverence for the Earth and the spiritual mysteries of all life. Yet, any study of it begins with who we are and why we’re here (on Earth in this time period) before we begin our study. Some say it takes a lifetime to understand just who we are–consciously, unconsciously, and at the soul level–so before one begins to study magic, s/he must learn that “his or her lot in life” prior to magic was of his or her own making, consciously or otherwise.

As one looks inward to discover who they are, they might also learn why they’re here. That is to say, are they here to work on personal issues of long standing, impact the lives of specific people, or add their voice to those fighting against one form of injustice or another? Self-help magic books tend to ignore the fact that those who buy them have a lot of skills and/or baggage before they begin to read. Some readers will recognize ideas they have pondered already; some readers will become very enthusiastic as the words in such books “strike a chord” and their eyes are opened again; others will become lost because the self-help magic books are about as effective as handing an award winning cookbook to a person who has no idea what a kitchen is.

I’m not convinced that the first goal of magic and/or a spiritual outlook is a joyful life. Yes, joy is very nice depending on how we define it. But I think our joy is a result of of who we are and whether or not we’ve discovered why we’re here. Yes, we can be healthy. Yes, we can attract enough income (however it’s defined) to live without worrying how we’re going to pay the rent. But I do not see either of those situations as the primary goals of magic and, in fact, believe we sabotage ourselves by looking at external gratifications before looking at and understanding our inner lives.

We can change our lives in an instant if we believe we can change our lives in an instant. To fully believe this, we have a lot of, shall we say, brainwashing to get around that has given us reasons for the way the world is as it is. As a long-time fan of Erice Berne (Games People Play) and Thomas Harris (I’m OK, You’re OK), I see hundreds of ways how parents and other authority figures sent their children down roads to ruin. Some call this “negative programming,” that is, a psychological rationale for why you think you’re behind the eight ball or think that you’re not behind it.

So, I don’t think a magic recipe book is going to be a quick fix, though it can inspire us to the possibilities of self-discovery and a journey toward self-actualization (as Abraham Maslow called being fully alive). You are who you are with or without magic. I suspect you’re here right now for a reason that may or may not include magic. I’ve chosen magic because that is how I see the world. I would feel empty without it and so would my books.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Revising and rewriting old books

Looking at the older drafts of my book and short story manuscripts is similar to going down into the Grand Canyon and seeing the strata of past eras stacked up like cord wood.

Every revision of a book came at a different era of my life, eras that no longer represent the focus of my thinking in the present. Same story, of course, just as I’m still the “me” of ten or twenty years ago. But the ambiance is different. The emotions change, too, depending on whether I was angry about something similar to an event in the novel or, some years later, felt more mellow about it.

oldbookI’m reworking an old novel now that has gone out of print. I’m surprised by some of the things I find: (a) Wow, did I write that? (b) Crap, why the hell did I say that? (c) I don’t remember this scene at all.

I try never to change the basic story, but tend to polish a little here and clarify the meaning a little there. Of course, Amazon keeps everything, including books that came and went years ago and haven’t been in print for years. So, if I get this book fixed up the way I want it, there will be an author’s note at the beginning that tells readers the names of previous versions. (I’m not into the romance authors’ ploy of releasing old stories with new names and/or new covers so that readers buy them without realizing they read the things 20 years ago.)

Self discovery

A writer’s journey down into the depths of his older work shows him (hopefully) that he’s writing better stories today than he wrote when he first started out. Most of my really old stuff never gets revised! The work also shows him where he might have slipped in recent years as though he forgot about some of his better techniques. He sees changes in himself as well, for the work–as Virginia Woolf wrote in Orlando, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”

If you’ve ever come across a diary you kept years ago or the saved letters you wrote to an old friend or family member who’s since passed on, you know what I’m talking about. No matter how careful or flippant or circumspect you were, your secrets are still there–the secrets about yourself as you were then, whenever you wrote what you wrote. What a strange and eerie way to re-discover the selves we thought we’d outgrown and buried in the past.

I see all this when revise or rewrite old books. In some ways it’s a blessing, and it some way’s it’s not.

–Malcolm

If you love magical realism, Florida, conjure or a bit of mystery, I invite you to discover my two folk magic novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”