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.





“Should” and “Ought” – two words I distrust

“I think that word “should” in our internal narratives is very toxic—this notion of, ‘what should I be doing?’ and it’s always pegged to some sort of expectation, whether it’s self-imposed or external or a combination of the two. It’s hard to balance those expectations of what you should be doing with what you want to be doing. I feel very fortunate in that to a large extent what I do is exactly what I want to be doing for myself, and I still write for an audience of one. I read things that stimulate me and inspire me and help me figure out how to live and then I write about them. The fact that there are other people who enjoy it is nice, but it’s just a byproduct.” – Maria Popova in an interview with Jocelyn K. Glei

gamespeopleDuring the 1960s and 1970s when Eric Berne, Thomas Harris and others were popularizing the role of psychological games in our lives while suggesting transactional analysis as a way to escape them, the words “should” and “ought” were singled out as parental words. That is, they appeared in the daily string of DOs and DON’Ts we heard from our parents, teachers and other authority figures when we were young.

These parental injunctions, as they were called, were often heard time and time again by children until the rules within them became–for better or worse–so much a part of our view of the world, they were hard to separate from facts. Simplistically, this happened because we were too young to know the difference between fact and opinion and–as some said–became brainwashed into believing things that weren’t totally true and/or didn’t need to become a long term mantra for our lives.

Berne, when he took his theory of games into script theory, told us that combinations of “shoulds” and “oughts” and attitudes and coping mechanisms would often become engraved in stone as scripted ways of approaching various situations (or life itself) that worked more like canned computer programs rather than dynamic and authentic behavior.

Human Relations Training

When I wrote training materials in corporate settings in those days, transactional analysis was adapted by many as viable model in human relations and supervision/management courses, resulting in seminars, courses and newsletters. My exposure to all this–as a writer and not as a psychologist–influenced my view of human interactions.

IOKYOKConsequently, I am sensitized to any rule, prescription or sermon that sounds like a parental injunction being imparted to others who are supposed to accept it without question because it comes from an authority figure (parent, grandparent, doctor, minister, boss, “expert,” givernment agency). I automatically want to know why SHOULD I do ABC or why OUHGT I believe XYZ.

Sometimes, the SHOULDs and OUGHTs are correct. “You should look both ways before crossing a street.” “You ought to avoid bullying other people with fists or words.” “You should not put metal in a microwave or sugar in a gas tanke or text with your cell phone while driving.”

Since we can think of so many good examples of such rules, we often assume all of the SHOULDs and OUGHTs we hear are valid. That’s where the danger lies. A lot of our prejudices arise this way. So do a lot of our assumptions about what we can do or become in our lives.

Yes, I Always Question Authority

I would rather question what some say should never be questioned than blindly accept every SHOULD and OUGHT as gospel. My training in journalism trained me to check and double-check facts. My creating of supervisory and management courses using game and script theory concepts trained me to look carefully at everything every authority figure says.

Perhaps I’ve over-thought a lot that could have been accepted without question. Likewise, being wary of the SHOULDs and OUGHTs also frees up the imagination and unchains ones thinking when it comes to their ongoing life experience.

  • You can learn more about Eric Berne and transactional analysis here.
  • The International Transactional Analysis Association has a website here.