Saturday, February 11, 2012


February First

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If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

It is that time of year again, the subtley sparkley days in late winter when the first hints of spring start showing themselves. The days are getting longer a couple minutes at a time and some very adventurous plants are even starting to sprout or bud. There's a bit of a pinkish and greenish tinge to the world, rather than just January grey.

Aurora Borealis in Alaska by well_lucio
The holy day marking this point in the wheel of the year is is February First, also known as Brigid, or Candlemas, Imbolc or Groundhog Day. Brigid was a goddess in Ireland before she became the Christian saint and in both (or all?) of her aspects she is the patron of blacksmithing, weaving, healing, poetry and prophecy. At first, these seem like a strange jumble of things and activities to preside over, but a second look shows something in common - these are all elements of magic. Prophecy and poetry are the magic of turning words from nonsense into meaning, healing is the magic of turning illness into health and weaving and blacksmithing are the magic of turning raw materials into useful objects. In a pre industrial world, blacksmithing was just as much magic as healing and both were at least as important as prophecy.

But I don't live in a pre industrial world. In fact, I live in a post industrial, post modernist, 21st century world where even the word magic is a bit dirty, provincial or naive. Materialists insist that everything that happens has a material cause. Perhaps things look magical, but we just havent' seen the cause. Christians know that something non-material can be a cause of material things, but they dismiss magic as either occult or prideful. Dabbling in magic either puts you in league with the devil or full of pride, thinking that you can do something beyond or outside of god's will. I am not a materialist, or a Christian, though, and so I wonder... what do I think about magic?

As you know, I'm a fan of young adult fantasy and other science fiction. Last week I read the first four books in the The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, one of those "regular kids get sucked into a world where everything they believed to be true is wrong... and have adventures!" kind of books. In these stories, gods and 
Aurora Borealis in Norway by Tor Even Mathiesen
mythological characters are real, some people can become immortal and even more people can awaken to their true abilities and powers, becoming magical. Characters learn magic in all kinds of ways, but the end results are usually of the spectacular, laws-of-physics-do-not-apply-here kind. At one point, the children call the water out of the earth, causing a muddy pool to swallow a particularly scary monster, and in another scene someone tracks people across Paris by the trail their aura leaves behind. At other times, characters cast spells by putting certain runes or symbols in certain patterns, or by combining special potions or words.

I don't really use magic like that. I don't say I don't ever, because, well, sometimes I say a special ritual phrase or choose symbols, images or colors for specific meanings both in my daily life and in my "religious" life of my nature table, bedroom altar or other special events or objects. I certainly played around with these kinds of magical correspondences, rituals and spells as I explored earth based religion in my 20s but have really never gotten deep into working magic. As I developed a much more panentheistic sense of the divine (that god is both omnipresent in the physical universe and also exists beyond it, as opposed to the theism of Christianity of the polytheism of many Pagan theologies) I have really moved away from these kinds of symbolic gestures. A few remain - I have a charm in my car and say a special verse while rubbing it for luck and safety - but the Quaker sensibilities of both being wary 
Aurora Australis from the International Space Station
of outward symbols and of trusting god in all things, have really taken over my spiritual life. 

But I do know that I have power in this world. I do know that I can make things happen the way I want them to happen and that words and symbols have great, great power. Am I rejecting this knowledge by rejecting magik the way it is practiced by wiccans and some other Pagans? Is it the power of prayer and god's omnipotent will that makes these unexplained, magical seeming things happen? I do not believe in a purely material universe, so why not work with the web of energy that I know connects us? Sometimes I think that the answer to that question is a humble one of not being willing to take on that kind of power, and sometimes I think I am ducking a potential responsibility.

Ultimately, the query I am sitting with in regards to magic is this, an adaptation of a query my pastor asked recently; to what extent do we create magic and to what extent do we merely uncover the magic that already exists? But then again, this is the query I sit with about god in general. What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?  :)

What does magic mean to you? Have you ever worked magic with spells or magical objects? Do you believe that we have a supernatural influence on the workings of the world through our own work or through petition to a diety? Or do you think this is all a bunch of codwollop? Have you ever experienced anything magical?

Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.

If you didn't know... both poems are from Shel Silverstein in Where the Sidewalk Ends. The photos are of aurora, one of the more blatently magical things I can think of. Click the links below the pictures to be taken to the photographers' Flickr pages and see more of their phenomenal work.

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February First 2009: February the First

February First 2010: Lovely Luz and Sweet Bridgit
This happens to be my all time favorite post from all two plus years of blogging. Please go check it out. 

Feburary First 2011: Brigid - The Goddess of Poetry

February First 2012: Brigid's Red Soup

1 comment:

Elysia said...

Oh my, I love this topic. I think about magic all the time, both because it weaves in and out of my spiritual practices - and seeing a three-year-old as he navigates the world. "Magical thinking" leads him to believe if he moves the day on the week-wheal, he won't have to go to school. Which of course, we adults say isn't true. But aren't days of the week merely imaginary constructs? Why can't we rearrange them to our whim? Unfortunately, my deeper thoughts aren't coherent enough to share today. I will loop back if they take a solid form.