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The Real Magic is…

January 3rd, 2009

I don’t know the source of this, but this struck me today as inspiring:

Roald Amundson passed the winter in the Arctic Circle among the Inuits.  He lived with the tribe’s shaman.  After months of watching the many sleights of hand and minor tricks the shaman used to hold the tribe’s attention with his magical power, Amundsen finally asked him: Didn’t it bother him that all his ‘magic powers’ were nothing but  cheap parlor games?  The shaman smiled. He replied, ‘My magic power is not in my tricks. My real power is that I have gone out on the ice and lived there alone for many months until I could finally hear the voice of the Universe. And the voice of the Universe is that of a mother calling after her beloved children. That is my real magic.’

May the New Year bring Real Magic and many blessings for all Beings

A reader has kindly provided the source:

from the Introduction, by Sir James Jeans, to the book “The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power of Hope” by Allan J. Hamilton and Andrew Weil.

9 Responses to “The Real Magic is…”

  1. Dear Philip, I was inspired by this post as I just completed two Peruvian despacho ceremonies for the New Year for attendees. The ceremonies are designed to help people come into balance with themselves and the natural world, as well as to heal the Earth, and as such can be powerfully led by Spirit during the ceremony.

    My research determined that the quote in your blog is from the Introduction, by Sir James Jeans, to the book “The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power of Hope” by Allan J. Hamilton and Andrew Weil. I found it powerfully descriptive of what I hear guiding me during the despacho ceremonies. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Best wishes, Rose

  2. Great quote…

    Ties in with something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    Ten years ago (while still a Vicar) I used magic as an illustrative tool. I was nervous of giving it any more status than that. A few years later my magic naturally took on a more mysterious feel and became less a tool for object lessons and more an art form to evoke wonder and enchantment.

    However more recently my understanding of magic has evolved still further, to the point where I now see stage (deceptive) magic as having the power to awaken us to real magic. This tradition goes back many thousands of years to the earliest shamanic practises of ancient native cultures. As Eugene Burger and Robert Neale conclude in their masterpiece Magic and Meaning, magical trickery has been used all over the world by the medicine or holy men of various traditional cultures. With reference to shamanic healing rituals Eugene Burger says, ‘The shaman’s deception may in this sense, be the necessary lie that brings others to trust in healing powers – and, thereby contributes toward bringing about the healing experience.’ (Magic and Meaning. Hermetic Press, Seattle, 1995. p.35) This is not saying that these rituals are ‘a con.’ They are totally different from the approach of modern day charlatans who use deception alone to make people believe in a form of magic that they themselves do not actually believe in (and who’s clients are then willing to hand over vast amounts of money). Such fraudsters have been found in all places, from theatrical medium shows to evangelical healing crusades, but their discovery does not mean that such magic cannot happen.

    As a magician (illusionist) I know how easy it is to convince folk of special powers, but just because that’s true I would never dare suggest that special powers do not therefore exist.

    In the case of the ancient shamans their use of magical trickery is not fraud but a powerful placebo to evoke the possibility of real magic (healing) to take place. The big difference in this and the cheap con-men who rip off the vulnerable is that the shaman does believe in the real power of the magic. As Eugene Burger says:

    ‘consider the well-discussed case of the shaman sucking an illness from a patient and then spitting up a worm (or other object) that was previously concealed in the shaman’s hand or mouth. One might see the expelled worm as a material symbol of the spirit-world reality. Since both shaman and patient believe that it is the intrusion into the body of physical objects that causes the illness in the first place, the shaman must therefore convince the patient that the illness casing object has been removed.’ (Magic and Meaning. Hermetic Press, Seattle, 1995. p.35)


  3. Thanks for the tip re. the ‘Spell of the Sensuous’ book Philip. Just looked at it on Amazon. Sounds wonderful. I will add it to me list (just working through some incredible stuff by J. Campbell, M. Fox, and P. Owen Jones at the mo).


  4. I really enjoyed Mark’s comment. This is something I have been thinking a lot about of late. Over Xmas I watched the three Tony Robinson programmes on the medium Ellen Duncan and her war time trial; Frederick Bligh Bond and his experiments with automatic writing that led to the excavations at Glastonbury Abbey, and the group in Bath who believed themselves to be reincarnated Cathars under regression.

    The programmes set themselves up to ‘scientifically’ explore what might ‘really’ have happened in these situations but were in fact more about psuedo-science and speculation, as the orginal events were long passed and could not be scientifically tested. It felt like an act of unprovable bebunking, with the word ‘fake’ being rather over used considering the shaky evidence, and the subjects no longer being alive to have their methods tested, or defend themselves.

    The general theory seemed to be that the original claims couldn’t possibly be ‘true’ and therefore the only alternative was that their claiments were ‘fakes’. The conclusion to each of the programmes was Robinson’s scientist side-kick claiming that it was all fakery, and him deciding that it probably was all lies, but perhaps there was ‘something’ in it. Urmmm…

    I found it all very interesting – not just because the subjects themselves were so fascinating- but because the programmes seemed to illustrate a little of our Western post-enlightenment dillemma. The truth is, the vast majority of us would really love to think that those claims were true. There is a real desire and need in us to be believe in magical wonder and mystery, things that would be interpreted as superstition, the very thing that the enlightenment, vowed to free us from. Modern Science doesn’t care much for it either and so to give it head space is considered a delusional act. If we ourselves have experienced ‘strange’ things, then we are being delusional too and could have it all explained away by an ‘objective expert’.

    And so a huge area of human experience and longing is in a strange kind of exile. I have no idea whether Ellen Duncan or Bligh Bond were seeking to actively ‘con’ people ( I suspect not, at least not to deliberately deceive) but I do wonder why, when the evidence is inconclusive, and there is a possibility that these things might hold some truth, why any one would choose not to be at least a little open to such mysteries. Why would we want to eradicate the child-like wonder in us? There seems to be a psychological, emotional and poetic ‘truth’ to so many of these experiences which science seems at a loss to engage with. Something either is or it isn’t in the scientific world view – I think our inner lives and the manner in which they interact with what is ‘out there’ is much more complex and fluid than that.

    Being open to the wonder and mystery of life, even if this is fascilitated by an illusion, can be a powerful and transformative experience; it can be just what it takes to bring necessary change, and as Mark says, healing. Perhaps what is really important here is motive and a willingness to understand that another’s interpretation of the event might hold its own psychological truth that cannot be scientifically objectified or dismissed.

  5. @ Maria: I too watched the Tony Robinson programmes and found a synergy with the quote; the magic that the shaman (and Bligh etc) really held wasn’t in the magic and illusion that they performed; the magic that they performed really took place within the veil of the most complex of locations – the audience’s head.

    Surely this is where science spectacularly fails us all; in the need to know “how its done”, to convince us that its not real that to use it to provide comfort is to somehow lessen the person robs us of that most precious of things – the ability to be human.

  6. Yup, really ‘click’ with comments by Maria and Magpieschest.

    At the risk of being a real ‘magic-bore’ here, this is how I explain what my aim is as a spiritual-magician (illusionist). It’s long, and a bit ‘cheesy’ but it explains how I feel I can legitimately use illusion to evoke real magic. Saying that, I have nearly been burned at the stake once or twice!

    [from my show programme] Have you ever experienced time standing still? Perhaps you were in a forest when you caught a glimpse of a young deer before she noticed you and skipped off into the dark wood, or maybe you were lying on the soft earth gazing up into the night’s sky when a shooting star decided to dance for you, or it might have been a moment of deja vous where, for some mysterious reason, a new experience brought with it a memory of itself… enchantment! The magic I perform attempts to re-create the experience of time standing still, when the logical / rational mind momentarily ceases it’s chattering and all there is to do is sit there in spellbound wonder.

    I am truly delighted that you have come to one of my performances. I am always looking for opportunities to enchant the lives of others and bring wonder back to life, hence the title of my stage show One Enchanted Evening. My particular style of illusion is not to use large props and make magic happen up there on stage, but to bring the magic down from the stage into the very imaginations of the audience. As someone who has been enchanted by the power of stories and metaphors I attempt to combine truly mind-bending magic with symbolic story and mythology (and a dose of zany humour to boot).

    Much of what I do involves clever trickery that could be could be explained as a combination of sleight of hand, misdirection and a certain amount of psychology. However some of what happens cannot be explained so easily because it is not what I do – it’s what we do together that creates the magical experience. There are some magicians who present their tricks as amusing puzzles to be solved. I do not! I prefer to use magic to evoke wonder, where the last thing anyone would wish to do is destroy the mystery by explaining it. And sometimes the mysteries that occur mystify me as much as the audience. It is as if the spellbound atmosphere opens us all up to a deep well of inspiration, and the possibility of a magical connection that makes truly impossible things possible. Perhaps we do momentarily walk through a metaphorical ‘Narnian Wardrobe’ into another world where dreams become reality and, only to return with hearts filled and spirits lifted and those long forgetting memories of real magic re-covered.

    I believe that magic exists within all people, yet most have forgotten how to experience it. Indeed, this may be true for you! Now is your opportunity to uncover the hidden treasure once more.

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