Magic is real. Let me show you how.
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about modern spirituality and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. To get more content about how to infuse your life with thoughtfulness, reflection, and meaning, subscribe here. I am also a holistic personal development coach. You can learn more about working with me here.
Here’s something: I’ve only recently come to understand that magic is real.
Probably not in the way you think, before you roll your eyes. Give me a listen. I think I’ll have you convinced it’s a thing before the end of this newsletter.
Please? Okay. Let’s break it down.
The first time I considered the concept of magic outside of something like Harry Potter was reading Stephen King’s excellent, brief totem, On Writing. In it, he explains that writing is a literal act of telepathy — of transferring a thought from one mind to another:
“Look- here’s a table covered with red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes.
On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8. […] The most interesting thing here isn’t even the carrot-munching rabbit in the cage, but the number on its back. Not a six, not a four, not nineteen-point-five. It’s an eight. This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours.
We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We are close. We’re having a meeting of the minds. We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy. No mythy-mountain shit; real telepathy.”
Huh. I blinked. Well, that’s a funny way of putting it.
I put the thought away and went about my quotidian life for a full two years before I really GOT what he was saying.
He was saying that words are magic and books are carriers of it.
Wild, in its own way. (In fact, he has a famous quote that goes something like, “Books are portable magic.”)
That’s pretty much it. It’s both simple and complicated, and when my mind fully leaped to the fact that writing and words were literally magic, created by humans and their intentions, I had to drink half a bottle of rose to really chill out about it.
You may think this is overwrought. (I secretly think you like when I get overwrought.) You may think this is too sincere and earnest. (I secretly think you like when I get sincere and earnest.)
But look. Here’s facts. Here I am sending you a bit of magic. You open an electronic message, and maybe parts of your body warm, or light up, or thrill a bit at images or sentences that I have drawn out of thin air (if it’s a particularly good newsletter that day, that is).
You nod, or smile, or get irritated and dismissive, or bored.
I’m an utter stranger to most of you, and yet, you find something in a series of abstract words I have chosen to put together, type out through my hands into a metal box, and send through the air.
And I, on the other side of distance and the screen and air, am feeling it the same way. I sit down with intention, with hope, with fear, with vulnerability, then breathe through it to imbue these messages with parts of my heart and soul, banged out in a Google Doc, eventually sending them along with a wish and a prayer that somebody gets it. That somebody will feel something in response, or be sparked to action in a way.
I don’t say that lightly.
I think magic is real.
It’s just that magic is much more subtle — and much more true, and essential, and fundamental — than we’ve ever given ourselves permission to believe.
We see magic as chanting, and rituals, and witches (always witches) around cauldrons, and wands, and dark, uncontrollable forces that are too far out of our grasp to ever wield or comprehend.
To that I say: pish.
Let’s think about this together.
Have you ever tried to cast a spell?
You might be laughing that I’ve asked that. But really. Have you?
I think most of you actually have. Have you ever written down a hope, a wish, a goal? Have you kept a gratitude journal? Have you ever gathered up the courage to say something that felt so close and true to your heart you thought you might explode with terror and joy the second the words left your mouth?
That’s a spell.
Magic is nothing more than the expression of our intuitions, our dreams, our hopes, and our connections to ourselves, to others, and to the world at large.
It’s no surprise that the word spell, as in a magical invocation, literally also means to break down words out loud or on paper.
Magic is subtle. It is simple. It is misunderstood. But in spite of all of that, it is still powerful. And we can all do it.
There’s a flip side to this, though.
If you’re convinced that magic exists, and is just more elemental and subtle than we’ve been led to believe, this is the dark truth of the other side:
Evil is also more subtle than we’ve been led to believe as well.
I won’t be the first person to introduce you to Hannah Arendt or the phrase “the banality of evil.”
Here is an article that will inform those of you who don’t know her work:
Can one do evil without being evil? This was the puzzling question that the philosopher Hannah Arendt grappled with when she reported for The New Yorker in 1961 on the war crimes trial of Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi operative responsible for organising the transportation of millions of Jews and others to various concentration camps in support of the Nazi’s Final Solution. Arendt found Eichmann an ordinary, rather bland, bureaucrat, who in her words, was ‘neither perverted nor sadistic’, but ‘terrifyingly normal’. He acted without any motive other than to diligently advance his career in the Nazi bureaucracy. Eichmann was not an amoral monster, she concluded in her study of the case, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Instead, he performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his ‘thoughtlessness’, a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts. Eichmann ‘never realised what he was doing’ due to an ‘inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else’. Lacking this particular cognitive ability, he ‘commit[ted] crimes under circumstances that made it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he [was] doing wrong’. Arendt dubbed these collective characteristics of Eichmann ‘the banality of evil’: he was not inherently evil, but merely shallow and clueless, a ‘joiner’, in the words of one contemporary interpreter of Arendt’s thesis: he was a man who drifted into the Nazi Party, in search of purpose and direction, not out of deep ideological belief.
Evil… isn’t always a willful purpose. Evil is a drifting. Evil is a disconnection. Evil is dutifully following marching orders.
Evil is turning your eyes away and accepting that it’s all okay, and, well, it’s generally always been like this, and someone (not me, always somebody else, not me, not us) will figure it out.
So my ask to you today is this:
Consider in your life.
Where is subtle magic expressing itself that you haven’t noticed?
Where is subtle evil occurring that you’ve cast your eyes away from?
Where do you feel joy in the face of adversity? Hope against evil?
Name it all. Know it’s okay. Know this has all happened before.
Hope has fomented magic. Loneliness and terror and disconnect have sprouted evil.
We’re in a time right now of both literal magic, and literal evil. And the words we choose to express in the world are going to help direct where it all goes.
Are you going to say something when you witness a minor cruelty being perpetrated?
Are you going to say something that you know is true, and vulnerable, and tender, and that someone maybe doesn’t want to hear? (Or maybe their heart will thrill to it when you do say it.)
Or will your words — your spells — stay silent?
We have the opportunity, right now, right this moment, to create magic in this world. To make it into the world we fervently dare, hope, dream it to be.
Or to let that vision wilt away, and to let others’ words talk over ours.
You can do it all. I believe in you.
Do it now, though. Don’t wait.
Decide the words, the spells, you want, need, dream to say.
Watch the world change.
Doesn’t it feel good?
What are you going to do with it?