Maybe Art IS Magic

Photo by Capri23auto

It seems like a hunger for magic or enchantment has become a part of the Zeitgeist, beginning with the unexpected cultural tidal wave of Harry Potter after the debut of the original books in the late 90s and early 2000s. I suspect some deeper, pre-existing hunger was cracked open and revealed by this phenomenon, and it only seems to be picking up speed. Lord knows, lots of people are feeling all kinds of disenchanted these days. It's no wonder there is a delicate, vulnerable, poignant and utterly true craving for a sense (somehow, somewhere) of the enchanted, buried deep down inside so many of us. Well, let's dive right in with an Alan Moore quote, shall we?

I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. -Alan Moore (The Mindscape of Alan Moore)

Is this a socially, or culturally, dangerous idea to espouse? Perhaps. But consider for a moment Alan's idea, elaborated after he enunciates the above, that magic, for a long time, was simply known as 'The Art'. It tempts one to imagine that there may have been a time, somewhere, where there was not a great sense of separation at all between art and 'The Art'. Maybe not just somewhere. Maybe in several human cultures. This topic deserves lifetimes of study, and I am certainly no expert. But I sense some deep grain of truth in this.

By this definition, dream work, or dream tending, are close to the vein of magic. As are many Jungian, or depth psychological concepts and modalities. The Jungian practitioner, and their client/patient/analysand, are exploring symbols and archetypes as they constellate in dreams and in other area's of the person's life, in order to achieve changes in consciousness (one might say, insofar as the individuation process itself constitutes ongoing, subtle, totally organic and healthy changes in consciousness).

The great Jungian analyst Marion Woodman propounded the idea in The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation that art is culturally resonant to the degree that it emanates the numinous, or to the degree that the viewer or participant can sense something archetypal, universal or tremendous standing behind it.

Perhaps lots of art (though maybe not all art) really is doing just that: manipulating symbols in order to achieve changes in consciousness. The change is most certainly viewer/participant-dependent. Art can serve as a kind of Rorschach in that way.

I've elaborated in earlier blogs my idea that, for the atheist or the agnostic, the creative process may be the closest she ever gets to the realm of the gods, or to what feels like a truly transpersonal realm. I believe human beings crave contact with the numinous, the ineffable, the tremendous, the rapturous, the transpersonal. They crave communion with it, regularly. It's one of the unique things about our species. And in modern America, there are very few culturally acceptable outlets for the expression of this bone-deep urge. In addition to that, few of us in America are so blessed as to be in a line of work that allows us regular creative freedom. If there is any truth to this idea, that art and magic are really the same thing, it makes sense that people are feeling disenchanted (for this, and many other reasons), and are secretly hungry for enchantment, in one form or another.

Although Moore's definition of magic has little to do with learning how to make quill pens float in the air, or learning how to make your enemy's house burn down (ugh, please don't do that-- please try not to have any enemies, actually), there is a life force underneath the definition -- something that rings true. Author of Making Magic, Brianna Saussy, stated in a recent Sounds True interview that magic is bigger, closer, and more powerful than we typically know. Whether or not she is right, it does seem true that what we feel to be magical, and what we crave in our disenchantment, must be right here in ordinary things. It must be as close as breath.

Author of If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie, stated in a recent CIIS workshop that the Celtic 'Otherworld' is simply another way of looking . . . at this world. It reminds me of something that Thich Nhat Hanh said about the Pure Land of the Buddha and the Kingdom of God (which seem blended, in the way he speaks about them). He said the Pure Land of the Buddha is always here now, in the present moment. To enter it, you bring yourself back to the present. Now I am breathing in, now I am breathing out. It helps to look at a tree, and the way the sunlight is dancing through and lighting up its leaves. Trees, he says, are always already there, in the Pure Land, in the Otherworld.

I believe doorways can be found to the realm of the magical everywhere, but especially in the natural world. In modern life, most of us are so alienated from Mama Earth. We don't often get to see, feel and breathe in the magic of landscape. Of course, in America, there is also so much sadness in the landscape, which must be honored if we wish to make a connection to the land here. You don't have to create some great, gigantic work of art to make magic. Magic can be made in small everyday creative liberties, choices to be intentional and choices to transform the life of another, even in small, seemingly insignificant ways, like common kindness. It can be made in the kitchen, with one's favorite herbs and spices, and with the intention to infuse every culinary creation with love.

Is this too "woo woo" for you? Maybe we wouldn't be well-matched. If this kind of thing does feel like it belongs in your wheel house, somewhere, feel free to give me a call :)

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