Sometime in the last week of June or first week in July is the anniversary of my first steps into practicing magic. It’s been fifteen years. Despite my obsessive journaling — records are buried in notebooks and hidden away in boxes in the attic… and I don’t even have an attic. So the exact date is a little fuzzy, but it began by performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram out of Israel Regardie’s book on the Golden Dawn.
I acknowledge some teachers and peers, by name or initials: JA, FGL, SP, JS, Rufus Opus, Jason Miller, Deborah Castellano and most recently Christopher Warnock. As always, I count it a great blessing to have been hit on the head by a couple of books by John Michael Greer. And then there’s Gordon at Rune Soup, way out there while also grounded, but a visionary who’s helped me get a grip on a number of insights. As always, I hope to meet some of these people face-to-face one day.
And then there’s the necessary insight for an anniversary — since no list of self-referential sentences would be complete without a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the last week, I’ve done quite a bit of magic for folks, and with folks. There was a woman who had a preliminary diagnosis of cancer; between her primary care doctor’s visit where she got the diagnosis, and her visit to the specialist, she expressed her fear and worry to me; I made her a card with a picture of the angel Gabriel on it. No tumor, no cancer at the specialist visit. My doing? How would I know? A friend sat in my house, expressing his stress and fear about job prospects the other night: we worked magic together, and he left with greater confidence that a new position would be his; maybe it will be. I think he has a better than 70% chance now. But still, I claim no credit. Two weeks ago, a friend’s new beau came to me with a complicated question for which I did divination. I didn’t like giving the answer, because it was a rough one. Since then, half a dozen people have benefited from the actions the querent has taken to sort things out. A first aid class I took a couple of weeks ago, because it was the responsible thing to do, became suddenly helpful in a restaurant.
Fifteen years ago, I started doing magic because I wasn’t sure what was happening with my life. I did it for ME. I began to do this work for very selfish ends: more money, more time, more life, more love, more energy, more hope, more knowledge. More, more more. I pulled it in like a sponge.
Now, fifteen years on, I look at how I actually live my magical life. Sure, I still do weird ceremonies and speak strange prayers. But it seems to me, more often than not, that the real magic happens elsewhere, and looks completely different: Coaching people through turbulence or grief or fear. Guiding people to live in ways that bring them greater interest and joy. Sometimes in those sessions, I talk about Magic-with-a-capital-M, and sometimes I say, “there’s this weird trick that really works…” and I attribute it to psychology or brain science rather than the Great Work. I wind up sounding like a Buzzfeed article.
I do not know if I will ever be counted as one of the Adepts, though I continue another thirty or forty years in the Work. But if I have learned anything in this decade and a half, it is that Magic eventually abandons me, or shoots a warning shot across my bows, when I am working solely for myself. Yet it serves me with extraordinary kindness and grace and miraculous results when I am assisting others.
We may be tempted into the Art with selfish designs and barely-contained desires. But it’s a bit of a con game, isn’t it? Ultimately, the hard work of mastering Magic makes us, its students, into servants — self-trained to offer unlikely help at complicated times and places in people’s lives. And whether you’ve only read about Harry Potter, or you’re a beginner in this Art, or you’ve been practicing two decades longer than I have, I suspect that something about this resonates as true: that you might have begun the practice of Magic for yourself … but that you will master it only by using it for others.