When I was an impressionable teen I got into magic. Or rather the idea of magic. In fact this occult interest lasted well into my impressionable twenties.
At the time the occult section of Waterstones (now, I believe, respectably entitled “Health, Body and Spirit” or some such) was bursting at its magical seams with middle class grimoires from the likes of Laurie Cabot and other darker tomes from the late, great and dangerous-to-know Aleister Crowley, who is in fact a fellow Leamingtonian.
I have to say I was swept along more by the theory than the practice though I do recall once going into an “alternative” shop in York and buying a wand that looked like a Native American phallus. All dangly feathers and a ruddy great bulbous crystal sprouting from the end of it. It languished under my bed for years until I offloaded it onto a kooky ex back in 2003. I don’t miss it at all.
As for Crowley... well I was never tempted to try out any of his Magick™, beleaguered as it was with demons, drugs and downright moral depravity but I did purchase a lot of his books. I got about 2 thirds through his immense autohagiography (for those of you who don’t know an autohagiography is supposedly the biography of a saint) before getting bogged down in lengthy "he said / she said" transcripts of various conversations Aleister had enjoyed in various privileged gentleman’s clubs across Europe. It all got a bit stuffy. I just wanted the salacious bedroom exploits and the otherworldly descriptions of the Abyss not the scripts from an Open University staff meeting.
I still own the books and have a few rarities too including a copy of his very dirty poem “Leah Sublime” (which in the modern age is no worse than a 6th form Rugby song).
I keep them now not out or any respect for magical lore but as interesting historical documents. As a figure Aleister Crowley has, I think, stood the test of time. The magical theories, I’m afraid, I now view as complete bunkum. It’s plainly obvious that Crowley was doped to his eyeballs most of the time on heroin and cocaine and various other Victorian opiates and spent a great deal of his time reading esoteric texts and then hallucinating as a direct consequence.
One story from the autohag is a case in point:
Aleister recounts an occasion when he saved a man servant’s life by wrestling a demon to the ground. It’s one of the signature notes of his autohag and makes a great read. However, that same man servant later independently recounts Aleister taking various drugs and then suddenly attacking him. The man servant was lucky to get away with his life, his dignity and his virtue intact. Enough said.
But there was more to Aleister than the dodgy magic. There was philosophy, literature, appalling poetry and a rock and roll lifestyle a good 60 years before rock and roll was even invented. He’s a genuinely interesting character and I may write more about him in the future but don’t have the room or the time now.
Laurie Cabot – an American white witch – is another case entirely. Stephen Fry met her earlier this year during one of his televised road trips across the States and she came across as an aging nutter who spent her time living in a yurt for the tourists and touting feather-based love charms for the sad, lonely and financially incontinent.
I can’t believe I ever fell for any of that crap. It all seems utterly ridiculous now.
Me and magic have, alas, parted company. I’m no longer a believer.
Which isn’t to say I don’t keep an open mind on ghosts, UFOs, and other paranormal oddities.
But magic... magic I’d like to believe in but sadly just don’t anymore. I’ve grown out of it. It’s a young man’s dream, borne out of ignorance and wishful thinking; a desire to control the uncontrollable.
Nowadays I’m more accepting of the uncontrollable. In fact part of me is rather glad that there are some things beyond my control – I can take neither responsibility nor blame for them. It’s an immense relief.
...and yet there is a tiny part of me that is sad that I have lost this wide eyed belief in magic. The world seems a little smaller, a little greyer as a consequence. It’s like figuring out the true identity of Father Christmas. You still get the presents. Nothing physically changes in the world.
But the magic has gone.