Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Death Of Magic

Aleister CrowleyWhen 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I keep them now not out or any respect for magical lore but as interesting historical documents.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...

...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.


23 comments:

The Dotterel said...

There is more in heaven and earth than in all your philosophies, Horatio... Glad you're keeping an open mind!

Steve said...

Dotterel: I try to... even when my eyes are closed with fear...

justme said...

Magic........no doubt why all the fantasy novels are so successful.
I wish I DID believe in magic!

A Write Blog said...

I've never had much time for that kind of 'magic' as you put it. Even when young I thought Crowley a charlatan.

But ghosts?

I've an open mind there. I tend to think of them as some kind of 'memory' implanted on our minds by some traumatic event at some level that we don't understand.

If, and when, we do find out what ghosts really are, the physics behind them then I think we might lose something.

A little like losing that childhood innocence.

Steve said...

Justme: yes, I think everyone would like to believe in magic - or a world where magic existed - it's an escapist's paradise.

AWB: I'm not sure myself that Crowley was a complete charlatan - he did have some kind of mesmeric power over people and possessed some extraordinarty skills - a speaker / reader of several ancient languages, a true master of the tarot, a mountaineer and an exemplary chess player - he certainly had talents that put him above the hoi polloi. But I suspect that a lot of what was viewed as "magic" was simply misunderstood physics and psychology... in the same way that magnetism was seen as magic is the Middle Ages, some of his activities to us would seem very prosaic.

I'm with you on ghosts. Not sure that they're sentient as such - just recordings of emotion and trauma that are somehow triggered to playback when conditions are right.

KayDee said...

I believe in that undefinable kind of magic but not the kind of witches and warlocks and all kinds of charlatans.

I commented on your ghost link post so as you can see I am a believer and very much so. Apart from that experience we also lived in a Tudor mansion in England which was divided into flats. It was supposed to be haunted and although I never saw or heard anything my parents certainly did.

Steve said...

KayDee: I think certain people are more in tune with what's around them than others or are genuinely mesmeric... but I don't think a few cod-Latin phrases and magic circles actually do anything real. It's all about the state of mind and focus of the will. I'm sure in certain circumstances it can have a very real effect... but it can't summon riches out of thin air or make someone fall in love with you.

Tenon_Saw said...

There was me thinking this was going to be a post about Paul Daniels etc.

EmmaK said...

I actually believed in the Easter Bunny until I was about 12 ...and part of me still does. Which makes me childish certainly but at least I still believe in magic??

Steve said...

Tenon_Saw: I will be covering the subject of talentless egotists next month...

Emma: at the very least it implies a belief in the gift of chocolate which is a good thing and one I wholeheartedly share.

KayDee said...

What do you mean you can't make someone fall in love with me? Damn...that's disappointing. :(

Steve said...

KayDee: that can be done quite easily without the aid of spells, altars and sacrifices - just be happy, confident and, of course, yourself.

(Though if you're like me you might need magical assitance to achieve these...)

Selina Kingston said...

I have a real problem with magic. I want to get drawn into the thril of it all and just enjoy the entertainment of it but I hate the idea that I'm being duped ...

Can I just add here too Steve (and
I wanted to send an email to say this to you but couldn't find an address so everyone is going to have to see) that I think you are the loveliest, kindest man and thank you so much for being there recently and the really compassionate,understanding, non-judgemental comments you have left.

You have no idea how much they have been appreciated.
I think you're fab!

x

Steve said...

Selina: I'm blushing profusely. Thank you. If I've helped in any small way during this tough time that you're currently having then I'm very glad indeed and you are most welcome.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Magic was always far elusive for me to get to grips with, let alone separate the conjuring from the mystical/achemical.

Or as I more cynically put it on the Harry Potter front; 'You've seen one goblin, you've seen them all'

I've read a bit about Crowley in the past and found him an ego-monster of the worst order who would do or say anything for attention and shock value and always suspected he made most of it up as he went along, hoping to found his own religion towards immortality. (well he succeeded in being a bit of a cult I suppose.)

I went through a ghost and UFO phase though, to settle on psychic matters, which interest me to this day, much though I take the bulk of them with a serious pinch of salt. I still adore watching mediums in action though if only for those wondrously Alan Bennett moments of 'I've got your son Jake here - he doesn't like that new green suite you've bought since he died...Oh and by the way, his watch fell down behind the sideboard'

Steve said...

Crowley was a supreme egotist - in fact it was an essential facet of his religion in many ways and your summary of him is quite correct... and yet I still find him eminently intriguing.

Mediums I have little time for aside from snidey giggles behind my hand for much the same reasons you cite. They never give you the right Lottery numbers do they? Clearly death does not make one all-knowing all-seeing so talking to them seems rather pointless - somebody confused in life will be just as confused in death...

Owen said...

I still believe in magic... but I guess most people would call the sort of magic I believe in something less supernatural, using words like serendipity, hazard, chance... I still think the full moon is pretty magical, but perhaps that is just a semantic debate. Although I must admit, I've had a couple of odd experiences with black cats recently that left me wondering a bit...

The Sagittarian said...

The first year I had to make my own Xmas dinner, the magic left. Ditto for my first birthday away from home.

Steve said...

Owen: serendipity, hazard, chance - good fortune in other words, those I believe in too but although they can "encouraged" they can't be controlled - not in the way that witches and occultists attempt anyway.

Amanda: I know what you mean - magic seems to exist when you are a child. And then goes up in smoke when you hit adulthood and assume the mantle of responsibility. I've said it before and I'll say it again: growing up sucks.

French Fancy said...

I also went through a wizard/witch phase and read copious amounts of Golden Dawn stuff. There used to be an alternative bookshop in Notting Hill and I would regularly buy some fiendish new book about ritualistic magic. I tried a few chants and spells but - amazingly - got nowhere.

We have a fair few things in common I reckon

Steve said...

FF: indeed FF, we must meet up at the next Witch, Wizard and Warlock convention and form a coven to contact The Secret Chiefs and overthrow the current world order. If we need to raise any demons can we ensure they are nice, pretty ones please? ;-)

Old Cheeser said...

But what about Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee?

Steve said...

OC: easy - Debbie McGee might be a bit magic but Paul Daniels definitely isn't! ;-)