When I was a child, I longed for magic: actively, forcefully, wistfully. I spent thousands of hours reading books about witches and wizards and fairies and everyday objects endowed with supernatural powers, I read about kids who time-traveled or fell into other dimensions or discovered secret portals to other lives. I always wanted to be one of those characters from the story, happening on magic that would transport me from my problems, my boredom, my malaise (French translation: being poorly-at-ease) with life.
As I grew older, I stopped believing. So wrapped up did I become in my personal challenges, cultural indoctrination, and societal obligations, that I began to forget even the magic from the childhood stories. And as I moved faster and faster through linear time, running from one responsibility to the next, rushing to grow up, get a job, and join the rat race, I became a part of the greatest disappearing acts of all creation; a part of me began to vanish. And, unlike like the lovely magician’s assistant in modern-day magic acts, once I was sawed in two, the pieces never came together again, dropping away instead and getting lost along with the magic in the chaos around me.
Our ancestors had far more contact with magic. They lived life closer to nature, a force larger than life. They saw themselves as an intrinsic part of a pattern that happened around them and to them and in them and through them, an ongoing dialogue with equals. Rather than placing themselves above the objects we see as inanimate, everything they saw and experienced in the physical world was a endowed with the life force of something akin to a brother, sister, father, or grandmother.
Rather than squashing a spider or carelessly picking a blooming flower, they treated each as if they could trade places with it, not assuming they were above the other. Everything was sacred, and knowing one’s place in the infinite cycles of nature, the wonder of the universe, the miracle of the patterns that constantly shift, unfold, and create gave rise to a sense of contact–of being a part of something rather than a sense of being separate and cut off. The potentialities, then, the opening to a force in a world where anything could happen rather than living with the confines of limiting beliefs so many of us experience today from force of habit, family customs, cultural taboos, or demands of society, gave them magic, and through that magic, power to be in the world in a way that is very different to what many of us experience today.
I first began to associate the practice and archetype of shamanism with magic several years ago. Over a series of synchronistic events–later supported by research and amplification–I have come to realize shamans over millennia have tapped into something special, something that seems hard to define by me as I sit with my own cultural perspective–something I can only now define as magic. This magic seems to permeate everything and appears to be intrinsically linked to animism: belief, faith, and connection to a culture where magic can–and is allowed to–exist; where human beings lived their lives in intimacy of it–and where shamans actively accessed it on a constant basis for the healing and benefit of the community and the individuals in it.
Shamanism has been around for millennia, practically as long as humans have existed. It is the oldest spiritual healing tradition still in general use today. Though the word shaman emerged from Siberia via the Russian language, shamanism is found in virtually every culture in the world. Shamanic beliefs include the idea that everything is animated or contains a spirit that is alive and conscious. It is an earth-based practice that typically makes use of the elements–earth, air, water, and fire– in their practices.
Additionally, through a heightened sense of awareness, and perhaps because of ongoing sense of interconnectedness with the web of power that runs through all creation, shamans seem to be able to communicate with other realms on a level that is not readily accessible to the average individual. Frequently, they do this through accessing altered states of consciousness, tapping into ecstatic realms through drumming, dancing, trance or oral substances that serve to alleviate the restrictive human thinking mind and allow an opening to what might be called magic.
I remember hearing a myth from long ago about a man who did a favor for the gods. As a reward, he was offered his choice of options: either a vast quantity of gold, or the ability to speak eighty different languages. On choosing the languages, he quickly discovered he was able to understand the sound of wind in the trees, the flash of feathers of a hummingbird, and the smell of moss on tree trunks among many other things. When I stop to ponder, I am reminded how each of these is, indeed, a manifestation of language, but in symbolic form–a communication to us from some creative force larger than we can imagine whether it be called the collective unconscious as defined by Carl Jung, spirit, the Divine, or some other name–and that it doesn’t always necessarily speak English.
The capacity to stop and listen–and more, to dare to translate the multitude of voices and input that occur all around us–is nothing short of magic. In a culture where everything seems to move so fast but be so shallow, deep listening and understanding is a gift that sets us each apart. We all can do it–mostly, we just don’t. But there is something bigger than each of our everyday selves that is trying to break through, to send us critical messages that will help us understand why we’re here and what we’re meant to do with our “one wild and precious life” (Poet, Mary Oliver. Depth Psychology, ultimately, is the search for what is being whispered in those rare moments when we listen….
The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?