Friday, December 16, 2011

There's Magic in the Air This Evening, Magic in the Air

The world is at her best, you know, when people love and care,
The promise of excitment is one the night will keep,
After all, there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas.  

- Kermit the Frog as Bob Crachit, A Muppet Christmas Carol

What better time of year to discuss magic than now?  Originally, I thought this fit best with Halloween, what with everyone thinking in terms of witches, spells, flying on broomsticks...

However, that's Hollywood magic; it's total bullshit, and no sane person believes in it anyway. 

Real Magic can only be explained to people who witness it.

Ironically, considering my last post, Santa Claus is this world's best proof of Real Magic.

So join me on this ride of Rhetoric Whiplash...

The sign says "Magic for Muggles, 101".  Please leave at the door:

Any and all preconceptions re: talking cats, noses twitching to cute little bell music, ruby slippers and anything you learned from the Harrys (Houdini, Potter and Dresden). I promise you that at no point will we be dealing with a woman with raven hair, ruby lips, and sparks that fly from her fingertips.

Most importantly, leave behind the belief that there is anything, anything at all, supernatural about magic, as defined by Pagans. Speaking of definitions:

magic (magick) - the ability to bring about needed change by methods not yet measurable or accepted by science. The Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, by Scott Cunningham

The important word here is "yet". Pagans practice magic with the absolute belief that, given time, science could catch up - could eventually prove (to its own satisfaction) why any and all magical practices are effective.

Actually, this is not very unlike our understanding of prayer - we can't scientifically explain why it works, but how many of us have seen the effects of it? I know I have...

In my high school junior year religion class, I learned what was to become my very favorite definition for the word "religion".  Loosely repeated (it has been about 20 years):

religion - the way a person explains the mysteries of the universe to him or herself.

I mean, really, isn't that AWESOME? 

There are more things in our reality than can be explained by the current scientific community.  If there weren't, there would be no point in trying to find cures for cancer, AIDS, MS, etc., etc..  The exploration of space, or trying anything new at all would be a complete waste of time.  Essentially, without the recognition of natural mysteries, there would be no need to pursue  knowledge, to conduct experiments. 

For most deity based religions, the unexplained goes under the heading of God, and how He works in mysterious ways.  They call the occurrences of these mysteries "miracles".

For Scientific Empiricists, the unexplained is eventually explainable - science just hasn't gotten there yet.  To the best of my knowledge, they don't have a word that specifically labels that body of information.

For Pagans, the unexplained is called "magic" (or magick).  For me, I call this Real Magic.

Anyway, though our entertainment industry (from fireside stories and books to TV shows and movies) has worked very hard to give us fantastical images of the bibbity bobbitys, learning about magic is a lot less like attending Hogwarts, and a lot more like attending Home Ec.

For example:

500 years ago, if you had a terrible headache, you would go to the local witch (aka "wicce" aka "wise one" aka "the gal (or guy) at the end of the village who understands herbal medicine") for help.  While the water heated in her cauldron, she'd go out into her garden and snip a few herbs.  She'd then come back in, bruise the leaves a bit, pour the hot water over them, pray over them, and hand you the potion to drink.  And drink it you would.   A little while later, your headache is gone!  WOW!  MAGIC!!

And 500 years ago, that WOULD be magic.  Because no one knew why it worked, they only knew that it worked.  That gap between efficacy and the understanding of it is what made (makes) magic.  That's it.  For real.

Today, we know that the herb yarrow (found in any self respecting witch's garden) is a natural form of acetecylic acid. 

500 years ago?  A spell and a potion.  Today?  A cup of hot tea with asprin in it.

I remember explaining this years ago to a friend of mine.  She replied with "But that's not magic!  That's not supernatural!  That's just science!"

She was only partially wrong.  It is magic.  To be supernatural, something has to exist outside of the natural world.  Frankly, an oxymoron.  So no, asprin curing headaches is not supernatural.  It is scientific. 

Actually, I have to give her the "not magic" one too...

The act of ingesting asprin to rid oneself of physical pain, while "magic" back in the day, no longer meets the criteria that puts it under the heading labeled "magic", specifically because science can now explain why.

Which is quite frankly the fundamental difference between Scientists, Christians and Pagans on this matter:

Scientists have a deep rooted need to believe only in things they can taste, touch, see, hear, smell and measure.

Christians believe that proof is just lovely, and there's plenty out there to research and learn, but that some things will never be explained - and they are perfectly content to trust the unprovable to God and the miracles He performs.

Like Christians, Pagans don't have a need for scientific proof, as long as what they're doing harms none and works.  However, like Scientific Empiricists, Pagans believe that the proof is attainable, that though it may be mysterious to us, God (however one defines that word) operates within Nature.  I mean, what's this obsession with the idea that God can't impress us while still working within natural parameters?

The only other real difference?  That vast body of knowledge that human kind has not yet explained?  Scientific Empiricists don't label it specifically, while Christians and Pagans do.   

Magic isn't as scary as it is a culturally maligned term for a logical principle.

But how is this connected to Santa Claus?

Our family hit a milestone this year - a few weeks ago, Crikey asked me if Santa Claus is real.

To which I told him the truth - that while we don't let a bearded stranger break into our house once a year, I absolutely believed in Santa Claus.  To that, he responded with:

Blink.  Blink.  (loosely translated: "I'm waiting for how the heck you're going to reconcile those statements"). 

To which I said (loosely translated as well - since I imagine very few of the people reading this are also 10 years old):

Look.  People, on the whole, are okay.  However, there is a significant part of the human race that  just sucks.  Those miserable bastards simply aren't happy unless they're fighting over something, anything.  Take politics, religion, sports.  The world is full of "us" and "them". 

When it comes to the winter holidays, practically everyone takes a break from this.  People make an effort at this time of year to be cheerful.

Sometimes it's a "fake it 'til you make it" cheerful - but we try.  More importantly, this is the time of year, more than any other, when people try to make others happy.  The most popular (and famous) way is to give gifts - but there are lots of other ways.  People make donations, they bake their families' favorite treats, they go out of their way to say "Merry Christmas" - even to people they don't know.  It's almost like, at this time of the year, no matter how dark it is outside, or how little money we have, there is a tacit consent to concentrate on finding light in the darkness.  Which, is really what Yule and Christmas are all about - the idea that when things look their worst (the literal darkness that comes with the shortest day of the year for Pagans, a world in metaphoric darkness for Christians) that's when it's MOST important to remember that the light will come (Yule being the birth of the Sun, which shines Light on the World and Christmas being the birth of the Son, who is the Light of the World).  Everyone is celebrating the same concept- even if we call it by different names.

Which brings us to Santa Claus.

I know it seems like a big lie - and that getting the "truth" about a guy who supposedly went on an annual worldwide B&E spree with some flying livestock feels like a let down.

But you need to wrap your mind around this. 

The part of Santa that is a lie - is the Santa of Hollywood magic.  He's the Santa of Harry Potter special effects.  That kind of magic doesn't exist. 

But.  There IS such a thing as Real Magic.  Not only is it real, understanding and believing in it is one of the most important things a human being needs to be successful in this big, bad world.

And it's hard as hell to explain Real Magic to little kids - so we put it in terms that are easy to understand.

Sure, he's a symbol for the gift giving practice - but he's more than that.  When you believe in Santa Claus, you believe in magic.  That feeling you get when you climb into bed on Christmas Eve?  The anticipation, the excitement?  Sure, part of it is looking forward to the loot under the tree - but some of that thrill is the chance to believe.  It is fun and special and crucial to the human soul to feel that wonderful, amazing, unexplainable things can happen.  That gift - the thrill of Real Magic - is something that is a joy to give.

The one thing that can and does cross every human culture?  Love for our children - and the desire to make them happy.

Santa Claus is Real Magic, and believing in him is, too.  So we in the grown up world tell all of you in the kid world to believe in him.  We eat the cookies that got set out.  We make tracks in the snow so you can see the "evidence" of the reindeer.  We do this, so you can have wonder and amazement.

But doing cool things for your own children isn't all that special.  Frankly, it's a basic part of the parenting gig.

So let's not look at what parents do for their kids.

How about elementary school teachers?  Or the friends of the parents?  Do any of these people take kids aside and say there's no Santa?  No they do not.

But we're still talking about people with a personal interest.

Look at what grown ups around the world do for kids they don't know and will never meet.

News programs - every other day of the year, these shows give us nothing but death and darkness.  Violence, war, natural disasters...

On Christmas Eve, everyone from NORAD to the local news broadcasts report "sightings" of Santa Claus.

They don't make money off of this. 

On Christmas Eve, even people who don't believe in Santa Claus (or any of the trimmings of the Christmas holiday) either stay quiet or play along with the Santa Claus Agreement.

Why do people do this?  What's the logic? 

There is none. 

Remember, Real Magic (including Santa Magic) isn't about Hollywood special effects.  It's much more powerful.

It's about experiencing something amazing, something wonderful, that science can't explain (yet).  It's about how that experience opens the mind to a sense of wonder.  It's this wonder that gives us the ability to change that which seems impossible into reality.

So from one Christmas song to another:

Peace on Earth, can it be?
Years from now, perhaps we'll see...
I pray my dream, will come true,
For my child, and your child too...
Peace on Earth -
Can it be?

- David Bowie and Bing Crosby