There is Magic in this World
And it works in subtle ways
Welcome to Magic Month! This October, I’ll be running a series of essays about magic, enchantment, spirituality, and science. This first installment was originally posted on my blog on October 30, 2020. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this piece marked the beginning of an inner journey that would unfold slowly over the next three years.
Did you believe in magic when you were a kid? I sure did, and I believed in it hard. For much longer than was age-appropriate. I dreamed of finding a portal to a land like Oz. I came up with elaborate rationalizations about the existence of Santa. I just wanted so badly to believe in it all.
But by the time I hit high school, such things had begun to feel childish, and for quite a while I swung heavily to the other side of the pendulum. I believed in rationality. That every phenomenon could be explained. That strange synchronicities were nothing more than meaningless coincidences.
As an undergrad studying molecular biology, and then as a grad student in nutrition, science was my beacon. I thought that if you studied something long enough, broke it down into its component parts, and asked the right questions, you'd eventually be able to understand everything.
The Missing Piece
But... somehow, it still felt like something was missing. It wasn't until I began writing fiction that I found my way back to the kid who believed in magic. And with these two parts of myself suddenly coexisting side by side, the borders between them started to fade. They weren't the either/or propositions I'd always thought them to be. Science or magic. Rationality or intuition. Like so many other things that we try to divide into boxes and thrust into opposition, they weren't actually two discrete qualities. They were just points on a continuum.
While researching my second novel, Where Shadows Grow (which contains some witchy elements), I read Alex Mar's book Witches of America, and found myself gaining new perspective about the way magic moves through the world: not a fictional world, but the one we all live in. Take this quote from a modern-day witch named Morpheus who was featured in the book:
“Magic works primarily through nonphysical means that we can only observe in subjective ways. And that means that its manifestations can almost always be explained away, if that’s your goal. So that line of thinking is a trap. Skepticism can be really toxic, because it makes you not trust your lived experience, the evidence of your senses, without outside verification.”
From Witches of America by Alex Mar
I found this very thought-provoking. Because, honestly, I have lived so much of my life not trusting my own experiences at all. Always looking for that outside verification. Never being sure of anything unless it was confirmed by someone else.
Over these past few years, I’ve come to see just how key it is to appreciate the wisdom that can be gained from lived experience. In science we would tend to write this off: it’s just a case study. It’s one person’s perspective. But actually, what every person goes through is important. And much can be learned from this, especially when someone else’s lived experience doesn’t match up to your own. It shouldn't be discounted. It should, instead, open your mind a little.
Morpheus goes on to say:
“Our culture... teaches us to expect spectacular displays of phenomena. So for a lot of people, the subtlety of how this stuff actually operates is a problem at first. It’s a change in the air; it’s the entry of a presence that is signaled by the creeping of your skin or a shift in your awareness. We have been taught to dismiss our sense perceptions, so then we’re not sure we’re having an actual experience. And then we ask ourselves, ‘Well, am I just wishing this was real, so I’m talking myself into it?’ It takes time to recalibrate your expectations. It’s a matter of learning to trust your own perceptions, and to say, ‘You know what? I didn’t give myself goosebumps. I didn’t talk myself into having that picture suddenly arise in my mind—that came from somewhere.'”
From Witches of America by Alex Mar
Reading this made me think, what if? What if the next time I got goosebumps I considered it a form of magic instead of just thinking about it as a function of biology? And I thought about the times I tend to get goosebumps: during a great reveal or plot twist in a movie or TV show. While reading a passage of a story that's beautiful and true.
Once I started thinking of this as magic, things started feeling more... meaningful. It was evidence of the miraculous connection between the creators of the work and its viewers. But, it was also evidence of the connection we all have to something greater, the thing that must be tapped into in order to produce a great work of art.
I don't know that I would've let these ideas in if I hadn't experienced this myself while writing. This tapping into a current that's somehow inside and outside of you at the same time. But when examining the experience from this perspective, I was finally able to trust in what writing really is: a form of magic.
After this shift in perspective, I no longer see coincidences in the same way. I've never thought about goosebumps the same way either. Humans are meaning-seeking creatures, and the clearly defined rules of physics and chemistry and biology can often feel devoid of meaning. But we are here on this earth with a powerful ability to make sense of the things we observe and feel and know in our gut, even if they don't necessarily make rational sense.
I suppose I should include a caveat here that there is a flip side to this notion; it's possible for people to create a reality that is entirely self-serving and thus can be very harmful to others. But, as long as it's approached with the understanding that you are but one part of a greater whole, this way of thinking can result in very positive outcomes, allowing you to see the world with awe and wonder again instead of cynicism and resignation. Which can lead us to see possibilities that we've never considered, and ultimately lead to a richer, more satisfying life.
Did you believe in magic when you were younger? What’s your relationship to it now (if any)? Curious to hear your thoughts!