These days, magic is everywhere.
Every fantasy tale and film have their wizard or magician, able to render or bind objects from light and shade, to twist bark and branch into monster or shift or drag our longed for and aspiring hero through portals, wormholes, wibbly wobbly time fractures and swirly wirly CGI effects. We’re used to bursts of white-indigo light flaring from the hands of screened characters and familiar with blue-gold blasts of blazing beams burning out from magical stones, while glowing runes shimmeringly shrink a bad guy’s charge. Even some of the most modern, street or urban of heroes seem to be taking part in some kind of magic to conquer or thwart someone or some thing, on a quest for a blessed or enchanted object of power; a compass, a blade, a stone, a relic, a ring: precious.
And while here in the virtual company of Madison, to consider Magic, we might think ourselves to be teetering on the edge of the clearer reason we are used to, when we speak of wizards and magical vworps of light; can we talk about these things in the same space as card decks and sleights?
You may even be queasy about applying the word “magic” to your cardistry and skills. Maybe it seems unfitting to criss-cross or stretch boundaries between kinds of magic - reminding our author here that whizzing or blasting someone with a rune-marked, magical staff might not be welcomingly paced next to our perfecting our flourishes or effects. For sure, it takes carefully applied rationale, time and practiced skill to master the necessary dexterity to perfectly execute bridges, shuffles, cuts and all manners of fancy flourishes.
Can all these forms of Magic exist in their own rights, respectfully, without their parameters or the tacit rules of their houses being broken or trespassed against? I wonder why we have to fear or mourn any part of magic just because new forms, praxis and ideas are born, and perhaps happen to be happily and strikingly different.
Here, you are in great company with one another, the inside-men, with the in-house wisdom; you know your field, you know what you like, you know the precision required, the keen angles and the tilts, the almost imperceptible flash and flick of the wrist that makes that move work rather than not. You are mostly aware when bringing this art to life with a fanned deck of Trawlers (or if you’re feeling fancy, the old Gold Rounders), that you are suddenly somehow no longer outside of Magic looking in at something too often proclaimed as Dead, but instead, you are a living part of it. This is your living material, something you as practical magicians digest, power-up with, and become.
In the act of practical magic you become more than yourself and the effect; you are more than the way a delivered flourish is received by your audience, and more than the mistaken snaps of card on card to the raised eyebrows of that one over-keen spectator (There will always be someone to see the misses and flaws without that ever detracting from the agency and act of your craft) You are more than the act of magic when you perform the act of magic, for you enter into an ancient and simultaneously new, happening and living language, and you say something, You say something new with old and new words, about something that refuses to die. You are in dialogue, with yourself and the world. I believe you’ve all something to say, which is always to bring something to life. Maybe even to bring ourselves back to life.
For sure, you are part of an incredible group who choose to add anima to the world by creating something visual and tangible, something memorable and socially remarkable, something magical from within yourselves. You don’t have to commit before an altar to a God, prayer or invocation, or even to those shiny stones. The force, whatever it is, is within you.
<I pause discourse for a slow nod to the roots of the wonderful word, “Enthusiasm”…En Theos - The inner God, the inner force inspiring existence; the God force within>
So perhaps Doing Magic and living with the Gods within need not be contingent upon perfect execution or being competitively better than our peers - though that would be nice and might get you more followers and friends. Even when you mess up the cuts, you can’t get the shades or edits or hairdo as sharp as Madison’s or your art as slick as Neemdog of Lianza, you’re still in the arena, you’re still doing Magic, you’re in the act of Becoming. Each act, or even effort to act stirs the Gods within you, beckons, invokes, brings to life. There is nothing dead or past-tense about that.
In this electronic, virtual arena, anything that can be thought of, is possible. For virtually, we can create visuals and effects that we can’t accomplish alone or corporeally. Does this mean it’s not magic? And instead just some young chap learning how to work an app or a program? Maybe the question is where we shine our torch: Are we looking at how this effect came to be? By hook or by crook, by program map or app? Or at the outcome, the feeling, the gift. What has been given. You’ve changed my perception or life view with your skill, art and craft. Does it matter if you did it under moonlight and robe on cliff edge, or via smooth surface with new app or geek tool?
We can venture with our suited, blade-bearing heroes to the edge of doom, and rip the whipping tail coats or cloaks of our shadowy villains, out from the sharp pitch nights they smoulder in, by imagination, dream, hero tale or film. We can draw apparitions of wings from secret pockets of smokey air, as simply as a thought put to practice - I write it, you create it on screen, he acts it. Heroes, spells, lightning-bolting hammers and wands are iPortable and always with us behind the safety of pages, screens and minds. The boundaries between Real and Magic have blurred (have had to) so the creation of something profound or stunning is no longer reserved for the few. We can all be magicians, we can all do Magic.
Does this make it any less? Does this undo the seeming sanctity or sacred seals of its churches, clouded in nostalgia and dust motes behind clanks of old twisting keys and creaks of ancient opening doors… They still exist, as long as we do. Oh look, there in the oubliette or codex, the secret of all secrets, that must be Magic! (aside: it always will be!) But what a shocker to understand it might be all around us and right within our reach. Sometimes after all, the locked doors are merely those of our own perception.
And this is the thing. How with all this considered could it ever be said that Magic is dead?
Even if we mourn the old styles and rituals, folklore and spells (I love old keys and old doors and old robes, give me a musty rustic mote clustered chamber of secrets any day!!) and even if we put a raw robe wearing, cauldron smouldering, bare nature loving witch next to skinny jeans, black and white neatly cropped shots of goth or rock magicians on dark cobbled streets,still, where is the death or absence of Magic? What has been lost? surely we’re only adding layers and dimensions to a quantum field. And if something is growing - sideways, upwards, linear or quantum, it is not dead.
As one of my own hero-magicians (a mad man in a blue box) once said,
“But times change, and so must I. we all change, when you think about it. We are all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving”…
And he’s a great analogy here. For when The Doctor seems to die, he comes back, each regeneration, each time a little different, a little more. Never less.
I think when we say Magic is Dead, at least without wondering what we mean by it, we risk proclaiming that change equates to Less, and of removing ourselves from its arena and artistic energy. Claiming to respect it, we exclude ourselves from it. Maybe, locating Magic in the long-gone childhood past, or as somehow defeated by the transparency and exposition of living in an often ostentatious, virtual world, we effect an illusion upon ourselves. In saying it’s dead and gone in any way, aren’t we just gazing backwards, while somehow implicitly frowning at what we have in front of us?
Mourning the losses of Magic, we’re like ghost hunters who don’t believe in ghosts, making the right moves and words into an empty necromancy; invoking ghouls with no haunt, all the right makeup with no flare or scare.
I’m not here to impress anything upon you to this end, or even to criticise the use of the term, “ Magic is dead”. It intrigues me with a happily relished curiosity what it means to you; and I’d really like to know. It’s my curiosity and hope that brings me here to Madison’s house, to ask...
Must we commit either way to a death in the field of magic, when more likely what we’re experiencing is evolution, a rising, shape-shifting growth, maybe at times and with certain practitioners, something of a revolution. Regeneration need not bring up the past like some botched Walking Dead scene either, we can live with the past and present without the loss of either. So we’re not Crowley invoking spirits or trying to darkly measure or influence the world from a conjuring spell? Though there’s nothing wrong with a bit of witching, and I myself love to stand on cliff tops in my long black cloaks dressed like a dark hooded druid with some shiny stones in my hand. But who says my magic or your magic is dead or alive? Practical Magic is an act of living magically, defined by your choice to live it, and you live it.
If you’re reading this, then neither of us are dead yet.
There are no rules as to what is right or wrong, which maybe makes it scary for some of us, particularly those of us who like to think of traditional Magic as pure and untainted by this virtual world. And in an aim to protect the sanctity and sacredness of “Magic” it’s easy to denounce the Instagrammers and Youtubers with their clever edits;
“That’s sacrosanct you cretins! How dare you! that’s not Magic!!”.
Hankering after the brilliant stage presences of the physical magician, it’s hard to happily witness the millions of practical magicians and witches purporting to be practical magicians and witches from behind iPad screens without losing your wits. But if we want to talk about Magic in a past tense, then let’s borrow that blue box a moment and consider a dash of time travel; imagine how someone hundreds of years ago would receive an iPad tablet with a moving image of a card artist in great flourish and sleight?
“By cock and by pie and by goose wing!”,
(Or insert some other 16th Century swear phrase from a face set in absolute horror)
I don’t think you are here because you want a rear-view mirror take on your art, looking back at something only children or people from the old days once had, and I find it difficult even pondering this aloud here with you, to see us all as merely considering or negotiating with the dead and pasts of magic. It appears to me once more, and maybe even repetitively, that we are not dealing here with the death of magic, but very much with its regeneration. Magic continues to regenerate, it has changed, evolved, it does keep moving, as we all must, with deeper shadows and undergrounds, cool ambassadors and representatives who make it easier to cross its thresholds and enter. There will always be heavy doors with hidden, protected rusty keys, and some old indecipherable codex. So those of us who take part in exposing and teaching gimmicks, tricks and moves might be frowned upon and argued at as taking from or deflating magic’s power. In another light we might see those magicians as guiding forces with their apprentices:
“Here is this key, there is this door, try it if you wish"
(Works best in the voice of Gandalf or Morgan Freeman for me)
In the very least, phrases about Magic, about its life or death are powerful and attractive ones, loaded with meaning.
Magic is dead, long live Magic.
They bring with them more questions, and of course, the generation of questions is part of any art. Can I bring something hyper-real or more real than real to this person here? How can I offer a shade or a beam of light to that person’s perception, as to shape, sculpt or bend it? Isn’t this Magical and living ? Isn’t this the very act of creation? Here is this matter, this pulp, this beating pulse; our Reality as we know it, and here we are together kicking about in the gritty word-pit, on this screen shape-shifting recycled thoughts (it’s all been said before, after all ) into something new.
We as practical magicians who are blessed and skilled enough to know this is Magical, who are brave enough to make Reality our Matter and subject are creating. In the act of creating, making, doing, being, we bring magic back. And not really ‘back' at all, as it was never gone. We keep it alive. We are its life force. Each a sparking blip on the support machine, each a contribution to its lines of light.
The real question for this piece here is maybe, why write this at all, why even ask these things?
And it’s simple.
If Magic is dead, I do not believe that magic is dead.
As a practical magician myself, I would like to address all those who see themselves as magicians to consider this. In doing this, we breathe fresh life into the stereotypes and render boundaries elastic without fear of losing them - You don’t have to be Gandalf or Paul Daniels, or pull a rabbit from a hat to name yourself as practicing magician. You as a performer, poet, actor, agent, crafter, artist are a Magician of the Art of Magic. And if it’s still impossible to see yourself that way, then you were in any case curious enough about it to read on, and therein your own personal spark.
It’s all so personal. It has to be; your ghosts, your demons, your invocations, your rituals and your practice.
Magic was born for me when as I child I believed that words in stories came to life, in secret worlds inside my mind, that each story transported me across into a vast new space and time, and I could live in any one of these spaces, whenever, wherever.. When on discovering the velvety darkness of Edgar Allan Poe as a child, I decided, naturally, that I would grow up to become his Raven. Wondering as I grew into my human skin and metaphysical corvus wings, how I could possibly fit in a world that denounced this fantasy as daydream? Then came the next task. How to be magic in a world that so often renounced it. And here we are.
I can respect the mourners, and also dress in black as I do so. But I don’t have to accept magic as dead. Knowing the art, craft, skill and mechanics of magic and cardistry doesn’t kill it, but gives it wings (caw). Knowing the secrets of Reality, in shape-shift, refraction, warped and angled reflections or even crafty edits doesn’t bring you closer to the grave of a frail and dying Magic, but gives you its beating heart. Dare I say it charges you to protect it.
My fairy tales came true, and in my own way, I will always be a Raven. I found the magical stones that shine with their violet blades of light in the right light, and carry me in their flashing edges to stranger lands than these. I explored the secret castle by the white squalling sea, and met the stone king who remains tall after the kingdom crumbled. I am not mad or apologetic in admitting this, to strangers or friends, but we are aware that a magician is often looked upon with the similar quiet query as those unhooked from their senses might be seen. I speak from the pitch night and authority of knowing what it is to be unhooked, to have survived those surreal and mad flights with enough sanity to live and not die, and yet enough, just a little of it and enough of it left behind.
And now? After the hypomania, the following fog banks that blur the fur of the black dogs barking, after the grief of coming to terms, that all I believed in might have been some evil twist of upset synapse or maudlin hormone, or some wrong pill or some tricky trip with the Green Fairy, I realised I had to make a decision.
To commit to a stance in a world that does have magic by cultivating it, by being it. “If magic has died, then sod it! I want to be one of the ones who brings it back!!” ...To do this I for one have to accept that Magic is not a one off event that blasts normality’s doors off with fanfare and ceremony. It’s not necromancy or Zombie hunting (no rusty nail at the end of my staff). And yes it is very personal. It is a conscious way of living, building, threading, weaving beauty, skill,art, awe and hope into and through our lives.
That there is more than what we see, that things are more than they seem, that we can be more than what we appear to be. That it is okay to be a little dark, fogged, or even mad. Mania has her places, and while she’s not the cause or perfect home for Magic, she is welcome too.
In this way, I think you live with your heads and beaks up, in awe, eyes wide and wondering, scanning the scene for the things no one else sees; seeing treasure in normality and gifts of opportunity in the apparition of the mundane. Nothing is mundane to a Magician. All can be used, all can be altered for the better. And there is the seed of its power, for it becomes then an act of alchemical kindness. A gift to self and others, to take life and make it crack and blooming blossom. You in your way are also its crucible, burning away the impure, so that what you are left with is golden. What you are left with is your own secret relationship with it, which no proclamation or mourning shall take from you.
To a practical magician, the familiar fog banks of a heavier minds on heavier days also offer as much promise as sorrow. Lack of clarity to the magical thinking becomes a fertile space, inviting our best and most profound thoughts to unfurl in the blur. Dense and damp in a seeming lull, when the world looks quiet and very little happens: it’s all-a-happening! Here, when the shape of the world of things is swallowed edgeless into the confusing mist of our slower days, the trying-to-get-by-days, the trying-to-pay-the-rent and just-stay-alive-days, we somehow still create. Not despite. Because. The mundane, the cloaked, the seemingly dull? We take out our runes and decks, stamp the staff, flick the wrist, get to thinking, what can we do with this, what can we bring to life here? And for the magician, of course there is a place for sorrow. For all emotions profoundly speak in the language games of “Magic”, resonating at once with something young and ancient within us. They are all valuable, precious forces that all have their grammar, as material ready to be applied to your bidding, with a power and a will. In a world with magic, all the boring, tiring and dark is bright enough, if you make that choice. You make that so.
So let’s hold on to our magic, and as much of it as we can. The keys to the doors and the Gods are within. There we forge our kingdoms and we take our thrones – so what if only we saw the crowns and robes we strode across the grand court with? Let’s pull doves from hats and wear whatever velvet or skinny jean we want, in any colour or monochrome we want. Beaming smiles or perfectly furrowed frowns, chic goth, emo or rock, woman, man, both. Does it matter, as long as we live it rather than watch it die?
I challenge you to keep moving, to call on your heroes, whoever they are, and then don’t be surprised when they show up, through you, influencing your life and the lives of others.
You might even remember how to be the hero you always wanted, and give that gift to the child you used to be. Here, fingers on keyboard and maybe eyes reading should hopefully flinch at the thought of asking our children selves to live on to an adulthood without Magic.
I’d like to think that saying “any magic goes” is not an insult to magic anywhere or to anyone, and neither does it loosen or weaken Magic. I hope not to be too naive in hoping that instead, it enforces its field with life. Each line of light, each blip on this immense life support machine, us, keeping it alive. With the new, with differences, we don’t need to shatter binds or burn rule books, there is no ruin or site of crumbling rubble, just creativity and new wonder at old and new. And here, Virtual Magic is Practical Magic. We have easily become time travelling creators, in the click of a button on a tablet or phone
Sometimes words have more magic than we might even know… they are our spells
We should use them well.
And while I fear I may have used too many here,
I hope these final few will do their work:
what about you?
Is Magic dead or alive?
Are you a Practical Magician?