When we recognize that we live in a magic-filled universe, we realize that we don’t have to create magic, but rather, simply allow the intrinsic magic of the universe to reveal itself. If this is indeed the case, let’s do an experiment, and see if in the joint co-operative venture of writing (my job) and reading (your job) this article, we can indeed let the inherent magic of the universe shine through our shared endeavor. In my career as a writer I have learned that when an article I am working on is birthing itself into form, at a certain point the universe itself always seems to step in and “conspire” (which literally means “to breathe together”) with the article, infusing it with an energy that I am not able to supply by my lonesome self.
On the one hand, I have so much to say about magic—and the figure of the magician—that I don’t know where to start. On the other hand, I don’t know if I am able to say anything overly interesting about the topic of magic at all, as it doesn’t easily lend itself to words. I am confronted with the question: Will my words obscure and get in the way of illuminating and bringing forth magic, or will they be the very medium that brings magic to life?
In any case, I have been quite unsure how to proceed, and then I found something in a book that caught my attention. The words appeared with the force of a revelation; as soon as I read them, I knew I had found a way into what I wanted to write about. Here are the words: “Seeing the world as separate from ourselves has become the prevailing and institutionalized worldview of ‘the academy,’ a viewpoint that takes the heart, soul and ‘magic’ out of the world, reducing it to a dead, inanimate, insensate domain.” It was as if seeing these words unlocked something in my mind.
I knew exactly what the author meant, at least in my imagination. “The academy” is mainstream materialist, reductionist science, which views the world as an object “out there,” separate from ourselves. Even after the advent of quantum physics, which has empirically proven beyond even the slightest shred of a doubt that the notion of an objective universe is a meaningless idea, the pre-quantum, classical worldview of relating to the world as objectively existing still holds sway in the collective unconscious of our species. It is as if we are a bit behind the times regarding what cutting edge science—in a sense, our modern wisdom tradition—is revealing to us about the nature of reality.
Viewing the world as objectively existing immediately dreams us up to be “subject” to the world as object, as the two—subject and object—reciprocally co-arise and condition each other. The idea of an objective reality links with the idea of a subjective center of psychological operations—the reference point of ego—in such a way that these ideas reinforce and co-create each other, reciprocally assisting each other’s survival in the meme pool. Thinking that the world exists as an object outside of ourselves, we dream ourselves up to be separate from this world, which further constellates the world to supply all of the evidence we need to prove to ourselves the rightness of our point of view in a self-reinforcing feedback loop whose ultimate source is our own mind. We have then put ourselves under a spell of our own making.
As if “bewitched,” we have then entranced ourselves by our own innate unrealized genius for co-creating reality. It is as if we are powerful wizards wielding a magic wand, but seemingly disempowered and not realizing our own divine gift, we are using our power to create our world unconsciously, which is to say destructively. We have forgotten that we have reality-shaping powers at our disposal, thereby unwittingly placing ourselves in what William Blake calls “mind-forg’d manacles.” To the extent we have fallen under our own self-created spell, it is as if we have become dis-oriented (and deranged) magicians who have created a world for ourselves that doesn’t serve us, all the while thinking that we are just encountering—and being victimized by—an objective reality that we cannot change. The truth of our situation, simply put, is that we are geniuses with amnesia.
Quantum physics—what many call the greatest scientific breakthrough of all time—has discovered that not only is there no such thing as an objective universe, but that the act of observing the universe actually evokes the very universe that is observed. Rather than being “written in stone,” quantum physics has discovered that the universe—and its laws—are ever-changing, plastic, malleable and mutable. In what is called “the observer effect,” quantum physics—which itself has been described as “pure magic”—has discovered that the very act of observing the universe literally creates the very universe we are observing. This is to say that our very perceptions—instead of simply seeing an objectively existing world “out there”—are creative. This is a new idea that is emerging with the advent of the new physics. John Wheeler, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, speaking about the universe, wonders, “Is IT all just a Magic Show?”
Ideas are ways of regarding things, the means by which we see, as well as the perspectives through which we view the world. The word “idea,” etymologically speaking, has to do with both “to see” as well as “to know.” In other words, a novel idea opens our inner eye and helps us know by giving us insight into something previously unconscious. What Plato called the “eyes of the soul,” ideas are the modes of consciousness through which we envision and create our life.
Speaking about a new idea (what he refers to as a “conceptual dislocation”), Science Fiction author Philip K. Dick writes, “it must invade his mind and wake it up to the possibility of something he had not up to then thought of.” In what turns out to be a true collaboration between author and reader, Dick continues that a new idea “sets off a chain-reaction of ramification-ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader’s mind so that that mind, like the author’s, begins to create.” A new idea can wake us up to what is possible, and like a key, can unlock the latent creative spirit that has been hidden deep within the recesses of our mind, a spirit that has been thirsting to be set free. A new idea can pass from writer to reader through the printed word in a something like a mind-to-mind transmission. Once sufficiently ignited and set aflame in the psyche of humanity, the new idea, as if contagious, can spread like wildfire, virally and nonlocally propagating themselves through the collective unconscious of our species.
I remember as a young kid feeling that one of the scariest things in the world was to become a grown-up, as every grown-up I knew had lost touch with the magic of the world. They were more concerned with “the real world,” how much money they can make, and what they looked like through the eyes of others, all of which seemed contrary to the world of magic. Losing touch with magic felt like death, as if my life-giving oxygen would be cut off. The ordinary, everyday world of consensus reality—a world created by our collective agreement of what is true—is a demythologized world in which the living magic seems to have been suctioned out of the sacred dimension of life.
Being like a dream, the universe is a living oracle, a continually unfolding revelation that is speaking “symbolically” (the language of dreams). If we haven’t developed the eyes to see the dreamlike nature of reality—what Jung calls “symbolic awareness”—we will then literalize the world, our experiences and ourselves. Not realizing that the universe is a living text, a symbolic scripture—a literal and symbolic book of life—the world will simply reflect back our lack of realization, solidifying as mute, immutable, forever collapsing into seemingly concretized objectivity. The world then becomes a “No-Magic Zone,” which is a nightmare beyond measure, at least in my imagination.
Realizing that all things speak inspires us to develop a hermeneutics reflecting back our realization that the sacred Word is becoming materialized in all things. Hermeneutics, the practice of interpreting texts, has as its task the transfiguration of the world by means of unveiling the Word in all things. The word “hermeneutics” is related to and derived from the Greek God Hermes, who besides being the god of interpretation and language, is also, in his role of transubstantiating the ordinary stuff of the world into something sacred, a symbol of the archetypal magician.
When I think about magic, my first association is the proverbial “pulling a rabbit out of a hat”—as if magic has to do with creating something out of nothing. In alchemy, a symbol for the highest value is the lapis. “The lapis,” Jung writes, is “a psychological symbol expressing something created by man and yet supra-ordinate to him.” This idea speaks to and activates something deep within me: that somehow we, as human beings, can, both individually and collectively, connect with ourselves and each other in such a way so as to create something “supra-ordinate to”—ourselves. Sounds like the essence of magic to me.
When I think of the archetype of the magician, the figure of Merlin, who is the archetypal wizard and magician, comes to mind. I have a close connection with this figure. I remember as a little kid my mother would read me bedtime stories at night. It was in the middle of her reading The Sword in the Stone, which had Merlin as one its major characters, that I said the words “I can take it from here,” and it became the very first book I read on my own. This experience has stayed with me my entire life and has always felt significant, not merely a meaningless accident.
Merlin has as one of his aspects the role of llyfrawr, a Welsh word for wizard that comes from the Latin librarius, a master of books. Nikolai Tolstoy, a descendent of the great Russian novelist and author of The Quest for Merlin, refers to Merlin as “the patron of writing,” which points to the magical wizardry—and power of enchantment—inherent in the act of finding the right words and getting them down on paper. To quote Jung, “Do not forget that the original meaning of all letters and numbers was a magical one!”
It is amazing to me that years later I have become a writer, which was the last thing I ever imagined I would be. I remember being in school and being really smart, but my worst subject was writing—I couldn’t write to save my life. Little did I realize it was because I wasn’t interested in what I was being forced to write about. Another way of saying the same thing—I hadn’t yet found my voice. Etymologically, our “voice” is related to the “genius,” who is a figure conceived of as being our guiding spirit and magical ally.
Words and language are a magical medium, transmitting meaning-rich ideas across space and time from one mind to another. How words are made feels important to our discussion—we “spell” them. In “spell”-ing a word, we are literally casting a spell, calling forth a spirit, and conjuring up a particular universe, all in one fell swoop. Language is not merely describing a universe, but is also creating it. To quote anthropologist Misia Landau, “Language is not merely a device for communicating ideas about the world, but rather a tool for bringing the world into existence in the first place. Reality is not simply ‘experienced’ or ‘reflected’ in language, but instead is actually produced by language.” Interestingly, the word “grammar” has the same root as the French grimoire, a manual for invoking and casting magic spells. The archaic word for magic is gramarye, implying that language itself is a conjuration of spells. In learning to consciously spell-cast, the world is no longer written in stone, with us as its passive victims, as we realize and tap into the creative and transformative power of the Logos, of the Word. It seems no accident that, referring to the creation of the universe itself, the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word.”
Right in the middle of writing this article, I received an email from a friend. She had no idea that I was writing about magic, literally trying to put magic into words. In her email, she included one quote, by Terence McKenna: “The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words.” It certainly got my attention that out of the nearly infinite possibilities, this particular idea was the one my friend chose to share with me. It felt as if—through my friend—the universe was synchronistically beginning to both reflect—and reflect upon—what I was writing about. When stuff like this happens, it makes me feel like I have a creative collaborative partner in my work—the universe itself. It certainly makes me feel like I am not alone and on the right path.
A week or so ago I was talking to one of my editors, and we were working on a section of my new book on the topic of “maya.” To the extent we are not awake to the dreamlike nature of our situation, we have fallen under what in Eastern traditions is called the power of “maya,” the source of both our deepest illusions and our most exalted creativity. Etymologically, the word maya comes from the root “ma,” which means “to measure.” Maya has to do with the primal power that gives shape to the potentiality intrinsic to form; it has to do with the power to turn an idea into physical reality. It is related to the role of the imagination in creating the world. The creator of illusions, maya is that which makes the real appear unreal and the unreal appear real. Through the wizardry of Maya, we wield the cosmic creative power of shaping and giving meaning to appearances. Maya refers to how the reality-creating power of our own mind can be unwittingly turned against ourselves so as to entrance us. My editor then mentioned that the word maya is related to the word “magic.” My ears perked up when he said this.
Getting back to that quote I found about the academy taking the magic out of the world, I should point out that I was the author of the book that those words were in—they were my words. It is as if the part of me that wrote those words way back when was writing for the part of me that would read them at some point later in time in order to inspire this very article, or so I imagine.
Is this a living example of how we can all creatively participate in our own process of awakening via setting up scenarios in our life that—at the appointed time—help to remind us of something? Isn’t this what “the unconscious” is doing all the time anyway (i.e., creating situations in our life that push us right to our edge so as to help us to grow beyond our comfort zone)—both in our dreams at night as well as our waking dream; why not add consciousness to this process? It’s as if we are being called to step into life so as to actively engage with our own evolutionary process.
In this process, was a past self—as if sending a message—writing words that were specifically crafted for a future self to read? From this point of view, it was as if I was planting a time-release clue, a reminder, a wake-up call, in the fabric of the waking dream—to myself. In this transaction, I was able to communicate with myself over, through and within the medium of time. The alarm clock was set to go off, due to the “auspicious coincidence” of multiple factors, at the precise moment it was needed. Two factors: thinking about how to write about magic (an inner factor), and the words that I had previously written (an outer factor), synchronized in such a way so as to unlock an idea in my mind—which became this article—which is now an idea in your mind.
Or is this future self—which from my point of view in this moment is my present self—somehow reaching backwards in time, dreaming up my past self to write the very words it knew it would need to wake itself up? This is to imply that my present self can and/or is reaching back in time to affect what happens in the past in a way that informs and influences the present moment. The question arises: is this what I am doing right now, i.e., interpreting words I had written in the past so as to create the present moment in the way I am? As I write these very words in this moment, I find myself wondering if maybe, on the other hand, I am writing for a future self? Or is what I am writing in this moment inspired by a future self? Time gets turned on its head in the process, as does my own mind.
I wonder: what was I thinking when I wrote those original words? The question arises in my mind—who actually wrote those words? At that moment, was I—beyond my conscious awareness—being enlisted to be an instrument for a cosmic process of evolution that was being choreographed by some higher intelligence that didn’t just involve me? Was I just being cast to play a role in the field? Sometimes it’s more important to ask the right questions than to find the answers.
Classical physics describes the present as having a particular past; quantum physics, on the other hand, because of its probabilistic nature enlarges the arena of human history such that the past is an amalgam of all possible pasts compatible with the version of the present moment we are currently experiencing. The quantum universe is polyhistoric; the past involves a wide range of possible pasts all co-existing in a state of unmanifest potential. Quantum physics points out that rather than history creating us, we literally create history—via our “observations” (i.e., how we interpret and place meaning on our experience). In quantum physics, the act of observation in this present moment helps to actualize the past, which is to say that the present moment in a very real sense encompasses the past. This is to say that our observation in the here and now has an undeniable impact in bringing about that which appears to have happened in the past. There is no way to say unambiguously what the past was really like until we know its future in the form of the present; as in a work of art, each part of the universe acquires its full meaning only in its relation to the whole.
This brings up the question: have you, dear reader, dreamed up these very words so as to transmit a new idea—a new way of looking at the world—into your head so as to awaken you? As writer and reader, it is as if we are connecting with each other through our particular present moment in time in such a way that collapses and transcends time, as if we are meeting in a “place” outside of time. Just like a dream, these very words—continually pointing out the dreamlike nature of the universe—are simultaneously an unmediated expression of the very dreamlike nature at which they are pointing. In a collaborative venture taking place outside of the third-dimensional space-time continuum, maybe, I find myself imagining, you dreamed up the part of me (for after all, we are all, ultimately speaking, connected) in the past to find the words because you knew that these were the very words you needed to read in this moment so as to help you to remember the dreamlike nature of reality.
Being like a dream, if you realize that these very words are your own mind appearing within and to your own mind—in order to help you awaken to the dreamlike nature of reality, then—abracadabra—this is exactly the way your experience will manifest. You will have then, in my language, “dreamed yourself awake.” Sounds like magic to me.
This essay is a chapter from the book Numen Naturae: The Magician’s Wand, a collection of writings on the idea of the Magician. For more info, click here.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father(Awaken in the Dream Publishing, 2015), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (Authorhouse, 2006). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. He is the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections.