Doc Bonewits said magical energy is fundamentally healing energy, if you are a Witch (Wiccan). He is both that and an EMT.
He said magic is excellent for resetting bones, healing fractures, and stabilizing broken spines. He said it’s not so good for stopping bleeding, or ligament and tendon tears. He then shared how when a friend of his took a tumble down the stairs and broke her neck, while they were waiting for an ambulance to arrive, they used magical egregore to create a wire casing around her neck. Later, he said, the surgeons saw her spine wrapped with golden wire. Then they did what they had to do, which didn’t involve working with what they knew they saw, but didn’t want to believe was there.
Stories like this give me life as an anthropologist, and as a magician and witch. But they also encapsulate why talking about the working of magic and subtle energy manipulation tends to fail when you bring the language of it into the world of empirical knowledge. People either tend to hear magical explication as a metaphor — magical energy is like gold wire stabilizing your spine — or it’s dismissed as fantastical –dreaming of gold wire stabilizing your spine is nice, but we all know it’s the work of the brace and the surgeon and the halo that does. Or the fantasy is accepted and the science dismissed — I don’t need a doctor, I have magical gold wires holding my spine together!!…
Magic escapes explanation often. You could explain how to do the praxis, the physical doing of it, such as how to do a spell or how to set up and perform a ritual. You may be able to explain the effects of it on you, the sensory details, such as the mood change, or the exhaustion, or the feelings of needing to be grounded and fed after an ecstatic experience. Some folks have the ability to ascertain subtle energies –like seeing auras or hearing noises — but not everyone can do that, so that’s not a fair way to determine magic’s efficacy and proper use. Some simply wait to see results as their tradition teaches them to do –like signs and movement in hoodoo, or your intent manifesting if you are Western trained.
But really… How do you know if you’re doing magic right? While you’re doing it?…
If there is one thing I have learned in the many, many decades of magical studies I have been involved in it’s that magic is teachable. You can learn to be a magician, to be more psychic, to understand and apprehend subtle energies, and to hone your concentration and physicality to do it all effectively. You don’t have to be gifted naturally… but it helps to have potential.
Many of the magical teachers and mentors I have had liken it to being musically talented. Some people are born with perfect pitch and can teach themselves how to play any instrument they come across. (My uncle was like that; born with perfect pitch, taught himself keyboards, guitars, drums, horn, and sang.) Some need coaching and lessons, but have potential; when that potential is fed, they become good to excellent with hard work. Some become multi-instrumentalists. Some become specialists in one instrument. Some are superbly trained to replicate scored music. Some can improvise. And yes, there are a few who are truly incapable of performing musically, but it’s rarely because they are somehow unable to do it. It’s usually because they can’t figure out how to listen to what they’re trying to play — they are too busy thinking about it, rather than absorbing it, and letting the music possess them.
Magic is like that. Many turn doing magic into an intellectual endeavour, training your mind and will to make an envisioned-in-your-mind goal manifest. But that isn’t enough.
Magic is visceral. Sensory. It involves your body as much as your mind. It doesn’t matter what tradition –you are a whole being doing it.
This was validated by Doc Bonewits talking about his magical teaching years back in Paganistan in the 70s. He would tell his students: magical energy, the stuff moved and manipulated to make your goal manifest, whether healing, love, prosperity, destruction… when you are doing it, you should be able to see the energy… feel it in your body, and when it moves beyond… hear it… smell it, even, according to Doc. When he saw students not quite getting it, he would pull up his energy, put his hand on his student’s shoulder and say, like this, this is what you should be feeling… and the student would change in demeanor and go… oh!… because they could feel it. And they always improved.
Do you need to be taught to feel it? No. Again, like music, some have a natural knack. But being trained to use it benefits everyone. And that teaching can come from anywhere. I was deep into Western magical training with my Wiccan teachers — and getting bored with the uptight ritualness of it all — when I went off to Kung Fu camp with my kwoon. Yes, we worked all weekend on forms and drills (I was that kind of dedicated!) but doing the internal work of cultivating chi with my classmates — the chanting, the manipulation of chi, the postures, the rooting to the earth and stretching to sky — brought all of us to an explosive joy. We hugged, cried, even laid hands on each other to heal. I still look back on that weekend as some of the best magical training I’ve had. (And always remember that martial arts aren’t just about being martial.)
Technique will always differ as well as preferences in praxis — not all of us will be sex magicians, ceremonialists, chaos-tossers, or kitchen witches. But once you find your instrument, or your style, or your desire to specialize, generalize, and improvise, you can learn to do this ancient and uniquely human cultural art. And yeah, initially learning from books does work… My first magical experience I tried in my dorm in college, an apprehension-of-energy exercise out of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance. It was then that I felt my own energy as a geyser from my spine, a clitoral pulse, a stomach contraction, my heartbeat increase, and something lifting from my skull that felt like pulling a hood off my head… and I knew this wasn’t an intellectual or metaphorical expression anymore.
Since getting my Reiki mastership I have become aware of others’ energy also as visceral forces. Running my hand through someone’s energy field, I can frequently feel any blocks or trouble they’re having physically as pins or rods pushing back on my hand, as rubbing my palm over cracked glass, or a slight sucking force. All of this I learned by doing — and had my teacher/master, Maggie (who used to teach with Doc Bonewits) by my side to say, yep, you got it.
So this process of magic sits at the crossroads of language, sensation, metaphor and memory. It’s real, apprehended, can be taught, and learned, and made to work– like music is.
And it really starts to work when you drop all the fantasy around it… and understand the cultural traditions that have always held it… and what it means as well as what it does…