Guide to Magic from a Druid View
This lesson is taken largely from the Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, John Michael Greer, and his initiation course for the order.
Enchantment is the art of awakening spiritual presences in material things. The word literally means "putting a song in something" a turn of phrase that reflects the living experience of the world in which every part of the landscape and every turn of the season cycle sings its meaning to the awakened mind. In traditional societies around the world and throughout history, enchantment has had a vital role in bringing people into harmony with their gods, their environment, and their communities. Magic provided the toolkit for creating and maintaining enchantment. Using magic, the priestess and wizards of the past wove nature and humanity into a single fabric that kept both balanced and whole.
The revival of magic in recent decades speaks to one of the most critical needs of our tie. While magic cannot solve today?s ecological crisis by itself, it offers crucial tools for healing the gap between humanity and nature. To understand how magic can accomplish this, and to begin making sense of magic itself, we need to pay attention to a part of human experience that has dropped entirely out of modern awareness.
The Mind Body Problem
For the past four hundred years, one of the major intellectual puzzles in the western world has been what philosophers call "the mind-body problem." Like most of the really tough conundrums of philosophy, the problem can be stated simply enough. In Western cultures, most people experience themselves as two very different things?a material body, on the one hand, and an apparently nonmaterial mind, self, personality, or soul on the other. The problem is how to explain this connection between them.
Before then, people understood the relationship between mind and body in a very different way. They experienced mind and body in themselves as three things, not two. A third factor?the life force?existed between mind and body and linked them together. In the magical traditions of the Renaissance, this force was called "spirit," from the Latin word spiritus, "breath." To this older way of thinking, spirit is the source of life, energy, and vitality, enlivening thee dense matter of the body and connecting it with the mind. In the Renaissance view, spirit surrounds and penetrates all the material things, uniting them and weaving the universe into a whole.
The Druid name for this life force is nwyfre ("NOO-iv-ruh"). Nearly every other language on Earth has a word for it too. The only languages that don?t are the ones spoken in the industrial nations of the modern West. The relationship of life force, mind and body only became a problem in the Western world when materialism threw out the connecting link.
The life force is not just a theory or a belief. It's something we experience in the same way that we experience our minds and bodies. This way of experiencing the world also has intense practical consequences. People who experience the life force as an everyday reality have no special "sixth sense" lacking in those of us who live in industrial societies. We dwell in the same world and have the same potentials for awareness that they do. The difference is that their vision of reality makes room for the life force, and ours does not. Children in traditional societies learn to pay attention to the life force in themselves and the world because the people around them notice it, talk about it, and treat it as a reality. Children in industrial societies learn not to pay attention to it in exactly the same way. Even so, when people in the modern industrial world talk about gut feelings and hunches, or the "vibes" or "feel" of a person or a place, most of the time they are talking about their own perceptions of flow and pattern in the life force.
The life force is close enough to the surface of awareness that various simple exercises can make most people aware of it in a few minutes. Here is an example:
(Usually called a psi ball. I believe most people miss the point of this type of exercise.)
Start by standing comfortably with your feet parallel or a little toed out, your heels a foot apart and your knees slightly bent. Let your hands hang at your sides, and shake them for a full minute, making them as loose and floppy as possible. Then rub them together for a full minute, keeping them relaxed as you rub. Then hold them in front of you, palms facing one another, as if you were holding a basketball in front of your chest. Breathe slowly and deeply, keep your hands and arms relaxed, and concentrate on your palms. After a full minute of this, begin moving your hands toward and away from each other a short distance, no more than an inch. This is the final step. Keep doing it for a little while and see what you notice.
What did you experience? Most people, when they do the exercise the first time, as they move their hands back and forth, feel a gentle pressure against their palms, as though their hands were magnets repelling each other. The longer the back and forth motion continues, the stronger the sensation of pressure becomes, and if you do the same exercise daily for a week or more, the sensation becomes as firm as if you held a physical object between your palms.
What you feel pressing against your hands, according to the magical view of the world, is the field of life force between energy centers in your palms. Shaking, rubbing, and relaxation, the basis of the exercise, release muscular tensions that block the flow of life force through your body, so that the fields around your hands become strong enough that you notice them. Those fields are always there, whether you notice them or not, and so are similar fields that radiate out from other centers in your body, filling a roughly egg-shaped space that extends a few feet out from you in all directions. Every living thing has a similar field, nd so do many of the things people in the industrial world consider nonliving.
As the bridge between mind and matter, the life force can be influenced in many ways using mind, matter, or the two in combination. The exercise you just performed uses body movements to shape the flow of nwyfre. This traditional and powerful way of working with the life force.
Ritual magic approaches the life force from a different way?the way of imagination. This is another aspect of reality that has come in for more than its fair share of neglect by modern thinkers; to call something "imaginary" nowadays, after all, is to say that it?s unreal. Yet imagination is a potent reality. Imagination, in fact, is the human mind?s way of experiencing patterns in the life force. When you imagine something, that image takes the shape in the life force around you. The ore powerfully you imagine it, the more strongly the image shapes the life force. This equation works the other way as well. When an unexpected thought or feeling drifts into your mind, most of the time what has happened is that you picked up a pattern in the life force created by some other mind. The movement of patterns in life force from mind to mind explains most psychic phenomena, as well as less controversial experiences such as a spread of fads and fashions and the behavior of crowds. It also explains the workings of ritual magic.
You can begin to see how this works by repeating the same exercise you just did with a slight difference. When you move your hands to face eh other, imagine that an actual ball appears between your palms. See it, but also imagine the feeling of it pressing against your palms, and notice the texture of the ball's surface. Concentrate on the imaginary ball as intensely as you can for a full minute, and then start moving your hands toward and away from each other slightly, as before. Please do this before reading further.
What did you experience? Most people find that the sensations of pressure become much more intense once mental imagery comes into play. If you do the same exercise daily with the mental imagery, and then try just imagining the ball without any of the preliminary movements, you?ll find that you can sense the fields of life force as soon as you bring your hands together.
This simple process contains the art of ritual magic in miniature. Visualizing the ball and bringing your hands together is a simple ritual. The more you practice it, the more readily the life force responds to it, and magical results follow.
Magic and Nature
In Welsh Druid tradition, nwyfre?the life force?is one of the three basic principles of existence. The other two are gwyar ("GOO-yar"), the principle of flow, and calas ("CAH-luss"), the principle of matter. Lift your hand in front of your face and all three elements are right in front of you. Calas is the physical substance of the hand?the skin, flesh, and bone that make it a material object. Gwyar is the movement and flow of the hand?the motion that brings it in front of your face, to begin with, but also the circulation of blood and lymph, and all the other subtle motions that make it what it is. Nwyfre is the life, vitality, and sensation of the hand?the presence of the life force that makes it a living, active, and sensitive thing rather than a dead object.
According to some Druid traditions, these three things exist in everything in the world. A stone contains gwyar and nwyfre as well as calas; stone flows very slowly, and its life is hard for human beings to perceive, but both are there. A fall breeze contains calas in the form of molecules of oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases, as well as dust and water vapor; gwyar in the form of the movement that sweeps these molecules along; and nwyfre in the form of a simple life and awareness that old magical textbooks call a sylph, or air elemental. These and everything else in the world have a basis in matter, a pattern flow, and an indwelling life: calas, gwyar, and nwyfre, in the language of Druid magic.
The living Earth herself is no exception of this rule. She includes calas in the form of all the solid, liquid, and gaseous matter drawn together by gravity into this little corner of space; gwyar in the form of all the intricate tapestry of movement in, on, and around the Earth, from the great arc of its orbit around the Sun to the wriggling of the smallest single-celled organism in her oceans and soil; and nwyfre in the form of the common life that Renaissance occultists called spiritus mundi, the earth spirit, and any modern ecologists call Gaia.
The force that makes magic work, in other words, is just as much a part of nature as matter and motion. This isn't the way most people in the modern world think about magic, of course. Ask most people who have never practiced magic what it is, and the word supernatural usually shows up in the answer?meaning, among other things, that magic violates the laws of nature. The magic done by characters in films and fantasy novels does this, and most skeptics have this sort of magic in mind when they reject it as impossible. This just doesn't happen to be the sort of magic that mages?people who do magic?actually practice.
Real magic is natural, not supernatural. It unfolds from the natural force of nwyfre, and its effects follow natural patterns and obey the laws of nature. Thus magic won't make rocks fall upward or apple trees bear tomatoes it won't make matter or energy appear from nowhere or disappear without a trace, and if you were born with brown hair, magic won't make it blonde; you'll have to use hair dye instead. Magic can start, stop, speed up, or slow down anything in nature?including human nature?within the broad limits nature herself sets on those processes. What nature doesn't do, however, magic won't do either. Accounts of what mages actually do make this point with a high degree of clarity.