There is nothing like having children to force you into putting your world into stark, easily phrased perspective. The other day, my eldest asked me (having suddenly taken an interest in the whole idea of druids) what the Key to Magic is. My whole world swam with how to answer him in the best way possible.
Consentual? “Well, magic doesn’t really exist the way it does on the TV.”
Practical? “Discovering the key to magic takes long study and often a pattern of life that pulls you out of human society as you know it.”
Cautionary? “Well, you know that a lot of people think magic is evil, more think that it just doesn’t exist, and even if you do manage to figure it out, there is a good chance that strange metaphysical forces will hunt you down and attempt to consume your life’s essence.”
I opted for the literary/structuralist, focusing on the skills that are necessary for making it work (trusting that his six-year-old mind would not actually get around to implementing them and thereby bring about difficulty with any undue weirdness or conflict with his Christian relatives. He started influencing the weather the following morning, but … well, that’s pretty innocuous, right?).
Since then, of course, I have had to really scramble to amend my own pattern of life since I’ve not pursued these skills as well as I might have. All the same, it’s forced me to really put my perspective into … well … perspective.
I should add that what follows is the full version of what I was thinking. My son got the more simplified version, and even then he only had the patience for four or five of these. It’s ok. There’s still time. We’ll fill it by studying wisdom literature.
The Nine Keys to Magic
1. Imaginatio (Imagination/Visualization)
This was the first to occur to me as it is the one that seems most apparent and has always been forefront in my mind. By ‘imagination’ I don’t actually mean ‘fancy’ in the sense of “oh, pink dragons and such.” (Thank you, Madame Mim.) Rather, I am referring to the faculty of visualization: what I talk about in my posts on the faculty of vision (archived under ‘through the fernie brae”). Certainly, the ability to picture things mentally is important, to say nothing of the creative impulse, but it is something altogether different from what I mean here, i.e. the ability to see something so clearly with the ‘inner’ eye (i.e. with your eyes shut) that you actually see it as if your eyes were open. Its the ability to really visualize something with total, genuine clarity.
2. Patientia (Patience)
This one I first threw in because every six-year-old needs to think about this one, but I genuinely believe in it as well so far as magic is concerned. It is the ability to stop, think and then take the considered course. It’s the ‘ok, let’s stop and pick up our things’ moment and the pause that refreshes at the same time. It’s the still small moment of peace in the middle of whatever else is going on. It’s that moment of disassociation that grants the objectivity of the one who can actually control reality like a tool. It’s also that infinitely small yet eternal moment of silent contemplation in which you can actually discern whether or not you should influence it.
Really, we’re all six years old in the great scheme of things.
3. Fides (Confidence/Belief)
This is that knowing beyond knowing that what you do is effective. It’s the “I know like I know like I know” that they talk about in The Secret, but it is also childlike innocence that does not question whether or not it’s a good idea. As I write this, I keep thinking about ‘The Fool’ from the Tarot. There is another side to this, though, that is reflected in the U.S. Marine Corps’ Semper Fidelis and that is also pointed to by the Irish conception of an Fhírinne. To be faithful or true is a complex array of realities that connect the individual to all that is in very potent but ephemeral — even rarified — ways. This deserves more exposition, but I will leave this as it is, saying only that what we think of as responsibility is only a weak, deadened version of an Fhírinne. Fides opens up a whole new world of possibility when cultivated.
I should also add that when I mentioned confidence my son asked if courage was needed as well. It is, but really I would include that under fides here. When you ask something of the spirits and they answer, it is easy to run away terrified; yet the real magician stands his or her ground and takes it all in stride. You can’t freak out when the gods grant you what you asked for. The proper response is ‘thank you.’
4. Studium (Love of Learning)
This is the word from which we get ‘study,’ but it doesn’t mean hard work or memorization (though it leads to that). It means ‘zeal’ or ‘enthusiasm.’ Really I was thinking of a love of learning, but it’s really a love of anything — everything in fact. If you really want to change something you first have to love it so much that you wouldn’t want to change it. Then, when you realize that (truly making it real), you start to learn that it is as much a part of yourself as not so you are then changing yourself. That’s when it is possible to influence something from a distance: when you are not changing it to kill it, but to make it more of what you know it to be.
Only through studium do we find the emotional involvement (which is really spiritual involvement) that offers the opportunity to realize proper magic.
5. Vis Ingenii (Love/Emotional Force)
This is closely tied to studium, but it is the raw emotional force that comes from that part of us that intersects eternity. The Greeks called it the daemon, the Romans the genius. James Hillman called it ‘the Acorn:’ that part of us which is eternal and at the level of the Gods. This is thus essentially different from the smaller emotions of the day-to-day (like when your pancake doesn’t quite flip over), but rather it is those large, all-embracing emotions that make manifest spiritual realities.
6. Cogitatio (Perception/Insight)
This is raw awareness though I was thinking of the academic. Still, I suppose that really this could be divided all sorts of ways. What I was thinking of really entailed seeing things for what they are and drawing connections between one thing and all those things to which it relates (which kind of separates it from what some academics do). This makes so much possible that I don’t feel that I need to say much more …
7. Meditatio (Meditation)
There is a lot in this word, but it amazes me that of all the terms that I have been bandying about this one really hasn’t changed much since it was in use prior to the Middle Ages. Really I just mean the act of meditation, but I think there is more to this than just meditating. To get into it, though, would require more time than I am really prepared to commit at the moment, so I’ll just move onto the next.
Did I mention that this is meditating and that it is fundamentally important to the practice of magic?
8. Fortitudo (Commitment/Strength)
Ok, so this one is really more of a virtue, but I am thinking of those times when you feel that you have been pushed beyond your limits whether physically, emotionally or mentally, and yet you still have what it takes to make the next move deliberately. In many ways I see this as a blend of patientia and studium, as you cannot really have fortitudo without either, but it is worth putting on its own as focusing on it allows one to employ it more often. It also covers the audacity necessary for the very act of magic without necessarily requiring one to be audacious.
I have no name for the ninth key. I know that there should be a ninth, but I cannot think of what it must be other than that je ne sais quoi that brings everything together. I thought about naming this one ‘the numina‘ with the idea that nothing is done without the consent of the gods, but then I thought that I don’t know enough about the mechanics of magic to say one way or the other. So I will just leave this one as it is and say that there is always that ninth element necessary for the implementation of magic, the ninth key that makes real, living magic possible. Take it as the space that allows us to move the immoveable or chock it up to laziness and ignorance on my part. It doesn’t change what I have done or will do, and Óðinn can still wink at you from the darkness.