In search of magic
First Published in SunFlyer
Long, long ago
scientists stoked terrible fires by which they melted various metals and
compounds; stirring, purifying, distilling, in their quest for the miraculous.
These scientists were known as alchemists and their holy grail was a thing
called "the philosopher's stone" which, when added to any metal, would
turn it into gold.
Rumour had it
that the elixir, properly refined, would also bestow eternal youth on those who
partook of it themselves. Even as witches burned at the stake, onlookers
whispered amongst themselves of the famous alchemists of old. They told of
Morenius, who lived as a Christian hermit in the mountains near Jerusalem during
the seventh century, and who sent large gifts of gold to the church every year.
When this caused Arab King Khalid to make enquiries, it is said that Morenius
initiated Khalid into the secrets of Alchemy.
great wealth that enabled him to make these donations, the source of which was
never confirmed, Morenius deepened the mystery, saying: "This thing (the
philosopher's stone) is extracted from you: you are its mineral,
and one can find it in you; or, to put it more clearly, they (the alchemists)
take it from you. If you recognise this, the love and approbation of the stone
will grow within you. Know that this is true without doubt."
Today it is
only children who still believe easily in the existence of magic, only children
who hold firm the faith, without doubt, that the mundane can be transmuted with
a word, into the marvellous. As adults we have learned to be acceptably
sceptical in order to fit into society. Or have we?
children are especially prone to magical thinking. This term refers to the
belief that external events are directly related to our internal thought
processes and words. During this stage, a child will believe emphatically for
instance that "mommy got sick because I told her she is mean". The
associated guilt can be crippling, and can be carried into adulthood.
And who amongst
us does not remember the recklessness of late adolescence? That time when we
believed we were indestructible, immortal, when we fearlessly lived life on an
edge of adrenalin without thought of consequence, wholly immersed in each moment
of pure exhilaration. This is indeed how magical thinking grows up with us.
As adults we
are even more circumspect with our magical thinking. We possibly shudder ever so
slightly if we break a mirror, are almost unconsciously careful to avoid walking
underneath ladders, a tad apprehensive maybe about flying to France on Friday
the 13th. But we also give credence to visualising our goals.
Athletes in particular, often have elaborate pre-match rituals,
"lucky" underwear, or "winning" bats. Even in the
superficially sober light of commerce, huge risks are often undertaken in the
firm belief that the business and its management are "in The Zone",
that all that is needed to secure a good outcome is a "Big Match
thinking, all of it. And, it may well be argued, mostly it works.
For deep in the
human heart, beyond the edge of reason, fleetingly acknowledged only in the
darkness of a few private moments before sleep, there lives a primordial wizard
who beckons us all to become more, to grow, to find the philosopher's stone
within and to right all wrongs.
There is an
archetypal impetus that propels man beyond the known, to push the boundaries of
human experience and understanding, "to go where no man has gone
before". This is the driving force behind exploration, research and fantasy
alike. It is the magical impetus. It fuels new discoveries, it inspires great
insights into the nature of humanity and its environment, it is the muse behind
the artist. It is the voice of the wizard within.
follow the voice often report a perilous journey. The intrepid traveller needs
to slay the great Dragon of Social Dictate to continue on his quest independent
of the goodwill of others, navigating only by the soft, susurrant voice of the
wizard within. Similarly, he might need to withstand alchemical fires of great
suffering, thus to purify his own heart. Once heard however, the voice of the
wizard within is not to be denied. Muted as it may be, it is also
And so it
happens that, as man searches for the apparent magic of knowledge and
exploration, he makes the greatest discovery of all: that true magic resides in
his own essence.
while I make known the Grand Arcanum of this wonder-working Stone, which at the
same time is not a stone, which exists in every man, and may be found in its own
place at all times…." said the alchemist, Philalethes. "It is called
a stone, not because it is like a stone, but only because by virtue of its fixed
nature, it resists the action of fire as successfully as any stone… If we say
that its nature is spiritual, it would be no more than the truth; if we describe
it as corporeal, the expression would be equally correct; for it is subtle,
penetrative, glorified, spiritual gold. It is the noblest of all created
things…it is a spirit or quintessence.”
abiding fascination with magic, evidenced for example in the upsurge of popular
books and movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, is in truth the quest
for personal transformation. We know that we hold within us, in our
quintessence, the seed to greatness. Somewhere,
if we knew where to look, we could find our way to a Golden Age of abundance for
all, wise rule and the definitive victory of good over evil.
importantly, in that magical place of the Golden Age, we would ourselves be
We would be
kinder to strangers, express our affections more clearly. We would take the time
to live each moment. We would notice our children's smiles. We would laugh with
them. We would busy ourselves with the things that really matter. We would hold
precious the sparkle in the eyes of a lover, the awe of a starry night, the
luxury of a cat stretching. We would gather again with friends around a fire and
tell stories, share trials and triumphs. We would encourage one another; we
would heal and be healed. We would know the meaning of life. We would be whole.
There would be magic. Somewhere, if only we knew where to look...
So we wait for
a magical event to transform our mundane existence into the miraculous. We cast
about for a philosopher's stone, something outside ourselves that will
transmute, transform, all the while missing the insouciant chuckle of the wizard
within, prompting us: "It is here. It is now. What are you waiting
Therefore, a spot of advice from one wizard to another: take the hand of a friend or better still, a child, and go see a movie about magic. Buy popcorn and Slush Puppy (to be slurped, obviously). Forget the schizoid world of bank managers and bills for a few hours. Laugh uproariously at the funny bits. Scream in terror at the scary ones. Then go home and look at the stars. Believe and be whole, if only for a while. You'll be a better wizard for it and maybe, just maybe you will find within your own heart, the philosopher's stone.