Friday, 4 December 2015

Be my guest...Laura Perry!

Madness and Magick

It’s interesting what mainstream society considers to be acceptable thought patterns and what’s labeled as crazy. If you believe in one god (specifically, the masculine deity of the Abrahamic traditions) you’re perfectly sane. But if you believe in multiple gods and goddesses – literally, not as some sort of Jungian psychological construct – you’re on mentally shaky ground. And if you throw in nature and land spirits, fairies, and gnomes, then you’ve gone off the deep end. And heaven help you if any of them speak to you.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Hildegard von Bingen heard the voice of God, as did many other medieval mystics who were fully approved by the Church. The inhabitants of the Celtic lands have long told tales of the Fair Folk interacting with humans. And of course, there are plenty of modern Pagans who value the conversations they have with deities and spirits.

And then there’s magick. That’s magick with a k, the spells-wafting-through-the-ether kind, not sleight-of-hand. Probably not a subject you want to get into with your next-door neighbor, unless you have a very special neighbor.  Even within the Pagan community, there are folks who’ll look askance at you if you talk too sincerely about spellcraft and its effectiveness.

That, too, hasn’t always been the common attitude. There are a great many beliefs and practices that have come and gone over the course of human history, and at some point most of them were considered quite sane. No one would have thought you mad for following them.

My dictionary defines psychosis as ‘fundamental mental derangement characterized by defective or lost contact with reality.’ The question is, who gets to define ‘reality’? What if my reality is different from yours? We can probably come to some sort of agreement to disagree about these sorts of things, as long as no one is insisting that anyone else use a pre-required definition of reality. (FYI Mental health professionals generally characterize mental illness as a condition that inhibits your ability to function in daily life. There is some debate as to exactly what constitutes mental illness if you meet all the symptom requirements but are still functional and aren’t endangering anyone, including yourself.)

 But what if madness itself is your goal? That’s a whole different bag of magick beans, and a goal that has been (and still is) far more common than you might think.

 Consider Merlin, not the effete court magician of high-falutin’ Arthurian romance, but the Wild Man of folk tradition. He is a familiar example of the magically-minded individual who pursues madness as a doorway to inspiration, to the divine. Nikolai Tolstoy’s book The Quest for Merlin offers some fascinating insights into this type of practice, the purposeful unhinging of the mind for spiritual ends.

 But most of us don’t have the luxury of wandering off to the mountains in order to seek illumination. So, you might say, we don’t aim at madness the way Merlin did. Not to the same degree, certainly, but consider the fact that practices such as meditation and drumming produce a trance state, a removal of awareness from ordinary reality to something different – broader, deeper, however you want to describe it. The handy thing about this sort of activity is that as soon as you stop, you return to ordinary consensual reality. But while you’re ‘there’ you can’t function in the regular world, can you? Is that short-term madness?

 There are those among us who seek even deeper, more profound separation from the mundane world in the process of our spiritual practice. The purpose might be healing (a special kind of magick all its own), enlightenment, celebration, or the working of spells. The method might be a well-practiced shamanic journey, a sacred herb, a powerful ritual. In these cases, the release from the ordinary is much more striking and the carryover lingers for some time afterward, flavoring the experience of everyday life. Reality, such as it is, never looks quite the same again.

 If reality itself changes, does it still count as madness?

 I’ll leave you with a few thoughts to chew on as you go about your day: The working of magick requires intent, which requires belief in the fact that magick exists and that it works. These notions stand in direct opposition to the mainstream view that things are real only if they can be measured by scientific instruments.* In other words, the working of magick requires a separation from reality, a certain kind of madness. Personally, that’s a bit of madness I’m willing to embrace.

 * Yes, I realize this argument implies that bacteria didn’t exist before the microscope was invented. I never said I agreed with it, just that it’s the mainstream view.
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