Magician, Mystic, Maker

Our first blog post — was it only a week or so ago? — mentioned how, for me, the cycle of the seasons, the perpetual regeneration of living things, seemingly sprung out of nothing: bare ground, frozen ground, was inseparable from our own human urge to make stuff. Where does a musician’s melody come from, a poetical idea, a photographer’s inspiration for light, if not from that same magical place? This morning was mild, in the fifties. It was a chance to get the plants out on the deck for a breather, to give the cat some fresh air (she dislikes the frost on the boards, the wind). But we know the cold is coming. Snow tomorrow, a high below freezing, and the dark part of that cycle of seasons is only now starting. We light candles against it, welcome — even if it seems calculated and too early — all the commercial holiday fuss. But we also cup our hands around small creative fires if we have them. Letters written and simple drawings. I remembered a letter from July on the subject, part of an exchange about mystics and magicians with the creator of a correspondence course dealing with spirituality, psychology, and creativity. He had asked whether we considered ourselves one or the other, either mystic or magician, and if these weren’t in fact aspects of personality. I’m reprinting the whole of my reply, with minor edits for clarity, because I’m basically lazy. And despite that, there are things to do.

“Dear Philip,

You were kind enough to reply to a comment of mine about the informal magician/mystic poll you took last week, and to mention it during the webcast today. I wanted to follow up on the comment in order to complete the thought, knowing that you are unlikely to have time to respond any further, or even to read much further. It happened that your exploring the mystic/magician duality (and the extension of those archetypes into a larger group of personalities) came as I’d just wrapped up a note to my tutor in New York.

As with many folks early in the work, I’m sure, progress has been slow and deliberate — not least because there is so much in each lesson to mine — and my four-month check-in with my tutor took the form of a list of objects: a photo of newly arrived robes, a Book of Light & Shadows sewn into a forty-year-old leather cover my mother had given me, a craneskin bag begun as a medicine bag after reading Stephen Harrod Buhner, a formidable Welsh hazel staff from Builth Wells, a collection of herbs seen along a walk in Colorado wetlands, Caitlín Matthews’ ogam sticks, also new-arrived. The course will take me years because it fires creativity. In each lesson is a lifetime of projects: fables to embroider into sleeves and hem, dreams to record, those records to make into stories, sound recordings to make of our surely doomed circle of white ash trees in an odd town park. On and on.


And here’s my point. Even while I deliberately listed objects for my tutor I was racked by a sense of guilt held in tension by conviction. Guilt because these things must surely be evidence of being glamoured. Of being too occupied with the endless physical details of the journey and not enough with the formless substance of inner growth. Conviction because those things are magical and not mere objects. When I say that magicians are preoccupied with form and mystics preoccupied with formlessness I speak from fifty-eight years of having made things, and having at the end of that time an increasingly deep sense that the “made thing” — the thing of our hands, and the hands of others — is magical in the truest sense. No finger-sprung flower is more so. Like Herman Hesse’s trees, they are unique to us, life-affirming, eternal and holy: “they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” That life springs up, even in a modest sketch, bold and surprising, something from out of us and yet not from us. And so they sit, palpable expressions of wonder, mystery in crayon and amber. And more. They age. That leather cover of my mother’s, scratched and repaired, is richer than when she sat up the night before my birthday. Those fabulous handmade ogam sticks, and that stout hazel staff with its traces of honeysuckle, in twenty years will be burnished and brightened. Its idea intact, its form magnified. A child shaking a magic wand uselessly and then tossing it aside will probably come to believe that there is no magic, that it was all a hoax of stories, and then sit in the evening at the dinner table with colored pencils proving otherwise. Mystics, it seems to me, arrive at the same wonder but do not need the form. But neither magician nor mystic is better than the other, any more than a poem read from a page is better than the same poem recited from memory. That is what I meant to say but didn’t have the space. Blessings, V”

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