Good video editing is supposed to be invisible. Very often, it seems, you can say the same thing about enchantment.
We caught the train down to visit some friends who had just moved to a village in Sussex a couple of weeks ago.
Despite the carriage being entirely empty except for my partner and I, some south coast parents sat right next to us with their shrieking children.
Not just shrieking, but actually playing some kind of shrieking game that involved cell phones or something. A game that their parents actively encouraged.
No part of this is explicable to me. Had my brothers and I behaved in such a way there would have been immediate reprimand.
And for some reason that was it. After a year in low-cost airline hub airports and minicab trips before the sun came up and staying in prostitute hotels by German train stations and passive aggressive work slows at the customs counter at JFK… that was it.
I turn to my partner and say “we’re getting a car”. For once, this wasn’t one of my shrill hissy fits.
The octopus revelation
Arguably the best dive in my home town is under Swansea Bridge. Sometimes you can be just sitting on the seafloor and large octopuses will float silently down onto the sand beside you and just stare into your mask.
That’s what the car realisation was like. It just landed, fully formed, in my head. I encounter other people’s obnoxious children all the time while travelling and my mind never says get a car. It usually says get a hammer.
As prophecies go, car ownership is a pretty boring one. But if you spend a goodly portion of your spare time speaking to your unconscious you develop some little skill in noticing when it speaks back unbidden.
So, on the equally-awful train ride back into London, I only half-listen while my partner does some alarmingly detailed mental arithmetic. (I only ever half-listen to finance talk. That’s why I’m so succe… hey, wait a minute.) The numbers are important, but only in so much as they will help us to recognise the vehicle we are going to buy. Drivers are like students… and when they’re ready…
Several nights later we are wandering through literally the word’s fucking largest car dealership which is improbably located in inner-west London. My partner has a shortlist of Priuses that are within our price range. (Yes, a Prius. Does this really surprise you? Cheap, smug and gay. Very me.)
The first one on the list isn’t right. We walk to the adjacent row to find the next one on the list. As we do, I pass behind another Prius. That’s my car. It’s nighttime and raining, the car is black and I don’t even know how much it is because the price is on the windscreen but that’s my car.
Turns out it had just been discounted by £300 that afternoon, meaning it was over a thousand pounds cheaper than comparable models and two thousand pounds under our budget. I am asked if I want to take it for a test drive. Does it work? Yes. Then no.
My partner takes it for a test drive and I sit in the back. We owned a Prius in New Zealand. They handle like little Japanese cars. I don’t see where the surprise is. This is a dealership. If it’s broke I’ll bring it back. But then he didn’t wizard his way to a black car on a black night in the world’s largest car dealership.
Was this a ‘spell’? (Whatever that is!) No. Do I know where the original octopus revelation came from and whether or not it was an act of bored trolling? No.
This is the other legerdemain… inadvertently tricking yourself into a better situation and if that’s not what all the practice and meditation and diligently recording monthly forecasts and tarot spreads (hint: phone photography) then I don’t know what is.
This other legerdemain makes me happy because on Saturday I got to go here:
The cliffs of happiness
My life can be a little bit rockstar sometimes. That goes double this last summer for the work reasons I can’t mention. (But if any of you want to know, go to my twitter page, note the name of the company I work for and then search for it on techcrunch. Follow that, Google News Alerts!) Having been all kinds of poor and unsuccessful several times so far in my life, I am certainly grateful for how it’s (currently!) going.
But this feels like one of those bigger internal shifts that the outward manifestations don’t accurately portray. Owning a car in London is superfluous, almost outré. The money I spent on it all-but guarantees our ‘big holiday’ next year will be a domestic one. But my partner and I are never happier than when we are clambering over old ruins or trudging through mud to get to barrows and stone circles. Our best holidays are off-season road trips. Hustling through the apocalypse, it can be all too easy to lose sight of the things you’re actually hustling for. You can get so used to play-acting the Archons’ game that sometimes you inadvertently leave some of the stage makeup on.
I have seen the White Cliffs of Dover a bunch of times. From planes. Flying to the Continent. But until Saturday I had never walked along them. In some sense walking along them is an ‘easier’ thing to do because all that happens is you pay for parking and walk along them.
Except there is a large attitudinal shift that has to precede this ‘easier’ option. To get there for 10am on a Saturday morning without a car would be tube/tube/train/bus/walk. It is genuinely easier to get to central Paris. Or New York. Both places I’ve been this year.
And so the cliffs felt decidedly foreign as we raced along them in an unsuccessful attempt to beat the fuck-awful weather coming in off the Channel, obscuring our view of France and sending us racing back to the car.
At the same time, psychologists have been doing a lot of research about what makes people happy. And the most surprising result is that 75% of our happiness is determined at birth. We have a happiness set point, much like we have a set point for how much we weigh. And we keep going back to that spot. So you are born thinking the glass is half-empty or half-full. And you are born feeling content or feeling like you always want to do better. So it’s very frustrating to try to change how happy you are.
Instead people should focus on how interesting their life is. In fact, many people already intuitively aim for interstingness rather than happiness. But they don’t have the language to describe what they are doing. They feel out of step with the rest of the country, maybe, but in fact, they are leading the path to the new American Dream. It’s a good life – a life that is interesting. Engagement, fulfillment, continual learning, these are things that feel good. And they are much more attainable than the old-school version of happiness.
The things I want from my life are weird and unpopular but that’s okay. There is another thing I want from my life beyond interestingness that is more magic-specific. I bet there’s a Maori word for it but it means authenticity/continuity.
And so we head to the next stop on our little Kentish road trip. The ruins of a Templar church.
On the Western Heights overlooking the coast are the ruins of a Templar church that English Heritage says is open any reasonable hour. So, of course, the gate was locked when we got there mid-morning on a Saturday… English Heritage’s peak time. The fence ran right to a wet, overgrown cliff edge. I swung myself around it and into the enclosure in an uncharacteristically deft act that sounds way more stupid now that I type it out.
I’ve been to a bunch of Templar sites (and actually used to live on old Templar land in Bristol) but something about last weekend’s visit felt different. From the church you could look south and watch the weather come in across the Channel. The trees aren’t that old but the sound of the rain dripping through them would have been just the same.
Dover has long been a critical port and for a mercantile enterprise like the Templars this site would have been strategically relevant. But that explanation is boring. Yes, it may be accurate but history books and films over the past two decades have too often sought to understand our past solely from a tawdry, functional perspective.
But these ruins, with their view and their sound and their smell, with -yes I’m saying this- the energy of the place, are a sum greater than their functional parts. I would have put a church here. This whole post was going to be about how the magical world too often looks for authenticity in the wrong places when we should be looking for it in the actual continuity of the practice and expression of magic.
Except I open up my reader and see that Jack has already written that post:
There is no need to make up figures about how many women died in the fires of the Inquisition, or pretend that a form of approaching the world with its roots in the depth of Indo-European spirituality (and all the sprawling cults to come later) is the “oldest religion” ever. Because what we have is already worth-while. What we have is worth keeping. All your ancestors, dead loves, and the Patron Saints of yester-year are waiting for you under the moonlight.
Too often we seek authenticity through external validation… whether that be traditional ingredients or titles or stitching together what passes for lineage. For the most part, I subscribe to the chaos explanation that traditional sorcerous props work principally through deepening your -for want of a better term- magical consciousness. This then improves your capacity to to influence probability. (It’s impossible and unwise to suggest that using the ‘right’ magical ingredients has no effect but my contention is these effects are largely incremental.)
Magical items, folk customs, traditional titles… these are situational. They require historic and cultural context which may or may not be available to you. Authenticity in the macro-concept of magic is not tied to these conditions, it transcends them. Authenticity is stepping into the current that is the continuous practice of magic stretching back tens of thousands of years. The current is not the physical and cultural objects that support its practice, it is the actions that lead to them developing in the first place. Authenticity is not incorporating the Templar church into your tradition, it is realising that you would build that church there today.
These thoughts curl through my mind over a fireside lunch in the pub as we watch the mist curl over the Weald. This is the other legerdemain. While focusing on your left hand, you find your right hand is practicing a tradition that is as old as the white cliffs themselves.
And it feels like happiness.