As many of you already know I have managed a very successful 20+ year career in Higher Education alongside my passion for all things esoteric. Which is why when colleagues share articles like this I die, just a little bit, on the inside. Here’s an extract:
Our Dean of Libraries has been using her formidable research skills to locate monkeys’ paws, magical fish, and other wish-granting entities. And our President has chained his first-born child on the shores of our nearby lake as an offering to the great and terrible Kraken. A message from your university’s Vice-President for Magical Thinking, Juliana Gray
Now, don’t get me wrong, the article is a very funny portrayal of the incredible challenges universities face in providing safe, socially distanced, learning environments for adults who deserve and need the services they provide. For a while I couldn’t fathom why I found it such uncomfortable reading and then I thought to myself: what would happen if we substituted the word ‘religion’ for ‘magic’?
A belief in magic is just that, a belief
Now a lot of people, myself included, actively distinguish between magic and religion but fundamentally there is an issue of personal belief here. If you look up a phrase like ‘magical thinking’ you will see it associated with a child-like or foolish mentality. The general consensus seems to be that magical thinking is believing that, just by desiring it, you can make something happen. In other words, you attribute a result to something you wished for despite there being no direct causal link between your thought and the outcome. Foolish indeed, egotistical even. Whereas, if you believe the hand of a God was involved somehow you’re exempt from these labels?
I’ve been an equalities champion in two universities in my time and I fundamentally take umbrage with anyone who belittles someone else for their beliefs. I have had very interesting discussions with colleagues, and friends, who deny there is a place for religion or belief within the walls of an academic institution. To some extent I sympathise – especially when a belief is used to deny a fact. But I maintain two things:
- Belief is part of what it means to be human and universities are made up of humans in all their delightful variety so let’s just get on with it
- Human beings are capable of distinguishing between, and respecting, the ‘rules’ of physical reality and the ‘rules’ of spiritual reality. We’re sort of clever that way.
I’m preaching to the converted here I know but a magical person is not a foolish person. They absolutely believe in cause and effect, it’s just that science hasn’t yet uncovered every mystery yet.
On identity and acceptance
As I unpacked my emotional response to Gray’s delightfully funny article I realised that at the very heart of this uncomfortable feeling was shame. Because I, unlike people who don’t believe in magic know what a belief in magic is all about. So why aren’t I doing more to speak up about it? Why am I, an educated women (two Masters degrees in case you’re wondering) not doing more to fight my corner?
Last month I conducted interviews with a range of wonderful, magical women and a theme that came through incredibly strongly was a fear of being ridiculed. Let’s be honest, many of us who have been trained within a mystery tradition have had it instilled in us that it’s downright dangerous to talk openly about your beliefs for fear of far worse than laughter. I heard these talented, clever, idealistic women talking about the challenges of practicing what they practice and believing what they believe and I felt ashamed that I have not been a better champion. In some cases they had actively experienced ridicule or derision for their beliefs. I feel so privileged not to have had that experience. How lucky I have been to have experienced the opposite.
When I left my first university I mentioned to a couple of people that I was starting a business teaching seership and alternative healing practices. I was literally astounded by the number of requests I got for tarot readings in my last few weeks! So in my next institution I felt a bit braver and did a talk for the Chaplaincy team on what it means to be pagan. They were utterly lovely and thanked me ever so politely at the end before gently indicating that I was only the second pagan to ever make themselves known in the institution. That day, in my own office alone, 3 members of staff confided to me that they practised some form of magic. They had simply never told anyone.
So, if you’re one of those people who believes in magic and keeps that part of themselves tightly shut I say. I understand, you do what you need to do. But know you are not alone. Someone near you has a talisman in their purse or a crystal in their bra or an invocation tattooed on their arm. They have sat beneath the Moon and chanted invocations, they have waded out to sea and felt their soul expand into it. They have performed the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram every day without fail for 6 months stretches at a time.
Those who can, teach…
The truth is that I have never experienced anything other than warmth and curiosity when I have shared my beliefs. On the whole educated people are more interested than bigoted. I’ve been lucky and it is that luck that prompts the shame. Because I could have done more.
The only people who can explain what actual, real life magical practice is are real life magical practitioners. I haven’t done my best to explain what I believe and what I do to others – and that is something I want to remedy from this day on. But I have experienced profound acceptance, curiosity and even celebration of my beliefs. I went on to lead a department that included the Chaplaincy team and I could not have been more accepted by them or more honoured to work with them.
So if you are in a position where you have a safe platform why not try, once in a while, to explain what you believe and what you practice to someone who doesn’t understand but might want to. If you’ve already done so please share how it felt, what it was like and what happened. I would love so much to hear from you.
I left my last permanent full time role in Higher Education last year. At my leaving do, and this is probably one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me, the Deputy President of the university did a rune reading for me as his farewell speech.
It was dead on accurate by the way.