Friday, January 10, 2014

BRINGING DOWN THE BOWL

Lately I’ve have been inspired to reassess some of my thinking around what I’m doing where magic is concerned. I’ve been exchanging recently some fascinating ideas with three of my favorite people in the business of performing magic: card reader extraordinaire Joeanne A. Mitchell, psychologist, anthropologist, occultist, and Obeah man Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, and philosopher, writer, and adventurer, Drew Jacob. A few personal stories were recounted between us, on the basis of which I have come to formulate more concisely what magic is for me (a few other ideas on this can be found here).

Magic for me is an appreciation of a specific mood that is either induced by ritual or ceremony, or that arises by itself when prompted through the activation of a heightened awareness about a certain event. This latter situation can manifest in very simple terms. Yet, as with all things magical, it proves nothing. What it does, however, and which I value the most, is take care of my experience of being astonished on a daily basis. And I have to admit that I’m addicted to being astonished. Everyday I look for something that will astonish me. Perhaps that’s why I work with poetry, both in terms of producing it and in terms of studying it in the scholarly fashion.

To give an example: Since the famous occultist and rocket scientist, Jack Parsons, reminds me of my father who died in 1976, I tend to think of him on his birthday and of what it is that he shares with my father. They were both rocket scientists - my father worked for the military in Ineu, Romania, where they built missiles, Parsons for Caltech, in the Jet Propulsion Lab – they both died in their 30s, and they were both magicians.

EGGS

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So, on October 2 last year, I take my dog out for a walk, and while thinking of the two in tandem, two crows start following me on the road. I greet them properly, as I decide that it’s the two I’ve been thinking of, the two Jacks – incidentally my father’s nickname was also Jack (in Romanian, Gicå). They say something, and I say something, and it’s all very good. On the way back, I am intent on honoring them with cooking lunch for myself in the form of scrambled eggs and bone marrow (my father’s favorite). I’m very excited about this project, and I can see that the crows are too. They follow me almost to the entrance to my block. I go upstairs, open the fridge, and… the horror. There are no eggs in the fridge. What to do?

 parsons

I can’t let the two down, so I go out again, and hit the local supermarket. I get two dozens of eggs. That’s 24 eggs in two egg cartons. I open the first one and I gape: 10 eggs are brown and 2 are white. ‘No way,’ I said. At this point I’m beginning to get a very clear sense of why I bought the second egg carton. For proof. For you see, what would give me better proof of the two rocket-scientists having turned into crows than seeing that they have now also turned into eggs? Logically speaking, I figured that if the second egg carton will feature all the eggs brown, then that will be my proof. You can imagine my excitement. I open the carton, and voilà: all the eggs are brown. So, out of 24 eggs bought on Jack Parsons’s birthday, when I asked him specifically to hang out with my father and have a chat with him, two eggs turned out WHITE. Does magic exist? Obviously it does. Incidentally, Jack Parsons’s name was John Whiteside Parsons (born Marvel Whiteside Parsons). White marvel indeed. He is my man (most occultists express reservation towards Jack, but I care little for others’ opinions).

THE BOWL

Now, let me tell you another story.

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Some 4 years ago, after a conference here, I invited some friends from the US over to dinner. We've been known each other for ages, and we always meet regularly at the Maple and Eagle conference in Helsinki. So, the couple comes over, and I try to explain to them something about my Jugendstil old clock on the wall, which to me resonates like the biggest cathedral in Denmark. They concur that it’s special. After a lovely evening, and getting ready to leave, the woman tells me at the door that she wants to send me a gift from the US once she's back. She doesn’t say what it is. Two years pass. I get nothing from the woman, and I don’t think too much of it. People are busy all the time. Then one day I find myself in an occult shop in Oslo, and I try many Tibetan bowls on display. I don't buy any, as these things have an exorbitant price in Norway. But I'm intent on going home and on line immediately, and finding some on the internet.

Back in Roskilde I end up spending a whole night, at least until 4 am, searching for Tibetan bowls and listening to various sound samples around the globe. I decide to buy three. Just before I hit the ‘buy it now’ button, my partner asks me: ‘Where do those bowls ship from?' I say: ‘The US.’ ‘Bad idea,’ he says, ‘you're going to pay custom and the price will amount to the same as you would have paid for in Oslo.’ Then he says: ‘Wait until the morning, and we can both zip into town and visit a new age place.’ I listened to him reluctantly. My finger was still burning with the desire to hit the button.

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We finally go to bed. My finger has not cooled off. Eight o'clock in the morning the postman rings on the door. I'm sleepy as I only had 4 hours in bed. I go to the door moaning. I don’t expect any packages. I’m trying to remember what books I’ve just ordered from amazon. Pestering habit. I open the door and sure enough, a package. My partner asks from the bedroom, also in an irritated tone, ‘Who's it from?’ I’m astonished: ‘Christ almighty, Tina sent her package. After two years!' I then muttered something, ‘how nice that she remembered’ while unwrapping the package. ‘What’s in it,’ the man wants to know. I read the label: 'Bowl' it says, and then I shout out more convincingly: ‘it's a bowl' - while thinking, ‘probably ceramics.’ Then he says, being more perceptive: ‘Please don't tell me it's a Tibetan bowl.’ ‘No way,' I’m thinking. I open the box, and voilà, a Tibetan bowl. My partner fainted on the way to the bathroom. Absolutely perfect. Perfectissimo. Does magic exist? It goes to show. Does it have a name? No, it doesn't. It’s a sinking into heavens. Tina saw my love of vibrations, but then she just had to wait two years to send her gift exactly at the right moment. When I pointed my finger at it. Adamantly. And that’s all there is to it. How nice that I didn’t have to go anywhere. The Tibetan bowl was delivered to my doorstep when I wished for it the most. So it goes.

THE BELL

Now, almost in the same vein as above, let me tell you a third story.

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A week later, after the above incident, I was organizing a conference at my home university. The participants were about to arrive, and some did arrive a day earlier. I invited a couple of friends into town and to have dinner. Over food and drinks, my partner, who was also the co-organizer, expressed concern with the coffee breaks that always drag too long, and the impossibility to get people back to the lecture rooms on time for the next panels. I said to him, ‘you need a bell’. After dinner, we were strolling in the streets, and we passed a Tibetan place with lots of bells in the window. I said, ‘oh, let's just enter and get you a bell, so you can gather the sheep.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don't want to waste these peoples' time with your bells.’ ‘Ok,’ I said. ‘It’s your hassle.’ The next morning, the first to arrive at the conference was a woman from Japan. She gave us a present: A bell. Whoa, astonishment again. What magic! Needless to say, the bell was used throughout the entire conference to great effect. My partner didn't have to turn into a Lutheran fascist.

DOES MAGIC EXIST?

Now, as I started out saying, do these stories prove anything: the existence of magic, God, or some other such things that the incredulous are not so sure about? They prove nothing. But what they do is tell us what we can make out of the way in which we interact with the world. By letting ourselves be enchanted with how things come to us, or with what happens when we point our index finger at someone or something, we get a sense of what it means to be alive beyond our pulsing blood through our veins.

I like to think of old bones, dead people, and their breaths populating the atmosphere. If I believe in anything I believe in this fact: The fact that we all live on top of one big cemetery. For all we know, those we bury don’t go anywhere. They share their last breaths with all of us. There’s gravity here. Even if ashes are spread they still fall somewhere on the ground. Everything dies and everything gets re-circulated. I believe in the magic of the bells ringing. For the dead and for myself. Perhaps it's this sound that makes our wishes find embodiment. When I ended up cooking Parsons and my Father with a splash of bone-marrow on my frying-pan, I sure had a good day. A totally magical day. Now, if a crow approaches me, I ask it: which Jack are you? It usually answers. I value the experience of magic above proof and rationality.

On a more mundane level, let’s just say that the stories about the clock ringing, the bell ringing, and the bowl singing, offer me the following moral story: I never have or enter a Tibetan place. All I need to do is wish for something from there, and I get it instantly. I like that. So magic for me is a mood enhancer. It is beyond proof and beyond dismissal. Magic, if we go with it, empowers us, and makes us think that if we can think it, we can have it, even when we don’t get it. I have hundreds of magical stories to tell, and so does everyone else who is interested in being astonished. That's all it takes.

Good luck with your magical moments and don’t forget to tune in to what else is there beyond the measuring of how far our mental elastic stretches. As for rationality: Oh, I leave that to whose who don’t have anything better do to, than to sit around and call others crazy.

§

A note of thanks:

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A few of Frisvold's books in my collection. 
Tina Parke Sutherland, for the bowl and the vibrating thought. It found me.

Reiko Nita, for the chicken bell. It still pecks.

My father, for saving my life once through a cunning folk magical intervention (I'll tell that story some other time).

Jack, for all that sublime nonsense on Babalon and other such creatures.

The three occultist musketeers, Joeanne, Nick, and Drew, may you be blessed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this post! I also perceive that sense of magic in the way I connect to people far away.
I can't wait for the story about your father saving your life.