My introduction to “magic” was—in my personal mythology at least, which is all you have in personal matters after a certain stretch of time—the RE/Search book on William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Throbbing Gristle. Well, just recently I’ve been introducing someone wonderful to RE/Search books; and the other week it was a pleasure to see V. Vale, the tireless editor and publisher of these seminal volumes, hold forth on Burroughs, Ballard, and the history of RE/Search at Donlon Books in Hackney. So there’s been a little RE/Search revival in my world.
Now, I’ve never considered myself a “magician”. Like any skill or art, someone people are specialists. But my understanding of magic has always been that its particular exclusivity is more an artifact of our repressive culture and religions than something that makes it any more exclusive than, say, painting, or astronomy. There’s always those with an exceptional aptitude, who break new ground and mould the domain more than others. Pretence is probably the real issue, much more of an issue than honest “dabbling”, especially in the outrageous playgrounds for the ego that magic can facilitate.
In any case, while I’ve no special aptitude for magic, I’ve gradually moved past honest dabbling (OK, verging on pretension sometimes), towards something like engaged lay practice—which certainly feels like something that should be open to anyone who is interested in life. But it’s tremendously humbling to read P-Orridge’s definition of magic, which opened certain doors for me nearly 20 years ago, and realize how recently it is that I’ve even started approaching a realization of this definition (which is by no means, ahem, definitive):
I mean, basically what you do is—you have to have a very strong vision and direction. You have to have something that you really focus on that you want to be like, or you want to get to, or a kind of person you want to be. And the kind of things that you want that person to generate in the world. And then you just have to try to maximize the possibility of that happening, by avoiding the things that might distract you from it, or destroy it, or block it. So it’s a kind of removal process, you’re removing everything that’s in the way. So that it becomes more and more likely that you’re going to get it. And if you do or not isn’t the thing; the fact is, you get further to it that way than if you don’t. And you can only do that by not wanting to dictate what happens to yourself. You can’t be in control of that, because you don’t understand all the forces at work. Because everybody in the world and all the forces in the world are affecting your destiny . . .
You see, you have this vision of destiny, and then fate is what actually takes place. A lot of people think they’re the same thing, and they’re not. So what you try to do is—maximize the chances of fate not interfering with you going towards the destiny. And the destiny can actually change, you see, because certain times fate cannot be stopped. And it does deflect you and the vision mutates. You might still think: “I would rather have been that, but I can’t get there, so what’s the most useful thing I can still get to?”
Genesis P-Orridge (my bold emphasis)
As I said, it’s by no means definitive. I once heard a very experienced magician asked what magic was, and I was impressed and intrigued to hear him preface his take on it with the caveat that he tries to give a different definition every time he’s asked. In the domain of the trickster, how else to approach things?
And of course, I’m certainly not trying to hold Genesis up as any kind of guru-esque fount of wisdom. S/He just hit on something important with some good plain English here.
I imagine that to a certain extent I “understood” the slippery but potent hybrid of will and humility that’s expressed here at many other times in the past. Perhaps even the first time I read it. But “initiations” and understandings ebb and flow, and cycle round… And re-reading the above crystallized nicely my recent round of learning.
I look forward to understanding it all again some day.