My guest this week is author Ailsa Abraham, with a point of view on living with magic you may not have thought of. (I have preserved her British spelling because I wanted to.)
I'm grateful to Maggie for inviting me to contribute today as both of us write about magic. So I would like to take a look at how our attitude to magic has changed in the last half century or so. I'm fortunate enough to be hurtling towards my 60s, and when I was a child the words “witch” and “magic” conjured up images of a wizened old crone, warty hooked nose, pointy hat, stirring her cauldron and muttering evil spells.
This always struck me as a little unfair as I come from a traditional family of witches although even amongst ourselves that word was considered pejorative. We “had the Sight” was about all we would say of ourselves. We followed traditions handed down through generations, we read the cards and we knew when people were going to die. We were healers and “soul friends” — the ones to whom the others come for tea and sympathy, knowing that their secrets will go no further. Sometimes that is the most healing thing of all — to unburden to a third party who will listen without comment, offer no advice but allow a spilling-out of all the unwanted baggage. We talk a great deal about detox but perhaps what my family has been doing all this time was allowing a detox of the spirit.
Shoot on to now and we have Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer et al. Magic and witchcraft have become not only acceptable but desirable. How did this come about? How come my mother had to use her own status as a threat when I was being bullied at school,
“I'm a witch and if you continue to beat Ailsa up, I will turn you into a toad and you into a cat so you can eat him! Do you HEAR me?”
(She was a bit formidable my mother!) and after that we were pretty well shunned by the rest of our community in a small Scottish town. Now, however, every wee lassie who can slip on the velvet, weigh her neck down with sigils, and wear a ring on every finger can call herself a witch and expect to be taken seriously? In sixty years? How so?
It started with Gerald Gardener in the 1950s resurrecting some old traditions, cobbling them together with his Masonic rites and calling it Wicca. Sorry, chaps, but that is the truth. Modern day paganism can claim no more foundation in “ancient wisdom” than any other belief system. What my family practised was merely a repetition of actions carried on from mother to daughter with very little reasoning of why or wherefore. My grandmother, a fearsome witch, was also a strong Calvinist who respected the Sabbath. She would have been affronted by any talk of gods and goddesses.
The truth lies somewhere in-between. I am now a practising Shaman and I can tell you that the link through the ages is that nebulous notion of “Spirit” a word used by Quakers too. Christians call it God or the Holy Spirit. Native Americans call it the Great Spirit Each religion has its own name but the idea is the same. It is the reaching back to the caves of our ancestors and trying to make contact with their concept of living with Nature. Witchcraft, magic is no more than making contact with the idea that we are part of this planet and we have to share it with all other life forms, animal, plant, mineral. Respect for each other engenders a more fluid way of living. Contact and renewed contact each day with the spirit of all living things around us teaches an acceptance of the cycle of life, birth, death, decay, rebirth. Acceptance of that banishes fear. Lack of fear gives the courage to try to change things.
It isn't rocket science. It's natural force – it's magic. Changing for the better.