THE ANCIENT POWER OF MAGIC
Certain things are everlasting. Magic is one of them. It comes from the Persian and Greek roots magus and magos which mean wise. The English word magi, meaning wise men, comes from them. Witches are among the wise ones who participate in the work of creation in order to nourish the people and protect the earth. Magic belongs to no one culture, society, or tribe—it is part of the universal wisdom. Magic-makers in every century and in every culture have played similar roles and shared similar characteristics. Whether they were called Witches, shamans, priests, priestesses, sages, medicine people, or mystics, they knew how to heal the sick, summon the herds, grow crops, assist at births, track the influence of stars and planets, and build temples and sacred mounds. They knew the secrets of the earth, the powers of the moon, the longings of the human heart. They invented language, writing, metallurgy, law, agriculture, and the arts. Their rituals and ceremonies, their spells and incantations, their prayers and sacrifices were expressions of their oneness with the source of all life, the Great Mother of all living things.
First and foremost the magic-makers were healers who could diagnose illness and prescribe the correct medicine and ritual to heal their patients. Always performed in a social context that included the family and relatives, the ancient healers’ magic worked because it was holistic, drawing on the patient’s own healing power and working with the elements and spirits of the patient’s environment. It dealt with both the physical and spiritual causes of disease—the invasion of harmful spirits or substances and the debilitating effects of soul loss. Ancient healers could withdraw the harmful objects from the body and retrieve lost souls.
Ancient magic-workers were also spiritual leaders and counselors who officiated at important rites of passage. They performed marriages, sanctified births, anointed the newborn, initiated young people into adulthood, and led the souls of the dying into the next world. Because they stood “between the worlds” of spirit and matter, they could serve as bridgers and mediators between the human and the divine. People came to them with their visions and dreams. Sometimes they alone could help an individual discover his or her guardian spirits and sacred names.
As compelling seers, prophets, and visionaries, they answered questions about the past and the future. They interpreted omens. They advised on auspicious times to plant, get married, travel, go on vision quests. Some of them had the power to raise storms, bring rain, and calm seas.
They were the Animal Masters, who understood our kinship with all creatures. They knew the minds and hearts of the beasts and were at home with wild things. They could communicate with animals and plants and prowl in sacred places. They knew the arcane language with which creation speaks to itself. They knew how to listen.
And the wise ones were master storytellers who knew the ancient myths—for even ancient peoples had ancient myths that contained their collective folk memory. As custodians of legend and custom, they could recite poems and sing songs for hours or days at a time, mesmerizing their listeners with the magic of their voices. They were the original bards.
When we think about the gifts and talents that these ancient magic-workers possessed, something inside us glimmers. We resonate to them because we know that we, too, possess these gifts and talents. On some level of consciousness we know that these skills are not supernatural but natural, and that we have used them—in memory, in imagination, in another life, in our dreams. We understand the deep truths that the Witch, the shaman, and the mystic embody, truths so old the world will never get rid of them. Although many modern people will not admit it, the Witch’s worldview still makes sense. We still sense a connectedness with nature that has not been totally lost. We instinctively know that all creation contains a magnificent vitality, that everything is alive, that all creatures contain spirit. In our heart of hearts we agree with the philosopher Thales, who told the ancient Greeks, “All things are filled with gods.”
Every culture has had its magicians and visionaries. We find them in the histories of Sumer, Crete, India, Egypt, Greece, Africa, the Americas, Polynesia, Tibet, Siberia, and the Middle East. In Western Europe they appeared as the Druids, the priests and priestesses of the Celtic race whose origins are still shrouded in the mists of history. The migrating Celts spread Druidic wisdom and magic from China to Spain. In mining and metalworking, sculpture and art, poetry and literature, law and social customs the Celtic peoples left an indelible stamp on European culture. From their scientific and spiritual customs the modern Witch derives much of her Craft. With a remarkable ability to blend both the practical and the metaphysical—the Celts developed the traction plow, rectangular field systems, and crop rotation, as well as theories about the immortality of the soul and reincarnation—the Druidic leaders of the Celts stand as shining models for the modern Witch.
A Witch’s knowledge is old. Her worldview is ancient. People who pride themselves on being modern often dismiss Witchcraft as fantasy, superstition, or make-believe. Biased accounts of ancient people, written by historians who were convinced of their own culture’s superiority, have made our ancestors’ civilizations look barbaric, ignorant, and savage. But the truth about the ancient ways can’t be suppressed. Witchcraft thrived in the so-called primitive cultures of the past; it thrived in the highly developed cultures of the past. It thrives today.
What is true in the macrocosm is true in the microcosm. Many modern Witches trace their first encounters with magic back to very early times in their childhoods, when their innocence and ability to wonder paralleled that of our earliest ancestors. In fact, even when recognized later in life, magic fills us with a sense of awe as it breaks forth in our lives. Adults feel a kind of childlike wonder and surprise during their first magical experiences.
Just as the child loses its sense of oneness with the universe as it develops ego boundaries and learns how to protect its separate and distinct body from the rest of the world, human societies lost that sense of unity as they evolved away from nature. As men and women created societies more and more removed from the natural world, they found themselves working against nature, subduing it, exploiting it. In time they thought of nature as neither intelligent nor divine. Eventually they came to view it as the enemy.
But Witches have never forgotten the basic truth about creation: The world is not our enemy; neither is it inert, dumb matter. The earth and all living things share the same life force; the earth and all living things are composed of Divine Intelligence. All life is a web of interconnected beings, and we are woven into it as sisters and brothers of the All.
If you think back into your early childhood, you will probably remember an incident when you knew something others didn’t know, an occasion when knowledge came spontaneously and intuitively. Perhaps you read someone’s thoughts, knew what was inside a present before you unwrapped it, made an improbable wish and it came true. You may have felt a strong kinship with nature, a bond with animals and plants, a certain power coming to you from the stars. You may have seen spirits or little people or heard them in the night. Ancient tales of Gods and Goddesses may have resonated with something deep in your soul, and you knew the old myths were as true as the scriptures you may have read in church or temple.
They may have seemed even more true.
Copyright © 2013 by Laurie Cabot with Tom Cowan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.