Mystery, Secrecy, and Magic

Posted on May 10, 2012
Filed Under Magic, mystical journeys | 2 Comments

In a recent conversation about the process of magic, one person mentioned that they felt that mystery was an essential part of what makes magic magical. My response was: “Why does there need to be mystery? Mystery is a trope associated with magic, but its just a prop in the end. Looks nice…the real question is does it serve a real function or purpose in the process of magic. If it does, use it, but if it doesn’t, strip it away.”

The counter response was that removing mystery made magic a rational process or a scientific experiment. But I don’t think removing mystery guarantees rationality, as emotion can still factor significantly into a magical work. More importantly the person’s experience and perspective is also a significant factor in magical work and not something that automatically lends itself to rationality. I don;t really hold rationality in a esteemed position anyway, as I think its an artificial state of being. In other words, there’s no such thing as a purely rational state of mind. There’s always some level of emotion or feeling involved. Perhaps the closest experience of rationality is data, but even the interpretation of data is not wholly rational, as there is always an agenda and argument for how and why data is interpreted a particular way.

Regardless that’s a topic for a different blog post. Getting back to mystery…I don’t feel mystery is a necessary part of magical work. It’s a trope, a prop that is associated with magic, and also with secrecy, which is another trope associated with occultism. I dislike secrecy, as I feel what it ultimately encourages is a potential loss of knowledge, experiences, and information that could benefit others. Nonetheless secrecy is one of those tropes that magicians hold fast to, much as mystery is held onto.

When I look at mystery and secrecy I see power games being played, the secret club handshake, the knowing wink, and the decision about who is included and who is excluded. And yes it can have its uses, to create a sense of atmosphere, but ideally the magician can accomplish without needing to resort to such theater unless it serves a purpose.

I’ll admit I take an approach to magic that has been describing as a stripping down of it. Yet I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything by doing so. Removing all the extras has just provided a way to get to the heart of the magical working, to the connections that are made with the spirits, with the possibilities, etc. without needing to draw on the props. Some people find the props necessary and if that’s the case, then that’s what they need to use, but magic is ultimately a variety of paths. I just like to explore how you can strip it down and build it back up to fit your needs, while getting rid of what you don’t need.

 

 

Comments

2 comments
altmagic
altmagic

I think this stood out to me:

 

"When I look at mystery and secrecy I see power games being played, the secret club handshake, the knowing wink, and the decision about who is included and who is excluded. And yes it can have its uses, to create a sense of atmosphere, but ideally the magician can accomplish without needing to resort to such theater"

 

When you start to talk about abuses of mystery, you really get away from your main point (which I find more interesting) about whether and when mystery is actually useful. Sure mystery can be abused, secret handshake yadda yadda, but lots of truly necessary things can be abused.

 

You could make a parallel argument: "when I think of magic tools I think of commercialization and overpriced junk, sure it can be useful but why bother" or "when I think of a shrine or altar I think of a person playing mind games with themselves, you don't need that." Ultimately the trappings of magic - which certainly include a sense of special mystery - can each be individually considered unnecessary by a skilled magician, but collectively they do something. At a minimum they stimulate creativity (a sense of atmosphere as you say) but even that is more than "theatrics." It's the stuff of casting, in my opinion.

 

I verge pretty far toward minimalist magic myself, but at some point form gives way to technique. Mystery is as valid a "prop" as anything else, maybe more so. Complaints against hierarchy and boys clubs don't really touch on its efficacy when properly used - they touch on its misuse, which is a different question.

Beth G
Beth G

While I get what you're saying about rationality. or perception. As an artist, I know I have to "see" what's really there to transcribe it onto canvas or paper. But even when that happens accurately, it remains something I've seen. It's tainted by my impressions and therefor is tweaked slightly different. But also as an artist, I realize that my breaking it down into shade, highlight, line, color and temperature, has gotten it closer to the true state than  one by another who cant "see" past a iconic image they hold in their minds. Most people keep them from childhood, which is a reason they can't draw what they see. This state is obviously not just visual but shows itself in all areas that rely on judgment.

 

Mystery is to me, is not a shroud, but something unknown around a corner. Evolution of things are always a mystery. It's a path whose outcome is held in suspense by being as yet unseen. It's magic in and of itself.  I don't understand why magic affects me as it does. Why the daily rituals are the only ones I can do every day for years and still enjoy. I don't need to have a belief in what I do, I can feel it work. What is changing, what is becoming is unknown, and there's a delicious mystery unfolding, corner after corner, as I reach them.  Viva la mystery!