The problem of living with magic

Magic, like love, will find you. You can hide. You can scoff. Resistance is futile.

At the very least, you’ll be on the receiving end of other people’s magic. It might be a friend who bugs you about your horoscope or your Representative in Congress who believes in Noah’s Ark and votes accordingly.

If the believers don’t get you, your own brain will. Magic can creep out at any moment and grab you with prophetic dreams or flying saucers. Since the magic within you is the strongest, it’s also the most convincing and the hardest to resist.

We’re stuck with magic like we are with a million other evolutionary relics from jealousy to the appendix. The problem is not how to get rid of it—we can’t and, if we could, we wouldn’t be human beings any more—the problem is how to live with it.

Common sense advises preparation and familiarity, even for skeptics. That way, when magic shows up, it won’t take you by surprise and sweep you away.

It’s also good to bring a map of the territory showing well-marked hazards. The biggest peril may be literalism, the trap of taking unusual experiences at face value. If you’re too quick to accept your own experience, you may believe that you really are reading minds or seeing the future.

The boundaries of the danger zone are pretty clear. People who claim to have information or abilities that aren’t available to everyone else through ordinary means have left the realm of magic and crossed over into the occult. It’s one thing if the Tarot cards say that you can find true love; it’s something else if they say that you can levitate.

Evolution has us in an awful plight. If we ignore magic or pretend that it doesn’t exist, we’re shutting the door on a big part of human experience. On the other hand, if we go native and embrace magic, we run the risk of occult delusion. We need a safe path through the horns of the dilemma.

I cautiously recommend meditation to people who want to dip their toes in the waters of the inner abyss. Meditation—along with prayer, ritual, fasting, psychedelics, ecstatic dance, and lots of other techniques—clears the mind and lets in the beauty and wonder of the universe.

Meditation is about as innocuous as it gets, but there’s no guarantee. My old meditation group started with twenty minutes twice a day and ended with a plan to transform the world into a global theocracy.

The sad part is that a lot of people need meditation. They’re stressed out and hungry for a spiritual life, but they look at the shenanigans of meditation teachers and they sensibly flee in the opposite direction.

I’m not sure if there’s any good answer to the problem of living with magic, but I think that it makes sense to look at case studies of groups and individuals who explored the magical depths of human psychology and returned in triumph or tragedy. After two generations of the New Age, there are plenty of wise men and women who learned from their mistakes. They have a lot to offer.

I believe that these questions will become more important as our society loosens up and evolves toward enlightenment. For now, I’d like to pass on the two best pieces of advice I ever received:

Let love be your guide, and keep your crap detector turned up on high.

Posted in: Reason and Magic

Leave a Comment (2) ↓


  1. B.Wright June 14, 2014

    Loved your post, couldn’t agree more. It’s not that magic doesn’t exist, it’s that people settle for such petty magic.

    My favorite singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn seems to understand this. In this song he uses the word “mystery” instead of “magic,” but it’s the same sentiment. Who needs levitation when you have a full moon rising over a snow-covered junkyard?

    • Geoff Gilpin June 14, 2014

      Thank you! I’m very pleased that there are people out there who get the message.


Leave a Comment