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Tragedy, Magic and Grammar

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

The calls for magical intervention kept coming, interspersed with medical updates that were presented as progress, despite all evidence to the contrary. There’d been a tragic accident, and a young person was on life support, unresponsive. Emotional emails flew back and forth, many filled with hope and confidence in the power of magic and affirmation.

I participated at first. But when we were asked to use a spell formula affirming the miracle of a complete recovery, I stepped away. I worried that we were asking too much, that this person's nearest and dearest were going to be either devastated or exhausted by their hope against hope. Energy was being expended at a rate that would inevitably demand a crash. Perhaps even a soul was being held to earth when it was time for it to fly free.


Gradually the updates slowed, then stopped. All that was left was mystery. Perhaps that's all that is ever left, but I couldn't help but feel that some reality, and the chance to face it, had been missed. This added to my sadness at what the silence might mean. In our mad rush to demand or effect a healing, had some god--the god of truth perhaps--not been served?

Given that the situation roused my own deep grief and fear for those involved, I felt compelled to better understand my misgivings, and to tap into a purer stream of compassion. There had to be a way I could stay with the work in spirit, rather than unhooking from the whole thing. And eventually I found it. 

In the Pagan and New Age world generally we are told we should frame our desires with specificity and affirmation, stating our wish as if it were already true: "I am healed," "I receive abundance." This format can give us a sense of agency as opposed to seeing ourselves as powerless beings who must beg from some higher power. But it can also prompt a backlash from quieter parts of ourselves that may feel unheard in the face of this determined optimism. We might feel responsible for the outcome we've so boldly stated. There can be a sense of strain in that, shadowed by a fear of failure.

Or at least that's how it felt to me. In my own life I'd found that if I spent my energy whipping up hope, skipping over present struggle to desired outcome, I lost the opportunity to know my own resilience and to learn to love the world as it is. But I wasn't ready to leave magic behind. I just found it in an unlikely place.

Lawrence Weinstein, in his book Grammar for a Full Life mentions “the blessing formula”: an “active-passive hybrid" that avoids the pitfalls of more assertive constructions. In technical terms it involves the auxiliary subjunctive verb may. So the active affirmation “I am safe and healthy” becomes “May I be safe and healthy.” “A miracle happens, my friend is well” becomes “May my friend be well.”

The blessing formula is common to many practices, including the Buddhist custom of well-wishing, which uses phrases such as "May you be happy" and “May you be at peace.” These are passive constructions rather than declarations of fact. To me they are a humbler and more skillful way to shape my desires: they recognize my heartfelt wish as something yet to be fulfilled, not something I can (or must) make happen. In fact, there is no “I” in this wish--it is selfless. And that is where the magic lies.

The yearning is channeled into willingness, a willingness to invite the wider forces of love to flow through me to others. The words of well-wishing soften my heart while protecting it from the shadow side of desire. There is a purity to that wishing. Opening myself may open doors in ways I cannot see, so that what flows through me affects my entire world. But even if it only opens my heart, so that I communicate with others with kindness and stay engaged, it is magic enough.

May all beings be well.

May all beings find peace.

May all beings be kind, to themselves and to others.

So mote it be.







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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


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