It was a pleasure and an honor to contribute to the Bristol City Museum’s “Real Magic” night at the Museum. As with most good esoteric-occult events in this city, the problem wasn’t selling all 750 tickets, but the disappointment of the hundreds of disappointed witches, druids, heathens, and pagan-friendly folk who couldn’t get in. What a great way to start the Samhain weekend!
There were too many performers, speakers, and exhibition-makers to name.
I didn’t get to see most of them, since I was in the hall with the speakers throughout most of the evening. We did manage to drop in on our old friend Adrian Rooke, who commented afterward that it was difficult to advise visitors which ogham to choose for (name your wish) with such a queue!
Also very much enjoyed Faye Stoeser’s extraordinary shamanic dance ritual, which debuted this evening.
But ultimately, like my colleagues Esther Eidinow and Ronald Hutton, I was there to offer something of my own. Since I had only fifteen minutes and a large but unknown crowd, anything participatory (like the Cube ritual) was out of the question. Recently I did a little ritual around Heilung’s song “Othan,” so I decided to build a short provocation around that. This also gave me an excuse to play some great music before offering my own interpretive comments. What is “magical thinking,” I asked, and why aren’t I embarrassed to admit that I do it all the time?
This blog post is getting too long, so I won’t try to summarize what I said. The teaser is that (a) Othan’s lyrics, in proto-Nordic and old Norse, amount to a spell for healing and protection, and (b) I used it as such about ten days ago.
The first bit is apparent to anyone who has looked into these things; I’m not the first to notice where they got their lyrics. There are a lot of learned neo-Nordic pagans! The second bit is obviously personal to me, and was designed to ground my claims about what we are and are not doing when we cultivate “magical thinking” like this. We aren’t ignoring the normal parameters of practical reasoning (though we may supplement them in subtle ways), and we aren’t acting on the basis of far-fetched or “pre-scientific” beliefs. We are changing our ways of being-in-the-world in a manner that makes the world more beautiful and fun. Whether we also succeed in influencing events — well, I suspend judgment on that question.