The Magician

Eric O. Scott —  May 17, 2013 — 16 Comments

the magician

Your humble author.

The sewing machine’s name is Elizabeth. I am borrowing her from my girlfriend’s sister. Her manual, produced on clean white paper with green ink by the Babylock Corporation, refers to her exclusively with feminine pronouns. Elizabeth is a very talented seamstress. She will help me with all of my sewing projects. She knows dozens of stitches and has a built-in arm.

I am more than a little afraid of Elizabeth.

The first thing Elizabeth needs is a bobbin. I have never heard of a bobbin before. When I finally get the white thread to spin onto the tiny plastic cylinder, Elizabeth makes a noise like she’s being minced to death, feet first. I call my girlfriend in a panic, asking if this is normal. It is. Elizabeth just makes noises like that sometimes; she is an excitable girl.

Beltane is in three days. In that time, Elizabeth and I need to assemble the collection of squares and triangles of white cotton laying on the floor of my living room into a robe. We will also need to make a red overcloak, for which I haven’t yet bought the fabric. I also need to buy wine, cakes, plastic wear, ribbons, and at least five other items that I haven’t even thought of.

We are having Beltane in Tower Grove Park this year, in one of the beautiful, ancient Victorian pavilions that Henry Shaw bequeathed to future generations. I have been envisioning this ritual for months now: a sweeping ceremony, full of spectacle and pomp, set against the backdrop of St. Louis’s most picturesque public park.

It is supposed to rain on Beltane.

I still haven’t written the damned ritual.

I am not a very good magician.

* * *

We are going to do all the sabbats.

That’s a simple goal, but when I and the other members of my generation in Sabbatsmeet took it up seven years ago, it seemed scary as hell. I had never led a ritual before we did that first Lughnasadh together in a park near the edge of the city. I had no idea of how to write a ritual, really, and no idea of what I actually wanted in one. I was twenty years old and had no idea what I was doing.

I am twenty-six now. It feels weird to talk about twenty-six as though that were some kind of advanced age, worthy of an experienced master – I mean, I’m an adult, but just barely. But it’s hard to look back on your past with any other perspective. That kid thought he knew everything, but he was barely even sentient. I’m sure at fifty-two I’m going to look back at forty-six and think that guy was an idiot, too.

One thing that twenty-year-old me did was put a bunch of rules into place for our Sabbats, and I have done my best to honor his wishes. Sarah, my best friend and High Priestess, and I do one sabbat per year. That sabbat is always based on a particular mythology and its attendant culture. Everyone in our age bracket, a group that has had as few as four and as many as ten depending on the year, gets a part in the ritual. We don’t repeat sabbats. We don’t repeat gods. Not until we get to Samhain.

So we’ve had Norse Yule and Roman Harvest, Egyptian Imbolg and Greek Litha, always invoking different gods, always doing our best to do right by them. But we had hit most of the low-hanging fruit as far as mythologies go years ago, so we stretched our definitions a little bit. Sarah, being something of an Anglophile, really wanted to do a Victorian-flavored festival, and given my love for Tower Grove Park, I was okay with that. But what would we actually do in the ritual? What were we going to invoke?

And then I thought: the Rider-Waite Tarot. What could be more Victorian than that?

And then I thought: I don’t know anything about Tarot.

And then I thought: what’s the worst that could happen?

I am not a very good magician.

* * *

Elizabeth cannot tell me how to hem a neck-hole. Neither can my girlfriend, Megan, who is asleep down the hall. Elizabeth and I are running thread through the edges of my robe, folding the cloth over into something approximating a hem. But the neck-hole is a strange and terrifying part of the garment, and I’m afraid that I’m going to accidentally give myself a plunging neckline if I mess with it too much.

I look at the clock and see that it’s almost three in the morning. It’s the night before Beltane, and as much as I would like to get the Mystery of the Unhemmed Neck solved, it’s probably more important to get the ritual finished. I bid Elizabeth goodnight and sit down to finish writing the ceremony.

I was stumped by how to write a ritual involving the Tarot. The biggest problem, of course, was deciding on which figures to include. We don’t draw enough of a crowd to justify 22 named parts, and besides, that ritual would take hours. I have to cater to the needs of my audience of the young and the middle-aged; they don’t have patience for that kind of thing.

john fucking madden

Above: John Madden presents Beltane.

As usual in these circumstances, I turned to my father, who suggested I cut it down to seven: the trumps corresponding to the classical planets, The Sun, the High Priestess, the Magician, the Empress, the Tower, the Wheel of Fortune, and the World. (“Why is the moon the High Priestess and not, uh, The Moon?” “Ask the Golden Dawn, son. I didn’t make up that list.”) As it happened, I needed exactly ten speaking parts to accommodate my rules, and this gave me exactly that many: six trumps plus four suits plus one Maypole for the Wheel of Fortune. I declared this a miracle and accepted it immediately. We got together three weeks before Beltane and drew up an outline of the ritual, complete with a strangely football-esque diagram; all I needed to do was sit down and write out the text. Nothing to it.

I finish the Empress’s speech at four AM the night before Beltane. Only three more trumps to go.

the high priestess

Above: Look at that hat!

It is the day of Beltane. It’s cold, and the sky is thick with clouds, but it doesn’t rain. As people start to arrive, I realize that we’ve cast our spell too well: we planned for an English festival, and the weather has complied. As always, the danger of magick is getting what you asked for.

Small things go wrong throughout the course of the day, mostly in the realm of things I never got a chance to buy. Thankfully my friends are both dutiful and clever, and the only thing of real importance missing is a bit of salt for the ritual’s opening. More troubling is that we had not one but two people set up to play the King of Swords, and neither of them made it to the ritual. Oh well. That’s one not in costume.

The defects don’t matter much, in the end; they rarely do. Because when the circle is cast and the wind picks up and blows my red cloak around me, I can feel the power of ritual overwhelm me, bubble over me and drown me. When I raise my tools to the sky and call upon the elements, I feel them with me and within me, responding to my summons as they have my entire life. This is a thing which is always rote and always strange.

We take a deep breath, each of us looking ahead at the Maypole, at the Wheel, at the spokes on that wheel each of us represent, and we begin.

Sarah is draped in blue, her head covered by a hat in the shape of the three-fold moon. A hush comes over our congregation as she casts the circle. Sarah, the High Priestess, the Moon.

I, clad in red, the infinity sign on my brow, hand the Priestess her tools. All of the exhaustion and worry of the past few days melts away, fading into the ritual. I am ready now for the Great Work, the creation of something full of wonder and hope.

I am now something more than myself; I am Mercury. I am The Magician. And a pretty damned good one, too.

We each silently mouth the words in unison with her, the words we have heard so many times before, the most powerful words we know:

This is the circle.

This is the space between the worlds.

Here be magick.

Here be love.

So mote it be.

And, gods willing, so it always will be.




 

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Eric O. Scott

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Eric Scott writes fiction and creative nonfiction from the unique perspective of a second-generation Wiccan. He earned his MFA from the University of Missouri - Kansas City and is a current PhD candidate in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Missouri - Columbia. He has published in a number of magazines and anthologies. He serves as a Contributing Editor at Killing the Buddha and writes the Real Pagan Geek blog at PaganSquare. His first book, "The Lives of the Apostates," was recently published by Moon Books. He once played guitar in a Taoist glam rock band.
  • PhaedraHPS

    What a great story, and what lovely costumes! The Tarot was my first love, and my first true gateway into metaphysics (Tarot — the gateway drug!)

    I’ll niggle with one thing, which I hope you will accept with the good humor with which it is offered, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is more properly Edwardian. But I’ll admit the ideas were probably refined in the Victorian Era. Either way, I wish I had been there :-)

    • http://twitter.com/ericoscott Eric Scott

      Yeah, yeah, I’ll cop to that. Still, who wants to go to an Edwardian-themed sabbat? That sounds way less cool.

  • gary p golden jr

    “So we’ve had Norse Yule…”

    What did you do.

    • http://twitter.com/ericoscott Eric Scott

      Three passion play stories, as I recall; that was the second one we did, and as I recall, we were basically “gifted” the festival with only a week or two’s notice. I know we did the Holly and Oak King with Balder and Hoder (in both the Danish and Icelandic flavors,) and Sarah and I invoked the Volva and Odin. I feel like we did a third thing, too, though.

      Given my love of all things Norse, I’m really looking forward to doing another Norse-flavored ritual once we’re past Samhain.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Too much mistletoe around at Yule for Baldr to be comfortable…

      • gary p golden jr

        Norse flavored? Could you elaborate on what it is you do/did?

  • Maria

    I really enjoy your writing — not just your unique perspective as a second-generation Pagan, but the unique voice you use to express it.
    Also, as a woman nearing 50, I can confirm that not only do I look back on 45-year-old me and think she was kind of an idiot, but I have a nagging suspicion I am probably being one a lot of the time now. :)

    • http://twitter.com/ericoscott Eric Scott

      Thank you!

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  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Second gereration. Ah I wonder how soon we will start to hear first generation gripping about how that was not the way I was taught. Actually second and third generation interest me as a first generation Wiccan. First generation is likely to carry some left over Christian baggage, at least for those of us that were Christian. With me it is more likely left over Buddhist baggage. Second for us it was new, somewhat daring.

    Second and third generation is raised with it so it is normal. Then I think they are going to explore more than we did, and that is where we first generation might feel uncomfortable, as I said “That is not how I was taught”. [Grin]

    In my case I am going to be more than a bit curious to see what will change under the second and third generation. In early Wicca a lot was borrowed from ceremonial magic, so that leaves the interesting question of what is necessary for magic to happen and what is just fancy stuff to impress people with. In other words, what is really necessary for working magic and what is not? For instance in some other forms of Witchcraft, there are fewer tools, and no circle used, nor any Rede.

    It is something that I would like to explore in a interview for ACTION if you might be interested. So far I have not interviewed anyone from the second generation. I try very hard not to pull any of the old man games, as I recall how much I disliked that when I was your age. Being a geezer that sometimes takes some thought.

    • http://twitter.com/ericoscott Eric Scott

      As a Raving Egomaniac (TM), I’d love to be interviewed. Shoot me an email (eric dot o dot scott at gmail).

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        It would actually be quite interesting for the readership to throw up a bunch of interview question for all the contributors of the Wild Hunt to answer. Kind of a ‘get to know you’ type thing.

      • ChristopherBlackwell

        Sent you an e-mail though the first one did not make it. I also left you a message on you Facebook page.

  • Raksha38

    I always enjoy your articles here, Eric! The experiences of second gen Pagans is so fascinating to me and I love your writing style. It’s so fun!

  • http://www.facebook.com/doiblender Gwendolyn Holden Barry

    Impressive! I loved the presentation… you are a storyteller!