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December 19, 2014

Finding Magic in a Muggle World

By Lewis Mehl-Madrona

What is magic in a muggle world? We recently conducted a workshop to explore that question. First, what arose was the idea our thoughts could influence the future to which we are headed. What if our visualizations could change the direction in which we are headed. What is really magic is the power we have to influence others. We have power to uplift. We have power to give hope when there is none. This is real magic.


What if we could know the future? What if the future informs us how to reach it? What if the future reaches backwards in time to call us toward it? What if time doesn't even exist, but is an artifact of perception produced by creatures, who age? Are we like jet planes whose engines create a vacuum into which the plane is sucked in order to move forward.

Today, we are in Stone Ridge, New York, doing a workshop called "Finding Magic in a Muggle World". I am asking people to cross the bridge into their future and bring back an outcome that was magically produced, to bring back the story of how the magic unfolded and what happened to produce that outcome that was.

Imaging the future as if it's already happened is a very useful exercise. After painting a picture of the future, then we tell the story, as if we are telling about events from the past, about how that future happened. Telling such stories brings out the potential obstacles and how they were overcome. We need stories that celebrate our self-agency and present us as effective agents in the world, people who can get things done and get somewhere. Having such stories are preparatory for the "magic wand" question. The solutions focused therapy folks in Wisconsin, with whom I studied during my post-graduate diploma courses, would ask people, "if I had a magic wand, and could change anything for you, what would it be?" The point of this question is for us to become aware of what it is to which we are most committed to changing and how do we want it changed. This is akin to visioning a possible future. Waving a magic wand is probably not going to immediately get us there, but it's a good way to start the question.

I did the assignment, too. I'm bringing back a future in which I'm happy at work and people like me. "Yes, but," I can hear the spirits already saying, "you're not an easy camper to please. You have terms and conditions." Magic for me, in the workplace, is to have it all.

Let's play with one. I'm in an ocean port city. Barbara and I are working in the same agency. I get to do some medicine and some psychiatry. We're doing groups together. Our clients are underserved. Some are homeless and psychotic. These are the people with whom I've always worked. They are the people I want to serve. I have some time to do hospital medicine. I have some time to do obstetrics. Sometimes I teach residents and medical students. We live in sight of the sea.

I'm back in the job market, so I need some magic. I want to keep up all the skills I have spent so many years developing. I don't know how long I will be able to do this. I don't know if the changes in health care or aging itself or the demands of the market will force me out of some things and into others. But, still I want to try to have it all.

In doing the exercise, I requested magic. I asked the spirits to find or create a wonderful job for me despite my many specifications. I know how hard it is for them when the supplicant is so persnickety. Not only do I want all of the above, but I want time to continue to develop what I called Coyote Psychotherapy in a previous blog, the kind of psychotherapy that I have been developing for the almost 40 years now. We've also been calling it aboriginal inspired, body oriented, narrative and social psychotherapy, so as to be certain that it's impossible to trademark. It's what Coyote would do if he/she were a psychotherapist.

In the exercise, we ask what happened to create this envisioned future. Therefore, I have to ask myself what happened to land me this desired job (not perfect, for no job is perfect), but better -- full of colleagues whom I enjoy, patients with whom I can develop long-term relationships, the opportunity to sit in circle with some of them over time, the opportunity to contemplate existence and mortality with others.

I'm going to say the spirits led me there. I'm going to say it happened because I stopped thinking too much, and prayed like I did yesterday; for six hours I prayed in ceremony about being where I can do the most good that I can, asking for help for the spirits to lead me in the direction in which this can happen. If the future does pull us toward it, then I wish for this future of work happiness to pull me there. My heart would prefer it to be near the coast, for I love the ocean, or in Vermont, because Vermont is magic itself (most of the time). But, spirits, I will go anywhere. So that's what I would create if I could wave my magic wand.

But, before we stop, we have to ask where this concept of a magic wand arose?

In ecclesiastical and formal government ceremonies, some officials carry a wand of office or a staff of office that represents their power [1]. Stone Age cave paintings show people holding sticks, which may have represented their power.In Egypt during the time of the Pharoahs, a magic wand was left in tombs to enable the soul (ba) to use the other objects left there (toilette articles, weapons, amulets, and magic texts). Six to eight-foot-long staves with metal tips adorning them are carried traditionally in Freemasonry rituals. Wicca practitioners use wands to channel energy, to invite or encourage. Though traditionally made of wood, wands can also be made of metal or crystal. A magic wand may be transformed into other items, grow, vanish, move, display a will of its own, or behave magically in its own right [2]. The earliest magical wand in Europe appeared in the Odyssey when Circe used one to transform Odysseus's men into wild beasts. In Italian fairy tales powerful fairies used magical wands in the late Middle Ages.[3] In ballads such as Allison Gross and The Laily Worm and the Machrel of the Sea, villainesses used silver wands to transform their victims. In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch used a wand to turn people into stone. In dramatic fiction, wands can serve as weapons in magical duels. Personal wands are common Harry Potter's world, as necessary tools to channel out each character's magic; it is the wand that chooses its owner. Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, from the Land of Oz novels by L. Frank Baum carried a wand through which she channeled her magic.

The essence of all this is the power to make people or nature behave as one would want. We crave the image of power in the face of our recognition of our powerlessness. We want someone to have the power to save us; hence, the stories about aliens who will save us from our bent toward nuclear destruction.

Yet, in particular cultural contexts we can have enormous power to influence others. In the boning custom in Africa, tribal elders pointed a bone at a member who had broken a taboo or made some other serious transgression, and shortly thereafter, that person died. Imagine how surprised these elders were when boning did not work on the Europeans. Voodoo is known to work in similar ways. Within particular cultural contexts, we can all belief sufficiently strongly that spells can work and people can magically die. The physiologist Walter Cannon explained boning deaths as autonomic nervous system collapse, and voodoo has similar explanations, but nevertheless, the people do actually die.

In our training, we focused upon the power we have to do good for others. The most important power we have is to cast a spell in which we believe in the other's capacity to get well. This was contrasted with modern medicine, which often casts a spell to convince people that they can never get well, or that they will be on medicine for life, or the like.

In medicine we often hear that we shouldn't give people false hope, lest they be disappointed. I suppose we fear that if they are disappointed, they will become angry with us, and then sue us for not curing them. I suspect that crucial to this idea is our lack of belief in self-healing and spiritual or spontaneous healing. If we only believe people can recover based upon what we can do and we don't believe that nature heals, or spirits heal, or God heals, or people heal themselves, then, if we can't do anything, we try to convince people that they can't heal, so that they won't get angry with us.

I learned from indigenous elders that there is no false hope. Medicine confuses hope with unrealistic appraisal. When we have both hope and realistic appraisal, we can hold onto the possibility of recovery even while knowing that one is really sick. Hope is not the same as realistic appraisal. An elder told me that we cannot heal if we do not believe it is possible.


1. David Colbert, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, p 195, ISBN 0-9708442-0-4

2. The Magician's Wand: A History of Mystical Rods of Power by Joe Lantiere ISBN 0962769525

3. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 315-6, Dover Publications, New York 1965

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Authors Bio:
Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and Narrative Medicine.