There’s a small handicap when you are familiar with real magick, it can make it hard to deal with popular images of magick in the general culture. I love movies and TV shows with magick use like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Dresden Files, but I have to admit that I yell at the screen a lot: “That’s not how it works!” Yes, it’s nice that they admit magick is in the world, but it’s something like when George Romero saw an SCA crown tournament in a park and said ” People dressing in medieval clothes and having tournaments, and they seem to be taking the outcome seriously! This would be a great basis for a movie!” But then decided it needed to be more dramatic and dangerous, and added motorcycles and the idea that they were doing it full time. It’s bad enough that almost anything with magick or psychic phenomena is semi-automatically shoved into the horror category, but then they have to make things much more dramatic. Rather than healing more quickly, or nudging probabilities, they have to have people throwing fireballs. Or, as in Sabrina, every time you use magick to solve a problem, it makes matters worse, and you have to clean up that mess on top of the original issue. (Or worse, in Supernatural where anything non-human was demonic! I much preferred Grimm.)
It also messes up my gaming. I’ love table top role playing. I’ve done D&D since it was just mimeographs passed around and drawn on graph paper. I love the little miniatures some people use. But I stink at playing. When anything happens I try to use magick the way I would in real life, whether it’s psychometry, or dowsing, or healing…. and it doesn’t work like that in the system, which usually means I mess up the game. Oops. Luckily many DMs cut me some slack because they know I don’t know what I’m doing.
Another guilty pleasure to which I’ll confess is I enjoy reading Paranormal cozy mystery romances. I’m actually not quite sure what the category description is, but I consume them like potato chips. I love watching someone come to terms with ghosts and magick being real, and enjoy the characters and plot twists. I don’t take them seriously, so I can be amused and only whine about the unrealistic aspects of the magick a little.
OK, the ones I read most are very formulaic: some young woman (or middle aged) gets dumped by her SO, loses her home, loses her job, and is generally depressed and has no options. Suddenly she gets a visit or mail from a lawyer solving her problems, a relative she’s never known has left her a house, a business or some way to deal with her financial problems. When she gets to the new town, she also discovers that she has magickal abilities. The first few books have her trying to accept the new reality and learn to use the new abilities, (and she has to because she’s probably be accused of murder, and has to solve the mystery to get out of the charges), and she falls in love with a local policeman. (This gives her an excuse to use her abilities to help him solver future murder cases.) Within a few books it takes a sharp turn onto MarySue Blvd. as she not only learns to use her abilities, she turns out to be one of the most powerful magick users ever, and has to save the world, … repeatedly. There is almost certainly a familiar, who is frequently able to speak to her and usually snarky. Frankly, even aside from the overly dramatized magick, I hate seeing familiars portrayed as comic relief (the way they did with Gimli in the LotR mofie)
There’s’s a difference between a pet and a familiar. There’s also a difference between a pet whisperer and someone with a familiar. When you have a familiar you generally are able to communicate with them better than with a usual pet, but also you experience an increase in the efficacy of your magick when they’ve put something their energy into the working as well, as often happens with various other entities, guides, etc. (But that is a topic for another blog.) I just don’t much care for them being treated as comic relief.
I often wonder if the writers know something about magick, or if they’ve just read about it, and are using what they’ve read. I loved the way Harry Dresden did spells in the first few books, many of the principles seemed fairly sound, before he had to ‘level up’ in each subsequent book. I love Charles de Lint’s urban fantasy and how he blends the mythology of Europe, Africa, and the New World together without seeming to violate any of them. I love when writers explore the implications of magick use in the modern world. In Bob Asprin’s MythInc series, I liked the way he talked about tapping into ley lines. I stole a few ideas and techniques from Katherine Kurtz’s Chronicles of Camber. I enjoyed the True Blood books and TV show, although it had a bit more sex than I usually care for. I prefer romance, mutual admiration, respect, and affection. But as there are many types of folks with different tastes, there’s a range of ‘romance’. I lean toward the romantic, rather than sexual, but to each his, or her, own. I also feel that there are a huge range of styles of magick, and not everyone is going to access and channel energy in the same way. I think fiction allows us to explore the many ways we can do it. (Better than trying it on our own sometimes.)
In many of these books we see the theme of the heroine embracing her power, I think that’s a message women in our culture need to hear (read) over and over, like an affirmation, until it finally sinks in. When I was a kid, there were (and still are) stories of young people discovering their inner talents and strengths. Recently I notice there have been a spate of stories about middle aged women tripping over magick after having children and careers and still feeling powerless. Let’s face it, the modern world makes a lot of us feel powerless. These books allow us to explore the implications of being different, and feeling that we need to hide that, then gradually discovering that the abilities we’d been trying to hide can be advantages or strengths. Sure, there are a lot more gorgeous guys being attracted to the female protagonists, but what’s fiction for if not self-insertion so we can grow with the main character? Why not a bit of fantasy on the way? When it comes to magick and monsters, I started reading with fairy tales and mythology, then science fiction/ fantasy (which is where I got many tips on the body/mind connection and what you can do with it). I know these paperbacks (and ebooks) are not great literature, and are simple, innocent pleasures. But maybe even as we know that we can’t wave wands and speak garbled Latin to float our drink over from the counter to the couch so we don’t have to get up, or ride a broomstick, or have handsome immortals competing for our affections, we can imagine it. I read that some sports teams experimented with imagining running through their drills, and watching recorded games of good players, and their own team results improved. Maybe enjoying these fantasies will break through our skepticism as affirmations do, and chip away at the barriers that keep us from actually doing the things we dream of. While I believe practice is vital to getting good at any skill, I also think we do need to believe it’s possible. Couldn’t hurt, might help, right?