by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on December 24, 2010

Ask most adults if they believe in magic and they will usually make a face, laugh or look at you like you have lost your mind. Yet, magic is what this blog is about: magic, and how we lose access to it and forget how to use it.

A definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:

MAGIC: 1) the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.
 2) a quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.

Tuesday early morning’s celestial event is for me, a good example of a magical moment. The lunar eclipse coincided with the winter solstice for the first time since 1638. The next occurrence of such a confluence of events will be 2094! The December  21st total lunar eclipse – http://www.youtube.com/user/KxbTV– was dramatic in appearance — from bright orange to blood red to dark brown and finally gray/luminous white and large, so large that it felt as if we could almost reach out and touch it.  The moon moved into Earth’s penumbral shadow and puff—it turned RED! Magic. Think of it–this type of eclipse occurs only when the Sun, Earth, and the Moon align exactly, with Earth in the middle. This alignment is in itself, a very rare event. A time when magic happens, some would say. For non believers, here is the ‘scientific’ explanation: The eclipse occured as the moon passed through the northern portion of Earth’s shadow, just four days before perigee, when the moon is closest to Earth. Facts are good and necessary, but nothing like the experience (and magic) of the event itself.

Say what you will about this, but seeing a red moon over New York City is, well magical. I call your attention to this spectacular event as a reminder that magic happens, most often in not such a spectacular way. Spectacular is meant to get your attention, but magic happens in other ways too. Here are some that come to mind: Childbirth. The look in a child’s eyes when they see something for the first time that they cannot yet grasp but it gets them thinking. The feeling that we have when we fall in love. Or when we understand something in our bones. Or that feeling that comes about when we look at art, or listen to music, or read poetry and feel stirred deeply, as if a personal communion with that object has taken place (look up last blog entry). There are many explanations for all of these events, and as a psychoanalyst I could elaborate on them, yet, I want to focus on the magic within them. All of these events retain a quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that delights us and stirs us with a sense of wonder.

Fairy tales are a concrete way to draw us into a sense of wonderment that is contained in the magic of the stories. They invite us to battle and deal with many fears, difficulties, and struggles in a magical world. Through the magic written in fairy tales, children learn to deal with and repair emotional wounds. Magic thus becomes a tool for mastering trauma. Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist, was the first to discuss the emotional and symbolic importance of fairy tales, and suggested that the darkness of abandonment, death, violence, hatred, and other traumas, which occurred in a magical world, allowed children to grapple with their fears in symbolic terms. Children believe in magic because they can work out and rehearse personal crisis and achievements within it. Think of the magic involved in child’s play. Magic allows them to move in mysterious and yet to be thought of ways. Anything is possible. Not so in the world of adults.

Perhaps because children are constantly evolving and developing, decoding the cues and situations around them, magic is just another way of working out their understanding of the world. Working it out is in itself a magical process. Perhaps because the world seems (is) magical in the beginning: new, awe inspiring, full of unknown and infinite possibilities, the magic of it all allows them to engage and play with a sense of wonder, where the possibilities remain open and anything is possible. Where there is always a magical solution, it just needs to be found. Perhaps because magic operates closely with and through fantasy, it provides both a potential way to work through difficulty and an escape from the insufferable. Either way, for children, magic is in the air, and available.

Not so in the world of adults. As adults we have lived through and survived (in various and personal ways) many of life’s blows. We have adapted, defended, protected, fought, processed and carved out a life and a way of being. As adults we deal, or we try to. As adults we know better than to believe in magic.

OR do we?

Life can indeed deal us a raw hand. It can demand that we engage supernatural powers to survive. It can make us feel like puppets about to give under the strain of its hand. It can break us. In the immediacy of experience, and particularly traumatic experience, it can make us forget that life itself, our life, is full of magic and possibilities.  Somewhere along our  developmental trek toward adulthood we may lose the ability to connect to magic and its possibilities, to remember our use of it. Somewhere along the line we may lose our sense of wonder and replace it with our adulthood, our maturity, our ability to deal.

I now ask you to join me in the magical world, to think of the characteristics of a wizard: a wise, mature being who can engage magic through the wisdom and knowledge that can only come through the process of living a conscious life. A wizard represents, in my mind, someone with a mature engagement with the possibilities, all of the possibilities—thought, and not yet thought or known. In short, an adult connected to magic! To quote a patient who worked her way through her conflict and trauma with magic (through her reading of the Harry Potter series) and our sessions, “there are muggles(non magical folks) and there are wizards,” she said to me, “and it makes all the difference in the world!”  (For a quick refresher in magic as a tool for mastery, I encourage you to read the Harry Potter series and find your own wand!)

The truth is, we never stop looking for magical solutions, we just stop believing in magic.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Conger December 27, 2010 at 10:30 AM

The other day I was in a group of people and saw a friend of mine. I was excited to see her because I wanted to show her something I had made. I had never made something like it before and knew she would understand and appreciate it. I went up to her to get her attention, but she was talking to someone else. I interrupted her conversation and again tried to get her attention by bouncing up and down like a little kid. She couldn’t help but notice me and took time to look at what I had to show her. Later on, I apologized for acting like a child and I was surprised when she said to me, “Don’t ever stop because that’s part of your magic”.
I think you’re right, as adults we often scoff at magic, while children are still wholly entranced with it. I try at least once a day to remember the magic because it helps me keep my life from being so darn serious all the time.


Debbie Rothschild December 25, 2010 at 1:24 PM

I read this column on Christmas morning just after watching the 1958 movie Bell, Book and Candle with Kim Novack and Jimmy Sewart. Magic all around.


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