I am in my flat, alone, doing magic. I know magic doesn't exist. I also know that it works.
The phone and the internet are unplugged. My mobile is switched off. The room is lit by flickering tealights. On the table in front of me I have a black candle and a bowl of salt water.
This is a cleansing ritual. I want to disentangle myself from Chris, Derek and Martin. The last few months have left me feeling dirty and confused. They are all wrapped round me like used bandages.
There is a big debate about whether magic is real or not, and whether practitioners are crazy or deluded for thinking they can influence reality. This debate misses the point.
Human beings work in strange ways. In primitive societies, the shaman would point the bone and pronounce the curse and his victim would wither and die. The opposite can be seen with the placebo effect – if someone tells you a sugar pill is medicine, you get better. Not always, of course. There isn't much a placebo can do for a broken leg, or for a ravening cancer. But more times than can be accounted for by chance.
I use pagan rituals, because they appeal to me aesthetically. I like the pretty coloured candles, and the herbs and incense, and the sense of being in touch with nature. Other people might pray, or meditate. But it's all the same thing. You're getting in touch with your deep, expanded self, which is also the whole universe. One is a metaphor for the other, although I'm never entirely sure which way round it is. Maybe they are both metaphors.
I think of it in terms of focusing my intentions. I think that's why magic - all magic - spells, voodoo, praying, meditation, anything which involves getting in touch with something bigger than ourselves which is not necessarily ruled by logic – works.
It doesn't actually matter whether what I'm doing is “real” or not. I am lighting a black candle, putting some salt water in a bowl, and saying a few words, that's all. Any of you could do it.
What matters is whether you believe it's a spell, because if you believe that then a black candle will protect you and disperse negative energy, and salt water is for cleansing a space and a person, and I'm constructing something – might be mental, might be a physical force, I have no idea which and it doesn't actually matter – which will help me to get over a confusing and unhappy time.
We don't see reality, not the whole of it. Everything we experience, and everything we think about what we experience, is filtered through our own assumptions, perceptions and personalities. This is obvious at its most casual level in the way we are more likely to notice things which reinforce our own interests and values.
You're single and unhappy about it? You see attractive people and happy couples all around you. You're single and happy about it? You see bad relationships, people arguing and making each other miserable. You're into nature? You could walk through the middle of one of the world's biggest cities and you'll see trees and birds and animals, because that's what you're tuning into. You see a garden, where other people, who might be into architecture, see the towering buildings. It's as simple as reading the online news. We select the stories that interest us, and not the ones that don't.
All those things were already there. The close, loving couple and the arguing couple are sitting next to each other in the same bar. The tree is there. The buildings are there. And you do, if you think about it, see both.
But you only really notice the one you have programmed yourself to see. And because reality exists inside your head, then in effect what you see is “reality”, for you anyway, because you have nothing else to go on.
We miss so much.
The barriers and filters keep going up inside our heads. We put them up ourselves. Knock them down, they go up again in a different place. Don't get me wrong, to a certain extent they have to be there. If you experienced reality as a whole, everything equally important, you'd be unable to function because there would be too much sensory input. We have to filter. But it's good to be aware that what we see is not all there is to see. All we experience is our idea of what's real. If you bear that in mind, sometimes you can take a step back and see a situation or a person differently.
So I'm tuning into something, and I'm telling the whole of reality inside my head that a line is being drawn under my obsession with Chris and my fear of Derek and my conflicted feelings about Martin. I don't know yet what I think of Martin, but I do know I need to relax about it, whatever it turns out to be.
I light the candle. I pick up the bowl of salt water and look into it, I can see candle flames reflected on its surface. I close my eyes and focus.