Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Magic of Magic

Most people are fascinated with magic, and one of the most interesting cards in the tarot deck is the Magician, because no other card has gone through such radical transformations between the original decks and the present time. There is a lot of substance here.

The earliest Magician cards depicted a juggler or a stage magician, in other words, an entertainer. A person who lives by his wits, using his slight of hand skills, tell jokes, dazzle audiences with optical illusions. This person is simply using his skills to make a living, using his wits to get by. Not necessarily a metaphysical or spiritual person. Early French cards were named the Bateleur. As a traveling entertainer, he would have more in common with a troubadour than an alchemist.

The Magician as we most commonly perceive him now dates back to the ceremonial magician popularized in the Rider/Waite/Smith deck, where we see a robed figure holding a wand, with the infinity symbol over his head, and on the table before him are the altar tools including the cup, pentacle and sword in addition to the wand he is holding aloft with one hand, while pointing to the ground with the other. His body language suggests the magical incantation, "As above, so below. As within, so without." The ceremonial magician of this tradition is more a descendant of the medieval alchemist or wizard than the entertainer.

A third depiction becoming more common on the Magician card is one that is a shaman, a primal magician dressed in animal skins, antlers, perhaps holding or playing a drum, perhaps with some herbs in the picture. This third type of magician is one who is an intermediary with the spirit world as well as being a ceremonialist.

In all three cases, the Magician can perform feats beyond his appearances. In all three guises, he can accomplish things that ordinary people cannot do. Of course, we can debate about what is ordinary and what abilities we all have. A person who desires to do so can be trained to be a stage magician or a ceremonial magician. Both require dedication and practice.

That is why one of the key words I always associate with the Magician is will. A magician, in any of these aspects, makes things happen.

The genius of this design is how it works in its radical evolution even though it appears to be so very different. In each case, we seek to connect with the supernatural, the realms beyond what we usually see. We want to be amazed. We want to know that life can be more.

This desire for more of life, our willingness to go to great lengths to affect change, is what makes the Magician such a powerful character. The Magician is one who uses his wits plus everything available to him to be able to travel back and forth between the worlds. Whether it is herbs, drums, masks, costumes, smoke and mirrors, decks of cards, mysterious potions, jeweled wands or bouncing balls, the Magician is the guardian at the gateway, the one with the key.

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