A few days ago, on my way home from work, I stopped off at the beach. This is a place I know well, the point where the river Taw and the river Torridge blend, sneaking-off together to the sea. The tide was out; revealing tiny striated dunes, wide expanses of slightly yielding sandy mud, and flattened forests of fine green seaweed.
Donning some loose clothing I walked out, far away from the marram grass and the strand line, and on to ground that for most of the day is the river bed. Once at the waters edge I stopped, dipped my hand in the water and anointed my forehead. This river is sacred to me. Not because it has any kind of mythological association (though it does feature in the excellent writing of Henry Williamson) but because of the simple lived experience of having spent a decade of my life living beside it. My river is a simple fact of geography; it is also a spirit, a god (or goddess) and a tributary of the great movement of water that powers the living systems of our planet.
I stand in the water. Wriggle my toes down into the estuary mud, feel my weight sinking tai chi style into the ground, compressing the wet earth beneath me. My ankles are washed cool and my arms rise up. Swinging my limbs gently through the air I inhale, feeling my whole body expand – belly, ribcage, and upper chest. My hands move upwards. For a moment, at the peak of the in breath, my fingers form a triangle, framing the blazing sun (a rare and welcome guest in Devon).
As I exhale the air leaves, belly, chest, shoulders. My hands drift down to clasp lightly at the tan tien. I am standing on the earth, rising out of the water, breathing the clear air, beneath the bright fire of the almost-Midsummer sun. (I repeat this process several times before heading back to firmer earth where I can do a more formal yoga set.)
While I may explain this practice back to myself, or you gentle reader, as being an act of mediation, or prayer or magick it is such a simple thing that it seems strange to wrap it around with complex terms. Certainly this is a willed intentional act but it was also spontaneous, arising from the confluence of elements in that moment, in me and in that time.
My own style of magick tends towards this simplicity. I can’t get all that excited about spotting the gematria numbers on passing demons as they chug along the tunnels of Set (at least not these days). Nor do I find refuge in the toad-fancying iconography and hair splitting separatism of some Traditional Witchcrafts. Neither yet do I care very much for approaches to magick where there is an apparent imperative to wait to practice until one has internalised a vast, complex (and, when all said and done, made up) map of the universe.
Now that’s not to dismiss approaches that might be said to require bookish research, the painstaking translation of ancient grimoires and the memorisation of vast lists of sacred names or whatnot (and yes, I have been there and, at times, done that). For some people these things really work for them. We each have our style and it’s true we also should be mindful not only of doing only what we like, but ensuring that we balance our own proclivities with approaches that will stretch us. Crowley says of the magician and the Great Work ‘…if that pyramid is to touch the stars, how broad must be the base!’
But these days, for me, who spends a fair amount of time (like now!) in the world of words and ideas – standing in that liminal space, on the edge of land and sea, feeling the air and fire of the sky move through my body – this really is a magick that works.