Shooting rabbits isn’t easy. At least that’s what a friend of mine has discovered recently. The Devonian farmhouse in which he lives boasts a magnificent garden with a pond, numerous fruit tress and a large lawn. In the evening, while reading in his library, my friend could see rabbits emerge from the hedges and begin to feed. As a confirmed gourmet he decided that a stew with rabbit harvested from his own land would be something to have a go at. With this in mind he purchased an air gun.
The next day the rabbits were back, nibbling the grass and burrowing under the apple tree roots and damaging them in the process. My friend left the library to obtain the weapon but upon his return the rabbits had, miraculously it seemed, vanished.
This went on for some time. Occasionally he would get as far as opening the library door, gun in hand, before his quarry would disappear. Yet other times they seemed to be sensitive to his murderous intentions before he was even able to open the door. What was going on? Did the rabbits posses some remarkable psychic power? Some precognitive skill that was able to preserve them from the hunter?
Finally my friend was successful in bagging himself a bunny. He’d figured out what was going on and adapted his behaviour in such a way that the rabbits were no longer disturbed by his armed presence. However having killed one animal it’s now the case that the rabbits are steering clear of the lawn (at least during twilight).
So what was going on in this situation? As anyone who has hunted will tell you when we attempt to stalk an animal it’s not only the quarry we need to watch out for. In this case, even while in his library, the movement of my friend, especially the type of movement he was making (to get his gun and quietly try to slip out the French windows) was alerting the whole network of relationships in the garden. Birds notice what’s going on and give their alarm calls. This alerts the rabbits, which take cover.
This reminds me of a point made by a psychedelics researcher during his lecture at the recent Breaking Convention conference. In trying to explain the expanded sense of awareness that the drug NMT creates he quoted a remark made to him by an aboriginal elder. The elder asked ‘how can you know if something is coming even if it’s kilometres away from where you are?’ The answer is to listen deeply, to attune the hearing down to the level of the mummer of insects in the landscape. As the object or animal approaching perturbs these buzzings and chirrupings and flappings, so those changes cascade through the reptiles, the birds and the mammals in the landscape. Alarm calls are issued by many species and so the clever listener can hear that something is coming long before the noise of the object itself is discernible.
What happens in the bush is identical to what happens in the Devon countryside. The rabbits were listening not just to my friend attempting to sneak up on them with his gun. Their senses were attuned to the background hum of life forms in that landscape. In this way they appeared to have miraculous powers of perception.
It’s easy for us humans, with our amazing ability to focus on just one thing amid a range of inputs, to forget about this kind of background, holistic perception. Yet this effect goes on around us all the time. When we enter a situation there are the bits of it (people, objects, products, events) upon which we are focussed and then there are all those intimately interconnected elements that we may disregard as irrelevant. But if we want to successfully engage with the subject of our intervention (ie to shoot the rabbit) we must bear these things in mind.
In magick, like in hunting similar rules apply. For instance, we might want to explore or change some aspect of ourselves, or indeed the world around us, by our practices. As we attempt to do so we may discover that our ‘quarry’ is intimately bound-up with other aspects of the self or wider universe. We may then discover that we can’t go straight from A to B but have to spend some time settling into a new pattern, gently putting things ‘at their ease’ before we progress.
This is particularly important in cultures like our that often emphasise the importance of speedy results and goal orientated behaviours. One might for example contrast the permaculture approach to land management with that of industrialised farming. The ideal permaculture way of working with a given area of land is to spend at least a year simply observing it. Finding out how it works, talking to people who have known the land over time, spending time in and among the beings that populate the space. After a time of observation, the logic runs, what we decide to grow, to build and to change about the land in question, can be informed by our active observations and growing sensitivity to that particular place. The contrast with the quick, results driven approach of industrialised farming, where land is not much more than raw space for activity, is a dramatic one.
Given these facts it’s not surprising that the beginner in magick often fails to take their time, and it’s true that even experienced adepts sometimes find themselves being too quick to focus on ‘the result’ they are after. Not only can this mean we miss the delight of the journey to our goal, but, as with the case of the rabbits, our thundering presence in the woodland of the unconscious can spook our target and leave us none-the-wiser about why things went wrong.
When we talk of magick it’s easy to imagine that we’re talking about what Starhawk defined as power-over. Being in control, being the ruler of the psyche – all sigils and kick-ass ceremonies and servitors an’ shit. Whereas as the skilled hunter knows (be they a rabbit hunter or the kid waiting motionless by the rock pool, eager to see the slow gyrations of water snails) there is great power in stealth, in silence and in sensitivity. All those barbaric words are pretty cool, but they’re not going to work too well unless we know how to listen.
This sensitivity, one might conjecture, is more likely to lead to an intelligent view of the world as an interconnected whole. It may also lead to moral qualities such as the pursuit of virtue, compassion and tolerance. Beyond this it could be the basis for a holistic perception of the world that transcends the narrow confines of the assumed self but does not abandon the reality of our individual narrative (one could say (True) Will) in the world. In a sense this is ‘black magick’ in that it’s focused around getting what we want (in this case, some excellent rabbit stew) but in order to get what we want we find ourselves developing our sensitivity to the universe; expanding our notion of who we are, and better understanding our story, and that of others.