Foreword by David Spangler
When, in the early '70s, I was a codirector of the Findhorn Foundation Community, an international spiritual center in the north of Scotland, I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Robert Ogilvy Crombie (or ROC, as he was known by his friends). He was a lively, gentle, and loving elderly Scot who was a Hermetic magician. Though he lived in Edinburgh, he was a frequent visitor to the community and an integral part of its spiritual life. Findhorn is best known around the world for its contact with the inner kingdoms of nature—the spiritual intelligences behind all growing things. Part of this contact was made by Dorothy Maclean, one of the three founders of the community, whose specialty was communication with the “devas” or angels of various plant species. It was ROC, though, who had contact and communication with the elemental forces of nature, the Nature Spirits. This contact was his most public contribution, but behind the scenes, he had a special role as the community's guardian. It was in this regard that I came to know and respect his magical skills and knowledge.
For his ceremonial work, ROC said he used the tradition originating with the fabled Order of the Golden Dawn, the famous magical lodge established in England in the late 1880s that became the renewing, driving force behind so much of the occultism and magic of the twentieth century. However, his training was something of a mystery. A heart ailment at an early age had kept him from holding a steady job. Told by doctors to seek out isolation and quiet, he lived for many years in a cottage in an ancient forest, rather Merlin-like. It was there that he made the deep contact with the forces of nature and, I believe, based on things he told me, it was there under their tutelage that he learned the basic principles of magic, principles he later augmented by extensive study in the fields of psychology, physics, and the Hermetic writings of Western magic.
Whatever the nature of his training, ROC clothed his magic in a context of attunement to nature. Although he lived in the center of a major city, nature was supremely important to him. Indeed, although he never claimed such a thing, I often felt in his presence that I was with a Druid.
In 1973, I returned from Findhorn and Scotland to pick up my work in the United States. Before I left, I had a final conversation with ROC in which he said he felt he was one of the last practitioners of an older tradition of magic. “A new form of magic is unfolding,” he said, “I can see it, but it's not for me to do. It's for you and those of your generation and the next.”
These words echoed something I had been told several years earlier. From childhood on, I have had an ongoing contact with nonphysical beings. One summer, right after my graduation from high school but before I entered college, I had had a short, unexpected visit from a being who said simply, “In the future, a new form of spirituality will unfold. With it will come a new kind of magic.” At the time, I had just stored this away under the “Interesting-but-I-don't-know-what-to-do-about-it” mental file. But ROC's words reawakened my alertness to new possibilities in the field of magic and spirituality.
However, although I had an interest in magic and practiced a very personal form of it that I wove out of my own inner experiences, my work and life took me in other directions. It was not for another twenty years that magic began to occupy my attention again in a serious way. By then I had begun to meet and work with modern magicians who were trained in the old methods but were transforming them through their own insights and experiences. People such as John and Caitlin Matthews, William Bloom, R. J. Stewart, and others seemed to me to be pushing at the envelope of the magical traditions and opening exciting possibilities for new directions in the magical arts. And I began my own experiments in that direction as well, exploring what I call an “incarnational magic.”
Then I came across a book that sent me on an expedition to find everything that its author had written. The book was Inside a Magical Lodge, one of the finest and clearest books on the magical tradition and its structure that I had found. The author was John Michael Greer, the writer of the excellent book you are now holding. Soon, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and the services of Amazon.com (and what Renaissance mage ever had such a willing and able invisible servant to bring him knowledge?), I had everything John Michael had written and was working my way through it with a rising excitement.
For what I discovered when I read Inside a Magical Lodge and, subsequently, his other books was three things: a brilliant scholarly mind that was deeply knowledgeable of the history and traditions of the magical arts, the practical wisdom of an experienced practitioner of those arts, and, most important from my point of view, the inner feel of someone on the track of formulating a new kind of magic for the twenty-first century.
I decided I wanted to get to know this man. But I had no idea where he was.
This is where magic stepped in. I had been invited to speak at a summer conference in Oregon near the Columbia River Gorge, a spectacularly beautiful area. The event was held in a rural camp under the trees. Early on the morning I was to give a workshop, I stood in the main clearing looking at a large board with the day's schedule on it and saw that the other speaker of the day was John Michael Greer! Hooray! Here would be my chance to meet him. But closer inspection saw that we were teaching at the same time in different areas of the camp. I would not be able to go hear him talk after all.
I heard a sigh behind me and saw a tall, bearded, handsome fellow standing a few feet away also contemplating the schedule board.
“Conflicts?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Me, too. I really wanted to hear John Michael Greer, but I'm teaching a workshop at the same time.”
“Are you David Spangler?” he asked.
“Well, I'm John Michael Greer, and I wanted to hear you!”
If there was no magic behind this meeting, then I will eat my hat. But even magic only goes so far. We still didn't get to hear each other that day. A friend of mine did go listen to John Michael, whose talk introduced some of the themes in this book, and he consoled me by telling me—several times and at length—just how excellent John Michael had been!
Since then I have had the pleasure of making up for my loss that day, both in personal communications and visits with John Michael and in enjoying his prolificacy with books. One of his latest, AWorld Full of Gods, I am already using as a textbook in some of my classes on contemporary spirituality, and I have no doubt that I will be using this one as well.
What most attracts me to John Michael's work is that I see him as one of those who are bringing a new understanding and practice of magic into being. When because of my own inner contact and later because of ROC's words, I began to consider that new ways of working magic were going to appear, my thoughts turned toward the forms of magic. By “new magic,” I thought what was meant were new forms of ritual or new ways of contacting spiritual sources of energy and power. I had to grow in my own experience to realize that this isn't what was meant at all. It's not that new forms may not appear or have not appeared; people are experimenting with magical forms and rituals all the time. But the essence of a new magic—the kind of thing ROC was talking about and I assume my inner contact was predicting—lies in a new understanding of the nature of magic itself. Not just an understanding of how to do it, but of what it is.
Magic, as John Michael eloquently points out in this book, is not some glamorous, supernatural power apart from life. It is the energies and processes of life itself. It is rooted in our connectedness with the life of the world around us, and its greatest effect is to root us and connect us even more fully. In fact, one could say that magic is the expression of our connectedness. A magician, we come to see, is not someone who stands apart and wields vast forces in some impersonal manner from a lonely mountain top. Rather he or she is a person who is immersed in the world, a participant, part of the life of nature, part of the life of humanity, at home in forests and in cities, wherever life is. To “do magic” is to serve life. It is to enhance the capacity of life, in whatever form, to be fully what it is and to become perhaps more than it might expect.
John Michael knows this point and is able to convey it in clear and compelling prose. He is not only a fine and experienced magician. He is also a blessedly fine writer. I'm envious on both counts!
In this book, John Michael is presenting a specific form of magic, namely Druid magic. The specificity is important. In our world, life manifests through forms and bodies. It possesses particularity. The raccoons that occasionally sleep in the trees in my backyard are not the same as the trees, and both are different from me. Druid magic is not the Hermetic magic of the Order of the Golden Dawn, nor is it Egyptian magic, nor Native American magic. It's important to understand and honor the differences and not attempt to make one the other. I would make a poor raccoon and an even poorer tree.
So John Michael gifts us with a powerful form based on ancient traditions. If we are Druids, we can appreciate the connectedness and depth this magical form offers us with all that we love and honor in the Druid path. If we are not Druids, we can still appreciate the spirit of connection and depth of practice this book offers and the vision it offers of holistic ways, connected ways, and collaborative ways of doing magic.
Either way, it offers us a chance to fulfill the vision of a new magic, for behind the practices and techniques John Michael offers is something I feel is more subtle and maybe more important: the idea that it isn't a new magic that is evolving but new magicians. It is magicians who understand the honor of being human but at the same time the responsibility and joy of being connected, of being part of a larger wholeness of life and serving the energies that flow through that wholeness. It is the vision of a magician who loves, indeed who is love.
The Druid path may well offer a greater opportunity to come to this place, but it is really open to any of us, whatever path we walk. For magical forms can come and go and, as ROC pointed out, will come and go, but the magical place of interconnectedness and love where we can stand in collaboration with the world is always available to us. Learning how to go to that place and stand there and be a sacred mage in service to all life: that is the new magic. Its secrets are in each of us. From that place we can step into any magical or ritual form. When we do, the magic that is forever and always in us will enliven and enlighten the magic that is potential in the form.
This is the vision that John Michael Greer offers. He is truly one of the New Magicians.
ROC would have been pleased.
Author of Blessing: The Art and the Practice;
The Story Tree; Apprenticed to Spirit