Magic and Intentionality - The Ways of the Life Force - The Foundations of Druid Magic

The Druid Magic Handbook: Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth - John Michael Greer 2008

Magic and Intentionality
The Ways of the Life Force
The Foundations of Druid Magic

These considerations are important because harmony with nature is one of the essential principles of Druid magic. With two other themes, symbolism and intentionality, it forms a triad of principles that underlie everything in this book. Symbolism has a role in magic complex enough that it needs a chapter of its own; it is covered in detail in chapter 2 of this book. Intentionality is simpler, but it has depths that many students of magic miss.

For just over a century and a half, most books on magic in the Western world have talked about intentionality in terms of the development and use of the magical will. This habit goes back to the great nineteenth-century French occultist Eliphas Lévi, whose writings launched the modern revival of magic. Lévi got the idea of the magical will from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, one of the few thinkers of his time to accept the possibility of magic. Schopenhauer saw the universe as the product of a cosmic will creating representations in the minds of beings. In Lévi's writings, this dance of will and representation became a recipe for magical power that used will and imagination to shape the world.

In Lévi's wake, many students of magic came to see magical training as a matter of building up vast reserves of willpower and using them to force the universe to do their bidding. This was not what Lévi meant, as it happens, but some of the colorful language Lévi used to express his ideas helped foster the idea that magic was basically a way of browbeating the universe into getting what you want, when, where, and how you want it. This sort of thinking became popular in magical circles because it resonated with popular ideologies of the time that celebrated humanity's supposed “conquest” of nature.

Like the attitude that sees nature as something to conquer, however, this approach to magic has serious problems. Because it ignores the momentum and flow of natural patterns, it's clumsy and wasteful of energy. It's much like trying to cross a lake on a rowboat without paying attention to the winds and currents. If you ignore these, you can put plenty of effort into rowing and make very little headway, or even end up further away from your goal than you started.

Many people who reject this approach go to the opposite extreme and embrace a passive approach to the spiritual world. Most mainstream religions in the Western world, for example, insist that magic is wrong and people ought instead to pray to a god and then prayerfully accept whatever the god decides to send them. This latter claim, to return to our boating metaphor, is like trying to cross a lake on a rowboat by throwing the oars overboard and trusting the winds and currents to get you to the other side. If you do that, you may cross the lake or you may not, and an attitude of prayerful acceptance of whatever happens is probably a good idea!

These two ideas form what Druid philosophy calls a “binary.” A binary is a pair of ideas, factors, or forces in opposition to each other. Binaries exert a curious magnetism on the human mind. Once we get caught up in thoughts of yes or no, right or wrong, love or hate, truth or falsehood, or any other binary, it can be hard to realize that the two poles of the binary don't contain all of reality. The two attitudes just outlined make an excellent example of a binary, because both are extreme positions masquerading as the only two options.

Druid philosophy offers a useful tactic in situations of this kind. When you encounter a binary, you simply look for a third factor that is not simply a midpoint between the two poles. Find the third factor and you convert the binary into a ternary, a balanced threefold relationship that allows freedom and flexibility.

In this case, the third factor that resolves the binary into a ternary is knowledge. If you learn how to read the winds and currents, you can work with them rather than against them. You can choose a time when the wind is blowing in the direction you want to go and row yourself into a current that moves in the same direction. As your knowledge develops, you can even turn one oar into a mast, use the other one as a rudder, find a piece of cloth to serve as a sail, and go skimming across the lake with one hand on the tiller and a fair wind doing all the work.

This last approach is the way of Druid magic. Because Druid mages know that they are part of nature, participating in the great dance of life, they pay attention to the movements of that dance and use those movements to get where they want to go. Rather than trying to force the world to do what they want, or sitting around waiting for someone else to do it for them, they learn to make contact with the currents of nwyfre that flow through the world, catch these in the “sails” of their magic, and ride them to their destination.

This is how the magical will actually works. It has nothing in common with Victorian notions of willpower but the word will. Think of someone exerting willpower, and what comes to mind? Someone with clenched jaw, white knuckles, narrowed eyes, and rigid muscles? All these signs of conflict betray weakness, not strength. Real will is effortless. It corresponds, not to struggle and strain, but to what philosophers call “intentionality,” the orientation of the mind that locates meaning in objects of experience.

An old Hindu metaphor helps show how this works. Imagine that you are walking in the forest and see what looks like a poisonous snake coiled up beside the trail. Heart pounding and muscles ready to jump, you make a wide circle around it, and only then see that it is actually a coil of rope. The object was the same all along, but your mind gave it two radically different intentionalities. When the intentionality changed, everything about your experience changed except the thing you were experiencing.

You may not be able choose whether the coiled thing beside the trail is a snake or a rope. If you face a window and look toward it, however, you can look through the window at the scenery outside, or you can look at the window and examine the glass, frame, and so on. If you look at the scenery it can be very hard to notice the window glass, and if you look at the glass it can be just as hard to notice the scenery. Is the glass a way of seeing outside or something to look at in its own right? It can be either one, and the difference is intentionality.

Many things in life can be shaped even more powerfully by your choice of intentionality. If you face a challenge with confidence, for example, your chances of success are much better than if you face the same challenge full of doubts and worries. Intentionality is the reason why. What the confident person sees as potential opportunities, the worried person sees as potential obstacles, and they are both right, because whether something is an opportunity or an obstacle usually depends on how you choose to approach it.

Magical philosophy goes one step further than this, because nwyfre follows intentionality. When your mind locates meaning in something, nwyfre picks up and amplifies that meaning. The more intense the experience of meaning, the stronger the flow of nwyfre it sets in motion, and the more likely it is to shape other people's experiences as well as yours.

The difference between intentionality and ordinary ideas of willpower explains many of the failures that bedevil beginners. When you try to use magic to will the world into obedience, you set up an intentionality of conflict between yourself and the world. Nwyfre follows that intentionality, and you find yourself embroiled in conflict with everything around you. The harder you try to make the world obey, the more it fights back, because all your efforts reinforce the intentionality and amplify the conflict. Change your intentionality to one of moving in harmony with the world, and the conflict disappears.

The same effect shapes magic's practical applications. Many beginners, for example, try to use magic to achieve financial prosperity, and it's common for their efforts to backfire and leave them poorer than they started. Why? In many cases, their magic focuses on wanting what they don't have. This sets up an intentionality of wanting and not having, and so they end up wanting money and not having it. As with so many things in life, the more energy they put into chasing something, the faster it runs away.

If you want to use magic to become prosperous, your intentionality has to focus on being prosperous, not on wanting to be prosperous. One effective approach starts with noticing the prosperity already in your life—if you have a roof over your head, three meals a day, and the leisure to read this book, after all, you have more prosperity than half the people on this planet—and letting the change in focus from wanting to having gently redefine your intentionality toward wealth. Another useful strategy focuses on seeing opportunities for abundance around you. This redefines your surroundings as a source of opportunity, and as nwyfre follows intentionality and shapes experience, opportunities appear.