By definition, magic is mysterious and effective. The effective part is crucial: magic is a practical art. There are spells that have lasted for millennia. If they absolutely didn't work ever for anyone, they wouldn't be remembered. The converse is also true: no one thing works for everyone. This goes for conventional medicine, traditional medicine, educational theories and magic, too. Because your headache defied that aspirin, doesn't mean that aspirin never works. It just wasn't the right tool for you at that moment. “But that's real life,” you protest, “not magic!” Well, magic is real life, too.
There is a power that radiates from all living beings in varying degrees of force and clarity. Different languages have different words to identify this power. The Polynesians refer to it as mana. Among the Yoruba, a prominent language group of Western Africa, it is known as axé. In Morocco, this power is called baraka and in other areas of the Islamic world some variation on that word way be used.
I offer you words from different languages because English has no specific word for this concept. I can describe this concept for you in English but I can't name it. The closest approximation is force or power but these are imprecise because there are so many types of forces or powers. One could say spiritual force but that, too, is imprecise. It is a spiritual force but this force also expresses itself in very physical ways. The spiritual aspect cannot be separated from the physical. This force is a holistic power. It does not acknowledge the splits between spirit and matter that humans may perceive but transcends these divisions.
This concept lurks in the English language, perhaps for safety's sake, demonstrating our cultural ambivalence to magic and reflecting the reality that for centuries, those who openly and effectively practiced Earth magic were persecuted and suppressed. Interestingly, the cultures that do possess an explicit and specific term to identify this force rarely possess just one generic word for magic. Their languages may instead contain something more like those twenty-seven Inuit words for snow, assorted various, specific words that describe specific acts, intents and practices that would in English all be lumped together under the category, magic. There is no one blanket word to distinguish magic from real life because in these cultures, magic is incorporated into real life. It isn't super-natural but a part of the way natural works. One is encouraged to be aware of the various forces because contact with them strengthens, protects and improves quality of life.
Just because we lack a specific English name for it doesn't mean that this concept isn't at home in America. It just doesn't reside out in the open. You will most likely encounter it outside the cultural mainstream, most easily in ethnic enclaves. The most publicly accessible place to find acknowledgement of these forces is within blues music, if you know what to listen for. When the great Chicago blues singer, Muddy Waters, boasts of “all the powers in his hand,” this, not merely his physical prowess, is what he is singing about.
Although anything may contain a spark of this power, the quantity and quality varies. Certain species of plants and animals contain greater quantities than others. A human science that analyzes and studies these powers has developed over the ages, although cultural perceptions vary. Universally, horses are recognized as possessing tremendous quantities of baraka. How each individual horse measures up to the standard of potential varies but the potential always exists. In Polynesia, the ti plant also possesses the potential for vast quantities of power. It is placed near the front door to bring protection to the house and its inhabitants. No one anticipates that in the event of a burglary, the plant will transform into an armed response guard. Instead, inherent in the ti plant is a radiant force that magnetically attracts good fortune and spiritual protection. The tulsi plant, holy basil, is used similarly in India.
In North America, when sage is referred to as a power plant, when it is burned so that its smoke cleanses and purifies an area, this is the concept that we are trying to express. The concept may be expressed with a certain awkwardness, but this is on account of the inadequacy of language, not some failure of the power itself. There are no traditional cultures that did not recognize that there were plants that were especially powerful and that provided an immediate link to the sacred. In fact, wherever sage has been in contact with people, it has been recognized as being extremely powerful and used for similar purposes, not only in North America but also throughout North Africa, Asia and Europe.
Baraka, this force, this power, possesses a sacred aspect. It is defined as a positive power, a benevolent force. This power can be transmitted. It is contagious. It can be expanded. It can also be lost. (Traditional Hawaiians believed that misuse of mana, manipulating it for selfish, unethical purposes caused one's own personal power to decrease.)
The closest image that I can give to you, although it is a negative image, is radioactive radiation. Like that type of radiation, this power is formless, has no scent or sound but is absorbed and stored just the same. You will witness its absorption by its effects upon you. If you consistently feel drained or frustrated, if things just don't ever work for you, if life lacks a spark of joy, you very likely suffer from a deficiency of this power. You can attain and balance this power by selecting, arranging and manipulating the powers that surround you.
Although certain species inherently contain specific powers, the actual quantity and quality varies according to the individual. In other words, a sage plant growing wild and free in pristine wilderness contains immense power. A sage plant cultivated in a garden with love, consideration, respect, reasonably clean water and sunshine also contains immense power. Whose power is greater is a toss-up. The wild sage's power may technically be greater, however, the cultivated sage may have developed a relationship with a specific human. Working together as a pair, they may be a formidably powerful unit. A sage plant growing along the roadside, processing toxic fumes daily is using its power for its own survival; it doesn't have any to share with you.
People, too, contain this power, some more than others. Sometimes this power is innate; sometimes it's learned or acquired. Different cultures maintain varying views on exactly which individuals are most likely to be extra blessed. Blues music, for instance, extols the wonders of the seventh son, whose order of birth assures extra power. (And the seventh son of a seventh son! Wow! That power should radiate right through the roof!)
You can recognize this power in another person: having been in their presence, you emerge feeling strengthened and empowered. Sometimes an individual's power is so strong, it doesn't terminate at death but can still be accessed by others in need. To this day, people travel to Voodoo-Queen Marie Laveau's grave in New Orleans to beg her assistance and leave testimonials to the miracles she still accomplishes.
Every year, thousands venture to Marie Laveau's grave at St. Louis Cemetery Number One, New Orleans' oldest cemetery, to beseech the self-proclaimed Pope of Voodoo for favors, especially those related to money, health and legal matters. Attempts to contact her are made by knocking three times on the front of her tomb (marked Marie Glapion, her married name) or by drawing three X's in chalk or red brick on the stone. Offerings of petition and gratitude are also left: traditionally salt water, seven dimes or her favorite, red anisette.
In some areas of Earth, power of this magnitude, extending beyond the grave, is the chief, intrinsic requirement for sainthood. The behavior of these saints may not always be exemplary, however it is expected that they will use their powers to benefit others. Although in the United States, the word saint is tied somewhat exclusively to Roman Catholicism, this broader concept of sainthood exists in many cultures, including African Diaspora, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim traditions. The power of these saints can be so immense that it permeates the very ground in which they are buried. It is the desire to access this power, usually for healing or good fortune, that stimulates pilgrimages to holy people and their shrines. In Morocco, the dirt surrounding a saint's tomb is sprinkled upon newly created fabrics and textiles to imbue them with added baraka. This is because not only the works of nature contain this power but also the creations of people. The intent of many tribal artisans is not merely to create something beautiful or functional but also to infuse it with as much positive force as possible.
Transmission of this power is constant. Transmission occurs independent of your mind and control. You can choose to be aware of these forces and manipulate them for your benefit and that of your loved ones. Because you don't acknowledge them doesn't mean that they do not affect you, any more than not acknowledging the flu guarantees that you won't get sick. Awareness of these forces shouldn't make you feel passive or hopeless but energized. The healthy presence of this power on Earth can only be good for us. There is an infinite quantity. Because someone else has a lot doesn't mean you get less.
These powers are not generic. Because a horse has power and a camel has power doesn't mean that they have identical or interchangeable powers. The beauty of this power, the beauty and power of magic, comes in the details. Your power is unique and by expressing that power positively, you are a valuable asset to Earth. No two powers are exactly identical, although many share characteristics and the most powerful, whether belonging to humans, plants, animals or spirit beings, are amazingly versatile. The key to magic is recognizing the existence of these powers, determining which ones are most beneficial for you and manipulating them in a positive fashion to achieve happiness and success.
You already possess the ability to recognize those powers and to distinguish between them. Consider, for example, the rose. Since ancient times, roses have played a major function in healing, cosmetics and spirituality. Roses were associated with some of the grandest female divinities: Aphrodite, Cybele and Juno. Sufi poets used the rose to represent the highest spiritual ideals. In medieval Europe, roses were considered so powerful that one was expected to beg permission from the plant before daring to pluck a blossom. The rose was picked neither haphazardly nor carelessly but with respect. Indeed, roses do not give themselves easily. The family of roses is characterized by visual beauty, heavenly fragrance and thorns. Those who have only received florists' roses, all thorns carefully removed, have not experienced the full power of a rose.
This power is holistic. Roses have something to give humans on every possible level. Their therapeutic oil preserves and protects aging or delicate skin. As used in modern aromatherapy, essential oil of rose is indicated for a wide range of physical ills. Rose's spiritual and emotional effects are equally profound. The scent of rose assuages grief. The worst, most painful grief, grief beyond the realm of language, can be soothed by the healing fragrance of roses. This doesn't mean that just smelling or beholding roses will instantly make everything fine and whole again. Those are the false expectations that lead to inertia. Healing, like magical aptitude, is accomplished in increments, step-by-step. A walk through a fragrant rose garden or the scent of rose attar serves as an elevator, uplifting the spirit at least one level from wherever it was, for most individuals. (Remember, nothing works for everyone!)
You may or may not have been aware of the technical properties of roses or their spiritual history before you read them here but I guarantee that you do not need anyone to tell you this: a bouquet of roses is not the same as any old bouquet of flowers. Roses indicate love, romance, desire. How do you increase the power? By number. Whether you receive five, seven or eight roses may be immaterial but make that number a dozen and a powerful message is sent. Alternatively, one single rose speaks very loudly of love and admiration. A desperate, yet often successful bid to win back a lost love is to fill an entire room with roses. In fact, roses are invaluable components of love spells from all over Earth.
In the metaphysical science of numbers, twelve signals completeness, totality.
Let's consider another plant now, one that's also probably very familiar to you and which is also universally prized for the strength of its power. This plant, too, communicates with you via your olfactory senses, although this plant is far more modest in cost and appearance than the luxurious rose. It's garlic.
One question: knowing nothing else, would you use garlic as a chief component within a spell for romance? If you couldn't afford roses, would garlic be your substitution of choice? I think not. You don't need anyone to tell you that, in fact, garlic is rarely, if ever, a component of romantic spells.
Garlic's chief magical role is as a protective device. Hmong householders use the number four to enhance that power, hanging four heads of garlic at the door for protection. Other communities prefer braids—often of twelve garlic heads rather than just any random quantity.
Interestingly, while garlic is not used for romantic spells, it is often a prime component in sexually oriented ones. Whereas roses can help you capture your true love and assure them of your devotion, it's that humble head of garlic that can help you keep those home fires burning bright. In situations where love and romance are not an issue but sex is problematic, garlic has proven beneficial, especially for couples of long-standing where the existence of love and commitment is beyond doubt but the male partner is overworked, physically tired and/or emotionally drained.
Garlic is famed for reviving men's vitality and stamina and revitalizing their sexual energy. Records show that the workers who built Egypt's great pyramids were fed a daily ration of garlic to increase productivity. Pharaoh's rations of garlic may have kept construction of the pyramids on schedule; it also helped give him a plethora of baby Israelites to worry about.
Visualize your personal reaction to receiving a dozen beautiful, fragrant roses from the individual of your choice. Visualize also your reaction to sharing a single plate of a warm, delicious, garlic-redolent meal with someone whom you love, desire and, of course, with whom you feel completely comfortable. They're not identical feelings but both bring a glow of happiness and the sense that you are where you are intended to be.
Can you substitute plastic roses for that bouquet? Will handing your beloved a garlic tablet, carefully engineered to remove all trace of taste and smell, achieve the same ends? You knew those answers before you read the questions. So many have been trained to respect only the wisdom that comes through accredited formal education. You already possess the ability to recognize those magic powers in your bones. Learning to access and manipulate these powers is a sensuous intuitive process akin to cooking and, in fact, many of the most powerful magical practitioners are wonderful chefs as well. Not for nothing are witches so often depicted stirring a cauldron! Putting together an effective magical spell is a little like planning a great meal: determining which powers best complement which others in order to produce your desired effect. Are you creating a meal to impress future in-laws, ingratiate yourself to a boss or seduce a lover? You need to understand your intent and the power inherent in your tools. This is the basic theory of magic.
Garlic and roses can both be characterized as friendly, gregarious powers. They don't withhold information, it doesn't have to be coaxed out of them, they communicate loud and clear. Not every power is like that. The good news is that you don't have to discover each one for yourself. A vast library of traditional knowledge exists from which you can avail yourself of desired information.