Magic Circles: Big and Small 5/5/2020


“Time is a flat circle.”- True Detective

“All this has happened before. And all this will happen again.”- Peter Pan  

In this time of necessary separation I have spent the last week considering separation as concept. I spend most of my days locked away for the majority of my waking hours. I have always had the necessity for manifest absence both for psychological and creative space, as well as for a sense of security. My life has returned to the same pattern it followed when I was a ten-year-old. I segregate myself to read or try to make things. Otherwise I track through the woods alone.

The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga explored separation in a diversity of 16th century Faust tales. One of his points of interest in these stories was their use of “ the magic circle” as both a symbol (representation) and presence (manifestation). He saw the magic circle, whether drawn on the floor or in the form of a pentacle over a doorway, in these stories as a boundary that separated one world from the other; a temporary world within the ordinary dedicated to a given act wherein one is in the hands of the supernatural. His defined the magic circle as a created a place for accomplishing within them what could not be achieved without. 

Everyone creates, intentionally or not, their own magic circles to step outside the responsibilities and routines of living. They are fashioned out a record player and a cocktail. They are invisibly drawn around a park bench with an open notebook. Artists are especially guilty of this innate mysticism. Late at night in my basement office I am conscious that I am in a place where physical boundaries stand and the barriers to inspiration thin if not fall.

Magic circles as practiced separation exist in small ways too. Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning defined the necessity for the minute magic circle that we psychically etch between stimulus and reaction. To him suffering was meaningless; only our reaction had any value. Scott Carney in his new book The Wedge explores a similar human ability to form a gap between external stressors (from ice baths to oxygen deprivation) and the physical responses they trigger. Each of us has developed our own small magic circles to navigate being. These spaces (call them meditation, cognitive dissonance, grit, sisu, etc.) don’t only belong to daredevils, monks, and occult philosophers. They are the letters we write, and never send. They appear in the patience we practice when faced with our failings.

I am indulging exiting one world for the other during this season of separation. Even if my practices and preferences lean toward the monastic, still I don’t want to let this expanding divide go to waste. Summer is only a few weeks away. Who knows how long it will be before the real world circles back again?

  What to read

 “W.B. Yeats, Magus” by Jamie James Lapham’s Quarterly
 “The Mysterious Mr. Parsons-Life at the Crossroads of Crowley and Hubbard” Mike Luoma Medium

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