Of Witch’s Work, and Child’s Play
“Yes, the spirits are real. Yes, the spirits are imaginary. Most of us, however, cannot imagine how real our imaginations are.” — Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford.
There are times when our study of the Great Work changes the way we look at life. That is, after all, why we study it. There are other times, perhaps rarer, and certainly more precious, when everyday life turns our understanding of Spiritual Alchemy entirely on its head.
When I was fresh out of college, I found myself working in a daycare, changing the diapers of two and three year olds. It was unglamorous, but the daily drudgery of mopping the floor and applying band aids to tiny fingers was offset by the very real joys of play, and being with people for whom the entire world was new.
The true downside was the lead teacher. She was a behemoth of a woman, an ex-professor of some hard science like thermodynamics who had gotten her degree in the Soviet Union, and who, despite having experience personally designing jet engines, had to start her education all over again, and was none-too-pleased at becoming a school marm. Everything about the job made her angry, and her misery was contagious. Anything out of the ordinary caused her to yell at the top of her lungs, and I, being possessed of a slightly nervous disposition, lived in fear of her wrath.
One day, during naptime, I was left alone with the children while the lead teacher, we’ll call her Marya, went on break. My instructions were simple but absolute: kids stay on mats. Clean the counters. Barring a natural disaster, I intended to follow these instructions.
The room was dark when Marya left, and the children were sleeping peacefully — or so I thought. I turned my attention to my chores.
Suddenly, I heard rustling. Two children, Anna and Jon, age three, were up off of their mats, and were apparently attacking the wall, throwing invisible stones, or maybe swinging invisible swords. Marya wanted kids on mats, so, dutifully, I went over to try and right the wrong.
“Anna and Jon, back on your mats, now.” I said. Jon did not pause for a moment to acknowledge me, but Anna turned her huge dark brown eyes on me, her small, light-coffee colored face filled with grave seriousness, and shook her head vigorously.
“No. We have to get the blug before it gets all the children, ” she explained. Reflexively, I scanned the area that Jon was attacking, but detected nothing that I recognized as magical, and certainly no kind of entity that I had ever encountered. I did not discount the possibility that something was there, but judged it harmless due to the low level of energy in the area. Ana continued to explain — very loudly– about the “blug” and how all the children were in danger. I steered her away from the sleeping children.
“Ana, kids are sleeping, you can’t shout like that.”
Ana was not listening. Jon had stopped hurling the invisible stones, and was frozen in place. He and Ana seemed to be looking at the same point on the wall, following some invisible something as it moved slowly along the wall over the sleeping children. Each child in turn shuddered in their sleep as whatever it was passed over them. I realized that I was not feeling “nothing, ” what I sensed, I realized, was the energy and color of a “pretend” thing.
In a daycare, there are thousands of these baby thought forms. A plastic dish has an artificial elemental spirit shaped like a steering wheel stapled to it. There is a stationary “godform” of Princess Jasmine near the dress-up area. Teddy bears are “consecrated” to keep away monsters. But as a discerning practitioner, I fancied that there was a real, functional difference between the pretend things fashioned by adults, and those dreamed up by children. One was “magic, ” the other, fantasy. I had taught myself to screen out flights of fancy from my radar.
“The blug is real, and I have to go help Jon-Jon now.”
“I believe you, ” I said, “just let me take care of it.”
“No, you can’t!” Ana was on the verge of hysterics, her eyes darting back and forth between me and Jon. ” You’re a grown-up”
The blug, whether real, pretend, or both, was a problem I wasn’t going to be able to solve through a brutal application of authority. I taped together two Popsicle sticks with masking tape and handed it to her. “Here, take my sword, it has a plus six against blugs.”
She nodded, and took the sword, but we were too late. As I watched, Jon was suddenly blasted backward, as though hit in the chest by some unseen force, lifted off of his feet by the impact. He fell to the ground and onto one arm. Ana wasted no time to explain, but dashed and stabbed at the ground twice.
Jon did not get up. I was shocked. I don’t exactly remember if I said anything, or if I ran over, or walked. I remember taking his vitals, checking for injury or concussion, opening his eyelids and shining a light to see if his pupils were dilating unevenly. He was breathing and apparently uninjured, but I did not dare move him. He was not twitching, there was no sign of seizure, but he was completely unresponsive.
Ana stood, looking over my shoulder as I did this. She said, “I didn’t hit him, I swear. He falled down by hiself.”
“I saw, Anna.”
“I didn’t hit him, ” she repeated, more quietly. “Tell Marya I didn’t hit him.”
I called 911. About thirty seconds before the ambulance arrived, Jon woke up, and immediately started crying. You will be happy to know that Jon was fine, and that the Children’s Hospital found nothing wrong with him. Still, this incident drove home for me the deadly power of the human imagination.
At times, those of us who practice magic have difficulty separating mystical experiences from imaginary ones. That is because, in a very fundamental way, they are the same thing. We bring order to these experiences, magical, religious, fantastical or imaginary, by playing games. Whether we are playing the game where you are the fire-man and I am the doctor, or the game where you are the hierophant and I am the neophyte, the game where we put out a chair for our imaginary friend “flopsy, ” or whether we are pouring out a libation for our “imaginary” friend Odin, we are accessing the same –very human– faculty.
As seriously as we take our religions, I assure you, children are just as serious about the games that they play.
The “Gloria Mundi” discusses the Prima Materia (that First Thing, which the Alchemist must find before any Alchemy can take place at all) , saying that it is…
“Familiar to all men, both young and old, is found in the country, in the village, in the town, in all things created by God, yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle it every day. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it. Yet no one prizes it, though, next to the human soul, it is the most beautiful and the most precious thing upon earth and has the power to pull down kings and princes. Nevertheless, it is esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things.”
When I consider the disdainful way that many of by pagan colleagues discuss the imaginary, or when I think of my own mother telling me to get my head out of the clouds, I could believe that the imagination really is “esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things.” Has it pulled down Kings and Princes? Imagining one’s self richer, or more powerful, or in possession of more land certainly has. Children certainly play with it, and if our everyday retail worker is the modern day equivalent of a servant maid, then for certain, I have seen many in this field so tired, crushed and frustrated by their work that imagination no longer had a space to breathe.
Everyone, though, rich and poor, has a flight of fancy, at least daily. And indeed, if you subscribe to the idea of a Creator, how could such a being create without first having imagined the end product? Possessing an imagination may be what is meant when it is said that we are made “B’Tzelem Elohim” or “in the image of the divine.”
Considering all this, I realized that the purpose of spiritual alchemy, for me, was the refinement of the imagination. It’s purpose was to gain control over flights of fancy, not only so that I could make better godforms, or craft stronger elementals, but so that, in casting a spell, or even in preparing for a board meeting, my imagination would not conjure up images of failure, and thereby undo all of my handiwork.
That which is dangerous is powerful, that which is powerful is dangerous. Be careful what you dream, because your dreams just might come true.