How to do magic when you don’t really want to

To state the obvious: this year is kind of horrible.

Even if you’re not directly impacted by the perpetual horror show we’re living through, it’s impossible not to be aware of it or affected by it. The world’s burning, everything’s not fine, and every day feels like a marathon of misery.

That’s how it feels to me, at least. Your mileage may vary, but I very much doubt it.

I also very much doubt that you’ve had a whole lot of energy for your magical practice. There’s a reason for that. Or, at least, a convenient way to look at this lack of energy, and maybe even find a way to work around it.

Wherein we learn about some discredited psychology

There’s a rather dubious theory which psychologists have kicked around and criticized for the last sixty-or-so years known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” There’s almost no scientific basis for this theory—which its creator, Abraham Maslow readily admitted—but it is interesting.

The theory aims to describe human motivations in terms of “needs” fulfillment, and it arranges these needs based on how fundamental they are to basic survival. If we have unmet needs, we tend to feel more motivated to address the most fundamental needs first.

Here’s Maslow’s Hierarchy, in order from most to least fundamental.

  1. Physiological needs – This includes things like food, water, shelter, and sleep.
  2. Safety needs – This includes things like feeling physically safe, financially secure, and our health.
  3. Belonging/Love needs – This includes relationships with friends, family, and lovers or partners.
  4. Esteem needs – This includes feelings of accomplishments, having a good reputation, being well-liked or celebrated in some way.
  5. Self-actualization – This includes creative pursuits, as well as a feeling that you have achieved, or are achieving, your full potential.

There have been many criticisms of Maslow’s Hierarchy over the years, and it’s basically considered borderline nonsense now, but if you squint at it just right, there’s a kind of logic here.

At the risk of appealing to “common sense,” it at least seems reasonable that if our fundamental survival is threatened, we’ll tend to focus our attention and energy on fixing whatever it is that’s threatening it.

And if you consider empty grocery store shelves, crushing unemployment, and record numbers of evictions—as well as hospitals telling people to stay away unless they’re experiencing a dire medical emergency—our needs-fulfillment looks a little dodgy. So it stands to reason that we’d let the “non-essentials” slide, under the circumstances.

Which brings us to magic.

Wherein we totally misappropriate this discredited psychology for our own nefarious purposes

As I sort of touched on in last week’s post, some folks tend to approach magic as though it were down at the bottom of the list, lumped in with “self-actualization.” Personally, I think it belongs at every single level—especially when we’re faced with challenging times.

So let’s think about this for a minute. The problem seems to be that our brains are de-prioritizing magical practice in favor of needs it feels are more fundamental. As a result, we have less motivation to practice, and so are less likely to do it. How do we solve this?

What if we lean into Maslow’s dodgy model of motivation? It might fail at being a scientific model, but maybe we can pull off a kind of “smash-and-grab” which would allow us to put magic on an equal footing with our other needs?

Let’s take a stab at a Magic-Infused Maslow’s Hierarchy, and see what that gets us.

  1. Physiological needs – Everything we eat or drink is an opportunity for a little herbalism. Every time we go to sleep, there’s an opportunity for dream journeying.
  2. Safety needs – Shielding, talismans, and “daily magical hygiene” of whatever form all seem like good fits. And even ten minutes of daily meditation comes with immense health benefits.
  3. Belonging/Love needs – Online esoteric book clubs are everywhere. Also? I hear tell that long distance sex (and sex magic) is an actual thing, if that’s what floats your goat.
  4. Esteem needs – Picking up or improving magical skills looks like it might belong here. Starting and leading an online study group for a skill we already have might be even better.
  5. Self-actualization – Creativity plus magic sounds an awful lot like making our own magical materia. Or maybe a ritual tool.

This isn’t a perfect list, but it looks promising.

Wherein we fake it until we make it

How about we take this list for a spin? In true, “hierarchical” form, we’ll move through it in order and see what might work for us. We’ll start small, adding one thing today, then maybe working up to more as we go.

Why not throw a little magic into tonight’s meal? Raid your spice cabinet and see what herbs you’ve got lurking there.

Basil is great for forming and cultivating pleasant, happy relationships. Rosemary can bring a little passion into romantic relationships, but it’s also great for protection. Kitchen sage (not the white sage, “smudge” variety) is good for prosperity. And if you’re thirsty, chamomile tea is my favorite “mellow-out” drink of choice.

So that’s “physiological needs” covered. In a few days, give “safety needs” a try. Why not meditate? If you don’t do much of that sort of thing, there are some wonderful apps out there which can help you get started. Ten minutes is all you need. If all else fails, just take a few minutes before you go to sleep to do some deep breathing and relaxation. Couldn’t hurt, right?

You might also consider turning your normal, “mundane” shower session into a full-blown cleansing ritual. It’s a pretty sweet opportunity for some energy and healing work, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’m guessing you get the idea. Go through the rest of the list and see if you can’t figure out one or two ways to “magic-ify” the rest of your needs. The idea is to start small and kind of “re-wire” your brain. That is, you want to begin to identify bits of magic as being fundamental needs, that your your brain will start serving up some motivation so you’ll actually do it.

Trust me, this works.

I’ve been able to stick with some sort of daily, magical practice throughout this whole perpetual catastrophe, and I feel pretty good about it.

See how it works for you!

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