Sunday, 8 May 2011

Prayer or Magic? A Convergence

Here is an account of "spell casting for a parking place"

The first time I used the spell I decided to give it a real test and try to use it on the worst place I knew to park, outside my NIA yoga/dance class. It was typical to have to park blocks away in this busy downtown area. The spell is simplicity itself.  No tools, ingredients, witchcraft symbols,  or invocation prayers are needed, though you can add anything you like if it helps your focus. Always remember: whether you think you can or can't, you're right.   This goes triple for spells and witchcraft. Simply visualize the parking space you want and know that you will have it.  When you get there it will usually be free.  The trick is to invoke the white magic spell at least an hour before you arrive.  If you pull up and have forgotten to cast the spell you can't expect a Buick or Toyota to levitate out of the way, though it will often happen that a car will pull out just as you pull up if the spell is working well and you planned ahead. This is a main tenant of real witchcraft: the further away in time you  invoke a result the more likely it is to happen.(1)

But there are more verbal forms of finding parking spaces. Here is a very Wiccan one, invoking the goddess:

Spell to Find a Parking Space: "Goddess Mother, lift your face and find for me a parking space." or "Gracious Goddess, lift your face and find for me a parking space." (2)

And here is a Christian version of finding parking spaces by prayer:

Every home group that I have ever attended, at some point, normally when we are on the subject of prayer, has a conversation like this:
'Yes, I pray to God a lot - just normal stuff - like when I really want a parking space'.
At which point  two or three people looked shocked and one will say: 'You pray for parking spaces????'
And the first person will say 'Oh yes, and it works, they always open up for me'.
'But.. but.. but... what about all the people starving to death, or.. or... being raped, or with dying children, and God doesn't bother answering them, but he finds you a parking space'.
'Err.. yes'...
'I pray for parking spaces too'... chips in another, 'and it works'. Two or three nod authoritatively.
And so the home group is split squarely down the middle between those who do and those who don't pray for parking spaces. I must have observed this phenomenon five times.(3)

What I find most interesting about this is the way in which Modern Pagan and Christian traditions converge. Is this best described as "magic" or "prayer"? If we look at the form of what is being done, especially in the Wiccan form and the Christian prayer, I think there is very little difference. A deity is invoked, and a request made for a parking space. I have actually come across this in Jersey, both with Christians who have told me about "praying for a parking space", and a Wiccan who mentioned calling on the goddess for a parking space.

Christians, of course, may cite the words of Jesus in the New Testament - "ask, and it will be given to you" - as an argument in favour of this practice. but I don't think that what is happening is anything to do with Christianity; the use of a "proof text" is a rationalisation for something which is being done. In essence, this is an attempt to manipulate the real world, and in its way, it is a magic that is a kind of dark cousin of science.

C.S. Lewis, writing in "The Abolition of Man", notes that:

There is something which unites magic and applied science [=technology] while separating both from the "wisdom" of earlier ages.  For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.  For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men; the solution is a technique.

I think he is pretty accurate in his assessment. And perhaps, when driving in, and hoping that there might be a parking space, what would be more instructive would be a reflection on the kind of feelings - frustration, anger, disappointment - that would be the case if the parking place didn't materialise, and how we could learn to understand ourselves better, and learn patience, acceptance, and peace of mind in the face of minor adversity - not finding a space. That might be of much more benefit, especially when larger adversity threatens, and we have learned how to deal with our emotions.

Using magic or prayer or will power as a means of manipulating the world (by the deity submitting to your will) to accommodate your wishes has the same basic pattern, and it is the pattern outlined in the "Poet and the Lunatics" story by G.K. Chesterton. There a man tries to control the fall of two raindrops running down a window, but the same elements are there. It is not about, as C.S. Lewis says, "conforming the soul to reality", but it is about self-deception, and while parking spaces are a small matter, the small steps to learning the techniques for self-deception is the dark lesson to be taken away here:

"I was looking at two raindrops running down the pane," said Gale. "And so was Saunders."

"Haven't I told you a thousand times," he continued with increasing earnestness and animation, "that I always find myself looking at some little thing, a stone or a starfish or what not, and that's the only way I can ever learn anything? But when I looked at Saunders, I saw his eyes were fixed on the same spot on the window-pane; and I shuddered from head to foot, for I knew I had guessed right. He was wearing a certain kind of unobtrusive smile.

"You know that incurable gamblers sometimes bet on a race between two raindrops. But there is this specially about the sport; that it is abstract and equal and gives one a sense of impartiality. If you bet on a dog-fight, you may find you really sympathize with a Scotch terrier against an Irish terrier, or vice versa; you may like the look of a billiard player or even the colours of a jockey. Therefore the event may go against your sympathies; and you will realize your limitations. But in the case of those two crystal spheres hung in a void of transparency, there is something like the equal scales of an abstract justice; you feel that whichever wins might be the one you had chosen. You may easily, in a certain secret megalomania, persuade yourself it is the one you have chosen. It is easy to imagine oneself controlling things hung so evenly. .. But I knew that Saunders was just at the delicate crisis, where he was half trying to believe he was. He was half trying to think he had really changed the weather and might change everything; and a game like that of the raindrops was just the thing to encourage him. He really felt as if he were Omnipotence looking at two falling stars: and he was the special providence in them.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I may sound harsh, but I imagine real Christians or Pagans would not be driving and hence not need parking space spells.