coincidence

Pagan Theology

January, 2012

Coincidence and magic

The young boy loved camping, particularly the fire building parts.  Tonight they were deep in the woods, staying under the stars in tents with families from the circle.  The adults knew that he loved fire making and had asked him to tend the ritual bonfire.  All during the ritual he’d been seeing shadows coming and going from the edge of the circle.  The Old Gods seemed to be out tonight, but that wasn’t something he worried about.  That stuff was for his mom.  He just liked the camping.  The circle was just opened and he turned to go get some more wood for the fire.  There, staring back at him from under a tree was a rattlesnake.  He stepped back, but the adults knew, the Old Gods really were out tonight.

Coincidence, fate, happenstance, or synchronicity, it seems to haunt us.  Things we do in magic or ritual seem somehow connected to other things that happen, shall we say, “in the real world.”   We achieve something we really want, but we lose our favorite ring within minutes of learning of our achievement.  We scry and find our predictions match perfectly with those of another worker who worked the scrying two days ago, a hundred miles away.

All of these things can easily be dismissed as simple coincidence.   Look at it this way: it is very improbable that you will finish a ritual and then see a rattlesnake outside the circle.  How many times has that happened?  But there are an infinite number of things that could occur, you just happen to be seeing the one that did occur.  You could have seen a deer, a badger, a friend, or a shooting star.  You didn’t, you saw a rattlesnake.   You are what creates the implausibility in the events, through your interpretation and attribution of meaning to them.  You connect the rattlesnake with the shadows, with the circle, and with the fact that Cernunnos was just called.  Had you simply been hiking it would have been just a spot of excitement.

This idea that we create relationships between objects and ideas in the world was terms “synchronicity” by Jung.  By giving meaning to these relationships we create a “cause and effect” relationship that is similar to, but certainly different than the cause and effect relationship of physics.  We interpret the universe and tie it together in a great story.  The story spans our lives and incorporates the past and the stories of others.  It is our ability to give things meaning that makes us different from anything else in the universe.  And those meanings bind us to the world and to each other.

For Pagan’s the idea of coincidence is always open for debate.  It can be coincidence, or it can be a meaningful part of our lives.  In a magical or ritual context there are no coincidences.  Through ritual the magical act assigns meaning to any coincidence that we notice.   Thus magic is another way in which we give things meanings that they would otherwise not have, and tie together disparate things across time and space.  Stories do this, but so does our magic or ritual.

Magical narrative banishes the coincidental and replaces it with relationships.  Success or failure is related to our will, our knowledge of magic, and the Gods and Goddesses.  A future occurrence is related to our past action in ritual.  Our knowing what we have done binds things together makes our magic, and prayer, “work.”  Without that knowledge, there would be no relationship, and any synchronistic occurrences would go unobserved.

One of the principles of magic that I really believe in is “magic spoken is magic spoiled.”  If you talk about your spell, then it will not come about.  In my opinion there are two reasons for this.  First, it is a good rule that some clever High Priestess probably made up back in the day to keep her charges from bragging around about all their powers and maybe bringing down trouble on the coven.   If you talk about what you have done, the spell can be avoided one way or another.  Someone could counter it, or they could come and drag you away.

But speaking of the spell also divides knowledge of the working between the worker and those who they tell.  Dividing the attention to the spell creates multiple meanings and dilutes the original meaning and attention of the worker.  If only you know of your work, the consequences and connections you make allow you to create your own magical narrative.  They allow you to see what is happening in the world through the story you have created in your spell.

Telling someone else is like inviting your relatives over for dinner.  Everyone will have an opinion, and often will feel free to provide those opinions.  The more opinions you get, the more observation you have, the more dilute and disrupted your attention becomes.  It is the same effect that some people who lack self-confidence feel when they are about to try something risky that puts them out for public judgment.  Any sense of judgment, or criticism, particularly from those who are close to them can have a negative effect on their performance.  It hits them right where it hurts, in their self-confidence.

Spells work in much the same way.  Your confidence as a practitioner, the belief or faith that you have, and your ability to construct a meaningful working all come together to make the magical working effective.  The more kibitzing that you get the more likely it is that you, and your working will get disrupted.

We can also extend this creation of narrative into other practices.  Ritual provides a way to connect disparate objects and concepts through implied meaning.  The creation of sacred space by casting the circle is a way to create a magical and religious narrative through time, space, and our collective relationships.  Because the circle casting is something we have done in all our rituals, it connects us meaningfully through time.  We have come to accept that once the circle is cast we are in sacred space.  (The idea of the magical circle goes back at least to the Greeks, so it is quite a time narrative that we create when we cast!)

These associations and meanings that we give things create a sacred space between us, because they are shared narratives amongst those in circle, and within ourselves.  We react to the narrative of the circle, the story we tell ourselves about what is happening, and it changes us.  We become more centered, more thoughtful, more magical.  Work in circle long enough and a lot of our life takes on the form of magic.  We begin to tell our own story as a magical one.  We are magical, our lives are special, and we are connected to the Gods and Goddesses.

Our challenge is to tell our story in a way that moves us forward toward the divine.  Making it about ourselves, our ego and our power, drives us away from the divine and keeps us in the present.   It breaks the association between divinity and what we do in the same way talking about magic creates a distraction for us and for the spell.

The circle itself, not the calls or casts or workings or trappings or fuss, is sufficient to establish a connection between past and future, between those in the circle now and those who will come, between us and the sacred, between us and the world where the Gods and Goddesses exist.  Our world.  Our stories.  Told through ritual and magic.