28 June 2003

The Magician

This tarot card holds some fascination for me as a student of culture, and a believer in the game. The following is my re-working of the symbology and significance of the Magician, and does vary from most orthodox Tarot readings, be warned.

The Magician is a man or a woman who stands before a table, on which a sword, a cup, a wand, and a coin are displayed. The 4 objects are the 4 suits of the Minor Arcanna of the tarot deck. The garb and the pose of the Magician suggest the figure as a communicator of magic, an empowered creator who brings forth new possibilities, using the raw essence of magic (ie. the 4 objects).

So far, this is the standard interpretation of the Magician as a Protean creator, the infinite craftsman and unbounded artist. What follows is my personal reworking of the card.

"Magic" in human civilizations has always been linked to the concept and practice of ritual. While Magic can be wielded to effect great changes, it is constrained by Ritual, and hence by rules and laws. All magic and ritual in real life must be performed under special conditions - the Magician must undergo spiritual purification, physical fasting, or mental meditation; certain procedures or rites must be performed, and in a set itinery; the practice of magic obeys a strict code of social and moral logic.

The magician then, is not a sorceror. The magician is bound by rules, works their magic by the rules, and is empowered by their awwareness, knowledge, obedience, and enforcement of the rules. This ties in, and explicitly explains some orthodox readings of the figure as an intellectual of mental acuity, willpower, desire and humility, and skill.

The magician is a deep reader of the game; he is invested, taken in and by the game. (This sentence may sound familiar, but only because the later half appeared on my blog 2 entries ago, under my justification of this blogsite) It is by knowing which stakes are important and worth pursuing, what rules one operates and is bounded by, that allows a person to realise their potential for certain action, and bring forth that potential to fruitition.

The following is my obverse reading of the Magician. As much as one is empowered by the rules and logical function of the social universe, one is bound by them. The Magician, being a deep reader of the game, at a high level of skill, will be more than conscious of how bound he is in actuality. The Magician becomes a tragic figure, for what he desires to do is not the same as what he is allowed to do according to the rules. And desire is always in excess. Despite great power, movement is hampered, ironically by the very source of that power.

Prospero, the magician from Shakespeare's The Tempest, is a Magician fulfilling both usual and obverse meanings of the tarot card. So is Morpheus, from Neil Gaiman's well-crafted Sandman comics. In the end, both characters escape their binds, by being better magicians. Both read more deeply into the social and moral rules that helped define and shape their selves (and power), and find at last the one and only escape route that the web of rules have allowed. The right moment and mix of circumstances present themselves, the Magician recognises it, and unbinds himself. And of course, breaks his staff of magic, and leaves the game.

Why all this talk about tarot cards, magicians, and philosophical anthropology? I empathise with all those who feel trapped in relations with people, or groups. It might have made sense in the beginning of the relationship, some things may have been made out of it, but now... there is a sense of entrappment, or indecision.

Read more deeply into the rules that you allowed to govern this relationship; in other words, know yourself and the relations that tie you to the current situation. There is always one, and only one true exit, only one path of action that is morally and spiritually satisfying.

And then, you leave. Pack your bags and go where the sun is shining, etc etc. And find something else to be interested in, to invest in and by.

The magic was never in the staff, symbols, the rituals, the incantations, or the realisation of potentials. The magic lies with the Magician's ability to understand and read the game, it is an inalienable part of the Magician. The magician remains the magician, even without the staff.

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