Diane's blog

19 October 2005

Magicians as performers create illusions.

I once sat in the audience at a Penn and Teller magic performance in Las Vegas. During one trick, Penn offered to reveal how it was done. He gave us the option of covering our eyes and sustaining the illusion OR watching with open eyes and seeing through the illusion. About half of the audience watched. Half did not watch. I wanted to see, so I kept my eyes uncovered. Those who saw sighed with a knowing "Aaaah!" when the workings of the deception were exposed. Those with covered eyes heard the others' reaction and giggled. When the inner-workings had been executed, the innocents uncovered their eyes and soon gasped with amazement, "Ooooh!", when the magical feat was achieved. Who had more fun?

There is no more dangerous illusion than the fancies by which people try to avoid illusion. Francois de Fenelon 'Don't part with you illusions. When they are gone you may still exist but you have ceased to live'.' Mark Twain Life is full of its disappointments, and I suppose the art of being happy is to disguise them as illusions.' Saki Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion.' Arthur Koestler

So is an ILLUSIONIST an inspiration, a source of true entertainment, a rip-off artist or a deceiver? And what do any of these make the audience?

Diane - 2006-10-19 01:00:00.0

11 October 2005

I'm running lunchtime writing workshops for members of staff at the Library every Wednesday in October. At last week's session I shared copies of Spirit Photographs from the Library's Barlow Collection as the inspiration for writing in rational and imaginative modes. Here are some fragments from some of the participants' free-flowing pens:

"Do spirits exist? Above, around, between us. If we see them with the naked eye or lens are we in tune? Or wrong-headed and out of kilter? Are spirits a part of the dream of life locked in our heads? And is inner life more real, deep and tangible than the physical?" by Caroline Halcrow

I chose a formal portrait of a man and woman. The lady to our left as we look at the picture is wearing glasses and a large locket. She has short hair or it is fixed behind. The man on our right looks very stern, he has a nice moustache, and hands folded at about waist level, he is wearing a suit with a waistcoat. The third figure seems to be behind and between the two main figures wearing a shawl over her head which somehow seems to be draping over the main figures........... perhaps it is a reverse reflection of the photographer with the camera (don't know the words to describe set up of camera and veil draped over photographer) it's a formal picture of man and woman, the Victorians loved their mourning pictures but the woman looks too happy not sad at all, the man is very stern. The figure behind could be a dead relative but this is not logical, a double exposure or reflection is more plausible. They don't look sad so it is not a death photo. How much of this is my assumptions?............ The figure in the back ground is a guardian angel looking after the man and lady who are brother and sister, it is mainly the lady's angel, but guardian angels can be shared among soul groups. Angels are androgynous, and appear in whatever form we need them to be in. There is an angel cat round the mans feet, angel cats help to heal us so perhaps the man had been ill and the cat was helping him. The angel in this picture is being loving and putting her arms round the people. The lady knows all about angels which is why she looks so serene and happy, the man feels it is all poppycock, he refuses to believe in such nonsense, but his sister knows better. Angels are round us all the time to help and guide us, which is why when things are tough we are sometime given the right answers, we are guided towards a solution. We have a whole team of angels, my guardian angel is Chinese, I don't know his name, I call him my friend. I share an angelic team with my friends in America and Scotland. Our guardian angel is our special helper, but if someone needs help, they are allowed to go and help them with our permission. Friends are angel helpers. If our angels our busy and we need help, our friends will step in until our angels return. The picture has a lot of happy memories, it marks a new beginning for the man and lady, the man is over a long illness that has made him look stern, the lady is happy he is better. I have angels who are my friends and friends who are angels. Is it cheating to allow your angel to help when you are having so much fun?' by Caroline Wilson

Diane Samuels - 2005-10-11 16:10:00.0

5 October 2005

What is '˜UNDERSTANDING'? What forms can '˜KNOWING' take?

Something interesting has popped up in ' Magick and the Tarot' by Tony Willis. Writing about the 22 'trump' cards, known also as the major arcana, the author advises that The Greater Mysteries represent 22 key tenets or principles of esoteric philosophy.†Then he goes on to describe the Kabbalistic concept of 'FOUR LEVELS OF UNDERSTANDING':

Pashut - the apparent or surface meaning;

Remoz - the allegorical significance;

Derush - the enigmatic interpretation;

Sod - the secret or mystical aspect

The result of being able to understand on all four levels was said to be PARDES, happiness (literally, Paradise), a Hebrew word formed from the initial letters of the above four names 'PRDS'.

It strikes me that the first two levels involve Knowing what can be Known, whilst the third and fourth levels involve Knowing what cannot be Known. Intrinsic to knowing is an essence of UnKnowing.

How precisely does a person UNDERSTAND in these different ways, what senses or sensibilities come into play?

Well, maybe a list of the names of the 22 trump cards might help to : The Fool; The Magician; The High Priestess; The Empress; The Emperor; The Hierophant (sometimes called The Pope); The Lovers; The Chariot; Strength; The Hermit; The Wheel of Fortune; Justice; The Hanged Man; Death; Temperance; The Devil; The Tower; The Star; The Moon; The Sun; Judgement; The World.

These are simply words and yet if you contemplate any single one of them what starts to be Understood or Known, what images emerge, what feelings arise, what mood ensues, what associations are made, what questions appear? Many different artists have created their own visual interpretations of each principle of the tarot. These images themselves convey many meanings, mythological references, elemental states.

I wonder if it is this layering of meaning and evocation of a multi-dimensional state of UNDERSTANDING that compels some people to the tarot and makes many others so wary, disturbed, afraid or hostile towards it?

Why does engaging concurrently with visible and invisible states of Knowing have such power to disturb?

Diane Samuels - 2005-10-05 16:09:00.0

29 September 2005

Magic and Mystery.

Dr Johnson's 'General Dictionary of the English Langauge', 1802 edition defines as follows: MYSTERY 'something sacredly obscure; a secret;†and MYSTERIZE 'to explain as a riddle.'

Is the most effective way to explain magic to use riddles?

Eliphas Levi, French occultist, 1810-1875, in his book 'Rituel de la Haute Magic' , notes that amongst the rare and precious books which contain the MYSTERIES of the Great Arcanum, there must be placed in the first rank the Chemical Pathway, or Manual of Paracelsus.'

I have summoned a copy of 'The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus bombast of Hohenheim, called Paracelsus the Great' (born around 1493, died 1534). This is a vast and impenetrable tome (two tomes actually, volume I and volume II) which reads like a combination of a chemistry manual and a recipe book, referring a great deal to the properties, possibilities and activities of substances like Mercury along with rather mysterious elements called Sol and Luna. In Appendix VI of the first volume there is 'A Short Catechism of Alchemy Founded on the Manual of Paracelsus Preserved in the Vatican Library'. This takes the form of a series of Questions and Answers. Here are a few snatches. Do they, I wonder, clarify or mysterize the practice of the alchemist whom Paracelsus describes as a Philosopher?

Q. What is the chief study of a Philosopher? A. It is the investigation of the operations of Nature.'

Q. Give a concise definition of Nature. A. It is not visible, though it operates visibly; for it is simply a volatile spirit, fulfilling its office in bodies, and animated by the universal spirit 'the divine breath, the central and universal fire, which vivifies all things that exist.'

Q. What is the object of research among the Philosophers? A. Proficiency in the art of perfecting what Nature has left imperfect in the mineral kingdom, and the attainment of the treasure of the Philosophical Stone. Q. What is this Stone? A. the Stone is nothing else than the radical humidity of the elements, perfectly purified...which causes it to perform such great things for health...'

What is the part of the artist in this operation? A. The artist must do nothing but separate that which is subtle from that which is gross.'

I like this last description of the work of the Philosopher as Artist, so I'm going to repeat it in capitals:


Back to the dictionary perhaps to look up 'Gross' and 'Subtle'?

Diane Samuels - 2005-09-29 17:36:00.0

21 September 2005

I'm wondering, following on from last week's musings about fortune tellers and prophesiers, how the art of divination connects with being a visionary, especially an artist of any sort, especially a writer.

The art of storytelling plays with the relationship between past, present and future in expected, unexpected and ironic ways. Life can play with narratives too.

Here's a story, from Demons, Witch Doctors and Modern Man' by Stanton Arthur Coblentz, about and trusting entirely in dreams: The Reverend W. B. Grubb (In his book 'An Unknown People in an Unknown Land', 1914) was staying in the Chaco district of South America when an Amerindian demanded compensation from him for stealing some of his pumpkins. Grubb, a missionary, was outraged. He had not been near the man's pumpkins. He demanded an explanation. The accuser described a dream he had had the night before in which Grubb had taken three pumpkins. Even if Grubb had not actually taken the pumpkins, claimed the man, he would have done so if the man had not been forewarned in the dream.

In The Complete Book of Superstition, Prophecy and Luck' Leonard R. N. Ashley describes how Robert Nixon, a Cheshire plow boy, predicted the Battle of Bosworth Field and the future King Henry VII's victory there. After this had come true, the King was so impressed that he engaged a man to follow the boy and pick up on any more predictions. Nixon had a dream which predicted that he would die of starvation. The King pooh-poohed the notion. A court officer was charged with the boy's welfare. When the king was away on business, the official, worried that if anything happened to Nixon he would get into trouble, locked him in a safe room and kept the key carefully. Then the official was called away on business and he took the key with him. Robert Nixon did indeed die of starvation, locked in this room, as he had indeed predicted.

I wonder if we form the future by envisioning it or whether it is creating us by making its presence felt? I wonder if a writer forms a book by imagining it or whether that book is simply waiting ahead and reveals itself so that it may be written?

Diane Samuels - 2005-09-21 13:21:00.0

16 September 2005

I open at random a little pocket-sized booklet with a warn caramel cover entitled Dr John Dee: Elizabethan Mystic and Astrologer' by G. M Hort (pub.1922). A paragraph catches my eye: Magic, vulgarly so called, he utterly repudiated. He was, he declared, 'neither studied nor exercised' in it. And in so far as magic professes to accomplish or discover anything independently of the will and help of god, he spoke the truth. In the strict sense of the word he (Dee) never practised magic. He merely practised certain means by which, as he believed, the spiritual part of him might be aroused and put into communication with the spiritual world and those who inhabited it.'

There follows a description of how Dee extended his interest in Optics, he already possessed some curious mirrors', into the territory of seership' in the form of Crystallomancy and so he sought for a scryer whom he found in the form of one Barnabas Saul who saw visions in a crystal possessed by Dee, my stone in a frame'. In this stone Saul saw spirit apparitions including an angel who made predictions for Dee (including the termination of Saul's own work for the good doctor to be replaced by another seer 'assigned to the stone').

Prophets and Seers. Visionaries. What is this seeing into the future?

Now I turn to an edition of Dante's Inferno' edited by Daniel Halpern (1993). Canto XX has been translated afresh by Robert Pinsky. Here, in the eighth circle near the very bottom of hell, are to be found these diviners of the future: ...The head was twisted backwards: some cruel torsion/forced face towards kidneys, so the people strode/backwards, all being deprived of forward vision.'

The price of prediction, according to Dante, is appalling. What, I wonder is the nature of this urge to see ahead, to connect with the future? And why is it so challenging an art?

Diane Samuels - 2005-09-16 15:45:00.0

7 September 2005

I'm wondering why, in the human imagination, dolphins are cherished and invested with magical charm, a source of wonder.

I've discovered some fragments which provide some clues.

A Book of Dolphins' by Antony Alpers contains the Greek legend about how dolphins came into being: It was said that Dionysus, the god of wine and frenzy (whom the Romans later called Bacchus), engaged a vessel to take him from the island of Ikaria to the island of Naxos; but the sailors were a crew of pirates and, not knowing that he was a god, they formed a plot to abduct him. Sailing past Naxos they made for Asia, where they intended to sell him as a slave. When he realised what they were doing he called on his magical powers. He changed the oars into snakes, and filled the ship with vines and ivy and the sound of flutes. The sailors felt madness coming on them and dived into the sea, where they changed into dolphins and made incapable of doing harm.

In 'Moby Dick', Herman Melville writes: Their appearance is generally hailed with delight by the mariner. Full of fine spirits, they invariably come from the breezy billows to windward. They are the lads that always live before the wind. They are accounted a lucky omen. If you yourself can withstand three cheers at beholding these vivacious fish, then heaven help ye; the spirit of godly gamesomeness is not in ye.

In his poem 'Halieutica', Roman poet Oppian writes: Diviner than the dolphins is nothing yet created for indeed they were aforetime men, and lived in cities along with mortals; but by the devising of Dionysos they exchanged the land for the sea and put on the form of fishes.

Harbingers of joy, raisers of spirits, mammals of the ocean, pieces of humanity swimming wild.

Diane Samuels - 2005-09-07 18:35:00.0

7 September 2005

My spontaneous thoughts on Mariah's question below are these:

"The path of excess" in any undertaking takes a soul to the furthest point possible with that experience. And perhaps it is only by living each moment to its very fullest that real understanding and insight can be reached, the most profound connection made with living, and this full realisation of vitality is the source of wisdom. Although the vision of wisdom as a tower, an edifice, strikes me as rigid and institutional. Mind you, it is possible to climb high and take in a wide perspective from way up in the clouds. The tarot card of the Tower shows the structure being hit by lightning and collapsing, the smashing of hardened ways of thinking to release a new consciousness.

These are my off-the-cuff musings anyway.

Others, including yourself, might well think differently.

Make your own associations. What do you reckon?

Diane Samuels - 2005-09-07 18:25:00.0

3 September 2005

Hi, I would like to now what it means "the path of excess leads to tower of wisdom" by William Blake

Mariah - 2005-09-03 21:09:00.0

1 September 2005

I spent August in the sunshine (and a smattering of rain) and was lucky enough to be greeted by dolphins off the Cornish coast whilst taking a spin in a small motor boat. This was a magical experience 'wild creatures so close, unexpected, vivid, thrilling and out-of-the-ordinary.

So here I am again amongst the books, bearing in mind my dolphin-moments and wondering about the nature of magic.

I pick up 'The Complete Book of Superstition, Prophecy and Luck' by Leonard R. N. Ashley. I open at random and am presented with the title on the left hand page, 'Fatalism'. The following paragraph reads: Che sera, sera ('Whatever will be, will be') is one of the world's most widespread beliefs. Before King Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951, he used to quote an Arab proverb: 'Until my day comes, nothing can hurt me; when my day comes, nothing can save me.' He was right. Magic, of course, attempts to change events, to force Heaven to its own will. Magic is never satisfied with the idea of things just happening; it wants to MAKE things happen. It never pauses to consider that what magicians and seers do is also, perhaps, part of the Great Plan 'all dictated from on high, all foreseen and ordained.

And I have some more questions now:

Is 'Whatever will be, will be' such a widespread belief?

Do you believe it? Do you ever find yourself quoting these words and meaning them and in what circumstances?

Was King Abdullah 'right' about being allotted a time to go which is fixed and unchangable?

Nothing can be done to change what is set?

Does Magic always attempt to change events, to confound the Will of Heaven?

Do magicians and seers never 'pause to consider' their role in the cosmic pattern?

Is there a 'Great Plan'?

At the beginning of the holiday my husband and I did express our wish to see the dolphins we knew made occasional appearances offshore. I suppose that we could have taken out that motor boat the day before as originally planned and then we might well have not seen the dolphins. We could have spent longer over breakfast that morning and missed them too. So many could haves and only one course of action was taken and this led unwittingly to the dolphins. Or was it fated all along that we should encounter the dolphins on those Atlantic waves? Might it have been a Magical act to wish to see them and then simply keep the wish alive and be OPEN to the best moment of happening to reveal itself. Maybe Magic is about tapping into the potential of any longing or possibility or ability and then surrendering the method for the Realisation of this Potential to the elements. Not so much a case of manipulation and confounding Heaven or even applying Free Will, but more a case of 'Imagining The World Into Being' (as is the Medicine Way in South America for example) like a writer creating a story, being the author of your own life experiences, a combination of mind, matter, visualisation, action and total surrender to the unexpected.

Diane  6:23 PM

Diane Samuels - 2005-09-01 18:23:00.0

2 August 2005

Hey Presto!

There is now an exhibition by the UG floor cafe about 'Conjuring, Magic and Illusion since 1700' (well, since 1584 to be precise, because there is an informative book exhibited from that date called 'Hocus Pocus Juinor, the Anatomy of Legerdemain' which reveals the secrets of conjuring so that an ignorant person may therby learn the full perfection of the same, after a little practice).

Maskelyne and Cooke
This exhibition fills the space previously filled by a display about Cervantes' Don Quixote and before that Oscar Wilde and before that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Interesting to consider the connections between these diverse characters, true-life and fictional. Conjuring, Magic and Illusion might be a title applied to each of them and their writings in their own unique and different ways.

I'm wondering if some of the following snippets from the exhibition might apply as readily to writers as they do to performance magicians. Consider the possibility by imagining the word WRITING in place of MAGIC: Magic is an art, by means of which man can exercise a kind of spell over others, and persuade them into believing that they have seen some natural law disobeyed. from 'Magic Made Easy' by David Devant, 1903


How might this advice, from 'Modern Magic' by 'Professor' Hoffman, 1876, apply to a writer: Don't be nervous. Take your time. Don't make any parade of dexterity..... Don't force yourself to be funny. Never plead guilty to a failure.

The exhibition contains a glimpse into Lewis Carroll's diary (himself a keen amateur magician, as were Charles Dickens and Isambard Kingdom Brunel) describing a visit to Maskelyne and Cooke's Egyptian Music Hall in 1876 where he was most intrigued by an automaton called Psycho, a small turbaned figure able to solve mathematical problems posed by its audience, identify their playing cards and win at whist. And is not a similar mystery touched and sleight-of-hand employed to create a white rabbit running into Wonderland where packs of cards play croquet and cats disappear leaving only their smile suspended in mid air?

Only a few days ago I found myself poring over the picture 'THE CONJUROR ' by Hieronymous Bosch, painted in the late fifteenth century. Just inside a town wall, a magician performs a bead trick watched by a little crowd, amongst them a gawping, simple-looking fellow who is himself being watched by a pick-pocket from behind. The message is clear: Magic most certainly is hocus pocus, dodgy, deceptive, ridiculous. It is idiotic, any dangerous to be fooled by it. You can be duped and taken advantage of. More idiot you!

Ah but what joy it must have been to watch a ruse like De Kolta's late nineteenth century 'Enchanted Flower Basket' trick which saw as many as 3000 flowers pour from a cone into an overflowing basket and out onto the stage, coming from nowhere.

Magicians, when they have the art and use it well, make fools of us all, fools for pleasure and astonishment, open-mouthed, gawping, gasping. Is that what accomplished writers do too, rely on our sense of foolish wonder, so that we will enter naively into their concocted set-up? And are they tricking our precious pennies from us or do we get our money's full worth? Suspend disbelief and enter into a magical agreement: I'll be the fool if you'll be a master magician and trick me fine.

Depends on whether you like playing the fool or fear it, eh?

Diane Samuels - 2005-08-02 17:48:00.0

28 July 2005

Wow, don't children provide a great source of ideas, they're fantastic.

At university we did some work on story telling and looked a lot at myths and ledgends, have you looked at all at Christina G. Rossetti and Goblin Market, it's a great poem about magic and goblins.

Also we found a whole load of ancient 'spells' such as this one;

'Tis not this bone I mean to stick

But my lover's heart I mean to prick,

Wishing neither rest nor sleep

Until he comes with me to speak.'

The female speaker needed a lamb's shoulder bone and a borrowed penknife, in secret every night for 9 nights she had to pierce the bone in different places.

Pretty grumsome and that's one of the nicer ones.

Jo Kennedy - 2005-07-28 11:35:00.0

25 July 2005

Magic poster
I love the idea of Caryl's (see entry for July 13th) that the Invisible World might be full of mirrors.


In this spirit I hereby reproduce a poem-in-progress (a composition in the raw like a basket of freshly picked raspberries waiting for the whipped cream and meringue to become a pavlova) written collectively by a workshop group from a few weeks ago. We tried the various "Magic is..." phrases forwards and then we tried them backwards in the session. We also tried full reversal, word by word (rather than total reversal which might be letter by letter). So, here is an attempt at a kind of MIRROR-WORLD WRITING, a bit back-to-front, a touch inside-out. If you, the reader, feel that you need to translate it into front-way-upness, then good luck!

Magical food

learn can some that ability special a is Magic

world the to pathway the are Doors

wardrobe the and witch the Lion

innocence in is Magic


artwork Weird

leaning for strong trees oak in Magic

colours strong Dark

theatre the of darkness enveloping Cool

shoes Red

mysterious is Magic

happens it and happen to something want You

imagination normal of world the in lost is Magic

yourself beyond go to you allow to imagination of Power

wonder of feeling a is Magic

spirituality is Magic

feelings warm some

witches with spells is Magic

mind the in be can magic other, is it magic of type the

on depends it but touched be can Magic

mind the in Magic

be to it want you if everywhere is Magic

Be to


Want you





 Diane Samuels - 2005-07-25 15:07:00.0

13 July 2005

I love the idea that words invent themselves and take control on the page. Anything can happen and it does. Do ideas ever get squashed? Like Lady Cottington's pressed faery letters (Brian Froud)? Leaving this strange idea behind, I took courage to venture with you into the nature of the Invisible world (below). What a strange place. Full of mirrors. People are rarely who they seem to be? I wondered if I am who I think I am? Whose reflection am I looking at? 

Caryl Foulds - 2005-07-13 13:39:00.0

30 June 2005

An intensive workshop week this week, three sessions in two days.

I have been experimenting with conjuring silence out of hub-bub, harnessing the power of 'me' into the voice of 'us' without losing its individual essence, concocting group compositions.

I feel like a witch who's just got off her broomstick after a thunderstorm. There's lightning in one pocket and resounding sky-claps in the other. The tops of my shoes have been blown right off by the hurricane caused by so many imaginations all blowing together.

This afternoon I worked with a group from Gonville primary school in Streathem and I held up the bag of pencils and asked - "Does anyone in this room have any experience of working with magic pencils?"

A parent raised her hand, "I do."

"Do you have any advice on their safe use?" I asked.

"Be careful," she warned, "Magic pencils can write things you don't expect."

The children's eyes widened.

"Wise words." I agreed.

And then we handed out the fresh leads as the children received their little magic notebooks in zippy green, snazzy turquoise, dashing pink or flash blue.

"Now you are a full-blown writer," I intoned as each took possession of their notebook. They nodded and set to writing what magic is with those enchanted pencils.

Magic, it turns out from this afternoon, is a class of boisterous south London schoolchildren being transformed by a silver writing tool with nobbles and a palm-sized booklet with a hard and colourful cover into Honourable and Wise Authors of the Unpredictable whom, we realised by half an hour into our time together, are only masquerading as schoolchildren in order to deepen their understanding of mortal possibilities!

Magic, it also turns out, is reading words backwards and discovering that they mean more than they do forwards!

To anyone who ever chills or even freezes at the sight of the blank page, I say, listen to your pen or pencil, it's asking only that you trust in it. And these aren't my words, I merely pass them on from the bag of HBs now tucked darkly into a box in the storage cupboard. All who enter the British Library, listen carefully and you might hear them too......

Diane Samuels - 2005-06-30 18:04:00.0

22 June 2005

What is the nature of the Invisible World? The investigation continues.

'An Army of Devils is horribly broke in upon the place which is the Center....and the Houses of the Good People there are fill'd with the doleful Shrieks of their Children and Servants, Tormented by Invisible Hands, with Tortures altogether preternatural' writes Cotton Mather in 'On Witchcraft -the Wonders of the Invisible World' first published in October 1692.

So, the Invisible World contains wonders and its Invisible Hands torment. Intriguing.

COTTON MATHER was: a Puritan minister and the son of a Puritan Minister (father had a wonderful name - Increase Mather); a prolific author of over 450 books and pamplets; assistant Pastor of Boston's Old North Church; husband to three wives and father of fifteen children; investigator into the strange pains and choral crying-out of Boston mason John Goodwin's four children leading to conclusions of witchery by Irish washerwoman, Mary Glover; a friend of three of the Salem witchcraft trial's judges; a true believer in witchcraft.

And how may witchcraft be proven?

I will venture to say this much, That we are safe, when we make just as much use of all Advice from the invisible World, as God sends it for. It is a safe Principle, That when God Almighty permits any spirits from the unseen Regions to visit us with surprising Informations, there is then something to be enquired after....

And so he enquires into such Invisible Wonders and Provoking Evils as unseen, non-existent teeth biting a girl's wrist suddenly, a girl's legs becoming lame for no apparent reason, the senses vanishing 'blindness, speechlessness, deafness, coughing up crooked pins and nails and the fascinating incident of a child catching an Invisible Mouse which no one else could see, throwing it into the fire causing it to combust with a flash like gunpowder.

This is a book which gobbles at the reader like a turkey in a lather, coughing up in your face a rich brew of entrails and electro-charged principles, thumbs and fingers, eyeballs and ear lobes, the Word of God and the Deeds of the Devil.

Consider the bewitched woman who sees a spectre running at her with a spindle whilst no one else in the room sees a thing. In her miseries, she snatches at the phantom spindle and catches it. Instantly, abracadabra, everyone else present can see that she holds a Real, Proper, Iron spindle. Proof!

Maybe one major feature of the Shadows and Invisible Domains is that they reveal to us, in a language that shape-shifts and bites, kisses and surprises, more about our own landscapes than they do about their own. And maybe the practice of MAGIC is the art of learning this wordless, soundless, noiseless language and hearing it, singing it, giving it form.

So, was Cotton Mather a magician or an anti-magician, a shaman in the role of priest, a medicine man wearing the robes of judge, an entertainer in the guise of preacher who, like the modern broadsheets, gets to tell gob-smacking tales of the absurd in the guise of honourable commentator observing the practices of the sleazy?

Diane Samuels - 2005-06-22 13:46:00.0

17 June 2005

'EVIDENCES of the Kingdom of Darkness: being A Collection of authentic and entertaining Narratives of the real Existence and Appearance of ghosts, demons and spectres.'

A book by Anonymous.


Whate'er of wonders great and strange,

the hidden Worlds produce;

We now in ample Order range,

O, Reader, for thy Use.'

The paper feels woven, like thin linen, crispened, and yet worn as the skin of a centenarian. Opening each page I am entering a room in a deceptively large regency house, uninhabited by mortal beings for many a year and yet somehow cared for and kept in order. This book itself, never mind what it contains, is a little wonder slipped out of a hidden World, its author (or authors) lurking behind the threshold and watching noiselessly in the shadows.

Why in the shadows? Why does this author(s)not reveal themselves?

Clues in the preface: It is the general persuasion, that the moderns are arrived at a pitch of knowledge greatly superior to that of their forefathers....They, good souls!....imagined there were sufficient grounds to believe that there is an invisible world of spirits......strange notions of the real existence of magicians, sorcerers, and witches........We, their more enlightened children and successors, have more elegant and refined ideas: We will take nothing upon trust, nor believe any thing but what is brought home to our senses.â€

And so, This, then, being notoriously the case, how can we flatter ourselves that a work will succeed, which professedly argues in defence of opinions so universally exploded, so diametrically opposed to the reigning notions of the present age?...we expect to be most unmercifully (perhaps undeservedly) pelted with the squibs and low jests of our modern wits and choice spirits.

Anonymous = invisible = protection = a clever conceit to promote mystery = cowardly = playful = unreliable = tricky = magickal?

The book goes on to relate the evidence of unexceptionable witnesses" to various supernatural experiences, including: The Invisible Drummerâ€, Of one who had like to have been carried away by Spiritsâ€, The Daemon of Glenluce, in Galloway, in Scotlandâ€, The witch crafts of Elizabeth Styleâ€, Jane Brooks bewitches Richard Jonesâ€, Of Second-Sight, in Scotland.â€

And so by the methods of reason, by use of forensics and fact and data, the invisible is shown to be substantial. How can anyone still question the validity of the 'Kingdom of Darkness'? And if, after all, any person should remain incredulous, and is resolved not to believe anything of this kind, all we can say is, that he shuts his eyes against the clearest light, and that his ignorance is incurable.â€

And how much, I ask, has this fearful dialogue between scepticism and credulity changed these last two centuries and a quarter?

What if every book were anonymous? How would we read differently? How would we begin to know what to believe?

Diane Samuels - 2005-06-17 15:42:00.0

8 June 2005

The Collection of poems and passages in prose that follows may be opened at random.......†W. de la M.

AT RANDOM! By chance. Luck. Serendipity. Are these magical words? Is randomness a magical practice? Giving in to forces beyond rational control, inviting the spirits to have their way with us, guide us, charm and cajole and confuse and inspire. On the path of life there is always a sign which says TAKE A CHANCE†and points towards a mist, a darkness or a bright pool of light or maybe all three at once. How often do we take a step in this uncharted direction? How often do we avoid it?

In a recent workshop a teacher came up to me whilst the children were writing quietly and asked, So, you're researching into Magic. Have you read any Walter de la Mare?†I had to admit that I hadn't. She seemed to feel that it was relevant so I checked the integrated catalogue and, at random, picked a few Walter de la Mare titles. Some books came down the conveyor belt and landed in the office. At random, again, I picked one off my desk ''Behold This Dreamer', an anthology of different writers' work edited by our author. At random once more, as Mr de la M. suggests, I opened the book a number of times at a variety of different pages. These are the phrases which leapt off the page and dived into my long-sighted eyes (through the lenses of my new glasses which, incidentally, have dark green frames):

Close now thine eyes, and rest secure; Thy soul is safe enough; thy body sure.†by Francis Charles

All day long the door of the sub-conscious remains just ajar; we slip through to the other side, and return again, as easily and secretly as a cat.†by W de la M

If there were dreams to sell, What would you buy?†by Thomas Lovell Beddoes

The state of ecstasy, of rapture, of absent-mindednesss, in a poet, artist, or a philosopher composing under the influence of inspiration, is, at bottom, identical with the secondary state of the medium.†by Gustave Geley (translated by Stanley de Brath)

Sleep hath its own world.†by Lord Byron

Our inner life is like a stream, moving quickly on the surface, moving very slowly along its bed below.†by J. Arthur Thomson

All the thinking in the world will not lead us to thought.†by Goethe

Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, 'I will compose poetry.' The greatest poet even cannot say it....†by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This reading at random is like free-writing. Free-reading as a method of creative book-worming. The imagination as a guiding force rather than the logical brain which leaps in every now and then, informing the process, commenting, advising, querying. And the words weave a new text, a living, transient one. It's like being guided through the pages by a wisp of breath, a flashing torchlight, a fragment of moonlight, a flit of sunshine, a fairy or pixie or dragon or wizard. The letters, the words, the spaces and even the numbers to mark the pages come alive and dance.

Diane Samuels - 2005-06-08 18:14:00.0

27 May 2005

Wandering around the Hans Andersen exhibition enjoying his 'Life as a Fairytale' (as he called his auto-biography), seeing the model of living the imaginative 'magical' life of storyteller and writer for real, I've been wondering how running a workshop in creative writing (as I am doing on a regular basis here at the library) connects with making magic too.

So here's what I'm trying to do:

Creating a safe creative space for those who go on the learning and imaginative journey.

Acting out, sharing, offering my own thoughts and experience, writings, ideas, dreams, like a Keeper of the Keys who opens a door at random and says: 'This is what it might look like on the other side, now you try going through a door into wherever it might lead you.'

Being an inventor, constantly experimenting with ways of releasing the writing onto the page.

Being a maker of mistakes who encourages others to make some real whoppas in this special, safe place.

Offering the opportunity to write like you never realised you ever could - go on, get carried away with yourself.

Tuning in like a transistor to the wavelength of each person, the group wavelength, encouraging each one to find their own tuning apparatus and tapping into new frequencies.

Daring everyone to wield their pen like a magic wand, transforming the wanderings of the inner world into an adventure in paper and ink.

Conjuring the experience of what it is to author, to be a creator of new life, to be the one calling the shots.

A bridge-crosser, guiding the way between the inner depths and the outer terrain, running a line from a single heart to the collective pulse.

Reminding that every aspect of human experience is a potential source of inspiration from a written story, a song, an encyclopaedia, a sacred text to a football, a piece of cake and a pair of smelly feet!

As one of the boys in today's workshop with St. Peter's School in Wigan wrote;

'Magic is the recipe for life'

As another boy wrote:

'Making a spell is like baking a smell'

Ta, ra!!!!!

Diane Samuels - 2005-05-27 18:54:00.0

19 May 2005

An envelope on my desk greeted me this morning and asked to be opened. Really, 'OPEN ME', it said. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, but then I often have felt the world instructing, advising, questioning, popping out of, under and through itself like it did for her since even before I knew that such a book existed, even before I could read. Inside the eager envelope were waiting sheets of writing from Muswell Hill school for whom I ran a Wishing workshop a few weeks ago. The sheets were all bunched together. 'Eyeball us,' They said. 'if you want to find out more about the meaning of MAGIC.' Who am I to argue with A4? So I eyeballed each instructive sheet, one at a time.

Here are some of their musings.


*when drawings of something and pictures in frames move and talk.

*when I am in different libreys I imagine I am in the Books in DIFFERENT WORLDS.

*something that tricks your mind. Personally, I don't believe in magic but if someone said to me 'What do you see when I say magic?' I would say a man with a black hat and a RABBIT because even though I don't believe in magic, I can still imagine it.

*fairies in the countryside because when I was little I saw a fairy with my mum and uncle in Derbyshire.

*a bluebell wood in spring.

*when you get lost in an adventure of a book.

*I don't believe in magic but when I was little I use to think that if I said some magic words something will appear, and if I said those magic words backwards it will disappear.

*like a quilt and every patch is a different adventure.

*ta Da!

*is created and done by God.

*is a mystery.

*for BABIES magic is attention.

*I don't believe in magic because I don't think it's possible because I think there's always a different explanation.

*MAGIC can't be explained because if you can explain something then it isn't magic.

*in everyone's heart is bad magic. You wish it wasn't there but it is.

*magic shows.

*special. Something you can't quite touch.

*weird and strange.

*beautiful, colourful, fun, clever, scary, unpredictable.

*magical PIGS because they have bottomless pit tummies. they are as big as space.

*anything that's impossible like flying of being invisible.

Some of the sheets are sensible. Some are fanciful. The sensible seem to disbelieve in magic. The fanciful seem to believe. Does it always have to be this way 'right and left brain parting ways?

And, here is a thing, some of the magical meanings connect with Alice in Wonderland in rather an intriguing way, eg. the RABBIT leads Alice into a DIFFERENT WORLD where, amongst other strange occurrences, the BABY turns into a PIG, everything is WEIRD, STRANGE, COLOURFUL, CLEVER AND SCARY.

So I turn to 'Alice in Wonderland' for some more insight. A 1966 edition with big print and no-nonsense layout has just jumped up onto my lap and rustled 'Read me!' I obey at once and open a page at random because magic, as one of the M.H. writers says, is unpredictable. 'Curiouser and curiouser! cried Alice. (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).â€


Diane Samuels - 2005-05-19 17:49:00.0

12 May 2005

I approach the Upper Ground floor café each morning the following words leap out at me:


A quote from 'Don Quixote', by Miguel de Cervantes, 16th /17th century Spanish author, subject of the latest small exhibition, filling the space most recently devoted to exhibitions about Oscar Wilde, and before that, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle. The figure of the elderly knight on his horse followed by his materialistic squire, Sancho Panza, embodies the idealistic fantasist at large with reality hot on his heels. Social satire meets chivalric romance. A man living in his own magical world and in a constant pickle.

NO BIRDS TODAY.....†'these are Don Quixote's (almost) last words. He has come to his senses at last as he faces his end. He has 'got real' and can embrace the present fully. Or maybe he can do nothing but face his end now that his senses have taken over and dispelled his living day-dreams. Windmills are windmills, giants no more. Sheep are flocks rather than armies of soldiers. A sense of loss. A sense of peace.

BIRDS. NO BIRDS. What are these birds? Flights of fancy? Wings of desire? Soaring spirits? Bird-brain foolishness? Airy-fairyness? Head in the clouds?

In today's WISHES workshop for a group of 8/9 year olds from Devonshire House school in Hampstead the children found magic in ILLUSIONS and FLYING and DISAPPEARING and DREAMS. They decided that they wanted to create a character called Cheetah (Cheater) who had been turned into a frog in a dream. Cheetah needed help badly and turned to a group of wise beings for advice. The children rose to the task and became wisdom incarnate in the form of a spirit, a king, a rabbit, an unsympathetic goblin and other creatures. They had much advice to offer including going back to sleep and dreaming of sneaking into the hobgoblin's house to find the book which would contain the answer to how to be turned back into a human again. Someone suggested that the spirit could travel into the world of dreams by entering Cheetah's head and guiding Cheetah to the book too. Many birds and even more eggs in these nests.

BIRDS. BIRDS. BIRDS. ........... 'The Encyclopaedia of Occultism and Parapsychology' reveals that according to Hungarian lore if you have been robbed and wish to discover the thief, you can find a black hen and fast with it (hungry hen) for 9 Fridays. The thief will then return the plunder or die. Believe it or not?

BIRDS and GIANTS. The hen that lays the golden eggs lives in the sky until Jack climbs up the beanstalk, steals it from the giant and brings it down to earth where it makes him rich.

Empty nest. Nest egg.

Imagine a world without birds. No birds outdoors. No birds in stories or mythology. No birds anywhere. Imagine a world where the birds take over, where the winged creatures themselves do the imagining and conjure up a world without land-bound people. Only birds.

Some days, don't you find that the windmills are giants? And on others aren't windmills just fine for grinding wheat into flour?

Cervantes writes in the final paragraph, For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; it was his to act, mine to write; we two together make but one...†And, of course, Hans Andersen's own biography was how his life was a fairy tale. This is the alchemy of art.

Diane - 2005-05-12 17:58:00.0

4 May 2005

I arrived at my desk this morning to find a large, brown envelope. Inside was a 1979 edition of 'The Art of Audubon - The Complete Birds and Mammals' by nineteenth century 'Father of American Ornithology', John James Audubon. I had called up the book last week in search of pictures of swans to accompany my recent diary entry about Andersen's 'The Ugly Duckling'.

I find myself swooping off at a tangent into Birdland.

'Elemental forces were at work within Audubon 'the stuff of which artists, poets and prophets are made.†declares the introduction to this edition (by Roger Tory Peterson). Do I sniff another magician at work in the guise of artist and, in this case, nature lover? Might this explain the wondrous value of the original versions of Audubon's 'The Birds of America', one of which is owned by the British Library and, I have been told, is worth in excess of £5,000,000? The introduction continues, Birds were the hub around which his world revolved; their furious pace of living, their beauty, their mystery reflected the subtle forces that guided his own life.†He would trek the north American wilderness nearly two hundred years ago to capture with his paints life-size portraits of Carrion Crow to Red-necked Grebe. Each picture is lovingly and proudly credited as being 'Drawn from Nature'. The precise scientific art of cataloguing species, Naturalism, meets the Romantic spirit observing the divine in nature (Audubon lived in the heyday of the Romantic movement, 1785 to 1851, and was born some twenty years before Andersen, himself so influenced by Romanticism) meets wandering Artist.

So, birds. What do they have to do with Magic?

In Native American magical traditions, (according to Cassandra Easson's 'Encyclopaedia of Magic and Ancient Wisdom') an eagle, hawk, raven and owl feather are placed in the four cardinal directions in sweat lodges to guard those going on vision quests.

In Ancient Rome a principal form of augury was divination by bird flight 'noting levels of light and dark, direction, height, hovering, course and song.

A modern day version of this survives with the sighting of magpies:

One for sorrow

Two for mirth

Three for a letter,

Four for a birth,

Five for silver,

Six for gold

And seven for a secret never to be told.â€

In the Far East a magpie is welcomed as a sign of good fortune, and the more you see the greater will be your happy tidings.

And 'The Encyclopaedia of Occultism and Parapsychology' notes that ...the souls of the dead are believed to be conveyed to the land of the hereafter by birds...South Sea Islanders bury their dead in coffins shaped like the bird which is to bear away their spirit.â€

If I were to be buried in a bird-shaped coffin, I'd like it to be a hummingbird shape. To be able to flap your wings so fast that you appear not to be moving seems to me to be the quintessence as much of motion as of stillness. Audubon has four hummingbirds in his book: 'Anna Hummingbird' with its green body and red head; 'Mango Hummingbird', olive green and yellow and orangey red; 'Ruby-throated Hummingbird, grey belly and light green back with ruby-red throat; and 'Ruff-necked Hummingbird' with dark wings, a white throat and red or green back and tail. The beauty about the Spirit of Hummingbird of course is that, unlike actual hummingbirds, it can be all different types at once. Then again, the beauty of actual hummingbirds, as Audubon shows, is that they can be as different as they are the same.

Have a look at this website www.nature.net/birds/browsec/, to see some Audabon birds.

Diane Samuels - 2005-05-04 16:22:00.0

29 April 2005

have now had the opportunity to ask curators of the upcoming Hans Christian Andersen exhibition whether they feel there is magic in Andersen and, if so, where it might be. Their answers have been intriguing.

Magic, it seems, might not be the point.

I have discovered that Hans Christian Anderson:

wrote 'art fairy tales'.his life as a fairy tale 'poverty-stricken childhood to guest in prince's palaces and celebrated author.
felt like an excluded outsider, lived full of fears, a traveller who carried a rope in his suitcase in case a fire broke out.
terrible toothache.
his way to Copenhagen as a fourteen year old and managed to find wealthy patrons to fund his education and support him.
to be an actor or dancer.
the most delicate paper cuttings with a huge pair of scissors as he told his stories.
a father who was a radical cobbler who joined the French army to fight for the revolution and read La Fontaine to him as a child.
raised as a 'natural being'.
made by a bullying headmaster to write essays at school with titles like 'Why It Is Damaging To Use Too Much Imagination'.
being buried alive and had a note by his bed which assured people that he was just sleeping.
his first book when he was about seventeen years old, published under a pseudonym suspending his own name between two of his literary heroes, William Christian Walter.
transformed into fiction and back into autobiography. A writer in the Romantic tradition finding the divine in nature, absorbed by those two great western nineteenth century preoccupations, religion and death. An outsider whose heroes and heroines were often not quite human and yet captured the universal experience of the human condition 'mermaid out of water desperate for legs. So where IS the magic?

What about finding the living spirit in inanimate objects? This certainly works as satire and social commentary, representing human experience through the perspectives of things or animals or plant life? The Red Shoes, The Little Tin Soldier, The Darning Needle, The Pen and The Inkwell, The Bottle, The Pine Tree, The Collar, and list goes on and on.

Can it also be magical?

What is this art of transporting a reader into a real and alive world of metaphor?

The 'Little Giant Encyclopaedia of Spells and Magic' describes a shaman ('medicine man', 'practitioner of the ancient path of 'spirit') as one who can 'implant a spirit in an object', 'mediate with birds, animals and trees' and 'function in both the ordinary world and the spirit world'.

Was Hans Christian Andersen unknowingly some kind of shaman? A writer shaman? Can there be such a thing?

Have a look at this website of Hans Christian Anderson papercuts.

Diane Samuels - 2005-04-29 17:55:00.0

21 April 2005

I think that I may have found where magic is.

In this morning's workshop with some 9 and 10 year olds from Muswell Hill School, I asked them one of my key research questions (more of KEYS a little later):'WHERE IS MAGIC'? (this makes me want to play with questions-a-la- essay-titles such as 'Magic, possible or impossible?' or 'Magic and insanity, draw links' or 'Now you see it, now you don't. The disappearing magic(k)al K, true invisibility or just cheap trickery?' (Of course, k is also for KEY 'more on that, still to come) or 'Did Magic end before or after History?') I digress. So, I asked the children in the workshop the key question. One girl stretched out her arms and said 'Magic is something you reach for but can't get hold of.' Another girl said that it was something you want to believe in but as you grow older this gets harder. Another girl said 'I don't know where magic is.' When pressed, she whispered, 'I don't believe in it.' One boy said that magic was inside a top hat with a white rabbit and then all the other boys agreed that they liked watching magicians perform tricks although they refused to be pinned down as to which tricks exactly. A girl with her hair tied back said that she really couldn't tell how they cut the lady in half and they must be doing something magical. Then most of the others tried to explain how there are really two people curled up on either side of the saw. The workshop continued with a drama exercise about finding a magic object and discovering its powers. Some of the stories involved magic being a force for destruction, killing immediately all who encounter it especially a boy sitting on a chair who said nothing and pretended to be Hitler's son and who died a horrible death very suddenly. Some stories involved magic healing mortal wounds. There were three plays and with the acting out of each one the children caught the giggles more and more uncontrollably until most of the people in the room were rolling around laughing.

So I said AHA! And they looked at me. And then I said WHAT IS THE LAUGHING ABOUT? And they tried to explain what was funny but it wasn't at all clear exactly what although there was a strong connection with making mistakes and not knowing what other people were going to do next. And then I asked them COULD THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION ABOUT WHERE THE MAGIC IS BE: 'BEHIND THE LAUGHTER'? And I reminded them about the scene in Mary Poppins where she visits her uncle and they laugh so much that they float to the ceiling where they have tea. And the children were rather bemused but felt that there might be something in this. And so I sent them off to look for magic objects or places around the British Library building and a few children couldn't find it anywhere and more spotted it in the escalators, in books in the King's Tower and in a large atlas, amongst other places. So, we were beginning to get somewhere. Correction -those who opened their eyes to the possibility of MAGIC lurking in unlikely places were beginning to get somewhere. the other stayed where they were.

Another possible place is in Keys. I'm reading a Hans Andersen story entitled, 'The Front Door Key' about a heavy, large key belonging to a councillor. This key has a spirit all of its own (as inanimate objects often do in Andersen's world). It foretells the future as well as explaining the past. Of course some people believe what the key tells them and others don't. The interesting thing is that when it predicts 'Victory and Happiness' for the young woman who asks for her fate, these wonderful things come to her many years later and in a most unexpected way.

Magic is never, this is for certain, straightforward! It also, I discover more and more, seems to involve surprise and patience in equal measure.

Diane Samuels - 2005-04-21 17:49:00.0

13 April 2005

The Hans Christian Andersen exhibition, celebrating the bi-centenary of the author's birth in 1805, will be opening on May 20th here at the library.

AHA, I find myself thinking, there must be many links here with my magical research. So I have arranged to meet each one of the curators for the exhibition - Alison Bailey, Morna Daniels, Barbara Hawes, Elizabeth James and Kristian Jensen - in the run up to its opening in order to understand the process of putting together the exhibition, the vision behind it, the books and documents in the library's collection relating to Andersen's work and to find out more about this master storyteller of the nineteenth century (do we have a literary magician here?), his life and context.

Before I go on my quest for information and understanding, time to take pause and consider what I know and feel already about Andersen and his stories. What links can I envisage with the theme of MAGIC?

Have a look at these illustrations of The Ugly Duckling.

.Ulgy ducking illustrations

2.Ugly duckling illustrations

3. Ugly duckling illustrations

4. Ugly duckling illustrations

5.Ugly duckling illustrations

The first thing that pops up is an image of that scruffy little ugly duckling being transformed into a beautiful swan. The problem is that this transformation isn't magical (in the sense of being out of the ordinary, exceptional, 'The art of putting in action the power of spirits') because the cygnet is always going to become a swan. It's just the natural course of growing up. So what makes this story feel so magical? Is it that the animals are given voice in a way which feels enchanting, like some power has suddenly made us understand their language? Is it that the duckling, naïve and ignorant of its own nature and potential, wishes to fly with the fine birds in the sky and when this comes true it seems like magic to him? But this reduces a sense of magic to foolish ignorance and superstition and the story doesn't foster a cynical attitude to the silly little duck. Quite the contrary. So maybe the magic is in the art of the storytelling. It's the capturing of some essential ingredient of human experience and relating it to the world of nature, bringing alive so vividly and with such simple imagination the longing of the downtrodden to be valued. Yes, the magic here is the artistry. Just the process of maturing into your adult self in this story becomes an alchemical process, lead into gold. The ordinary becomes marvellous.

Also, in brief: Little mermaid - fish girl wishes for prince and undergoes her own massive transformation into a human with legs. Ah, but the magic comes with a painful curse. Red dancing shoes with fantastic powers - an uncontrollable force that runs haywire is unleashed. Beware of what you wish for.

Thumbelina, one of the little people to whom we humans are giants. This is our world but not at all as we know it. And yet we all do or did know it this way - the child's eye view. The story literally shrinks its reader.

Andersen's pen is his wand - Transformations. Magical powers. Otherworldly beings. Wishes. The world of metaphor brought so alive that you can smell and touch it and feel the little Matchgirl's frozen fingers reaching out to you from the page even though you might well shrink from the sheer sentimentality of her pathetic image. Where is the magic? It's ducking and diving through Andersen's yarns already, I see. Catch it if you can. This'll do for starters.

Now to go meet the curators.......

Diane Samuels - 2005-04-13 18:07:00.0

30 March 2005

Being a writer, I am interested in how magical the art of writing can be. Very magical, it would appear. In various ways.(Note in response to Toko's question below - maybe writing is one way of knotting that rope to catch the wind??)

A magician may well keep a BOOK OF SHADOWS for recording spells in their own hand. It needs to be consecrated first, purified and invested with symbolic power. No one else may touch it. This reminds me of the need for writers to know when to protect their writing, especially early drafts, from others. Many writers will not talk of pieces on which they are currently working. Many writers keep private notebooks. The pages catch life's fragments like a net snares fish or a windmill the breeze.

PEN (or quill), PAPER (or parchment) and INK can be used in magical rituals. According to 'The Little Giant Encyclopaedia of Spells and Magic' by the Diagram Group, it is important to use these tools only for ceremonial purposes and they need to be made from 'virgin' materials 'the first feather from a swallow's wing, the hide of an unborn kid (brutal as veal, this sounds to me, I must say - reminds me too of the kid sacrifice made by the Hebrews in Ancient Egypt before being freed from slavery), although the ink can be constituted from muckier stuff like soot and river water. Of course, the earliest manuscripts and books used to be made from animal or vegetable sources and illuminated in precious metals. So, magic meets history and religious mythology here. What about a plastic roller ball gel pen and pad of A4? Are recycled or reconstituted materials acceptable? Newness has a special power of it's own, I guess, if we learn to honour it.

The COLOUR OF THE INK has its own potency, as with candle magic: green for abundance, prosperity and fertility; red for courage and energy; blue for communication, wisdom and healing; black for protection and expelling. What effect might different coloured paper have?

AUTOMATIC WRITING occurs when a living person becomes a channel through which a spirit writes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's wife practised spirit writing and received missives from him after his death. In 1913, Pearl Curran, a housewife living in St Louis, USA, started to write in the words of Patience Worth, an Englishwoman from Dorset born in 1649 and killed by native Amerindians shortly after her arrival in north America. Patience wrote over two thousand poems, plays and short stories and six novels through Pearl in five years. This reminds me of the art of free writing or 'daily pages' encouraged by late twentieth century creative writing teachers like Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron as a form of writing practice to loosen up the flow and release the imagination unencumbered by intellectual criticism. By observing the guideline to KEEP WRITING and feel free to put down whatever you like, nonsense included, different voices start to speak readily through the writer. Something juicy is released, something weird, something troublesome, something soppy, who knows. Magic meets art?

My FREE WRITING for today, inspired by everywhere in particular and nowhere in general, is this (I promise not to edit or correct): Cats cry when the edge of the happy place can't be foiund any more and then they have to run a s fast as they can because who knows ho wmany herds of wildebeest will be coming after them? I remember hooting like goose, a white, speckled one, still youngish, when the army landed. They had sabres in those days. I didn't care for their hungry eyes nor did I enjoy the pitter patter of tiny feet inside the barn when the mice had been nesting. Anyhow, Jack and Jill were not getting along and no one knew how to make them make amends. They seemed to relish their enmity. Not sure that I did. Who am I, thoiugh? A helluva gal, answered the chicken which had already been plucked and decapitated,. By rights, it shouldn't have been able to say a word. But there ya go. The headless speak in louder voices than many of the living. Believe me. I acan attest to ti. And who am I, again? I am a pen made of ivory with tiny encrustations of ruby chips. My nib is gold and it may nevere break if you treat me with care. So please do. Because I have much to impart and this is only the beginning!!!â€

Diane Samuels - 2005-03-30 13:29:00.0

27 March 2005

Hello, if anyone knows how to knot the rope to catch the wind, please let me know. Thank you.

Toko - 2005-03-27 11:21:00.0

24 March 2005

I'm looking at a print of the artist JMW turner's 1846 painting 'Queen Mab's Cave' (The original can be found at the Tate Gallery). In a haze of yellow, almost gold, rises the cloudy form of a castle on an almost invisible hill. Beneath it, silver water turning dank, a river ripples with light and minute figures, fleshy and hazy in equal measure. The shadow of a glade swirls with glow. Near its mouth a female shape is carried aloft by a swan. The little beings swim, fly, float in a blur of unreal activity. The Art Union reviewing the 1846 British Institution exhibition in which the painting was displayed describes A daylight dream in all the wantonness of gorgeous, bright and positive colour, not painted but apparently flung on the canvas in kaleidoscopic confusion.â€

I've been wondering about depictions of fairies. It's this question of making the invisible world and its beings visible. Some might call it giving physical shape to the imagination. Some might say that it's visual storytelling, myth-making, spinning a yarn. Others might call it foolish fancy. Depends, I suppose, on how much you believe in the reality of the fantastical.

Consider those Cottingley fairy photographs with which sir Arthur Conan Doyle was so taken. Here we have the two girls, Elsie and Frances, surrounded by winged forms in 1918 to 1920. In later life the girls grown-into-women claimed that whilst the photos were fakes, cut-outs of book illustrations, they did really see the fairies. Some might call it make-believe. Some might call it a con. Some might say that the fakery was an attempt to depict the truly intangible for others to see too.

According to Beatrice Phillpotts' 'Fairy Paintings', William Blake saw fairies. He writes, I was walking alone in my garden, there was great stillness among the branches and flowers and more than common sweetness in the air; I heard a low and pleasant sound and I know not whence it came. At last I saw the broad leaf of a flower move, and underneath I saw a procession of creatures the size and colour of green and grey grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose-leaf, which they buried with songs and disappeared. It was a fairy funeral.†Photography not being a medium of his age, Blake represented his visions of fairy folk in pencil, pen and watercolour. 'The Goblin' of circa 1818 shows, in Blake's own words, The Goblin crop full flings out of doors from his Laborious task dropping his Flail and Cream bowl, yawning and stretching vanishes into the Sky, in which is seen Queen Mab Eating the Junkets. The Sports of the Fairies are seen thro the Cottage where 'She' lays in Bed 'pinchd and pulld' by Fairies as they dance on the Bed, the Ceiling and the Floor, and a Ghost pulls the Bed clothes at her feet.â€

I remember wondering how 'they did' the zipping, hovering flash of light which was Tinkerbell in theatre productions of 'Peter Pan'. Was it simply a torch or something more sophisticated? That flash of yellow brings me back to Turner's painting. There's something here of catching moonbeams in a jar or tasting the colour of mist.

Diane Samuels - 2005-03-24 16:59:00.0

18 March 2005

Where do fairies come from?

J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan has an endearing notion: When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of the fairies.â€

There are other possibilities:

fairies are spirits of the restless dead

fairies are the descendants of ancient Neolithic peoples

fairies began as the Fates of ancient Rome spinning the destinies of humans, granting gifts to the newborn, weaving their adult lives and cutting the yarn to end them.

fairies represent a separate line of evolution.

fairies began as the Furies of ancient Greece, terrifying goddesses of vengeance.

fairies are the hidden, unwashed children of Eve, concealed from God because they were unclean and when He asked if all her children were present, she said yes. So God said, 'As you have hidden your children from my sight so shall they evermore be hidden from yours.'

fairies are the old pagan gods reduced down to size.

fairies are the whistle in the wind, the ripple in the stream, the creaking of the branches, the living force in the inanimate, animism in action.

Do you believe in fairies? Do fairies ask each other if they believe in humans? And if a fairy stops believing does a person somewhere die?

There was in the latter part of the twentieth century (and maybe it still exists today) an organisation called the 'Fairy Investigation Society'. It used to publish a newsletter until it became clear that people were more interested in UFO sightings than reports of the little people. How very ridiculous, they laughed.

Diane Samuels - 2005-03-18 16:41:00.0

11 March 2005

A single word can open a doorway to an otherworld.

This week the website dictionary.com featured FEYâ€, also FAYâ€: (a) Having or displaying otherworldly, magical, or fairylike aspect or quality. (b) Having visionary power; clairvoyant. (c) Appearing touched or crazy, as if under a spell. SCOTS. (a) Fated to die soon. (b) Full of the sense of approaching death.â€

Fun can be had with Fay, as in:

"The fey quality was there, the ability to see the moon at midday."- John Mason Brown
She's got that fey look as though she's had breakfast with a leprechaun†- Dorothy Burnham
what would you have for breakfast with a leprechaun, pray? According to 'The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies' by Anna Franklin, these Irish lone fairy cobblers†(who, incidentally, are only ever seen working on one shoe, never a pairâ€) love whiskey and tobacco†and dwell in boggy placesâ€, under the roots of trees and in deserted castlesâ€. So this might be a liquid, pipe-smoking kind of repas, a la carte with the sun rising as the moon does not set. Everyday tilts on its axis and Neveryday comes into view.

Fay glimpses into the Otherworld of the fairies.
fetches light, will o the Wisp, a dark portent.
is a fairy double, a mortal's perfect likeness.
your fetch and you are fay,
the brink of death.
a flimsy, floaty, winged word with a looming, glooming shadow.

Diane Samuels - 2005-03-11 13:09:00.0

4 March 2005

A WISH IS...EXPLORING THE WONDERS†by Reepon, yr 4, St George the Martyr Primary School, London

In this morning's wishing workshop the class of eight and nine year olds were excitable and worked hard. They made a poem, constructed partly by random chance and partly by intent:

A Wish Is

a hope

a fairy

that comes true

brains made of wonder

in your heart

a new start

never forget

a skate board

can't be without

a rabbit with socks

imagination to light up your brains

dear hope

a silver whisper

if you want


And I was inspired to come up with: A Wish is....a goblin with a bad temper; a pig with only one ear; a hat on a stand; a longing; a dream; a heartfelt song; a kiss in the dawn; an EGG in a nest; a cracker.

We didn't explore spells in the Wishes Workshop and I'm wondering if that would be worth a go. So I have found a copy of The Ancient Egyptian Book of The Deadâ€, in a version translated by Raymond O'Faulkner, edited by Carol Andrews, published 1972, The Limited Editions Club, New York.

The Introduction explains, The Book of the Dead' is the name given to sheets of papyrus covered with magical texts and accompanying illustrations called vignettes which the ancient Egyptians placed with their dead in order to help them pass through the dangers of the Underworld and attain an afterlife of bliss in the Field of Reeds, the Egyptian heaven.â€

In the spirit of association I choose a word 'EGG - from my wish jottings and look for a connection in the Book of the Deadâ€. I find my way to SPELL 56 'Spell for breathing air among the waters in the realm of the dead. 'Oh Atum, give me the sweet breath which is in your nostril, for I seek out that great place which is in Wenu, I have guarded that EGG of the Great Cackler. If I be strong, it will be strong; if I live, it will live; if I breathe the air, it will breathe the air.â€

I wonder what a group of eight and nine year olds might make of this?

Diane Samuels - 2005-03-04 16:22:00.0

24 February 2005

Tonight there is a full moon. And so I'm taking it as my inspiration for today.

In 'Writings on Writing', Rudyard Kipling (1865 '1936), considers that: There is one beauty of the sun and another of the moon, and we must be thankful for both.†In his series of stories about Puck transporting the mortal hero and heroine through time, Rewards and Fairiesâ€, he takes a very different tone when speaking through herbalist Mr Culpeper who advises villagers smitten with plague of how to purge it from their midst: 'Destroy and burn the creatures of the Moon, for they are the root of your trouble.'....Take a bat and kill a rat.......The creatures of the Moon hate all that Mars hath used for his own clean ends. For example 'rats bite not iron.' â€

The scientific explanation, of course, also connects the spread of the plague with rats, by reason of their carrying the fleas infected with the lethal plague bacillus. And so biology meets mythology.

In The Wicca Spellbook†pub. 1994, Gerina Dunwich explains, The connection between the mystical energy of the Moon and Craft of the Wise dates back to early times when witches were believed by many to possess a supernatural ability literally to 'draw down the Moon' from the heavens and use it as the source of their magickal power.......All spells and rituals that attract should be performed when the Moon is on the increase. All spells and rituals that banish should be performed when the Moon is on the decrease.â€

And if you wish to tap into the power yourself, 'an ancient grimoire of the magickal arts' advises to place a moonstone amulet in your mouth at night when the Moon is full. Wear a ring of moonstone (dedicated to the love-goddess Aphrodite) as amuletic jewelry to attract a soul mate, inspire tender passions, or to protect a love. Carry a moonstone in a charm bag to attract good luck or prevent nervousness.â€

Once I saw the moon and the sun in the sky next to each other. It was not long after dawn. The light was almost silvery, matt rather than shiny, and the grass was dewy, almost dripping, underfoot. Are there thresholds where the world of the dark and hidden meets the world of the light and revealed? That morning it felt like dreams and ideas could sit side by side without prejudice, without being interpreted as opposites, merely different aspects of a whole. It is often not the case.

When I see the full moon-face tonight, I'll try to remember the other side which looks out into space.

Diane Samuels - 2005-02-24 17:19:00.0

18 February 2005

I'm enjoying Harry Houdini's book A Magician Among The Spirits†published in 1924. He describes himself in the introduction as a mystical entertainerâ€. I'd always thought of him as an escapologist. More fool me. My eyes are being opened afresh.

What, I wonder, might a 'mystical entertainer' be?

According to the Dictionary.com website (http://dictionary.reference.com/):

MYSTICAL means: of or having a spiritual reality or import not apparent to the intelligence or senses; of, relating to, or stemming from direct communion with ultimate reality or God, a mystical religion; enigmatic; obscure: of or relating to mystic rites or practices; unintelligible; cryptic; having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; beyond ordinary understanding; "the secret learning of the ancients". (syn: mysterious, mystic, occult, secret, orphic).

ENTERTAINER means: one who holds the attention of others with something amusing or diverting; a person who tries to please or amuse. To entertain means: to extend hospitality toward: entertain friends at dinner; to consider; contemplate: entertain an idea; to hold in mind, harbour, entertained few illusions.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in The Edge of The Unknown†has a great deal to say about Houdini. He devotes his first chapter to him and entitles it, entertainingly, The Riddle of Houdiniâ€. He describes the man's amazing courageâ€, psychic abilitiesâ€, cheery urbanityâ€, charityâ€, lovable nature†and generosityâ€. He also mentions a vanity which was so obvious and childish that it became more amusing than offensive†and a passion for publicityâ€.




It is quite a life challenge to combine a fascination with the spiritual with a desire to hog the limelight.

Houdini's introduction is fascinating in the way he juggles with these mystical and entertainer impulses, trying to balance and reconcile them with each other whilst also expressing a deep sense of scepticism about using any kind of mystical practice to entertain:

...as a side line to my own phase of mystery shows I have associated myself with mediums, joining the rank and file and held séances as an independent medium to fathom the truth of it all. At the time I appreciated the fact that I surprised my clients, but while aware of the fact that I was deceiving them I did not see or understand the seriousness of trifling with such sacred sentimentality and the baneful result which inevitably followed. To me it was a lark. I was a mystifier and as such my ambition was being gratified and my love for a mild sensation satisfied. After delving deep I realized the seriousness of it all. As I advanced to riper years of experience I was brought to a realization of the seriousness of trifling with the hallowed reverence which the average human being bestows on the departed, and when I personally became afflicted with similar grief I was chagrined that I should ever have been guilty of such frivolity and for the first time realized that it bordered on a crime.â€

NB. The grief to which he refers is that he felt for his 'sainted' mother ('if God in his infinite wisdom ever sent an angel upon earth in human form it was my mother').

Diane Samuels - 2005-02-18 17:30:00.0

10 February 2005

I'm preparing for the workshop I'm running for sixth formers 'Believe it or Not'. I'm aiming to open up an exploration of the nature of belief in psychic phenomena -so Projoy's ref below is very timely and much appreciated!Can this belief ever make any rational sense? Does belief ever need to make sense? Isn't that the very nature of a leap of faith - to trust in what you have no proof is valid and isn't there something brave as well as foolhardy, liberating as well as carzy about doing this? And aren't people so open to exploitation when they make this leap, ready to believe anything? The voice of the sceptic looms large.

The desire to communicate with spirits is older than history; it connects with ineradicable principles in human nature...and the attempts to satisfy that desire have usually taken a shape which does gross outrage to reason.†says 'THE BOOK OF CEREMONIAL MAGIC' BY A.E. WAITE(originally 'The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts, London 1898), page 9.

Yes indeed, this question raises its head again and again - how do we marry the voice of imagination and intuition with that of reason and material sense? Through fiction perhaps? Through art? Through religion? Through sport? Through madness?

The Conan Doyle exhibition has now disappeared and its spot just outside the Upper Ground floor café has been taken by an Oscar Wilde exhibition. I'm set on travelling further along the Conan Doyle trail and have been rifling through his papers, acquired by the Library from a Christie's auction in 2003, Lot 60. This question of believing in the unknowable, the fanciful, the imaginary, the intangible, the unreasonable, the magical, absorbed Conan Doyle in his later life.

In the preface to his book 'The Edge of The Unknown' Sir Arthur writes: There is a passage in that charming book 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey' which runs as follows: 'She was one of those persons who have allowed their lives to be gnawed away because they have fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of Civilization. She hurled herself against the obstinacy of her time.' We who believe in the psychic revelation, and who appreciate that a perception of these things is of the utmost importance, certainly have hurled ourselves against the obstinacy of our time.â€

Perhaps there's a gentler route when it comes to a time's obstinacies - around the edges of them, tunnelling underneath, flying above, letting your attention wander elsewhere......

Here's a moment of synchronicity: I just opened 'The Edge of The Unknown' at a random page (p137) and, guess what, it's Conan Doyle's account of a medium channelling the writing of no other than Oscar Wilde some thirty years after his death: When asked why he came, he answered: 'To let the world know that Oscar Wilde is not dead. His thoughts live on in the hearts of all those who in a gross age can hear the flute voice of beauty calling on the hills, or mark where her white feet brush the dew from the cowslips in the morning. Now the mere memory of the beauty of the world is an exquisite pain. I was always one of those for whom the visible world existed. I worshipped at the shrine of things seen. There was not a blood stripe on a tulip or a curve on a shell, or a tone on the sea, but had for me its meaning and its mystery, and its appeal to the imagination. Others might sip the pale lees of the cup of thought, but for me the red wine of life.' â€

Ah, what order and understanding can be found in the chaos of chance.

Diane Samuels - 2005-02-10 11:09:00.0

6 February 2005

You might be interested in the skeptical take on magic, which is typified by www.randi.org - in particular there are lots of interesting things about the nature of belief that arise from thinking carefully about scepticism.

Projoy - 2005-02-06 16:59:00.0

28 January 2005

How do wishing stories work? Do they have a common shape or are there many different sorts?

I have two wishing stories here in front of me:

'The Wishing Tree', a picture/story book, told by Usha Bahl in Urdu and English, with illustrations by Heather Dickinson, published by Andre Deutsch, one of a series collected during the Reading Materials for Minority Groups Project (1982 '1985) based at Middlesex Polytechnic. This story was taken from a living oral tradition and was originally told in the storyteller's mother tongue. Very 1980's cover, vista of African plain, veering towards naturalism..

'Three Little Wishes' is made and printed in Holland (1952), retold by Wallace C. Wadsworth, illustrated by Esther Friend. Very 1950's cover 'bright colours, dolly-like characters in a kind of 'toyland'.

(NOTE: I love the idea of a story being acknowledged as 'told' or, even more interesting, 'retold'. Here's a sense of listening through reading, eyes to ears. The 're' suggests that authorship belongs to whoever relates the tale at any given turn).

'The Wishing Tree' is set in East Africa at a time of famine. A wishing tree will provide all the sustenance the animals need if only they can discover its name. A swift impala, a hardy buffalo and an imperial lion each take their turns to ascend the mountain to speak to the Spirit of the Mountains who tells them the name. Each time, as they return in haste, each animal trips and forgets the name. Then the slow tortoise takes its time and a great deal of care to remember the name, constantly repeating it, returning with ''Uvuganlma' on its tongue which brings the wishing tree to full fruit, a spring bubbling at its roots.

'Three Little Wishes' sees a woodcutter and his wife generously help a man by the wayside who has been assaulted by robbers. They feed him, give him a bed for the night and offer provisions to continue his journey. In return the man gives them a little brown nut which can grant three wishes. The woodcutter and woman fantasise about all the riches and splendour they can wish for themselves but then, in a rash moment of hunger, the man wishes for a pan of sausages. The woman, furious, wishes for the pan to be fixed to his nose. There is one wish left. They could still have all the gold in the world if they liked. But what good would that be to a man with a pan chained to his nose? And so they wish for the man's nose to be free of the pan, realise that they are content with their life together near the wood as it is and are most relieved that they no longer have to 'worry about what to wish for.'

The first story ends with the wish coming true, fulfilment after much struggle by the animals, their salvation.

The second story has the wishes coming true much earlier, the cause of struggle. It ends after the wishes are over with salvation from the wishes not by them.

Wishes can lead to satisfaction.
can lead to dissatisfaction.
wish my life to be different. I wish to appreciate my life as it is.
Samuels - 2005-01-28 09:28:00.0

20 January 2005

I'm preparing now for the workshops I'm going to be running for groups of different ages.

'Be Careful What You Wish For' is for 7 to 11 year olds and I'm hoping to combine elements of creative writing and storytelling with access to texts and artefacts from the collection here at the library: imagination meets research. 'Believe it or Not' is for sixth form students. They'll have the opportunity to look at a sample of 'spirit photos' from the Barlow collection and read some extracts of Arthur Conan-Doyle's writing on the theme of spiritualism and consider different ways of interpreting the paranormal: research meets reason meets the imagination. Both workshops will include a guided tour, a 'Wonder Walk' through the 'Writer in the Garden' Exhibition.

The Wishing Tree
around for source materials, I've been drawn towards working with a Wishing Tree as the central motif for the wishing workshop. I'm wondering what a wishing tree might look like, where it might be found. My search has led me to dig out the first edition, 1964, of a novella by William Faulkner, 'The Wishing Tree' dedicated: "For his dear friend Victoria on her eighth birthday Bill he made This book".

Dulcie finds a strange red-haired boy waiting for her when she wakes on her birthday. She sets off with him to find the Wishing Tree. They meet a little old man. Together they travel some more and come across a tree with white leaves:

" 'It's a-a mellomax tree,' the little old man said, 'There are a lot of them in this forest.' 'I never saw a tree with white leaves before,' Dulcie said, and she pulled one of the leaves off, and as soon as she touched it, the leaf changed its colour and became a lovely blue.' "

Is there such a thing as a mellomax tree in the world? I've tried to look up the name in tree directories and can't locate it? So is this an imaginary tree? And what other kinds of Wishing Tree might there be? Are they lurking in hidden places or right in front of our eyes, parading as common or garden everyday trees?

Diane Samuels - 2005-01-20 12:22:00.0

12 January 2005

"Be careful what you wish for." The pointy finger wags and warns that when we wish we're making a demand and our wilful desires might well lead us into trouble.

"Wish for your heart's desire." The broad hand appears out of thin air to raise us up, through daring to voice aloud a cherished longing and daring to believe that it's possible, to greater heights of fulfilment.

Is a wish coming true a CURSE upon the demanding OR a GIFT to the needy?

The pointy finger has honourable exponents. A little book has come into my hands. Published in 1925 by Blackie and Son with an introduction by E. H. Blakeney M. A. of Winchester College. It contains 'Juvenal's Tenth Satire'(written around 120AD in Latin) with Dr. Johnson's 'fine adaptation', 'The Vanity of Human Wishes' (first published in 1749). Here a wish is equated with wants and ambition and viciously satirised as such.

Mr Blakeney sums up, in translation, the thrust of Juvenal's argument:

"God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers,

And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face,

A gauntlet with a gift in it."

Johnson, in his version, advises:

"Still raise for good the supplicating voice,

But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice.

Safe in His power, whose eyes discern afar

The secret ambush of a specious prayer;

Implore His aid, in His decisions rest,

Secure whate'er He gives, He gives the best."

Maybe an equation emerges:



Or is that just morality trying to take control?

Diane Samuels - 2005-01-12 18:57:00.0

5 January 2005



I led a writing workshop on WISHES to kick off 2005. It felt worthwhile to begin on a personal note. I asked the writers to list:

What you were GLAD for in 2004

What you WISH FOR in 2005

TRY IT, IF YOU LIKE - Give yourself ten to twenty minutes on 2004. Then another ten to twenty for 2005. Try to be specific. Be as practical and as fanciful as you possibly can, mundane and spectacular, and then go beyond the bounds of your comfort zone and DARE!!!! So what if it's obvious or silly or stupid or crap! Where there's muck, there's brass.

One writer wrote that she wished to meet a white knight once in a while. When we had a break a little later she emerged from the toilet laughing. She'd dried her hands only to notice on the dispenser that the make was WHITE KNIGHT. Her wish was already coming true.

I wrote without stopping or thinking about my own wishes today (this was not long after the 3 minutes silence for those affected by the tsunami): "I wish I could have un-filled teeth which feed me and chew food and from which I gain only pleasure. I wish I could fly above myself, my lost rage and ragged heartbeat no longer wafting in the wind of hot asthmatic breath. I wish I was a strong dose of sage or thyme, an open eye on the envelope of dreams. I wish I could dig a hole to the plane of consciousness and run off the edge some days without it having to be such a trek. I wish I could sit in silence for the three minutes it takes to save the world without thinking of strawberry jam, clotted cream and scones. I wish my computer would log on. I wish I was normal. I wish I was exceptional. I wish I could hang a pair of purple knickers on a flagpole in front of parliament."

Diane Samuels - 2005-01-05 17:48:00.0

23 December 2004

I'm taken by Herbie's definitions of magic.

I'm now interested in looking further into Mr Crowley, whom I've been avoiding so far because he clearly likes to hog the limelight and I'm one for the subtler forces at work in the world. Then again the relationship between 'real' magick and performance seems to be touched upon by his grandiosity and this might well be important in getting to grips with how magic/k is working these days.

Fascinating that the 'k' can denote the difference between the 'real-life' practice and the 'fake' performance traditions. K might therefore be for KEY to understanding, for KNOWLEDGE of the facets of magical practice, magicians as healers or artists or visionaries or illusionists in different measure. Maybe K makes some KONNECTIONS, represents a missing link which has vanished for a while in the Age of Reason. Knock me down with a feather. Kiss my forehead. Knot the rope. Kick the bucket. Klimb the stairs. Kaleidoscope vision reveals the oddest angles.

I've found 'The Wicca Spellbook' by Gerina Dunwich originally published in the US and published in the UK in 1995. In her intro, Gerina echoes Herbie's observation that "Magic is a collection of techniques, some dating to prehistoric times, based on the assumption that the manipulation of inner, imaginal processes can influence external reality." Gerina states: "Magick is a wondrous energy that is raised through various means (meditation, dancing, and ritual sex, to name a few) and then physically directed at a specific goal: to heal an illness, attract love, or remedy a bad situation. Magick is 'the use of will to effect some desired change'; therefore, any open-minded human who possesses the ability to focus and concentrate their will is capable of working successful magick. Some folks need to practice often to get their magical skills fine-tuned, while others are blessed with a more natural aptitude for it....... 'AN IT HARM NONE, LOVE, AND DO WHAT THOU WILT!' (The Wiccan Rede)....be free to practice the arts of magick, develop and utilize your psychic powers, and do your own thing, provided that no harm comes to anyone as a result."

By the way, I'm making progress re Conan Doyle. In January I'm planning to meet a curator who has access to transcripts of séances that belonged to him and am seeking out Conan Doyle's book 'The Edge of the Unknown' which contains a chapter on Houdini.

Diane Samuels - 2004-12-23 12:07:00.0

17 December 2004

We haven't actually lost the final 'k' (Diane, Nov 11.) Aleister Crowley, who defined magic as 'the art of causing change in accordance with the will' added a final 'k' to differentiate his brand of magick from all others.

People who disliked Crowley rushed to strip it off again so <<their>> magic would not be associated with his. But in recent years, it's crept back in America, where the form 'magick' is used in many esoteric publications to differentiate between 'real' magic and stage conjuring.

Crowley's definition hasn't really stood the test of time either. (It could easily describe drinking a g&t.) Many modern magicians prefer Dion Fortune's variation: 'The art of causing changes of consciousness in accordance with the will.'

I've long thought this was a little narrow as Crowley's was too broad and was rash enough to put forward two definitions of my own:

1. Magic is an archaic system of psychology... and a damn good one.

2. Magic is a collection of techniques, some dating to prehistoric times, based on the assumption that the manipulation of inner, imaginal processes can influence external reality.

Both have been widely ignored.

Herbie Brennan - 2004-01-17 15:25:00.0

17 December 2004

Continuing the search for magicians in different guises I find myself exploring the Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle exhibition conveniently situated by the upper ground floor café in the library.

So, after a cappuccino (decaff), I take in the four cases and am fascinated to discover that the creator of Sherlock Holmes was a trained doctor and also, in later life, a great enthusiast of spiritualism. This is intriguing, especially as footage from the library's video and audio archives reveal Conan-Doyle's dulcet Scottish tones and genial, moustachioed form explaining that it was his medical training which inspired him to develop Sherlock Holmes, the detective and hero, who "would treat crime as a doctor treats diagnosing a disease", replacing 'chance' with 'science'.

So how come the creator of one of the quintessential magician-wielding-scientific-forensic-empirical-powers of twentieth century British literature believes in the art of communicating with spirits beyond the grave? This isn't very rational now, is it? Although, in true shamanic fashion, Holmes is a passionate violinist and very possibly a taker of mind-bending substances. So, his almost super-human skills of deduction are married with a need to go into a state of trance.

Conan Doyle gives his reasons for his interest in spiritualism: it "absolutely removes all fear of death" and "bridges death for those we lose". He admits that "fraud and folly do exist, as in everything" but that this do not prove that all spiritualists are frauds. He speaks touchingly of how much "consolation" the act of connecting with lost loved ones can bring to people's hearts.So here maybe is the connection point between the rational doctor of medicine and the believer in spirits - both are concerned with healing, with looking into the wounds of human suffering in order to understand and make them better.

Harry Houdini, American escapologist extraordinaire, was a friend of Conan-Doyle's.

Portrait of Harry Houdini
is brief reference in the exhibition to Houdini's loathing of spiritualism and how the two men argued heatedly about its validity. Hmmm, so the performance artist who literally defies death challenges the master fabricator of stories who crosses the boundary beyond death. Magical dialogue indeed!

The Dispute of the Magicians, true and false!

I want to find out more about this and will immediately send a note to the curator of the Conan-Doyle exhibition about exactly what Harry Houdini and Conan-Doyle might have been saying to each other.......

Diane Samuels - 2004-01-17 11:29:00.0

9 December 2004

How about the magician as photographer?

People in some cultures refused to be photographed because they fear that the photographer can capture their soul, like a wizard bewitching a genie into a bottle. And then where are you? Trapped on a piece of paper or in a box with lenses, lost to yourself forever, a walking zombie.

Which leads me to the Barlow collection here at the library of PSYCHIC PHOTOGRAPHS. Fred Barlow lived in the early twentieth century and many of the photos he gathered were taken in the years immediately following the First World War, into the 1920s. These depict people either on their own, in couples or groups sitting for formal portraits whilst a medium contacted the spirit world for them.


The resulting images show forms of various sorts hovering around the sitters. These take the shape of pretty girls with curly hair, peachy skin and a haze or veil around their head and shoulders, or smoky faces, black blotches, halos of light. Some of the images have swirls of writing which appeared on the negative or print mysteriously, supposedly a direct communication from the other world. One struggling spectre's scrawl explains: "Difficult to manifest present conditions not suitable."

There's a cutting from 'The Sketch', July 26th, 1922 in which a Mrs Tibbits is sitting beneath the hovering form of 'Lady White'whom she had known and had been recently murdered. Mrs Tibbits is quoted: 'I was sitting for my husband, killed last year, when Lady White turned up, recognised by her stepson, Dr Arthur White, and his wife, as well as by myself.'

Are these photos really what they say they are? Are they trick photography? If they are 'fakes' then are they works of collage or art? And why did people want to believe so much? Why also does Barlow want to 'prove' the authenticity by reference to witnesses and details of the photographic process, type of flash, film, exposure, reference to doctors and opticians for confirmation that there has been no tampering. Is this magic as real life or is it the sharp end of magic as performance where it meets real life?

Diane Samuels - 2004-12-09 11:28:00.0

9 December 2004

Ria's thoughts on magicians:

magicians make things appear, disappear, turn objects into other objects...a handkerchief becomes a dove. poets, writers, storytellers conjure infinite landscapes, other worlds, and characters - make them 'appear' and 'disappear' - with words. words are their 'hocus-pocus', their magic wand - the words disappear on the page, melt, as the imagination makes appear new shapes in the mind...

Ria - 2004-12-09 10:22:00.0

1 December 2004

What have poets/artists got to do with magicians?

I smell a connection here. Let's follow a scent....

I'm reading Patrick Harpur's book, 'The Philosopher's Secret Fire, a history of the imagination'. He cites Dorothy Wordsworth's descriptions of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge:'His conversation teems with soul, mind and spirit.' and He '....has more of the 'poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling' than I ever witnessed.'

Let's keep on the trail.....

Dorothy is quoting from William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' ( Act V, scene i)

'The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,

Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;

And as imagination bodies forth

The form of things unknown, the poet's pen

Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

Such tricks hath strong imagination.....'

I can smell the whiff of the shaman, known also as medicine-man, who practices magic as a healing art in so called 'primitive' societies. And might well be practising in industrial and post-industrial society under different guises, if we care to look closely enough.

In his seminal work, 'Shamanism', Mircea Eliade makes the following equation:

Shamanism = technique of ecstasy

Hmm, doesn't any lover practice that? Is a lover a shaman and magician? Is a lover a poet? What does this technique of ecstasy entail?

Eliade continues, '...the shaman specializes in a trance during which his soul is believed to leave his body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld.'

As Shakespeare writes, the poet/artist:

'Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven'

How might imagination 'body forth'? In the form, perhaps, of an aspirin, a book, a painting, a souffle, an advertisement. What can be conjured from thin air? Maybe, a judgement, an idea, a kiss, a handshake, a punch. And is a poem or a story or a film or a portrait (as Magritte showed us: "THIS IS NOT AN APPLE")real or just a great big trick?What is real anyway? Then again, isn't trickery an art that requires great imagination? And craft.

Here's another equation:

Magician = trickster = poet= imagination +art (craft)

Looks like we're starting to get a tad (quasi)mathematical....

Diane Samuels - 2004-12-01 17:01:00.0

17 November 2004

Here are some questions that have come up over the last week either in my own mind or from the lips of others:

Where is the MAGIC in the modern world?

What is the difference between an illusionist and a magician?

Is MAGIC about the suspension of disbelief?

Isn't it an enormous subject, where do you start?

Who believes in magic anyway?

I wonder if it's the magic moments that make life more exciting, enchanting, delightful, thrilling. They can't be planned. They happen, as Tommy Cooper always said, "just like that". Here's an everyday kind of moment that did it for me.

I was driving into the supermarket car park and thinking that I wished I could find a space near the entrance for once. At that moment I saw a woman I know walking towards her car but fifty yards ahead. She waved to me, backed out and drove off leaving a space right by the open doors of the shop. I waved back. Sometimes it just all comes together.

More words to add to my investigations in dictionary land - coincidence; serendipity; synchronicity.

Diane Samuels - 2004-11-17 17:42:00.0

11 November 2004

I find that looking up a word in a dictionary is at once an enlightening and frustrating process. There's this hope that the word will somehow be revealed in its full meaning and I can now proceed in the knowledge that I know exactly what it signifies. What usually happens when I find the word is that I do get a firmer grip on the meaning (most of the time but not always) and also I find myself asking many more questions. It's like passing through a gateway from a Field of Uncertainty not onto the Path of Sureness but into another field , a bit higher up, of Greater Enquiry.

For example, Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary defines Magick (why and when did we lose the k, I wonder - must check that out) thus:


1.The art of putting in action the power of spirits: it was supposed that both good and bad spirits were subject to magick; yet magick was in general held unlawful; sorcery; enchantment.

2.The secret operations of natural powers."

So, now I have a greater sense of magic being related to power and action and nature and spirits and something secret (although I'm not sure if it has to be secret). More definitions are now needed. The enquiry branches out, sprouts in many more directions.

I now need to check out the meanings of:




And more on magic (with or without the k)

(A short free writing -

K at the beginning is kicking, keeping, ketchup, keen, Kent, kisses, kismet, kites, Kelly, keep, kinky, kangaroo, koala, king, kill, kilt, kilter, kettle.

K at the end is thick, trick, Mick, knick, sick, wick, lick, ink, link, blink, think, sink, jink, pink, irk, lurk, peek, sleek, stunk, punk, junk but not, any more, alas, magic )

Diane Samuels - 2004-11-11 11:31:00.0

10 November 2004

My enquiry is into MAGIC. Where do I start? There are two possibilities: exploring inwards or investigating outwards.

I'm tempted to take to the catalogue and check encyclopaedia entries and dictionary definitions of Magic across time and culture.

What is magic? Can it be defined? Maybe the possible meanings are infinite? Isn't that its attraction and charm?

So maybe the very first place to begin is within myself. I often free write - some people call this 'automatic writing' or 'stream of consciousness'.

The guidelines are simple: be spontaneous; keep writing, do not stop to consider or think; it's fine to write rubbish, nonsense, balderdash gibberish etc.; don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar; do not correct yourself or cross anything out; be specific - attend to detail.

So, here goes......

Magic is:

wandering inside the wardrobe and finding the back opens to reveal a forest of firs.

eggs which hatch and out come rubies and sausages and labradors

bluebottles which turn green when you look away.

a smile.

a kiss on the frog's head.

the first working steam engine.

sewing a pig's heart into a man's chest

the waterfall inside the locket around my neck

hats which contain rabbots and herring

gloves of white in a dark room

the beat of bat-wing after dusk

rubbing it better and then it is

hedges in a maze and a cherry blossom waiting to bud

spring after winter

the power of dreaming inside a mushroom

the antidote to cobra bites

dandelion tea

flying without wings

grasshoppers who speak seven langauages

a ring which comes with a promise

a spinning wheel which comes with a curse

generosity inside the barrel of a revolver

the view from the top of Mount Snowdon

stalagtites going up and down

white flags covered in bloodstains and still waving

hedehogs surviving the blades of a lawnmower

the bullet missing your temple by a hairsbreadth

the stranger on a train who has a handkerchief

three sneezes in a row

irrigation in the desert

stitches in the gash across a child's knee

breathing without trying

the way egg white can turn into meringue

thinking of someone and then meeting them

death masks


travelling from the visible into the invisible world

ivory and ebony piano keys filling the air with music

the shaman's rattle

the conjuror's wand

the Ace of hearts inside your cheese sandwich

chocolate bunnies

when life feels like a movie

And so on.....

Feel free to add some of your own. I'm off in search of encyclopaedia and dictionary.

Diane Samuels - 2004-11-10 11:53:00.0