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editorials | poetry & writing | Feasts of Fire

Nagging the Invisible
When casting spells, overall success rates may be low, but intermittent reinforcement is compelling.

By Dana Gerhardt, reprinted from "Moon Teachings for October/November 2000" with permission from Mooncircles.

When my 7-year-old wants something, he wheedles and whines. He's done it since he could put sounds together and point. I don't think he learned this from anyone in particular. Spend five minutes in the toy aisles of a major department store and you'll discover it's pretty widespread. Given that my dog and cat do it too, even the birds at my garden feeder when it's empty, this must be a natural instinct. Whatever the species, nagging represents our first attempts at the magic of summoning.

Grown-up humans, especially neo-Pagan ones, dress it up a bit. With my girlfriends, I exchange rituals to call in money and love. We schedule our spells for a waxing moon. We shout "Trinka-five" several times. We burn dollar bills at the new moon in a silver bowl. We light the properly colored candles, tie ribbons, mix herbs, recite incantations. But the basic strategy is the same as my dog's and my son's: In the quandary of desiring something we don't have and don't know how to get, we petition a greater power. The trouble is, this sometimes succeeds.

Overall success rates may be low, but as long as desire is strong, intermittent reinforcement is compelling. We'll use our failures as reason to conjure better strategies. We become scientists of spell making. I've learned that borrowed incantations and colored candles (unless poured on the proper moon) won't work for me. My son now precedes his "Mother-get-me-this" spells with, "Mom, I'm not really asking you to buy me anything, I just thought you'd like to see something interesting over here."

But the truth is, when I give into my son's wheedling, it has little to do with his tactics. Rather: I am too tired to resist, I am too joyful to resist, I was going to get it for him anyway, or I leverage it to get something I want from him (how parents wheedle back to their children). But now I wonder: Is this how it is with the divine powers I petition? Do my spells actually work, or is it all random whimsy?

A few years ago, I performed a ritual to Venus to get both the house and the man of my dreams: I wrote my wishes down, folded the piece of paper, and placed it along with a nickel, some honey, and a candle inside a dinner roll. I lit the candle and, when it had burnt down, sent it all to Venus, floating the waxy bread down a stream at the outskirts of town. It was fun, pagan play. Given my bank and heart accounts, it would be a year, I thought, before the fulfillment of either desire was even possible. Within six weeks, I had them both. It was shocking. Of course, I've tried the same ritual several times since, without that resounding success. And the man of my dreams has long since ceased being dreamy.

The first time I burned a dollar bill on a new moon, I got a raise. I've continued this practice, and my monthly finances remain healthy. But I forgot it one month, and nothing bad happened. We want our spell work to be as honest and productive as our work in the world, so we apply as much logic to it as we can. When spells don't succeed, we tell ourselves we haven't cleared all unconscious resistance, or that the universe had something better in mind. But underneath the rationalizations, sprouting like mushrooms in the dark, doubts grow. We may distrust our powers, the powers we petition, the idea of magic.

We are conflicted anyway: Wanting things seems spiritually out of vogue. Isn't the greater skill simply learning to love what we have? Perhaps summoning spells are charms we're meant to outgrow. But reading the latest Harry Potter book got me thinking. In book four Harry's practice in summoning pays off. We might take heart from studying his first efforts, dubious as many of ours. Perhaps it's silly to take a fictional boy wizard as a role model. But in the realm of the invisible, where imagination is queen, the inspirations of fiction may be the most relevant. Peer deep into pagan roots and you'll find plenty of poets of impossible things. Why not take summoning spells more seriously? What if we really could do more than just nag invisible powers? Perhaps our children will finally prove there's more genuine power to imagination than has been allowed.

Dana Gerhardt is a mom, astrologer, and corporate executive from Southern California. She's a regular columnist for The Mountain Astrologer magazine.



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