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Is magic real?

As a professional tarot reader, I find that the question most curious clients cautiously ask as I start shuffling is, “Is this really magic?”

And I can see that they want the answer to be both yes and no; both yes, this will pull from some mysterious source that has all the answers, and no, magic is the stuff of fairy tales and this is something different, something real and beyond skepticism. For those who don’t dare to ask, I often sense them “playing along”, pretending to be comfortable in the mystery, talking about magic as coolly as they might talk about the latest discovery in genetics that popped up on their news feed. But I can hear the back of their brain soothing, “This is all nonsense, of course. Magic isn’t real. It isn’t real.”

We are all really uncomfortable with the idea of magic. We see it as antithetical to science, as disillusionment. We are distrustful of those who work in magical arts, envisioning them as gypsies cheating and tricking us. And though many claim they know, we really don’t understand how magic works, so we can’t put any faith into it. But, in my opinion, the scariest part of believing in magic is accepting that there is a vast unknown, a dark, a web of truth all around us that is (at least now) utterly invisible to us. That is god-stuff, and in the 21st century West, God is dead. So without religion, without the mythologies and doctrines relating us to that vast unknown, what is magic now?

Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, was confronted with this problem at the turn of the twentieth century. He was one of the very first people to earn a degree in psychiatry, but he could never shake his draw to the ineffable. After several bizarre occurrences in his home, and watching his cousin perform seances, he became convinced there was something to study in magic. It wasn’t all hocus-pocus and hysteria and lucky coincidence. Magic was something that happened in space and time, but also related to a person’s interior consciousness. The things that happened meant something to the people they happened to. He named this phenomenon synchronicity—meaningful coincidence without a clear causal relationship.

So, how does this work? Short answer, no one knows. But Jung didn’t forge this theory alone. After many rambling dinner conversations with Einstein and physicist Wolfgang Pauli, he began to see a connection between his developing idea of synchronicity and Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He partnered with Pauli and together they came up with the idea of the unus mundus—“one world.” The unus mundus basically suggests that both the human psyche and the world out there are made up of the same stuff. I mean, everything is star stuff, right? So if our bodies and minds are made up of this stuff, and the stuff out there is made up of this stuff, why wouldn’t they collaborate every now and then? Of course, this is only a theory. But honestly, it’s not a bad one.

We may associate magic with the dark ages, wizards in castles casting spells on helpless villages. But those people were far less fearful of magic than we are today. Magic was real to them, accepted, and so they had the proper protections. Prayer and penance shielded people from dark magic, and the little synchronicities that irk us so much now, were then obvious messages from God. They weren’t afraid that magic was real, they were afraid of what might happen if they didn’t pay attention to its messages.

And really, that’s what magic is about. We turn to the unknown in order to know our own deepest truths. You are far more likely to perk up your ears when a creepy stranger on the street tells you to quit your job than a friend. And you’re probably more open to the revelations of a psychic than the observations of your mom. So rather than worrying about the unknown, accept it. Whether there is an unus mundus, a single reality conspiring below our consciousness, or just endless layers within our human hearts, there will always be some form of mystery around us. If you buy into magic, accept it as some mystifying and unifying force, it will direct you toward what is right.

So notice the magic around you this week. Notice when you bump into the same person you hate three times in a row, or someone spills coffee on the new shoes that you knew you spent too much money on, or when you start pondering making some new friends and a sign for a book club appears before you. Get a tarot reading or try it for yourself and see what happens. Let magic and synchronicity be real. Whether it is or isn’t, you’ll start hearing the right messages either way.

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