This contemplation started as I was cleaning out my freezer.
As I stuck my hand in the ice bucket, I found something I had long forgotten about: a name frozen in water, in a plastic bag.
Years ago, some friends of mine and I learned from a local mama witch about ‘freezer spells.’
For those of you who are unfamiliar: you drop the name of someone or a situation that is vexing you into a baggie or a vial, fill it with water, and then freeze it. In the way that freezing slows down molecular movement, through sympathetic magic, this slows your adversary down from messing with you. I had friends who had a Good Humor truck’s worth of frozen foes popsicling amid their Bird’s Eye.
I paused, holding the relic of a long-ago grievance in my hand. Then I went to the tap, turned the hot water on and melted everything down the sink. I had one nanosec moment of: ‘But what if they—?’ and then I put that away. F*ck it.
Instead of the person of the frozen name, I saw a vision of the kind of person I did not want to be, but could easily become:
That’s Gollum, above.
When I am in doubt in my life, I go to stories. I find that if I moor to the stories that I loved when as a child and still love deeply now, I will not make the wrong decisions; the native recognitions of nobility and villainy we have when we are young tend to be right.
Many of us start doing magic because we love old stories and we love magic. And magic holds a great trove of skills and accesses. Eventually, if you practice magic, you will run up against the option, then the temptation and perhaps even justification, to give yourself an advantage.
The lure to bind, for magic-users, is seductive. It comes from an impulse to control and to limit people’s agency. Like lying, which throttles other people’s access to fair information, it is an attempt to control reality.
Binding comes at a very high price. If you freeze someone, at the very best you end up with is a critter you don’t like in your freezer, hanging out right at the edge of your consciousness. And you are afraid at some level to un-melt them, because of what they might do to you. And that keeps you in a state of defensiveness and apprehension.
That’s the price of binding magic: it binds us to fear or desire just as much, or more, than it could ever bind the object of its action.
Also, if we reach for stories:
You know who binds people? Sauron.
But binding, freezing, does not just have to be a spell. The impulse to make others do what we want so our life flows smoothly is not just magical. There are many other ways that we try to do this, many other secular spells: emotional blackmail, passive-aggressive threats, dishonesty.
These are the little magics we do with words.
If you have managed to read this far and not dismissed me as utterly insane, you might recognize that these are magics that pass in everyday society, but they are no less magics. And they weaken us, the way the magic of Sauron’s ring corrupts Gollum and makes Frodo suspicious of his best friend. We know what it (almost) does to Bilbo.
So, when you are almost tempted to do a magic, whether a spell magic or a verbal magic, to bend someone in any way to your ends, ask your nine-year-old self:
Would you rather be Gollum or would you rather be Galadriel?
Because this is what she does when faced with a bindery situation:
And this is why you love her and why at that moment in the book and in the movie, along with Frodo, you feel a sense of terror and dread. Not even so much of what Galadriel would be capable of, but that something so strong and clear and utterly pure would become hideous and corrupt and cruel.
When she says she will “diminish…and remain Galadriel,” you think, ‘”What would you have been?”
Try to imagine Galadriel up in a dark tower, casting spells, twisting string around effigies or brewing potions and you will see how absurd and wrong it is. Her magic, if that is even what you could call it—her power, is more accurate—emanates from who she is. Galadriel’s forest is kept safe by the force of light and goodness emanating from her being.
This is the real protection: when you get an impulse to manipulate someone, that’s a cue from the universe that you need to re-orient yourself, right then.
Pull out your favorite books from your childhood and find your favorite characters and immediately start making the decisions they would do. Train yourself. One of the gifts that authors give us, that creators give us, is examples of things beautiful and true and high and real. Orient yourself to those, like stars you are steering by.
And all of the things that good characters value in books: the oceans, the trees, the animals, the stars. Know that anything less than that is less than your concern. It’s less than you could be and it is less than you are. What is true is unassailable:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Binding is only a temporary solution; the thing in you that makes you vulnerable is what needs the work. Your extraordinariness is your immune system, your joy and your confidence.
Once you build those up, once you realize that nothing that matters could really ever hurt you, you will be where you need to be, who and what you are.
The truth will set you free.
If you make yourself what you are in your soul, if you aim towards the ancient presences of mountains, whales, angels, nothing can harm you. That is your work. It is the only work.
Blessed be and Love,
Ed: Bryonie Wise
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