Creativity at the Crossroads

Magic happens when Creators plug into “Above” to fuel their work “Below”

Donna Woodwell
11 min readFeb 11, 2020

In the previous episode of my Magic & Mastery podcast, I ended with this:

“To re-create a new world, one that sustains us all, everyone will have to become a little bit of a Magician.”

Let’s pick up where I left off, and talk more about Creativity and Magic.

Magical Fallacies

It’s a safe bet, that when folks hear the words “Magic” or “Magician” they aren’t thinking the same thing.

For some, such words evoke visions of Harry Potter, Dumbledore or Gandolf — magic-wand wielding wizards hurling lightning bolts across the silver screen.

Alas these pop culture depictions are pure fantasy, not Magic. While they make good entertainment, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would admit to the power to throw lightning bolts.

For others, Magic might mean something less epic. Wanna-be spell casters look for love spells, or scribble intentions under the New Moon, in the hopes of creating a happier life.

Psychologists, however, dismiss such attempts as “magical thinking.” That’s the belief that thoughts, by themselves, can bring about effects in the world.

And, it’s hard to argue with that opinion…

Imagine a child who, after wishing someone would just leave, discovers the subject of their anger is now moving away. And so the child concludes their wish is the cause of the move.

Or think of a ball player who wears a pair of unusual red underwear to a game. Then their team crushes the competition. The player concludes that the “lucky underwear” is the cause, and now must wear it to every game or risk breaking the streak.

Though we do this all the time, conclusions such as these aren’t logical. Just because a thought comes before an action, doesn’t mean that the thought causes the action. It’s a fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc. (If you’re not familiar with the concept, West Wing’s President Bartlett can explain.)

Because such beliefs are shallow, they’re easy to write off as “superstitions.”

But that’s not what Magic is about either.

Mundane Magic

Instead, let’s look at a Renaissance-era image of the Magician for a clue about what Magic actually is.

In the earliest Tarot decks, the card we now call “The Magician” shows a character standing behind a table that displays an assortment of objects. He’s a rather forgettable rogue, more of a traveling salesman, or a con artist playing a shell game by the side of the road, than a grand wizard.

The Magician card follows the card known as the Fool, the image of the migrant wanderer. It’s as if the Fool has paused from his travels, up-ended his bundle, and spilled the contents on the table for closer examination.

What the Magician plans to do is left to the imagination, but that he plans to do something is clear enough. Otherwise, why pause and consider the objects at all?

Put yourself in his shoes for a moment.

Have you ever felt aimless, without purpose? Or have you ever felt stuck, going round and arounds, with a sense that nothing changes.

Have you ever wanted to just stop and do something — anything — to feel like something is moving forward? To feel like someone will notice you?

If so, you’ve already had a taste of what motivates the Magician..

You see, real Magic — not fantasies or superstitions — is rooted in the very human need to create, and then to understand.

When we create, we give order and meaning to chaos and unconsciousness. That is the work of the Magician.

What was once only potential becomes tangible, something we can hold and look at. Much like the Magician emptying out the contents of his bag.

Creativity, of course, comes in many, many forms.

Recently I took my teenage daughter to see the film Little Women. From the corner of my eye, I caught her tearing up more than once.

But the scene that really got to me was when Jo, after the death of her sister, finally sat down to write the book she’d promised to write.

As the pages poured out of her, one after another, she laid them out on the attic floor. Rearranging and reordering as she went, to link together scenes and images in a meaningful thread.

It’s easy to see the artist as creator, birthing something new into the world.

But the scientist, too, also creates. Like the Renaissance Magician, they observe the world, As they examine the pieces before them on the table (or under the microscope, or through the telescope), they uncover secrets and hidden structures.

At their best, they also birth something new in the world: A new understanding of how it works.

How do such acts of creation occur?

Desire to create and to know inspires the will to focus on the task at hand. Imagination, action, manifestation: that’s the process of creation in our three-dimensional world. It happens everyday.

Creation is also what makes us happy, leading to the coveted state that the psychologist Mihayl Csikzentmihayli called Flow.

What is flow? Well, imagine a tightrope walker, performing a high-wire act. They are clearly concentrating, or else they’d topple off the wire into the net below.

But they are not “intellectualizing” — they aren’t thinking, “oh, I must move this muscle here, and that one there.” That kind of self-consciousness would also likely lead to a tumble into the waiting net.

That perfect marriage of challenge — and the mastery to meet the challenge — is what leads to a feeling of Flow.

When we are in a flow state — “in the zone” so to speak — we experience activity without effort. Our sense of self diminishes, we are at play with the universe itself.

Creativity, too, happens when the ego gets out of the way and we are un-self-conscious.

Chasing such flow states has become a subculture all of its own. In his book Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler investigates how “Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and maverick scientists” explore the crossroads of productivity, mastery, and flow states to achieve new levels of human excellence.

But, as anyone who’s walked such a road realizes, it’s never as simple as it first seems.

Eventually you’ll encounter your own resistance — your fear, procrastination, brain fog, and all the other stumbling blocks we toss in our own path.

You realize that technique alone doesn’t lead to mastery. Working on your deeper Self matters, too.

And that’s where the creative journey starts to get much more interesting…

(As I once discovered for myself when I was trying to get the lights on a printer to turn on:)

Shit works even better when you plug it in.

Above and Below

The Marvel movie Dr. Strange tells the tale of another larger-than-life magician. A surgeon by training, he’d certainly mastered his craft. And when yet a car accident left his hands shattered, his old ways of navigating the world no longer served him.

So, in his quest for healing, he embarked on his own quest to the mythical Kamar-Taj, and the teacher who, with one gesture, shattered his worldview as well.

The experience left him on his knees, shaking. He could have run away. He could have refused to deny the evidence of his senses. He could have curled up in a fetal position, sobbing.

Instead he begged: “Teach me.”

Though cinematic and extreme, it’s still an example of a breakthrough of what positive psychologist Jonathan Haidt called “the vertical dimension.”

Though not nearly so extreme, I’ve had moments like that in my own magical training.

One evening I was curled up on my office chair, idly meditating. Meanwhile my Hermetic teacher was at my desk, surfing the web.

Across the darkness of my unaroused inner landscape, floated a strange image: A bright figure of the All-Seeing Eye from the back of a dollar bill. It was such an odd vision, the intrusion shook me out of my reverie. I opened my eyes.

To see my teacher, smiling at me, amused. Then she turned around my laptop screen so I could see it. And there was a picture of the All-Seeing Eye.

For a moment, my mind hung, suspended between realities. What just happened is not possible. And yet it happened. The desire — no, the demand — to know overwhelmed me.

Teach me.

For the Magician, the desire to know overflows every container. It tears open every reality bubble.

I suppose it’s no surprise, then, that this is how ancient magical, mystery schools envisioned the Cosmos itself.

To them, the physical universe of the senses — the Below — is merely a shadow of a living mind — the Above. Hence the Hermetic dictum: “As Above, so Below.”

The Cosmic mind — “Grand Magus” beholds the forms of things, its animating force gives life to these forms, and thus the world is born. What we think of as matter, is merely just very, slow, dense “mind stuff.”

One thing, endlessly overflowing. Creating… itself.

The idea of a living cosmos is at the roots of numerous ancient and indigenous cultures. (And, some would argue, hinted at by cutting-edge physicians, here for a BBC-esque review, or a prettier video overview from Quantum Gravity Research).

But it’s rather the opposite of the materialist mindset. Materialism suggests that the sensible world is all there is, and that mind is merely an illusion it produces.

Materialism is, in part, the child of 18th century science. It’s the belief that if it can’t be observed, and measured, it must not exist.

It matters, because it’s a paradigm (reality bubble) that’s led to a world where Science claims to reign over the material, and “spirit” — all the non-measurable stuff — falls to Religion.

And since there’s no common ground between the two, the stuff in the middle — the crossroads — gets ignored.

But there’s a reason spell work is done at the crossroads. That’s where the Magic happens.

At the crossroads, where one way of seeing the world bumps into another, is where we begin to see past our habitual limitations. It’s where our psychological defenses give way and we can become more than the sum of our parts.

It’s where the divine animating force meets the material world, giving energy and passion to our work.

It’s where we can shape our own new worlds.

Channel for Spirit

We’re all meant to be filled with the divine — to understand we are expressions of the divine.

Humans are spiritual creatures having a human experience. We are vibrating the will of our Higher self into the world.

When Golden Dawn initiate and mystic A.E. Waite designed a new Tarot deck to go with the work of the Order, he gave the Magician card a makeover. He depicted the Magician holding his magic wand high with his right hand, his left hand pointing toward the ground.

It’s a symbol of plugging into the “Above,” to turn one’s work “Below” inspired acts of creativity. The Mage stands as a bridge between the worlds, because they know that the worlds are One, and so there’s nothing to bridge.

But the animating life force is not gentle or benign. In its full force, it’s overwhelming.

When I was at University, our school transcripts were open for students to read in the guidance office. One day, when I was reviewing my coursework to make sure I had what I needed for graduation, I stumbled across the recommendation letter my boarding school headmaster had written for me.

Of course, I read it. After I skimmed through the usual platitudes, my eyes fixed on one sentence:

“If Donna has one challenge it’s this: she’s too enthusiastic.”

The words burned into my memory, with a rush of shame, and then defiance.

The defiance I understood. Defiance an act of self-protection. It’s heat enables us to claim a little space for ourselves.

The shame took longer to understand…

Because I’m a word nerd, I had to look up the etymology of “enthusiasm.” Today, it simply means eager, optimistic, and energized. But once it meant “filled with the divine spirit.”

So, tell me this — how can enthusiasm possibly be a bad thing? How can anyone possibly be too enthusiastic?

Enthusiasm, along with its siblings passion, and hope, is the fire that fuels our drive to change the world for the better.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm can make people very, very uncomfortable.

Perhaps it’s because, in our Western culture, we’ve utterly forgotten how to live the Magic.

After the so-called “enlightenment” science donned blinders to the Above. Where does the creative inspiration fit in a clockwork universe and an Industrial Age of a million widgets all alike?

Meanwhile, certain threads of religion have also strived to reject the Below.

When you feel empty, it’s alluring to look up to Heaven, and say “Fill me.”

But unless you put the energy to work — unless it’s earthed in creativity, and other life affirming activities — the circuit isn’t complete.

And when a circuit isn’t complete, there’s no Flow, and energy dissipates. You have to go back and get another hit, and another, and another.

This is why some have likened religion to a drug.

But it’s not just religion that’s guilty. It’s any belief system that doesn’t have a creative outlet for the energy it raises.

The result is dependency — an ego yearning for its next fix.

We fall prey to our own fear, greed, lust for power. Our ego proclaims itself God.

Or we are duped by someone ensnared by such things; we follow the herd.

Or even worse, we can’t bear the energy at all, and seek to shut it down entirely. Life becomes dull, flat. Unenthusiastic.

To complete the circuit, we must plug into Above and Below. That’s where our Creations take on the power to change the world.

The Great Work

And so begins the Great Work, as the alchemists named it:

The materialization of spirit, and the spiritualization of matter.

It is our self-awareness — our consciousness — that’s entangled us in the world of things, but it’s also through consciousness we disentangle ourselves.

For the alchemists, it was the element Mercury, which served as both creator and created. He presided over the sacred marriage of opposites.

(Mercury is the god of Fools and tricksters. But also the god of Magicians.)

The way forward for the Magician is clear, and two-fold:

The Great Work is to embrace the material world, in order to Create.

The Great Work is to embrace the spiritual world, in order to Create.

It’s a Work that will lead the Grand Magus to the doorstep of the Great Mystery.

And that’s where we’ll follow in our next episode…

In the meantime, perhaps you’re eager to get started on your own magical adventure.

Like a travel journal, Magicians have learned to keep a record of their “experiments,” to that they can remember, and learn from, their experiences.

Such a journal has been called a “Book of Shadows.”

If you want to get started on your own Book, but need some inspiration, I’ve created a special training for you.

It’s completely free, and you can find a link to it in the show notes at www.magicandmastery.com/podcast.

This article is the transcript from Episode 1 of the Magic and Mastery podcast.

If you’d like to check out the podcast audio, the “Magician’s Breath” experiment you can try out on your own, or sign up for email notifications when new episodes are released, check out the Episode 002 show notes.

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Donna Woodwell

Magician, Astrologer, Shaman: Writer. Headmistress at the School of Magic & Mastery.