“Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” and Book Magic
I just finished watching the 7 part mini-series, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you haven’t seen it, you must! It’s based on Susanna Clarke’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read the book yet, but I intend to.
The story is set in an early 19th century England where magic is no longer practiced, or so everyone thinks. The two title characters, Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, are practicing magicians who make it their mission to restore magic to England. Strange is briefly Norrell’s apprentice until the two part ways due to ideological differences.
Mr. Norrell has an impressive library of magical texts to which he is extremely attached.
He relies on these books for his magical practices and, although Jonathan Strange is prone to doing his own thing when it comes to magic,
even he can’t escape books entirely. He has to bring a whole trunk of them to the battlefront after joining the army as the King’s magician. Everything any magician could ever want or need to know is assumed to be in a book somewhere. Towards the end, when out-of-the-box thinking is called for, Mr. Norrell quite firmly asserts that he “can’t just make up magic.”
I have mentioned here and there in my musings that I am drawn to book magic. Yes, I get that doing your own thing sometimes can be empowering and lend to overall spiritual growth, but I am discouraged with all the negative press that book magic gets. As always, I find that I was born into the wrong era for fitting in. This is the age of the individualistic, self-empowered witch. The advice to “write your own spells,” “don’t rely on props,” and “just follow your intuition,” is everywhere. It’s in the memes that pop up on my Facebook news feed, it’s in the very books that I am not supposed to rely on, it’s in the blog posts of the more experienced witches whose advice I ought to be taking. It’s even in my most recent lesson from my Kitchen Witch course. My homework is to intuitively come up with my own correspondences (herbs, colors, etc) for all of the High Days.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going rogue from time to time. I am, in fact, looking forward to my correspondence project. But I have Mr. Norrell’s love for books. Books *are* magic, especially those written on the topic of magic and that contain pre-written spells or lists of correspondences. The words on the pages are magic via the power they accumulate each time a magician uses them. The way I feel when I imagine opening a very very old and dusty book of magic is one I can’t describe adequately. Of course, I have my own Grimoire and it will collect these same magical energies over time. But the energy of a communal spell book is even greater.
I spoke about this very topic in one of my recent YouTube videos:
Skip ahead to 7:55 for the relevant discussion.
This argument holds for prayer as well. Even moreso for prayers than for spells is an insistence on from-the-heart-only prayers. The best I can ever do when it comes to heart-felt correspondence is more along the lines of babbling than anything that resembles a prayer. And that’s fine. I talk to my Gods all the time. But when it comes to anything artistically written, I don’t have the talent. I’ve written a few things here or there, but it’s not something that comes to me naturally. My preference for pre-written prayers is based more on need than anything else. I was really happy to come across the following in support of pre-written prayers:
In many cases, this attitude [against set prayer] is, itself, not authentic. Neo-Paganism is cursed with a number of problems that have their roots in the childhood practices and beliefs of its members. Since they belong to a religion formed mainly of converts (a situation that is, fortunately, now changing), neo-Pagans have a bad tendency to react against their early religious background, which, in most cases, is Christianity. They seem to believe that Christianity is a religion of rote repetition, whereas Paganism is, by nature, spontaneous. This does both Christianity and Paganism a disservice. The repetition of a memorized prayer is not necessarily a mechanical thing. It involves a relationship between the pray-er, the prayer, and the one prayed to. This relationship is expressed through the words of a prayer, perhaps, but each prayer event is no more identical to those before than each performance of a particular piece of music is the same as another. Ancient Paganism, for its own part, had set prayers. The Rig Veda is a collection of prayers that acquired canonical status. In Pagan Rome, following set prayers was so important that an assistant with a prayer book stood next to priests, whispering the proper words to them. There is, thus, definitely a strong Pagan tradition of set prayers. And why shouldn’t there be? Our circumstances aren’t that much different from those of others— we mourn, feel gratitude, desire to praise, want to make requests. Why should each of us have to compose a prayer each time we need one? I happen to be good at writing prayers. I’m a lousy plumber. If there is a plumber out there who isn’t good at writing prayers, why shouldn’t we avail ourselves of each others’ talents? Most important of all, there are times when we want to pray, but words fail us. I think here of mourners at a Catholic funeral praying the rosary. Locked in their grief, they fix their minds on words they know by heart. They no longer need to think; they give themselves over to mourning and are comforted. It would be a shame for Pagans not to have the same gift.
Serith, Ceisiwr (2002-06-01). A Book of Pagan Prayer (pp. 65-67). Red Wheel Weiser. Kindle Edition.
So, I just want to say, yay books! #teambookmagicforever \(^^)/