What is Magic?
In an interview with David Charvet in the October 1999 Magic magazine, Doug Henning speaks of his first awareness of the contrast between the perspectives of the performer and traditional tribal wizards:
“…I was invited by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to perform on Christmas shows for the troops. At one point on the tour, they asked if I would like to do a show for a group of Inuits. We were on the edge of this little town in the wilderness, 400 miles from the North Pole, and about 60 below zero.
I set up my show in a little building and the Inuits came in to watch. They sat on the floor in their parkas, and I did what I thought was some pretty good stuff. They just sat there, didn’t smile, didn’t say a word, and, at the end, nobody applauded…Only one of them spoke English, so I asked him, ‘Did you like the show?’
‘Yes, we like show.’, he said. Then I asked, ‘Did everybody like the magic?’ He said, ‘The magic?’
I explained that I was trying to entertain people. He said, ‘Entertainment is good, but why are you doing magic? The whole world is magical.’
We sat down on the floor and he told me, ‘It’s magic that snow falls, all those little crystals are completely different…that’s magic.’
I said, ‘But what about when I made the rabbit and doves appear?’
‘Why do you do those things?’, he said, ‘It’s magic when the walrus appears each spring – he comes from nowhere – that’s magic!’
Now, I was grasping, trying to explain magic to him. I thought of my Zombie, which I thought was my best thing. I said, ‘I made that beautiful silver ball float in the air…that’s magic!’
‘But there’s a ball of fire floating through the sky every day. It keeps us warm, gives us light…that’s magic.’ Then the Inuits started talking among themselves. The man came to me with a big smile on his face, and said, ‘Now we know why you’re doing that. It’s because your people have forgotten the magic. You’re doing it to remind them of the magic. Well done!’
I cried right then. I’ve never told anyone this story. I said, ‘Thank you for teaching me about the magic. I didn’t know.’ That was really the first time I knew what wonder was. It was the most memorable thing that has ever happened to me. I never forgot that, inside.”
The Tracker’s Paradise
Now I didn’t personally witness that story unfolding, and so can’t say much more about it. I can say however that the perspective of the native hunters in that story rings as true as a bell.
As human beings, the cultivation of a state of wonder within us – the capacity to witness wonders – generates a ground out of which all other wonders can spring.
Holding the question – “how do I enter the garden of wonders?” – intrinsically opens the door to that garden.
At times I “fall out of wonder” with the world, certainly, usually times of exhaustion or heartsickness. But the wonders didn’t stop – I just stopped showing up for them.