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CREATING YOUR OWN MAGICAL PARADIGM
or, "Box? What box?"

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "paradigm" as example or pattern, in other words, the preprinted line in the copy book that the student is expected to replicate. Modern usage expands that to a way of seeing, being and doing things, a culturally defined set of behaviors or thought processes. As students, we blindly copy along with the instructor(s), which is proper and necessary during our learning phase. After all, as the old adage goes, "Perfect practice makes perfect."

But what about after the initial student phase? Yes, one hopes one continues to learn throughout this life and those that follow, but what about when the best way to learn becomes to teach? Does one continue to teach the rote lessons one learned, or are there new things to be incorporated, as one's various paths of study coalesce into new visions and new ways of thinking about things? Perhaps that's one of the aspects of the much-discussed spiritual paradigm shift of our age. East meets West, North meets South, a giant Traveller's Plaza on the Information Superhighway, as well as on the higher planes. And you have to design your own vehicle in which to travel. You may even design your own road, your own Magical Paradigm.

I am not advocating culture theft, in which a person picks and chooses what parts of a tradition or religion she wishes to follow, while rejecting those that don't suit her fancy, even if they are core parts of the teaching. Too often this occurs not through malice, but through an inability or unwillingness to truly grok the world view behind the tradition.

What I am advocating is trying to see the world without the lens of 21st Century American cultural programming. An exercise: Imagine you are an alien from the third planet out from the star Proxima Centauri 3. (Work with me on this.) You, through no fault of your own, are seventeen light years off course. There is no SpaceACo station at which to stop and ask directions. You see a planet below you. It's covered in lights which don't behave as would a natural phenomenon, so, deducing that the planet is inhabited by presumably sentient beings, you stop to see if they know the way to Lumina 47.

Not being an overly stupid sort, you scope out the place first. There are lines criss-crossing the surface in perfect grids, obviously not natural. There are boxes placed along these lines, evenly spaced. Light and sound emanate from these boxes. You see portals through which you may view the interiors. Each is relatively the same. In a large area near the center of the box is a lighted cube, with animate beings staring fixedly at it, occasionally uttering what your universal translation device soon calibrates itself to reveal to you are comments related to the verbalizations of pictures on the box.

In another, smaller area is a lone being, interacting through a primitive input device with a similar cube, which seems to be responding to the interaction, albeit mostly silently. Another cube in this area emits a cacophonous sound to which this being is moving in time.

Do you interpret the first group as in a worship service, listening and learning proper societal behaviours from the lighted cube, studying the teachings of the gods that make their civilization function smoothly, while the lone being engages in solitary prayer, entering a trance-like state to the sounds from the one cube while petitioning or dialoguing with the gods on the other? Did you recognize the group as watching television while the lone individual rocked out to the stereo while working on the computer? Does our intrepid alien make it to Lumina 47?

Now let's move on to sources. The world is packed full of symbol sets and ways of seeing things. That's why we always have something new to learn and to study. The symbol sets, whether they be tarot images, symbols like the pentagram, the cross and the Star of David, or modern cultural symbols like the RX that means, literally "recipe" and symbolically "prescription" or even the panda bear of the World Wildlife Fund, instantly call to mind a set of associations and deeper meanings. Pentagram: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit, in the Circle of Universal Continuity. Cross: the crucified Saviour, as well as the conjunction and mating of Spirit and Flesh, Heaven and Earth. The Panda: a group which strives to protect the furry, feathered and finned around the world.

Because of the history of these pictographs as a short-hand for their concepts, they are very useful in magical workings. Not only do they provide a quick pictorial representation of the concept, they carry within themselves the energy of the multitudes of people who also attribute this meaning to them. But don't let this trap you into thinking they are the only symbols useful in magic. If something has a particularly strong meaning to you, USE IT! To me, pumpkin pie means safety, and a vacation from the stresses of everyday life. Therefore, when magically charged for the purpose, it makes a fabulously effective vector for healing energy. (Draw Reiki or other healing symbols on the pie and think healing thoughts at it, then eat a small slice a day until healed or the pie's gone.)

This carries over to other areas of your ritual, also. If jeans make you feel most powerful, wear them for ritual. It might be a good idea to set aside a pair of your favorite style and decorate them with magical symbols. Harry Potter meets Levi Strauss. What music do you choose? One of the most effective rituals I've ever been a part of was to invite enough rain in drought-stricken Colorado so that the animals would be okay over the summer. The music I chose was Jimmy Buffett's "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season". We had one of the wettest seasons in years.

And don't let it stop there. I have studied religions and mythologies and teaching tales from all over the world, as well as martial arts and a lot of science fiction. I found that, if I can find things in a new area of study that are parallel or at least cognate to things I already know, it makes more sense, and, once I have learned the differences between what I already knew and the new data, it enhances my use of the previous knowledge as well as making the new more accessible. For instance, I understand the pillars of the Qabalistic Tree as yin and yang. Remember, the eye in the "fish" that makes up each part of the Tai Ji is the bit of yin that is inherent in yang and vice versa. Where the two meet is where so-called "real life" occurs. The Middle Pillar of the Qabalistic Tree, to grossly over-simplify things.

So read. Ask questions of your teachers and your fellow students. Ask questions of the Universe. The answers will be made accessible. Not necessarily spelled out in plain language, but put in a place and a form from which you can decipher them into a language that is meaningful to you. And, above all, don't blindly follow along without knowing the reason behind the action or belief. Remember the story of the women and the roast. The daughter is preparing a roast for the family dinner. Her daughter asks, "Mom, why do you always cut the ends off the roast before you cook it?" She replies, "Because your Grandmother did it that way." After some pondering, she calls her mother and asks the same thing, receiving the same reply. The next call is to the mother's mother, who solves the mystery once and for all. "Why, because we were poor when you were a child, and the only roasting pan I had, the roast wouldn't fit in it unless I did that!"

So use the magical imagery of Manga and Animé. Conceive that which surrounds us and penetrates us, which binds the universe together as The Force as taught by George Lucas. Enlist the aid of Elves, Ents and dragons. Find a way to relate to the Universe and all within it that makes sense to you. There's a reason Jesus and other spiritual leaders taught in parables. They're a verbal picture story to which students can relate, through which they can visualize and internalize the lessons the teacher wishes to convey. Find your imagery and use it to access the magical power around you and within you. Write your own life story, with the ending you want, using the symbols and visualizations that work best for you. Create your own Magical Paradigm.