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It’s All Magic (Part Two) - Musings and Meditations

Updated: Jun 16

Everywhere we look, complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.

Vincent van Gogh

Children see magic because they look for it.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”

"In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen".

Northern lights over Krakeslottet, island of Senja, northern Norway, 2017. Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven

Dear readers and followers of A Biosphere Project,

Last week I talked about magic, and how we might think differently about magic.

Magic as a fundamental aspect of our lives, of your life and my life. "Magic as part of the core of existence, and as another possible guide to our choices, our growth as human beings, our relationship to our world and to the wider organism of which we are a part, our biosphere."

We are not used to thinking about magic this way. And ultimately magic is not about thinking either, but is first and foremost an experience. As long as it is a merely mental concept in our heads, it will not really touch us or succeed in changing our perception of the world.

But thinking can be a first step. If we are already creating more openness in our thinking to the wondrous, the mysterious, and the magical, then we are also more likely to experience magic. As the quote from Christopher Moore at the beginning of this musing very nicely puts it: children see magic because they look for it.

This is a very important observation. If we lack the openness to allow mystery, wonder and magic, not much will happen on that front. Then nature can give us sign after sign and try to attract our attention with all kinds of synchronicity and "coincidence" with one wondrous grand view after another wonderful detail, if we are not open to the wonder and we are not looking for magic, then we will not notice it, not experience it. The glasses we wear, which are made up of our ideas, beliefs, concepts, judgments and expectations, can narrow and shrink our perception until barely anything of the improbable splendor of the world we are a part of comes through. And the same, by the way, is true of our perception of ourselves: our inner landscape, our sensations of our own consciousness, the space of energy that is our consciousness.... if we do not create space for attention and stillness and attentiveness to our own core of awareness, which is ultimately as wondrous, mysterious and magical as the "outside world," then much or all of our own inner universe will escape our attention and be lost in the maelstrom of busy pursuits, distractions, fears and worries, fixations and neuroses.

The exploration of seeing and recognizing and experiencing magic proceeds simultaneously through our attention to the outer world as through our attention to the inner world.

And the thesis I want to explore further in this blog and in the future photographic journey project is this: without a renewed grounding in the magic of the world, we will fail to change course and save our planet and ourselves. The invitation is this: that we fall in love with the world once again, rather than seeing it as a collection of resources and a system that must serve us and that we can manipulate to our hearts' content. That we return to thinking of the world as "lover" and as "self," as Joanna Macy so eloquently pointed out with the title of her masterpiece ‘World as Lover, World as Self’. And it is probably an understatement to say that we have a long way to go on that journey.

But I am not going get into all that now, I promised to share an experience of magic in my own life.

Everyone experiences magic in life, and we can experience magic in extraordinary places, extraordinary moments and in extraordinary encounters, but we can also experience magic in situations that are seemingly ordinary. Because on closer inspection, there are no ordinary moments, no ordinary places and no ordinary people. Everything is extraordinary, always.

Yet there are extraordinary things that are just a little more extraordinary than others, and I will first share an experience that took place in a more than extraordinary place: the far north of Norway.

In February and March of 2017, I spent three weeks at Krakeslottet, a cultural center and residence for artists on the remote and sparsely populated island of Senja, some four hundred kilometers above the Arctic Circle. I also wrote about this stay in the blog post ‘Krakeslottet’.

 As I described in that post, this stay has played a role in my change of life path, and that had everything to do with the magic I experienced there.

Sometimes it takes a little more than 'average' magic to break through our defenses and through our habits and ingrained patterns of behavior to touch something within us in a way that leaves no way back. And in the far north I received the full measure of such magic, a dose that still breathes and moves through my system, and the energy of which still feeds my entire being, even now, seven years later.

My stay was a residency as an artist: I went there to draw, photograph and write, in the seclusion of the arctic winter on a remote island.

Krakeslottet is an old fishing base, a wooden building built partly on stilts above the rugged Arctic Ocean, and partly on a small rock a little way from the beach at Bøvaer, a hamlet tucked away between the rocks of Senja and the mouth of the great fjord Bergsfjorden.

It is a place at the end of the world, it seems. The road dead-ends there, and except for a few houses, the space is dominated by Senja's high granite rocks and magnificent views of the wide fjord.

View of Krakeslottet. Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven

View of Krakeslottet, showing the stairs to the kitchen and dining area. On the left the old lighthouse, which is still in use Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven

View of Krakeslottet and Bergsfjorden, from the beach at Bøvaer . Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven

Krakeslottet breathes magic in every nook and cranny. The old building is a maze, with all sorts of small staircases and corridors connecting a multitude of small and large rooms to unexpected large spaces such as the former boat-landing and the cool room where the fish was processed, and strange hallways, protrusions attached to the main structure, slightly absurd additions that make Krakeslottet a building where any logic seems absent. It is a fairy-tale place, and the name "Crow Castle" is appropriate: it has something of a pirate castle, a wizard's castle. Even after a week, I was still not always sure how to get from A to B in this mysterious building, which seemed bigger inside than out.

The kitchen and dining room, which also served as my studio.

The parlor, with the old grand piano and wide windows opening onto the ocean.

I was there in the winter, and most of the time I was snowed in. One or more snowstorms passed every day, and after a while a thick blanket of snow covered the entire landscape and building. The small, old car I could use there was sometimes completely buried under the snow, and it then required several hours of digging to free it from its white grave when I wanted to take a trip or drive to the store in a neighboring village.

My car after yet another snowstorm.

The large deck of Krakeslottet, overlooking Bøvaer.

Most of the time I was on my own there, drawing, painting and photographing the wonderfully beautiful landscape. Northern Norway is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever visited. Paul Auster, the recently deceased American author who was married to a Norwegian, pointedly described it as resembling "another planet," and so it is: the landscape is otherworldly, unreal in the winter light, and stripped of all but the most basic elements: granite, moss, water, air. A kind of primal state of the planet, as it may have looked for hundreds of millions of years before life in so many forms of plants and animals began to co-determine the appearance of the landscape.

You can find several photos I took there in the gallery of my photographic work.

 A selection of the drawings I made in the landscape can be found in this gallery:

Page from one of my sketchbooks.

Every day was magical, filled with experiences of light, sound, smell, space and silence that brought all the sense in focus and made me aware of the experience of experiencing itself because all the "frills" and "embellishments" were gone: all experiences and sensations were reduced to a pared-down simplicity, like a polished diamond.

But one moment still stood out above all this daily magic.

The last week of my stay I shared Krakeslottet with two other Norwegian artists in residence, Elind Rui Blix, a painter, and Liliana Borge, an artist working mostly with sound and installation.

On March 1, a major show of northern lights was predicted for the area. Something that delighted me, as I hadn't seen any aurora in the first few weeks of my residency, due to the constant cloud cover and persistent snow showers.

Early in the evening, Elind, Liliana and I made our way to the beach to witness the show.

We sat patiently waiting in the darkness, and only the lapping of the waves could be heard in the arctic night. The Moon and Venus were low above the horizon just above the ocean. The silence was thick as a blanket, and the darkness radiated warmth even though it was bitterly cold.

But there were no northern lights to be seen. We waited and waited, a little worried whether we would get to see the wondrous light.

In Norway, it is a very old custom in folk culture to sing to the northern lights. If you sing beautifully, sometimes the light is tempted to come out and dance for you.

I doubt my singing could move any light to show itself, let alone the northern light.

It would probably rather flee to Antarctica and join the Aurora Australis there to escape my abrasive voice.

But one of my companions, Elind, did possess a more amiable voice as well as knowledge of Norwegian folk songs.

So Elind began to sing an old Norwegian folk song to the northern lights, and lo and behold, after a while the performance began.

The green ribbons and curtains of this wondrous phenomenon appeared, slowly increased in strength, and began their unreal dance above our heads. They meandered sinuously from one side of the fjord to the other, meanwhile also constantly changing color and conjuring up unreal variations of especially green and purple. It was beautiful and wondrous, just as we had expected and hoped.

After a while the spectacle diminished in intensity, and the slowly swirling ribbons became smaller, until they gradually dissolved into darkness, and the starry night returned tingling as if nothing had happened, and the moon and Venus continued their silent journey through the sky over the Arctic Ocean.

After a while we happily and contentedly made our way back toward Krakeslottet, where the warmth and coziness that were welcome after the long time spent on the cold beach awaited us.

But halfway there, something whispered to me that I should not go in yet. Something told me: wait a little longer. Something else is coming.

As Elind and Liliana crossed the narrow land bridge to the rock where Krakeslottet has been braving the waves and wind for more than a century, I stayed put and waited.

And yes, after a few minutes the spectacle began again: new ribbons of light appeared and moved through the sky with renewed vigor, and the spectacle became even more intense than before. I took the photo at the top of this musing at that moment. It is not a very good photo, the camera I had at the time was not really suitable for such night shots, and besides, even the best camera cannot really capture the unreal splendor of the northern lights. We run up against the limitations of our technology here, and the impossibility of really capturing the full experience of such a moment. But it is still a fine memento for me, and at least some sort of hint or indication of the beauty and mystery that unfolded then.

The northern lights rippled and snaked back and forth across Krakelottet in the fiercest burst of the evening, constantly changing color and shape and intensity. I was now left alone, and remained speechless witnessing this spectacle, until it finally once more diminished in power and died out again. I remained standing there for some time more, by the waves and with the stars overhead and the Moon on the horizon, and finally I too made my way inside, grateful, amazed, slightly disoriented and forever changed.

Because magic changes you. It penetrates through your pores and goes to work under the skin, in your cells and your organs. It changes your metabolism, your breathing and the way your organism exists in the world.

It changes your perception, your feelings, your way of thinking, your definition of yourself and the world. It shakes you up and turns you inside out. Magic makes it clear again: we are not isolated individuals or mechanical organisms viewing the world from the outside, no we are one and indivisible whole with that world, we are the way the world becomes aware of itself, and magic is the way the world makes that clear to us, if we are willing to listen of course.

Because that brings me to an important point (or rather two important points) in this story: first, there was that intuition, that voice in my head, that hunch, that told me not to go in with Elind and Liliana yet, but to wait a little longer. The intuition that told me something more was going to happen.

What is that after all, this thing called intuition? Where did that intuition come from? How could I possibly know that the best part of the performance was yet to come?

Those who adhere to materialist reductionism or scientism will have their answer ready: it is all coincidence, we delude ourselves by thinking otherwise because we feel so bad about the idea of a dead and mechanical universe in which everything happens according to blind "laws" and where there is no intelligence, meaning or purpose.

To such materialists I then say: well can you prove that that viewpoint is the true one?

And of course it cannot be proven. Scientific materialism or scientism rests only on an untested metaphysical assumption, a choice to believe that and not something else. I talked about that in previous musings and in the essay ‘A Selfie of Planet Earth’. And I suspect I will talk about it many more times because I feel it goes to the heart of the matter: our fundamental relationship to the world and to ourselves. From a mechanistic worldview, we can't help but destroy everything, including ourselves.

So what is intuition anyway? From where did that voice come, that inner knowing that the best was yet to come?

I will talk more about the importance of intuition, and possible ways to think about it, in the blog and project. And I will also talk about scientists who also have a view of intuition and even of magic that differs from the mainstream opinion. For as I said in last week's musing, possibly science and magic are not opposites, but rather practices that take place at different ontological levels. Science certainly need not be equated with materialistic reductionism or scientism. On the contrary, that confusion is one of the main philosophical errors of our time.

I won't go further now into what I myself believe about intuition, and about the origin of that hunch that assured me that I should wait a while longer there, in the night by the sea and beneath the stars over the island of Senja. I have my own ideas about that by now, and those ideas are in a way part of the framework of this whole project, A Biosphere Project, some seeds of which were planted during those weeks in Krakeslottet, amidst the harsh but pure natural beauty and the force of the elements of the Norwegian arctic winter.

And then the second point in this story: did the Northern Lights really appear because Elind was singing so beautifully?

A similar question to the previous one, with similar answers to be expected from the materialist reductionist viewpoint, but also a question that raises very interesting reflections regarding the latest science concerning consciousness, mind/matter interaction as observed in 'double-slit' experiments in quantum physics and in experiments concerning intention and effect, and ontological frameworks of thought that propose a very different relationship between consciousness and matter than we currently believe, such as the different variants of scientific idealism that sees consciousness as primary.

In particular, there are spectacular research results regarding the influence of pure intention on the material world, results about which I will talk another time. This is not to say that you can simply summon the northern lights on command - things are not that simple. But for starters, let's say that there is particularly strong scientific evidence that there can be a causal relationship between intention and events in the material world. And that shouldn't surprise us all that much, given the proven influence of consciousness on matter (in the form of elementary particles) in the research I mentioned in the musing ‘Five Sigma (You Are Not Going to Believe This)’.

But apart from the disputes that may arise in regards to that question in different interpretations of science, and apart from the belief we now collectively inhabit (that it is certainly and surely not possible that the singing of Elind could have any influence at all on whether or not the aurora appeared), another possible question is: in the absence of evidence in any direction, which belief helps us to see our world once again as magical, enchanted, animate, living, mysterious and worth saving?

Why have all peoples and all cultures that have ever existed on this earth seen that earth as living, conscious, animate, and in relation to our consciousness? Why did literally all people who have ever lived believe that, until, say, the eighteenth century? And why are we moving so quickly toward self-extinction and destruction of our biosphere if we are so much smarter?

In the end, who is more wise: the people of Norway in days gone by who believed that singing for the northern lights may have an impact on how those northern lights appear, or we, who no longer believe in anything and think we are enlightened when we may have simply lost the key to the alliance we once had with a living and animate world? A world that is infinitely more than a set of "ecosystem services" or a collection of resources? Who is more likely to find happiness in harmony with the planet, the one who believes that the planet is animate and living and that we have a meaningful connection to it, or the one who believes that he or she has arrived purely by chance on a clump of rock in space where meaningless and super-egoistic organisms are engaged in an endless battle just to secure the spread of their own genes without any intelligence or soul involved?

In any case: leaving aside the question of whether there can be a causal connection between the singing of Elind and the appearance of the northern lights, a question that is not even a question for the average Westerner because we think we know the answer, the experience that evening on Bøvaer beach was magical in every sense of the word: the song that mingled in the cold arctic night with the sound of the waves, and the light of the Moon and Venus reflected on the waves of the Arctic Ocean and on the snow on the beach, and then all that followed in splendor and the unsurpassed and unreal imagination of nature: the unique and indescribable northern lights. Even without scientific proof, I know that it was magic. Magic needs no proof, any more than love or beauty.

I wanted to share this experience as a musing because my stay in Krakeslottet was one of the elements that changed my relationship with the world and with the planet. And it is above all experiences that can transform us and profoundly change our view of ourselves and the world. Experiences rather than mere mental information or knowledge. This is why dispensing mere mental information about the crisis our planet and we ourselves are going through is not enough: we all need to start experiencing different things in order to go through this transition. And the renewed recognition of the magic of the world may tempt us to do so, rather than the fear of an uncertain future, of disaster and of apocalyptic scenarios that are now increasingly presented to us. You don't motivate a depressed drug addict to heal by instilling fear of the consequences of his addiction; only a regained love for self and world can do that. And the recognition of the magic of our planet and of life is a powerful catalyst to renewed love. This is how it has gone for me at least, and this is how it can go for anyone. You don't have to see the northern lights or travel to faraway places for that, by the way: magic is everywhere, even in the seemingly most ordinary things, places or encounters. And I will often talk about magic in our daily lives, and in the "ordinary" things (allow me to repeat one more time: there are no "ordinary" things, places or people). But I also want to integrate the possibility of experience and practice into the future of A Biosphere Project, by developing meditation and observation 'exercises' that can help change perception and experience of the world. Images, sound, film can also help. But above all, there must be openness to recognize and acknowledge the reality of magic, because without that openness there will be no possibility of letting that magic into your consciousness.

We must cherish and protect magic, because magic is endangered in our world, just like beauty, just like the diversity of life, just like the climate, just like the oceans. Magic is becoming more and more rare, and if we are not careful it will quietly withdraw from this world, just like so many forms of life.

Krakeslottet is also under threat: the owner was forced to sell due to circumstances, and the new owner wants to demolish the building to build a luxury hotel. The idea fills me with a very deep sadness. The magic of this place will give way to a generic hotel, no doubt comfortable and luxurious, and no doubt a coveted destination in the future. But the elusive poetry and charm of the extravagant and strange labyrinth that is Krakeslottet, the magic of time that has left so many traces of past lives and countless experiences there, the energy of all those extraordinary people who have lived and worked there, and unknown dramas that have taken place there, everything that has taken refuge inside the wood, in the wallpaper, in furniture and utensils that still bear witness to a wondrous past there, all of that will possibly disappear and what will take its place will be one-dimensional, stripped of roots in time and in the lives of the past. And so it goes in so many places in the world: from our mechanistic worldview, which always goes hand in hand with capitalism and an economy based on exponential growth, there will always be a preference to replace magic with efficiency and profit. And that is as much a problem as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Just like the uglification of the world, de-enchantment is the path to a world that I myself do not find worth living in. A world stripped of magic and beauty in function of efficiency and profit will be a world in which we will not protect life either. Let us fight to protect magic as much as we fight to protect natural areas or animal species. Spread the word!

In gratitude for all the magical experiences,

Thanks for reading, and until the next installment,

All the best to you,


Aurora over Bøvaer, March 1, 2017. Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven



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