I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast. Join me on an exploration of mindful modern magic, a journey towards deeper understanding of self and transformative individual spirituality. It's April 15, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be discussing the dangers of using spiritual tools and philosophies as a way to avoid and bypass. Are you ready to grow your soul?
A few years ago I read a book called Spiritual Bypassing by Robert Augustus Masters that was really great. It dove into a lot of things I’d already kind of been thinking about, been bothered by, and I was seeing a lot of it around me. And over the years since, because I think I read that book in the, you know, pre-Trump, it was something I thought about and paid more attention to as I saw people falling into the “love and light” and “positive vibes only” approach not just to spirituality, but to changing the world. The idea that if we each just push more love and sunshine into the world, that will make a difference.
And I’m not going to say that we shouldn’t push more love and sunshine into the world, but love actually isn’t all we need. Not for ourselves. Not for society. Not for humanity at large. Not unless we show that love in ways that tangibly help those who need it.
But we’re not programmed to do the hard stuff because it tends to be a bit confrontational, it tends to be boring and not warm fuzzy feel-good stuff, it involves working to break down the systems that we benefit from in some way, and that means acknowledging lots of uncomfortable things, standing up for things that put us in uncomfortable positions with people we love. It’s hard, and it’s easier to do the love thing, the feel good action thing, to make it about our helpfulness and not about the change that needs to be made.
It’s just another manifestation of spiritual bypassing.
But recently I’ve also come to realize that there’s actually, there’s a difference between spiritual bypassing and magical bypassing. They’re related, yeah. But spiritual bypassing, and I do recommend reading that book, spiritual bypassing is not just using spiritual beliefs as a way to avoid confronting painful truths, but also even wrapping up our psychological issues in a spiritual packaging so we can cling to them instead of confronting and healing them.
Magical bypassing is a slightly different thing. Magical bypassing is when we use our magical practice to make us feel like we’re taking positive action but in reality we’re avoiding doing the hard things.
For example, when we wrap up our fear of confrontation and lack of boundaries as a spiritual calling for compassion and giving of ourselves, that’s spiritual bypassing. But when we pick up the protection salts and do banishing spells to try and put people at a distance instead of having the hard conversations and setting our boundaries, that’s magical bypassing.
It feels like action, but it’s avoidance.
Magical bypassing looks like leaning on divinatory messages to try and anticipate what is happening in your life rather than to doing the hard work of setting your own path and working on your preparation for the unexpected and your ability to be resilient. Magical bypassing looks like doing spells to manifest financial opportunities but not also working on your resume and applying for jobs every day and doing the real everyday work to get ahead.
One of the most important lessons about magic is that magic isn’t the best answer to everything. It can’t do everything. It can’t solve every problem. Magic is a tool. A very powerful tool can only accomplish so much and it’s based partly on the person wielding the tool and partly on the limitations of the tool itself. And magic does have limitations, absolutely.
And our own mindset and intentions and approach to magic results in limitations as well. Which should really be one of the first things everyone learns. And the thing is I know it’s not what people hope for.
I remember saying once at one of the pagan meetups something about real life magic not working like fictional magic, that it’s not like you say the right words and with a snap of your fingers things happen, and I remember getting pushback on that. But guys, that’s reality. The point of mastering magical practice is not to be able to escape from the burden of having to actually do hard things in life.
And at some level we all know that, right? The point of magic isn’t to make life easier.
In fact, I don’t know anyone who would say taking up a magical practice has made things easier. In fact, what I do see is a parade of newer magical practitioners wondering why things aren’t easier, wondering why they aren’t getting what they expected from their practice. Which is the real kicker to magical bypassing. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t stand in for the action we are afraid to take. And it might make us feel like we’re doing something, but it’s an illusion. The feeling of being productive and proactive is an illusion.
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One bit of clarity I want to get for everyone listening is that magical avoidance, magical bypassing… We’re not talking about laziness. It’s tempting to look at this drive to use magic as a shortcut or a way around the more difficult mundane efforts it takes to make things happen, it’s tempting to look at that as a manifestation of laziness. Like, you know, I could sit down and work up a budget to start saving money for a new computer and search through my house for stuff to sell or whatever, but that’s a lot of work so I’ll just shove some crystals and coins around this money tree and call it a day because I’m too lazy to put in the effort.
That’s not it, though. For a few reasons. The first being that magic isn’t the easy button. Magic isn’t easy. It can be simple, but magic isn’t easy. It’s emotionally demanding, it’s energetically demanding, it requires a lot of us.
Second, it’s not about laziness because, really, very little of what we call laziness is really that. It’s that things that seem easy or simple on the surface can be a challenge because of all the baggage that we’ve piled up around those things.
My wife won’t make phone calls. It’s not because she’s lazy, it’s because there’s fear there. The emotional burden of it is disproportionate to the task itself. We all have stuff like that. I procrastinate all the time, not because I’m too lazy to do the stuff I need to do but because I’ve got all kinds of emotional baggage I’m still working through from growing up with my self-worth tied to performance so avoiding doing things I worry I won’t perform well at is potentially painful and procrastination is a subconscious way to protect myself from that potential failure for as long as possible.
The stuff we try to accomplish via magical means when the mundane means are right there in front of us mostly lead back to some kind of fear, trauma, pain. Bottom line, if you want to have a powerful magical practice and you want to improve your life through that magical practice, attempting to use magic as a bypassing or avoidance tactic… it doesn’t work in either sense. But it’s super common.
The attempt, at least. I don’t see it being successful.
What I do see is a lot of people who want to learn magic, who want to dive in and explore and don’t know where to start. Some who come to magic because it’s a way to try and do something about the parts of their life they want to change which seems simpler and less painful than the mundane ways they struggle with. And some who don’t know where to start learning and are guided to just jump in and try things and naturally start with whatever problem solving potential seems most attractive at the moment, which is likely to be a magical approach to their biggest struggles.
And I say that because I think almost all of us start in this place of wondering where to start, what to do, spending a lot of time talking about magic and not doing any. That’s where I started. Gathering intel, gathering info, trying to feel like I knew enough to dive in before I started.
And I absolutely stand by the advice I always give to beginner witches which is to just jump in. Pick something to try and try it. However, what spells are out there? Attract money. Attract love. Attract luck. See the future. Make the right decision. Heal things. It’s like the greatest hits of bypassing and avoidance. Not that those things can’t be useful, but the relationship with money or luck or health or love before and after we’ve been doing the work of self-discovery and evolution is very different.
And when we first come to magic, we tend to be pretty well unexamined.
The result is that there tends to be a long, long struggle period at the beginning when we try to use magic for things that we’re not very clear with ourselves about, our intentions are unexamined, our understanding is limited, we’re drawn to engage in a ton of bypassing and avoidance, and it’s a lot of frustration, not manifesting what we really want, not seeing much in the way of growth or improvement in our lives, and feeling like we’re missing something.
If I had a crystal for every time someone came to the local pagan meetup saying, like, “I’m just starting out, I don’t know much about magic, can someone tell me how to get my freeloader friend to move out of my house,” or, “does anyone have a good money spell because I need to catch up on my rent,” or whatever, my crystal collection would look like one of those Instagram witchy room pictures.
The good thing is that the, I guess, veteran witches who are there always give the correct but disappointing answer of, well, we can point you to a spell, but you also have to put in the effort, have the conversations, have the confrontations, pound the pavement, problem solve the mundane way, too. And nine times out of ten those people don’t come back. That’s how strong, in general, our desire to use magic to avoid and bypass really is.
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You know, nearly every time I write one of these episodes, the conclusion I end up at kind of surprises me. That’s the fun of the writing process, I guess. Worked that way the last book I wrote, too.
Anyway, what I didn’t expect when I started writing this episode was to end up talking about the foundational principles of magical practice. But it’s kind of fortuitous because I’ve been thinking about doing another 7 or 8 episode series like the one I did on emotions in spirituality but this time on the basics of magic. I’d started making notes on the episode topics and everything, and this is actually the start of a really great segue into that. So starting after Beltane, which would be the episode on May 6, I’ll do that series of episodes. And I’ll be doing some other content as well, some premium option for working through that series with me. Hell, maybe I’ll even finally launch my Patreon around it! I’ve been thinking of that long enough.
Anyway, that’s really where this whole topic leads in the end: what is magic, how can we use it in our lives, etc. Not how “should” we use it – I don’t think this is an issue of good or bad ways to go about all this. It’s really a matter of what works and doesn’t.
And I’m going to be really really blunt here. Magic is something like 90 percent perception. So there are absolutely practitioners who have done a ton of magical bypassing, turning to spellwork to manifest the easy button solutions for problems so they can continue to hide in their unaddressed trauma and personal baggage, and they’ve managed to convince themselves that they’ve fixed their life that way. But it’s surface at best.
Real magic – and I hate that phrase. I can’t believe I just said it. Not real magic… Um, effective magic. Effective magic requires things of us emotionally and energetically and in terms of clarity and understanding of what our desires and intentions truly are that just not there if we’re hiding from ourselves and our issues and the actual work it takes to work through those things. That doesn’t mean we can’t do magic until we’re, like, perfect or whatever, until we’ve got all our crap worked out, but it does mean that learning magic so that it can be a way to avoid stuff or beginning the learning process with that kind of workings isn’t going to get positive results.
There’s other approaches that work better.
Like, for instance, developing the magical skills to help you find the courage, the strength, the confidence, the assistance, whatever, to address those areas of your life the mundane way. Like, instead of doing a prosperity spell to solve your money problems, doing workings to boost your confidence, to help you connect with people, stuff like that so the work you put in to increase your income are more likely to pay off. You still have to do the work, but you don’t have to do it without magical assistance.
And it’s important not to discount the part of magical practice that involves directly dealing with your baggage. I mean, take the trauma to a therapist for sure, but you have to do your own shadow work as well. Therapy is like magic – it’s not a easy button fix, you still have to do the work yourself.
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.