“It is common to talk about hypnosis in magical terms, because the effects are often as close to magic as people ever experience outside of the cinema. In many respects I think the analogy is apt. The basis of magic is transformation, from one thing to another, from one place to another. So is the basis of therapy. Therapy is about transforming the nature of a client’s experience into something that enhances the quality of his or her life.” Trevor Silvester – Wordweaving (2012)
Triple Goddess Tarot (Lo Scarabeo, 2017) The Magician
This quote represents one of the most open and pragmatic approaches to magic that I’ve come across in the world of hypnosis. After a 16 month course of study in hypnosis, I’ve just earned a Postgraduate Certificate in the subject(NVQ Level 7). I would only disagree with the quote in that I, and many of you, experience magic outside of the cinema, too 🙂
Sadly, the tutor on my first day of lectures was rather less open-minded. He said, “Hypnosis may seem magical, but it isn’t. That would just be ridiculous.” As someone who has taught workshops and webinars on tarot magic over the last several years, you can imagine what I thought about that!
What is Magic
To me, that tutor was simply showing a lack of knowledge about magic. As Dion Fortune put it: “Magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.” And hypnosis is about quickly and effectively changing your state of consciousness.
Hypnosis does this through the use of words to help create a focused inward perspective, connecting you with your subconscious mind. This part of your mind is called by many different names in different traditions: unconscious, subconscious, Higher Self, intuition, Younger Self. In hypnosis, once you have connected with this part of mind, you can sow the seeds of desired change in your life.
As for magic, it also connects to this part of your self, sometimes through words, or else through ritual, dance, drumming, chanting, or some other means. However, magic then aims to create change in the world. Sometimes that change is through changing yourself, following the axiom “be the change you want to see”.
Both hypnosis and magic connect to the subconscious in order to foment transformation. In that regard, I see hypnosis as a subset of magic. Hypnosis is entirely magical, even if it has good scientific backing. However, the range of magic is far broader than that of hypnosis, and not all quite so scientific. A traditional Venn diagram of the two would look like this:
Though I’m not sure if it would be more accurate to show it like this (hypnosis being square, as it’s so purely scientific while magic is more holistic) or like this (magic being rather messy and difficult to label or limit):
It’s funny, I think part of the reason why many writers and teachers of clinical hypnosis are so set on being extremely scientific and denigrating magic is because of common misconceptions about hypnosis. So many people’s main knowledge of it comes through stage hypnosis. And yet, those people in the hypnosis world denigrate magic based on the same lack of knowledge.
Both magic and hypnosis labour under the weight of false expectations created by stage acts. True magic is as far from stage magic as clinical hypnosis is from stage hypnosis, or further. Most stage magic depends on sleight of hand, special equipment and the art of misdirection. And most stage hypnosis relies on people who are suggestible and up for a laugh.
That’s not to say that stage hypnosis involves no skill, far from it. However, it is to say that many of the ideas people have about hypnosis based on the stage are completely unhelpful. You can’t be forced to do anything against your will; you don’t lose control; you will remember everything if you want to.
It’s a lot like magic: it’s not bright lights and amazing disappearing acts. Most magic is about nudging things the way you’d prefer them to go. And doing magic (and hypnosis) doesn’t involve strange, unrecognisable states that only certain people can achieve. Both are a lot less different from your everyday state than you might suppose: their actions are subtly powerful rather than ‘beat you over the head with a two-by-four amazing’!
What’s the Difference?
Triple Goddess Tarot (Lo Scarabeo, 2017) The Teacher (Hierophant)
In writing this post, this question came up for me. If I’m saying that hypnosis makes up a part of magic, what is the difference?
Describing all that magic encompasses is a big project. There are many books devoted to the subject, as well as many discussions (friendly and otherwise) about it. The same could be said of hypnosis.
Yoga and Pilates
The analogy that came up for me is the comparison between yoga and Pilates. Pilates is a modern, scientific, anatomical approach to exercise, often targeted at specific goals and medical conditions. Got a bad back, focus on these exercises; rehabilitating from a sports injury, this is the focus.
Yoga, on the other hand, has a physical exercise component, which is the best known part of it here in the West. Yet, there’s a lot more to it. Originally, it is more a way of life, a philosophy, and a set of body-mind practices designed to transform the practitioner and improve the world. Daily meditation, spiritual seeking, good acts, and living a life guided by principles such as releasing greed, anger and lust are all aspects of what are known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Having trained to teach both, I incorporate the knowledge from Pilates into my yoga classes, but yoga is my true love.
Clinical Hypnosis and Magic
In the same way, clinical hypnosis is targeted at helping individuals with specific goals: managing physical ailments and issues such as IBS, eczema and hot flushes; helping with more clearly mental issues like anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias; and assisting with more complex body-mind questions like addictions, weight control, and depression. These are all important topics and getting help with them can be life changing.
Magic in the widest sense can also be used for all of these, hypnosis is an individual magic, after all. And studying clinical hypnosis has added to and deepened my magical practice. Yet, like yoga, magic encompasses far more. It is aimed at nurturing ourselves, our communities and our planet.
Magic can also be a philosophy, a way of life expressed in axioms like: Do no harm; and to know, to dare, to will, to keep silent. It follows the cycles of nature – the sun, the moon, the seasons – seeing the bigger picture and looking at life globally as well as locally. Magic is a spiritual quest, a way to explore yourself, as well as your relationship to others, to the world. And to those big questions like: What is the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?
Having thought this through, what comes clear to me is that I don’t want to ‘grow up and get a proper job’. I don’t want to be a clinical hypnotherapist and nothing more. Yes, I want to use my learning to help people, and yes, I could have a business card that says: Chloë McCracken, M.Sc., Pg.Dip., Pg.Cert, Clinical Hypnotherapist (though I don’t, that’s my business card over on the right). Yet, I don’t want to deny the place of magic in my life, I don’t want to become a muggle 😄
I shall continue to incorporate magic into my life and my work. It’s part of who I am and who I want to be. Though many people may not understand the word as I do, ultimately that is their problem. And I am sure there are enough people seeking a magical life for me to always be in good company!