Hermes Beckons: Magic Is Alive
The man walked slowly along Ocean Avenue staring at the sidewalk and curb. He carefully scanned the concrete seeking a small crack or hole. Discovering an opening where the curb abutted the sidewalk, he observed it carefully. Satisfied that it was a suitable location, he took a leather pouch from his jacket pocket. Opening it, he retrieved a digging tool, a two inch steel shaft, half of which was covered with a wood handle. Squatting, he enlarged the crack with the steel digger. After pushing away the debris, he removed a small cylindrical container filled with soil, which he sprinkled into the crevice, tamping it down with the digger. Setting aside the bottle of soil and tool, he took from the pouch another container. Unscrewing the lid, he poured several seeds into his hand and scrutinized them closely. Four ageratum seeds were selected and placed carefully into the soil. More soil was added and pressed down. Closing the two containers, he removed a small bottle of water and squirted the life-giving liquid into the earth-filled crack, supplying sufficient moisture for the seeds to expand and sprout. Placing the gardening supplies back into his pocket, Ralph looked at the seed bed and quietly said, “Sprout and grow little ones.” Little seeds can move concrete.
One of the miracles of a seed is that its form is destroyed when it sprouts: it must die to live. A totally different structure grows, and when the plant reaches maturity, seeds develop to continue the cycle. Hidden in the seed’s DNA is the code for the complete organic process, a magical one at that. These metaphysical principles applied also to his alchemical studies.
Eventually, Ocean Avenue would become a garden of plants and animals, where life could prosper. He would share his vital energy with the new life that would live here. So far he had planted ten seed beds—ageratum here and earlier violet, huechera, columbine, sage, blue flax, foxglove, canterbury bells, larkspur, and evening primrose. These were a few of the plants that were growing in their backyard. Once the plants took root and grew into their adult size, he might even begin planting trees. The trees that the city had placed along Ocean Avenue were not doing very well. The city planted and then left them alone for most of the time, barely showing the care that he knew was a necessary part. Also, he could not understand the reason for planting palm trees along the avenue. They were not indigenous and were more appropriate for San Diego or Miami. He would have liked to see coast live oaks and redwood trees growing along the street. Even more, people must be educated about the beneficial qualities so that they would not break off branches and otherwise destroy these portals to nature. Who knows, the trees and flowers might someday help lower the pollution created by motor vehicles cruising up and down the avenue. Yes, children, second hand auto exhaust is deadly.
After Ocean Avenue was sown, he would plant along Urbano Drive and the intersecting streets in Ingleside Terraces, which was already filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers. The residents were proud of their neighborhood. Then he would go to other parts of the city planting seeds and rooted cuttings. The other day at Glen Canyon, planting the yerba buena and followed by the dream of the friendly, protective serpents, had revitalized him and renewed his self-confidence.
His vision was to transform San Francisco into a garden where people could enjoy their natural surroundings and not be harmed by their waste and pollution, nor by their obsessive consuming. His goal was to assist the transformation of the contemporary life style into a simpler one that was nourished by the earth. Like the phoenix, a new type of wizard, a nature magician, was arising from the ashes. By using his repertoire of magical effects, he would persuade the citizens of San Francisco that they could attain a healthier and happier lifestyle. He was buoyed by the vision, feeling light and euphoric. He would be an example and show his neighbors the way to overcome negative social conditions.
In the throes of his illness he had seriously considered retiring from magic, selling his props, and doing something else. Those thoughts, however, had left him in the gloomiest dread with no exit. He had even made detailed plans for making this drastic change. Before he actually committed himself, he sifted through his feelings and found waiting for him a life devoid of meaning and purpose. Two events had been major influences at the beginning of his recovery. The first occurred when he was in intensive care. While he lay in bed, hooked up to an IV and a cardiograph, a profound intuition, rising from the source of life, emerged into awareness. He had an immediate choice to live or to die. If he chose death, his heart would soon fail, a painless ending. If he affirmed life, he would begin a path of healing, which would be one of struggle, alternating between anguish and joy. As he was thinking about staying or leaving, a clear image of Shasta, smiling at him, a twinkle in her eyes, arose in awareness. The decision was easy. As his healing progressed, he deliberated his options. The second strong impetus toward regaining his health was deciding to continue his magical career. Once he accepted a deeper and more realistic understanding of himself, his vigor and vitality improved.
So enthused, he crossed Ocean Avenue to the south side and walked along until he found a place for a new bed. The selection was important because a seed needed security until it sprouted and grew enough to withstand trampling by cars and humans. The city seldom weeded along its streets, and their street cleaning machines hardly ever disturbed vegetation that had established itself beside the curbs.
Seeing an apt growing spot, he selected and planted four Pacific daisy seeds. Sowing at least four seeds is essential because too many things can hamper germination and growth. Besides, plants are social: they like to be together; they do not want to be alone. A solitary plant in barren land is a sorrowful creature, filled with gloom. Its only hope is to produce viable seeds and sow the surrounding area, bringing forth a meadow of flora. Nature over sows so that some creatures will survive and become adults, continuing the cycle. Humans, he knew, can use art and craft to assist nature, yet through ignorance their well-meaning assistance often is detrimental and harmful, producing a result opposite to what they had desired. Believing in their power and self-righteousness, they act to create paradise yet often engender hell.
He could empathize with those solitary plants because at times he felt alone and empty. Shasta and the kitties were his basic family now. His parents and brother Ken were died. A few cousins were still alive, but they resided in other parts of the country; and, except for Christmas cards, he seldom communicated with them.
A painful memory caused him to hesitate. He stood silently reliving the anguish when the news of Ken’s death had reached them. His parents and he had felt a deep loss which they had never overcome. Ken was one of the many young people sacrificed in the tragic Vietnam war. Later he realized that his parents, Keith and Joyce Garland, had lost their purpose for living, especially since he, the eldest son, was becoming a disappointment to them. His marriage to Shasta had brought some meaning back into his parents’ lives. Recognizing it would, he pressured Shasta into holding the wedding in San Francisco, allowing his parents to host the reception, even though her mother Catherine and older sister Melody wanted the ceremony held in Dunsmuir, where they lived. The conflict had been healed shortly after their marriage.
Joyce Garland was again filled with vitality. Her only living child was finally going to settle down and have a family. Keith was also energized, bragging to his friends that soon he and Joyce would be grandparents. As time went on and Ralph and Shasta did not have any children, his parents began to lose interest in life.
Ralph sometimes wondered whether his manic-depressive mood swings were inherited. For a long time guilt had hidden in the back of his mind, perhaps even in the medulla oblongata.
He shook his head slightly and listened. A strange feeling, like being gently touched, crept over him. Was someone watching his gardening? He turned toward the large glass window of the bicycle shop. An image of a face on the window of the store front startled him. Who was it? He looked around, glancing at the people nearby. A woman pushing a stroller holding her youngster moved by. Two young women, probably City College students, were chatting as they walked past. A man speaking into a cell phone stood a few feet away. Unable to discern anyone who could prompt the reflection, he peered again at the window: the image was still there. He glanced first at the right side of the face and then at the left side. Astonished, he could hardly believe his senses. The right side of the face was definitely masculine while the left was feminine. Gradually, the face faded away. His mind was obviously playing tricks on him. If he could understand the physical principle behind the mirage, he could construct a similar illusion for the alchemical light show.
The gardener averted his attention from the disturbing apparition and strolled along the street searching for another seed nest. He relied on intuition for discovering suitable havens. Intuiting was an example of non-doing, an important component of the philosophy he was constructing. The activity from beginning to end flowed from the Creative. He tried not to be influenced by external events or circumstances and never made a conscious deliberation. He always waited until the place was revealed to him, a little bit like dowsing, according to what he had read. An unknown force guided him toward his goal.
As he meandered, he concentrated on the word ocean, the source of all life. Ocean Avenue extended westward from Mission Avenue to less than a mile from Ocean Beach. His life was flowing along this avenue, its name a metaphor for him. Frequently as he walked along the avenue, ideas floated through his mind, exciting his imagination. Often he hiked around Urbano Drive, which between 1895-1905 had been a racetrack. Its oval form was supposedly a mile in circumference. When Ingleside Terraces was developed into a housing tract, the oval road was preserved, and four intersecting streets were made to cross the land within the oval. Walking was not only beneficial for his health, in particular the heart, but stimulated his psyche as well.
He had studied several medical texts on the heart during the early period of his recovery; most were incomprehensible, but he did learn enough basic information to reveal the glorious spectacle that is life. He had never been interested in the health sciences. His body had always been a given, the part that housed his mind. When he was absorbed in thought, he paid no attention to his physical part. During his youth he had often pushed himself to his physical and mental limits, defying death and emboldened by a false sense of confidence. Now his body was having its revenge for the years of abuse and disregard.
His awareness of the physical dimension of life had blossomed, and he felt more centered in his being. Here he was entering the final act of his life and only now realizing the marvel that was his body. The irony was illuminated by his alchemical research, which was fertilizing his appreciation for the life-supporting process.
Smiling, he listened to his heart, the central organ of the body and more important than the brain. Even when the brain is dead, the heart can continue to beat until the physical system breaks down. The autonomic and central nervous systems regulate the heart, and the upper levels of mental activity are not required. In fact, the heart has its own blood supply, the coronary arteries, which deliver blood directly to the heart before it goes anywhere else in the body.
What an amazing, incredible organ—the human heart is the size of a clenched fist and weighs less than a pound. A drop of blood circulates through the system in twenty-three seconds round trip time. The heart has three layers: a thin outer membrane, epicardium; the thick muscle itself, myocardium; and an inner smooth membrane, endocardium. The heart is enclosed in a protective sac, the pericardium, just as the embryo is enclosed in its protective sac.
The heart’s four chambers work together in a rhythmic action to move blood through the body. The blood enters the right atrium and flows into the right ventricle, from whence it goes to the lungs for revival, eliminating carbon dioxide and picking up oxygen. Thence it goes to the left atrium and into the left ventricle from which it flows throughout the body. The atria are small chambers, sitting on top of their respective ventricles, which are much larger. The action of these four pumps must be coordinated, or the system will malfunction.
Dilation and contraction, a steady, constant rhythm, the beat of life—he listened and heard the pulse and wave of the earth and ocean. Diastole, systole: the blood flowed in and the blood flowed out. He chanted quietly, “Di-as´-tl-e, sis´-ta-le,” over and over. The music had a calming effect. He had never told anyone about the song, not even Shasta. It was his personal litany. Singing the words seemed to alleviate his atrial fibrillation, which was an irregular rhythm of the atrium, often producing rapid beats. He placed his right fingers on his left wrist and felt the pulsating rhythm. Di-as´-tl-e, sis´-ta-le. Di-as´-tl-e, sis´-ta-le. Yin and yang, life pushing against the resistance of its container. A necessary duality, each complementing the other. Neither could survive without its partner. If they got out of sync, lost their balance and coordination, death would ensue. He walked the edge of existence with atrial fibrillation, a high wire on which to perform.
His worry and anxiety had lessened since the pacemaker had been installed. The heart has its own natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial node, a pale narrow area located high on the right atrium and monitored by hormonal and neurological influences. When his heart had become enlarged, the sinoatrial node had begun to malfunction. Electrical impulses begin at the sinoatrial node, stimulate the atria to contract, and then run down connective tissue to the atrioventricular node in the ventricles, causing them to contract at the precise moment when filled to capacity with blood. There are extra pacemakers that will take over if the sinoatrial node fails to function; however, if they become overexcited, they will fire extra or ectopic beats, which causes fibrillation.
Pausing in his quest for another viable seed bed, he peered at a stenciled sign painted on the sidewalk above a flood drain opening. It asked people to refrain from pouring polluting materials into it. A veritable sign of the times, he thought. Then he noticed the small crack in the curb where four delphinium seeds would nestle in their moist bed. While placing soil into the nest, the gardener heard kraaah, kraaah. Looking up, he saw a raven on a lamp post peering down at him, giving him a one-eyed stare. Then the bird sounded the gathering call. Soon several more ravens were resting on utility poles and observing the activities. He listened to their cawing, the sounds slowly forming into words. Obviously interested in his project, they were voicing approval. Then one raven flew to the sidewalk and with a hopping movement strutted over to the gardener. Wanting to relate, Ralph cleared his throat and cawed a few times. The raven quizzically stared at the man’s smiling face and then looked at the seed patch. “Kraaah, kraaah,” spoke the raven, and immediately the others answered joyously.
He visualized flowers and trees spreading everywhere, birds singing their delightful songs. Yes, he would do it, and this vision of the living garden would be included in his alchemical light show. Color the city nature. At heart he was but a peasant-gardener envisioning a world of justice and equality.
Finishing his task, Ralph again sensed the eerie awareness that he was being watched. Abruptly, he spun around and stared at a store window. He saw reflections of himself, cars on the street, and passing pedestrians. The surface images had their own reality, standing between him and those inside the store as seen through the glass. Was this the watcher—his reflection, his shadow who followed him, appearing and vanishing mysteriously? “Di-as´-tl-e, sis´-ta-le,” he hummed quietly, walking along Ocean Avenue. He had sowed enough seeds today, and in a day or two he would return to water the seed patches. The next item on his agenda was to go to the Produce Barn. ***
Steam was coming from the kettle. Turning off the stove, Rafael Courbet poured boiling water into a cup containing wintergreen leaves. “I’m surprised at what I do as a magician’s assistant.” She sat down at the kitchen table with her roommate Giulietta Firenze, who was also enrolled at San Francisco State University and was taking an interdisciplinary set of courses in Holistic Healing Studies. Giulietta had grown up in Napa where her family was in the wine industry.
“I thought I’d be standing around waiting to bring things on or off stage, looking cute and petite.”
“Yea, part of the stage setting. So if you’re not a decoration, what are you then?”
“Well, video taping Ralph’s rehearsals is part of the job. But what’s amazing is that he expects me to learn magic and practice techniques. I must understand the props as well as he does, at least what will happen, including the patter or story. I’m to be aware of the cues embedded in the patter.”
“That’s cool. You’re really getting in deep.”
“The six courses I’ve already taken at State have been superb support. Ralph complimented me on how well I’ve applied what I learned from those classes to my magical apprenticeship. It’s great because he encourages me to practice the same routines he’s doing. I’m also responsible for having the apparatus ready for each effect, placed on stage or close at hand off stage. I’m supposed to know how to set up the props, take them down, and store them. I’m learning ways to fix some of them if necessary. He even wants me to understand the location of the lights and the effects of different kinds of lighting for magical routines, so the course I took this spring semester in lighting and sound was especially helpful.”
“Are you thinking about doing magic on your own?”
“Well, Ralph calls me his apprentice. It’s a fascinating world, and magic increases the opportunities for a dramatic career.” She opened her coin purse and dumped several coins on the table. “Yesterday I practiced a basic routine to vanish a coin. Would you like to see it?”
“Yeh, that’d be cool.”
Rafé picked up a quarter with her right hand and then dropped it into her left, which closed into a fist. “The quarter is in my left hand, and now I’m going to make it vanish.” She blew on her left hand and said, “Majen.”
Giulietta was astonished when she saw Rafé’s empty hand. “That’s really weird. Do it again.”
Rafé picked up another quarter with her right hand and let it fall into her left. She blew on her closed hand and repeated the magic word. Slowly she opened the left hand, showing it empty. Then she reached into the air with her right hand and the quarter appeared at her fingertips.
“You’re good. What does the magic word mean?”
Rafé blushed and smiled. “Thanks, Giulietta. Majen means ‘go away.’ Guess what? Ralph wants me to assist him in devising new routines and props for a major show he’s designing. He hopes it will be ready to perform later this year.”
“That’s great. Listen, I’ve got to go to my belly dancing lesson.” Giulietta had started dancing before she left Napa to enter SF State. Rinsing out her cup and placing it in the drainer, she remarked, “My teacher is an excellent dancer and knows the history of the dance. It goes far back into the past as part of the women’s community. Traditionally, it assisted young girls to learn about their womanly features, their inner qualities. You should try the dance. You’d love it. Besides, it fits perfectly into a drama career.” She smiled as she put on her jacket and went to the front door.
“Maybe I will. Enjoy.” Rafé waved as Giulietta left their small apartment.
She fixed herself another cup of tea and stood looking out the window. She was delighted that Giulietta had been mystified by the disappearing coin routine. Yesterday’s session at the studio was exhilarating. Ralph had taught her a way to vanish coins that was simply marvelous. He instructed her to use body motion that was natural for her and seemed normal to the spectators. The overall movement was what spectators remembered and based their understanding on. The magician could cause spectators to create perceptions of happenings that were incorrect and untrue. The spectators’ belief was grounded in a misinterpretation of their experience. They saw something happen, yet what they saw did not occur in the way they thought it did. The coin was not where they believed it to be; however, they saw it go from one hand to the other. When both hands were shown empty, the spectators were dismayed: the impossible confronted them. Normal, conventional behavior dulled the senses so much that spectators did not watch carefully and critically. They accepted the supposed predictable outcome and assumed that the behavior was trustworthy. If we cannot believe our perceptions, then reality turns into chaos and delusion. She could completely understand this idea because of her bond with Chief Peyote.
She had stood in front of the mirror moving a coin from her right hand to the left one and then back again. As she had become aware of her natural motion, she had realized that spectators would perceive and interpret the total action. Her body language conveyed both the process and result: a coin was passed from one hand to the other. Even another magician might not watch for every little detail.
Finishing her tea, she washed the cup, putting it in the drainer. The summer session at SF State would start in a few weeks, and she could spend the interim practicing her sleights. The bedroom had a small mirror she could use. Although not as large as the one in Ralph’s studio, it would have to suffice.
Her life now had a purpose, one that infused her spirit. When she had made the decision to leave her family and seek her future in California, she was uncertain and apprehensive; but the direction she had taken was showing rewarding signs. Enrolling at SF State to earn a degree in theatre arts was a vital step. She was able to transfer the credits for the basic general education courses she had taken at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, so she need only take theatre art courses. During the summer session she would take Theatre Backgrounds: 1492-1900. The theatre background courses involved a lot of reading which she enjoyed because she was learning the traditions from which her art grew.
Deciding to lay aside academic thoughts for the moment, she would devote more time to her spiritual side, which needed refreshing. She went into the bedroom—furnished with twin beds and a small table between, one large dresser, and a closet—and took a box from a dresser drawer and from the closet a shawl. She went back to the living room, which actually was a large space that served as kitchen, dining, and social area. Giulietta and she had rented this two room apartment for a reasonable price, considering the exorbitant rates that prevailed in San Francisco. It was small, but clean and located in the pleasant neighborhood of Ingleside Terraces, which was close to SF State. The refurbished building, once a large family mansion, had been sectioned into two and three room apartments.
Wrapping the fringed shawl decorated with a water bird motif around her shoulders, Rafé sat on the floor and opened the special cedar box containing sacred objects used during a Native American Church service. The box was incised and painted with designs that conveyed meaning to members of the Native American Church. She took out a cloth and spread it on the floor. She began placing sacred items from the box on the cloth. She held up the prayer feather. The shaft of the eagle feather was beaded using a peyote stitch. Twisted leather strips had been attached to the end of the shaft before the beadwork was stitched. Next came the gourd rattle with an image of Peyote Woman painted on one side and a sunrise painted on the other. Both the rattle and prayer feather had been her maternal grandfather’s. He had made and painted the rattle and did the bead work on the prayer feather. Her mIshomes, grandfather, had been a Roadman, one who led the peyote ceremony, and his inner sight had told him several weeks before he was to pass over to the spirit world when the time was to come. She had made a special trip to be with him at his passage. He had presented her with the gift of his sacred possessions and a blessing to honor Peyote Woman forever. Rattles were seldom painted or incised today, and her grandfather’s was even more special. After placing the rattle on the cloth, she picked up her grandfather’s drum stick, which was incised with lightning designs. The sacred buckskin pouch holding Chief Peyote was next. Her mIshomes had sewn the tanned leather together, attaching leather fringe around the edge. On the bag he had beaded a rosette that represented a peyote plant. A Roadman would place the Chief on the altar for the ceremony. She highly respected these items not only because of their sacredness to Peyote Woman but because her mIshomes had made and used them during Native American Church services.
The sacred box her mIshomes had given her also contained more personal things that were connected to Peyote Woman. She retrieved a pair of small silver earrings in the shape of the water bird, anhinga. Her father’s brother was a jewelry maker and had crafted these especially for her. She hung them from her ears and then brought out a beaded necklace, which she put around her neck. She had spent hours stitching it together. She had begun learning the art of beading as a child, constructing simple rings, necklaces, bracelets, and pendants. This was the most complex piece she had accomplished, and she was enthralled with her success. While beading it, she had to free herself from anxiety and focus simply on the delight of working with her hands and making a thing of beauty. She put her heart and spirit into the necklace, and, wearing it, she felt closer to the sacredness of Peyote Woman. The centerpiece of the necklace was shaped as a peyote bird with its wings formed like a crescent moon. Running along the center of the crescent from end to end was the rainbow path, the peyote road. Hanging from the bird’s tail were three strands of shells. The shawl that was wrapped around her shoulders was also one of her creative endeavors. Her people’s cultural center offered instruction in traditional crafts, which she delighted in learning.
The last item in the box was the membership card for her Native American Church chapter. This card protected her from the mean spiritedness of the dominant society, in particular the federal and state governments. This card gave her the right to have an eagle feather and peyote in her possession. She often wondered why the government did not require other churches to provide their members with cards so they could possess crosses or wine.
She got up and moved over to the sound system and inserted a tape of peyote songs. She sat back down as the music began. The singing of Verdell Primeaux and Johnny Mike flowed around her while she visualized the crescent moon altar with its rainbow road curving along the top. Soaring high overhead was anhinga, its wings outstretched and its long tail spread fan-like. When anhinga half spreads its wings to dry, the line from tip to tip is crescent-shaped, and on the back of the wings the large silvery patches glittering in the sun suggest the crescent moon. Understanding immediately, she let her spirit fly out as it often did during a regular ceremony. She soared high guided by the water bird. ***
Approaching his favorite magic shop, The Empty Hand, Ralph saw a short man emerge from it. The man, who was about Rafé’s height, had his hair braided in a ponytail. An earring dangled from his left earlobe. As they passed each other, Ralph smiled at the message printed in white letters on the man’s red T-shirt: ‘MAGIC IS ALIVE.’
Entering the shop, Ralph paused and watched a magical event unfold. The pink silk handkerchief changed into a blue one, which the red-headed woman pushed into her left fist. Then she threw her left hand outward, opening the fist at the same instance. The handkerchief had vanished.
A young man smiled. “How many silk handkerchiefs come with the routine?” he asked.
“Three in the set, but you can always add more by buying individuals or another set,” responded Alice Moore, owner of The Empty Hand.
The young man nodded and placed some bills on the counter. “I’ll get a set and two extra ones, a yellow and a green.”
After the sale was completed, Ralph greeted the two and glanced around the store. The glass enclosed display counters and wall shelves contained a variety of equipment for magical and comical routines and purposes. Here were treasures for the hobbyist and professional. He always experienced a feeling akin to enchantment while being in the store as if it were a mystical realm, separate from the everyday world, where extraordinary happenings manifested. Whenever he needed to refresh his magical soul, he visited Alice, whom he thought of as a fiery wizard. Memories of his childhood, when feelings of wonder and marvel had shaped his spirit, frequently surged forth during his visits to The Empty Hand.
His first contact with the magical arts occurred when his father took him to see Harry Blackstone, Sr. He was seven years old at the time and still imbued with the world of elves and fairies and wizards. Magic was real, although not often seen in his daily existence. A few months later his mother’s cousin Stewart visited and showed him a vanishing coin effect. He was totally hooked when Stewart brought him along to visit Golden Gate Magic located on the second floor at 617 Market Street. While Stewart examined several routines and discussed them with the owner Tom Dethlafson, he wandered around the shop in a state of enchanted awe.
He strolled over to the book section and browsed the collection. At the moment he was most interested in texts on theory, performance, and staging, something that would trigger his inspiration and imagination. His personal library contained several hundred books on conjuring, and two thirds described routines for specific effects. Now he wanted to absorb all the ideas that he could learn about the broader topic of staging, including setting, lighting, and sound. The sequence of all the routines had to be shaped into an integrated whole. His movements and those of his assistant required a well-timed and harmonious choreography that blended with the overall flow of the act.
The slender proprietor of the magic shop was forty-eight and had become involved in magic when young by watching TV magic shows. She had a Bachelor of Science degree in business, with a major in marketing, and had worked in the corporate world for eleven years. She had first supplemented the income from her regular job in marketing by performing at corporate hospitality suites, sales meetings, and after dinner shows. Gradually, the yearning to become a full time magical performer caused her to change her occupation. She found a part-time marketing position that allowed her to extend her magical career. Adding trade shows to her list of performance options, she left marketing and worked full time as a magician, until she reached a burnout point and decided to establish and reign over her personal enchanted world, The Empty Hand, which she had opened five years previously.
“What are you interested in, Ralph?” Alice walked over to the book section.
“I’m building a theater act, at least fifty minutes long. Anything you can recommend about staging and theory I’ll examine.”
“Is this for the alchemy theme act you’ve been talking about?”
“It is. All sorts of ideas and information have been coming my way. I’ve just started reading a book by Fulcanelli, a famous master alchemist of the twentieth century. His book The Mysteries of the Cathedrals became an underground classic during the 1960s.”
“What’s the one you’re reading now?”
“The Dwellings of the Philosophers. What amazing insights he has. Many of my basic concepts about alchemy have been destroyed and reformed. My way of thinking is undergoing a subtle and far-reaching transformation.”
“What are these insights?”
“First, he demonstrates the difference between chemistry in both its modern guise and its ancient form and the hermetic science, which actually unifies the physical and the spiritual realms. The hermetic tradition with its supposed goals of transmuting lead into gold and concocting a potion for long life did encourage many physical scientists to explore and study nature, and their investigations often led to practical results, but they never attained those twin goals because they focused only on the physical level of nature. Their desire and greed for wealth and power blinded them to the spiritual realm.”
“Do you want me locate a spirit cabinet?” Alice laughed.
“I’m going to require special apparatus. You can suggest some builders. When I have designs prepared, I’ll let you know.”
“Okay. I’ll think about it. But hey, I’ve added some twists to my cups and balls routine I’d like to show you.” Alice moved behind the counter and reached into the display case. She retrieved three cups and a small ball, placing them on a red close-up pad, 11 by 16 inches. She also stocked other sizes and four different colors.
Ralph picked up one of the cups, balancing it in his left hand. “This isn’t one of those plastic with chrome finish sets, is it?” He grasped the red, crocheted ball in his other hand.
“They’re made from spun copper. I like the feel much better,” Alice answered. “For the connoisseur I can special order a set of solid brass cups, but it’s much more expensive.”
The image of the short man wearing the T-shirt entered Ralph’s mind. “Do you sell T-shirts now?” he asked.
“Not yet, but that’s a possibility. Why?”
“I saw a customer leave the shop before I arrived. He was wearing a T-shirt with ‘MAGIC IS ALIVE’ printed on the front.”
“He was leaving here? Ted was the only person in the shop at that time. Are you sure this guy was coming out of here?”
“I was down the street about fifty feet, and it certainly seemed that way.”
“Nope. There was a quiet spell before Ted and then of course you. But hey, I like the idea: T-shirts with magic slogans. I’ll check it out.”
Placing the cup down on the pad, he said, “Please show me the routine.”
“When you give me the ball, I will.”
The mage opened his hand, and a lemon was there instead of the red ball.
Alice laughed. “Is the ball in the lemon? Where’s my paring knife?” She turned toward the shelves behind her.
“Wait, Alice, the ball isn’t in the lemon. It’s here.” He held up his raven basket, a small coiled basket whose mouth was an inch and a quarter in diameter.
She looked at the empty basket. “Where? I don’t see it.”
He reached into the basket and plucked out the red ball, giving it to her.
The front door chimes rang. They both looked over at the new arrival, who was a slender middle-aged man of medium-height and with gray hair.
“Howard. How you doin’?” Alice smiled at him.
He came over and greeted them. Howard Greenstone worked trade shows and was among the top twenty professionals in that field. His well-groomed appearance, charm, and pleasing voice were assets that brought him well-paid and challenging employment. He was Alice’s conduit to gossip and updates from the trade show performance realm. She still missed the excitement of working that venue but not the stress of performing a ten minute routine every half hour for eight hours or more a day, usually three or four days straight.
“You got a quarter, Howard?” Ralph held out the raven basket.
“Can I trust you to get it back?” Howard asked jokingly.
“You might get a lemon instead, Howard.” Alice waved hers.
“Actually, I have one for you, Howard.” Ralph opened his left hand and showed a lemon.
Taking the fruit and smiling, Howard dropped a quarter onto Ralph’s palm. He squeezed and sniffed the lemon. “It smells and feels ripe.”
Ralph placed the quarter into the basket, which was in his right hand. With his left hand he reached into the air and a lemon appeared between his thumb and forefinger. “Another lemon, Alice? Howard?”
They both gestured with their hands, indicating “no thanks.” Ralph then reached into the air with his right hand, and a lemon appeared in it. “There’s a sale on at the Produce Barn on Ocean Avenue. Shasta plans to bake some lemon cookies. Are they good! I’ll bring some over.” He threw the lemon in his right hand into his left and showed his right hand empty. He looked dumbfounded. “I don’t know what happened to your quarter, Howard. The raven basket flew away with it.”
“Keep the change, Ralph. That was an amusing show,” Howard quipped.
Ralph reached over and turned up one of the cups sitting on the mat. Underneath it was the raven basket with Howard’s quarter. He took the coin from the basket. “Here’s your quarter.” As he placed it in Howard’s hand, the coin vanished.
Quickly, Alice turned over another cup. A quarter sat there. Without hesitation her hand took the coin and gave it to Howard. “Here’s your quarter. Put it away before the trickster causes it to disappear again.”
“Say, Ralph, have you been fishing lately?” Howard chuckled as Alice tittered, her hand half-covering her mouth.
The news of his arrest for fishing without a license on Market Street had resounded throughout the magical community, and he was still getting roasted about it.
“I have some special equipment that you might find useful the next time you go fishing. And you won’t even need a bowl of water,” Alice remarked in a helpful tone of voice. She took down from a shelf a fishing rod with line attached. With a practiced swing, she flipped the rod, and the line flew over the counter into the air between Howard and Ralph. Reeling in the line, Alice took a goldfish off the hook and put the fish into a small aquarium sitting on the counter. As they watched the fish swim about, Alice commented, “This rod and tackle are an updated version of Theo Bamberg’s aerial fishing routine.”
Taking the rod from her, Howard inspected it. “Wasn’t it called ‘Okito’s Catching Goldfish in the Air’?”
Ralph had an aha thought, but he remained silent about the intuition. He would think about it later. Instead, he responded, “Did Bamberg or anyone else ever fish in a bowl of water?”
After a short pause Alice answered as she looked inquiringly at Howard, “Not that I know of.”
“You may be the first, Ralph,” Howard remarked.
“Actually, the water created an invisible shield to hide the fish.” Ralph was amused by the continuing interest in his promotional stunt, which the eleven o’clock local news had given a thirty second video slot to.
“That’s an inspiring idea, Ralph.” Alice picked up a foulard from the counter and covered the aquarium with it. “Hokum-pokum,” she chanted. She pulled the foulard off the bowl, shouting, “Behold!”
The water in the aquarium had turned inky black. Alice picked up a business card, thrust it halfway into the murky liquid, and, withdrawing it, showed it was stained black.
Howard cried out, “Alice, will the goldfish survive in that stuff?”
“Don’t worry, Howard.” The fiery wizard quickly covered the bowl with the foulard and chanted, “Sim, sala, bim.” Removing the cloth, she yelled, “Da Da!” The aquarium was again filled with clean water and a happy goldfish was swimming around.
An intuitive tug released a silent aha in Ralph’s mind. The finale of the effect suggested the light in the darkness theme.
Alice noticed that Ralph was focused inward. To give him a jolt she said, “Hey, from apparent emptiness comes great treasures. The idea fits into your alchemical studies, doesn’t it Ralph?” Alice was about to comment further when the door chimes sounded. They all looked over at the entrance as a young woman entered and came to the counter. Alice moved over to the customer while the two men chatted. Ralph described the outline for his alchemical light show. Howard, after listening intently, suggested several ideas that he might find useful. Suddenly remembering that Shasta was waiting for the lemons, he took his leave. As he was departing The Empty Hand, he noticed that Alice was demonstrating the Okito mystery box to her customer.
Walking homeward, Ralph thought about the intuition that had touched him. Was it serendipitous that Alice had caught the connection between emptiness and treasure? Fishing involved such a theme. His father had enjoyed fishing, and the Garlands had often vacationed at Clear Lake in northern California where Keith had taught his sons the ancient craft. Actually, Ralph’s first fishing attempt had been in Golden Gate Park standing at the shoreline of one of the park’s many small ponds. Later they had fished in Lake Merced in the southwestern part of the city.
Fishing is a food-gathering activity that humans have performed for thousands of years, and early-on they had invented tools to assist them in their endeavor. It is also one of those human survival activities that has a hidden philosophic dimension. He had not recognized the spiritual depth of fishing until he had read Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler while in college. At that time he was decoding apparently conventional texts and discovering ideas lurking everywhere.
His intuition had illuminated a hidden link between fishing and his alchemical quest. Real magic was involved. The rod and line were extensions of his body, and these extensions allowed him an entrance into the spiritual realm. A fishing line enters the mysterious water, where treasures abide, and a fish may or may not strike the baited hook. He had spent hours waiting for a strike and going home without ever having had a nibble. A quest into the invisible world can be dangerous and the rewards uncertain. Such a world may appear to be empty yet contain marvels. He needed his body to accomplish the alchemical goal because the link between the realms was physical. Alchemical fishing, he realized, was one stage of the process for making the philosopher’s stone, for catching the golden fish hiding in the mercurial water.
Entering his home, Ralph called out, “Hi. I’m back with the lemons.”
From upstairs Shasta’s voice rang out, “Put them in the kitchen.”
After leaving the lemons on the work counter in the kitchen, he walked into his study, musing about the day’s events. Much strangeness had been occurring in his life; no doubt a sign, but of what? The guy that he thought had been at Alice’s—what was that all about? And this recent feeling of being watched—it came from the depths of his soul. The phrase magic is alive sounded in his mind. Perhaps he should think seriously about its meaning.
He walked to his rocking chair and sat down. Gliding back and forth, he began thinking about his recent weird experiences, seeking the underlying pattern. The fishing image persisted to stir his imagination. Another layer to the symbol was its suggestion of the shamanic world view. The idea of out-of-body experiences came into his mind. The line is the extension or connection of the life line to the soul or double that leaves the body and explores the lower and upper worlds, fishing in the sky or in the water. Does the soul leave the top of the head or the navel, he wondered? Too many questions and no answers. He must continue the quest.
|Hermes Beckons||Chapters||A Seeker Must Be Humble and a Realist||The Way That Can Be Imaged Is Not the Way|