Arthur had come to the conclusion that even after years of dedicated effort, after all of those hours and hours of lonely practice, staring at himself in front of a mirror, watching attentively to micro-adjust his movements and his statements, and despite the feeling that he had succeeded in virtually all of his goals, it just wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t satisfying, not any more. He began to wonder how much it had been, ever. It had been engrossing, at least. With the assistance of online videos and books and focused attention and innumerable repetitions, he had managed to master the subtle sleight-of-hand movements that were required to perform almost all of the magician’s tricks that he had ever seen performed. He could produce a specific playing card or a variety of other objects seemingly out of thin air. He could make small solid objects appear out of, or disappear into, a handkerchief or a hat or an observer’s pocket with invisible ease and without even thinking about his actions. Nobody who watched him could tell how he managed any of these subterfuges, and he still enjoyed the looks of open-mouthed astonishment and disbelief and perplexity that he regularly saw on the faces of his audiences and appreciated the small degree of local fame that he had achieved. Performance always brought positive feelings, no matter how small the crowd. But he had begun to realize that it wasn’t enough. For one thing, he always knew that, however impressed his audiences may be, it just wasn’t real. It was always a fake, a deceit hidden by body movements. It wasn’t authentic magic. Maybe, he thought, he wanted once or twice to be amazed himself.
What Arthur finally decided he wanted, what he hoped to achieve, was more, much more than tricks. He wanted something that violated the laws of physics or the prohibitive limits of resource realities. He wanted to be able to wave a wand or his open hand sideways in front of his body and proclaim some exotic mysterious phrase and see, as a result, a physical object change in form or appear out of thin air, preferably without the usual distractions such as the intervening puff of opaque smoke. “Abracosina!” he would cry while visualizing roast beef and mashed potatoes, and his dinner would appear, plated and ready to eat, a fork and knife at its side. “Lavasuto,” he would whisper, quietly but authoritatively after he had finished eating, with a slight uncurling of his fingers, and the dirty dishes would float gently away from the table, wash and dry themselves, and slip away neatly into their places in the cupboard. What good is magic, he argued to himself, if it doesn’t make your life easier? Significantly easier. But then he thought that perhaps such examples were too mundane to be considered as applications for the use of true magic. What, though, would it be like to be able to make a real difference, to construct or rebuild homes or repair cars or save people from injury? What would it be like to effortlessly feed hundreds of homeless, to turn water into wine? “Or,” he smiled, “soda into beer?” That would indeed be magic. Real magic, he told himself, should be miraculous!
Arthur decided that the answer was to be found in research into the only disciplines that were commonly regarded as being capable of magic of the type he would consider real. What he needed was sorcery or witchcraft, what were commonly referred to as the dark arts. Maybe he needed the assistance of supernatural beings, angels or demons who could access the powers that were hidden out of reach of normal everyday existence and the beyond the knowledge of normal individuals, of Muggles. For a few months he devoted his spare time to reading many of the works of H.P. Lovecraft and of his Gothic sources of inspiration; Edgar Allen Poe, Matthew Lewis, and Ann Radcliffe. There he found descriptions of the kinds of events and powers that he was hoping for, whether for good or evil, but he soon tired of all these works and rejected them as useless, interesting, as were the Harry Potter books, but entirely fictional and thus irrelevant. He had to admit that what was running through his mind frequently as he read these works were the fanciful images from Disney’s animated Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Mickey Mouse. The conclusion he came to was that these authors had active imaginations but no real experience of the kind that would help anyone else duplicate the stories they told. In short, they had been a waste of time.
What was needed was a change of focus. He diverted his research into another very different direction indicated by new online searches. That meant obtaining copies of grimoires, traditional spell-books such as the Key of Solomon and the Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Heinrich Agrippa and a few different versions of the Wiccan Book of Shadows. He cleared a corner of his bedroom and set up a shrine with a solid rosewood bookshelf, planks untainted by stains or vanishes or paints. The spell circle, big enough for him to sit in, was defined by woven strips of switch grass and a large number of those short votive candles that burn for hours in small glass containers. With the lights off, it was the perfect setting for concentrating on whatever spells he could attempt and the whatever potential results they could create.
His research pointed toward the importance of amulets, talismans, fetishes, charms; the name was unimportant. What was important were the words that were uttered in conjunction with manipulating one or more of these ritual objects, and, of course, the shape and imagery of the object itself. The proper vocal inflections, the verbal tone, sincere and solemn, would probably also be important. Finding the correct combination would take some experimentation, just as sleight of hand had taken hours and hours of practice. It seemed that objects of certain shapes were most significant, with the best options ovoid, others rounded abstract imitations of the human figure. Also important were the specific materials that comprised the object; there were mentions of quartz crystal, jade, opal, magnetite, obsidian, cast iron, gold, copper, soapstone, turquoise, ivory, and even some forms of ironwood. Fortunately for his budget it didn’t necessarily have to be an expensive substance; the critical characteristics were solidity and purity and personal resonance. Many of these items, especially in the Medieval traditions, also incorporated astrological symbols as engraved images. These could include symbols of the Zodiac, those derived from Hellenistic representations of constellations, or the vedic symbols of the Jyotisha system, or the animal designs used in Tibetan disciplines or, less often, the hieroglyphs of the Egyptian dynastic world. It was all a bit overwhelming, especially since he had not found the forms he wanted in purchased items and felt he would have to fashion each of these pieces himself in order to build the appropriate spiritual connection between the potential worshipper (himself) and the eternal soul of the charmed object. He soon had invested a bit too much of his income in a set of power tools, including hardened chisels and a rock polisher and grinders of various sizes and began spending late nights starting with rough chunks of solid rock slightly smaller than his closed fist, and working them down into smooth rounded shapes that he could caress in one hand while he meditated and concentrated.
The problem was that Arthur still didn’t know what to say or what to think while he sat in his circle in the semi-darkness surrounded by small flickering candles, closely holding his chosen talisman. He knew that others called on specific ancient deities or biblical demons or fallen angels, maybe Ares or Asmodeus or Beelzebub or Lillith or Mephistopheles or the Succubus or Tyche. Maybe he should go to Hermes, the messenger, and let him decide who should get his requests. Isn’t that the job of a courier? Or maybe directly address Hecate, the goddess of sorcery and magic. According to some texts, certain deities should only be contacted during the reign of specific astrological signs, and then only with the use of one specific type of his many sacred objects? And it was apparently common with some sources to address such powerful personages with some sort of pseudo-medieval wording, using thou and thine and wouldst and mote, as if the gods and demons were able to understand English but were stuck in the fourteenth century. Arthur preferred the straightforward spell language of modern Wiccans, but wondered if that might be seen as dismissive, an attitude that would offend? His other disappointment was that the Wiccan spells only addressed such things as improved health, reduced pain, better personal relationships. Vague goals, no real magic of the type he wanted. Maybe, perhaps, he should find other deities or demons and address them in ancient Greek or Latin phrases? Or, gods forbid, in Aramaic or Amharic or Ge’ez or Tigrinya or … R’lyehian? Who knew?
Perhaps it was his lack of experience or his methods or his uncertainty or attitude, or all of the above, but none of Arthur’s attempts to address a supernatural presence, the hours spent seated on the floor in the near-dark, ever elicited a noticeable response. The local practitioners that he contacted were mostly willing to discuss his questions, at least once he had demonstrated that he had done his homework and offered to meet them at a restaurant or tea shop, often with him paying the bill, but their advice was, in ways similar to what he had found in the grimoires, uncomfortably variable and too often contradictory. All he did was waste a lot more time and money, to add to what he had already spent on candles and books and rocks.
Well, maybe it wasn’t an entire waste, he eventually told himself; he had certainly learned a great deal about the arcane world of the supernatural and its practitioners. The whole thing just began to seem much too complex and uncertain. And maybe even ineffective, another set of tricks, this time a sleight of mind. And it seemed to be no more of a path toward what he wanted from magic than the illusions he had mastered, with the added limitation that this new path was a solitary one, with none of the positive feedback that had once been provided by audience acclaim. Maybe, he decided, it was time to return to cards and distractive patter and hidden objects. At least now he had more information to add to his comments about angels and demons and historic documents, exotic details that he could use to spice up his performances. It wasn’t really a loss. It might even make it all more fun.