Tim Blanks: Why It’s Time to Believe in Magic Again

Listen. Can you hear it? It’s an alarm call. It’s time to let go and trust in the natural order of all things. It’s time to believe in magic again, writes Tim Blanks in an essay for the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Another Man

Hello World.

I’d be surprised if we got a hello back. It’s been a while since we were listening.

Humankind first saw Earth from outside on 23rd August 1966, when the Lunar Orbiter 1 transmitted a grainy, black-and-white image to the NASA tracking station at Robledo De Chavela, near Madrid, Spain. Distinctly lo-fi, grainy, black-and-white. The photograph that truly redefined our place in space was taken just over two years later, on 24th December 1968, by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders: the Earth rises over the Moon, a blue-green marble adrift in a stygian ocean. “The only colour in the universe,” Anders remembered in an interview on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, the same interview where he conceded that ‘Earthrise’ had shaken his Christian faith. “I became a big buddy of Richard Dawkins,” he said.

So that’s what happens when the World answers back. Anders’ human superstition went weak in the presence of cosmic beauty. It’s a durable and infuriating paradox that the human animal, as it has evolved in our own civilisation at least, fights so hard to defy the natural order. Take your pick from this grab-bag of adjectives to describe Christianity, for instance: authoritarian, intolerant, anti-female, sexually and culturally repressive, guilt-ridden, hypocritical… and anti-natural in its insistence that Man has dominion over Nature. That arrogant self-aggrandisement traces the path to the abyss into which the species currently gazes, barely comprehending its fate.

Can you believe in magic? Hanako, a Japanese Koi, lived for 226 years. Born three decades before the French Revolution, he died on 7th July 1977. Streisand and Kristofferson’s soundtrack for A Star is Born was the UK’s No 1 album, Hot Chocolate’s So You Win Again was the No 1 single. That fish had lived the ultimate reductio ad absurdum. But he wasn’t giving interviews so we don’t know how he felt.

So, do you believe in magic?

A hummingbird flaps its wings up to 70 times per second; its heart rate can reach 1,260 beats per minute. An elephant gestates for 18 months. A lion’s roar can be heard for five miles. The oldest recorded living creature was a quahog clam – 507 years. Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree from California’s White Mountains, is thought to be almost 5,000 years old.

And this: physicists say there are at least ten dimensions. There may be as many as 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy. There are 100,000 miles of blood vessels in an adult human body. The average human brain has about 100 billion neurons. In the last 10,000 years alone, it is estimated that 100 billion human beings have died and far fewer than 0.01 per cent are accounted for.

Anders the astronaut’s photo of Earthrise has been called “a driving force in the environmental movement”. The Earth’s overwhelming isolation highlighted its preciousness. Or its uniqueness (any reality show highlights how fundamental it is for human beings to believe how special each and every one of us is). But any one of those facts is a precious awakening to natural miracles. Link the hummingbird’s wings to the miles of human blood vessels. Only connect. I’m a huge fan of continuums (continua?). All that was, is and will be.

“Climate change renders tribalism an irrelevance. What did I say? We should all be pagans. I think it’s telling that, when the Soviet Union collapsed, paganism in Russia soared. After the horrors of WWI, an astonishing future-pagan youth movement called the Kibbo Kift captured the hearts and minds of a significant sub-section of English society. And now, again, something is coming. Something ghastly, maybe something good” – Tim Blanks

And so we diligently build mechanisms to break those bonds – (anti-)social media merely the latest – to carve ourselves a self-important niche on the riverbank instead of riding the current with every other living thing. Look for similarities with other addicts, not the differences, addiction counsellors advise, because they know how human beings build traps for themselves with their own sense of ‘uniqueness’. The human propensity for addiction is innate. The news cycle is my drug, another fix is just a newsflash away. I can’t bear it. I’m powerless. My higher power is silent.

But it’s not. I simply haven’t been listening. Hello World. We should all be pagans. Glory in nature (paganus, Latin for ‘of or relating to the countryside’). Honour the environment, celebrate the elements. Find community with all life. When I play the Time Machine game (where would you go if you had one?), one of my choices would be the Great Library in Alexandria, accidentally burned to the ground by the Romans in 48BC. Historical continuity between the pre-human world (documentation of which was assiduously gathered on the orders of Alexander the Great) and the ancient world was destroyed. (I say “accidentally” but the Romans were deliberate in their destruction of Druid records, another link with an inconceivably distant past.) I’d need an access-all-areas library card and an expert translator, but it would surely be thrilling to make connections with peoples, places, things that have never been part of my own cultural lexicon. I mean, don’t you think we’re drawn to that scale of community? The family of man. It’s unfortunate that tribalism splintered the idea because it represents something else, something exclusive, defensive, separatist. Trumpisch. Brexitlich. It’s always been mooted that the family of man can only come together when confronted by a universal threat. Hollywood’s alien invasion. Oh, how we laugh. We didn’t need aliens. We were perfectly capable of creating a global bogeyman on our own.

Climate change renders tribalism an irrelevance. What did I say? We should all be pagans. I think it’s telling that, when the Soviet Union collapsed, paganism in Russia soared. After the horrors of WWI, an astonishing future-pagan youth movement called the Kibbo Kift captured the hearts and minds of a significant sub-section of English society. And now, again, something is coming. Something ghastly, maybe something good. I was just handed a leaflet for a young direct action group called @ExtinctionRebellion. David Wallace-Wells, the most lyrical, convincing Cassandra of climate change sees catastrophe everywhere – but also opportunity. “Literally the greatest story ever told,” he enthuses about humankind’s ability to snatch victory from the jaws of environmental defeat. Eco-pagans believe in the possibility of intercession by the fae (spirits of nature, like fairies, pixies, gnomes and elves). Hey, the human beings we see and read about every day aren’t doing so great. I’ll take the fae over Theresa May anytime.

Which highlight the fact that optimism has become a radical choice. The choice of poets, like Guillermo del Toro. He believes we can trace the future in fables. “Nothing is ever entirely lost,” he has said. “Every day we all become the balance of our choices. Do we leave behind a biography or an epitaph?” It’s storytellers like Del Toro, and even Wallace-Wells in his factoidal dystopian lyricism, who have the power to open the doors of perception.

Dr James Xavier, the Man with the X-Ray Eyes, stared into the heavens and saw to the very end of everything, “the eye that sees us all”, staring back at him. I achieved the same effect with Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. Lay on the grass, looked at the night sky, saw streams of colour pouring from the Pleiades towards Earth. According to HP Lovecraft, the Great Old Ones were imprisoned on the Pleiades. They itch to return. Someone’s God knows why they’d want to. Maybe the truth really is out there.

In the meantime, I’m looking in here, at pioneering psychonauts who fearlessly seek revolutions in consciousness. I can highly recommend Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind. And I’m fascinated by Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March, Lady Neidpath, who lives in Beckley Park, known as ‘Brainblood Hall’ from where she wages “a one-woman battle against the massed artillery of the ‘war on drugs’”, according to a recent profile. “Billions of stars, billions of neurons,” she fizzed to Tim Adams from The Observer, as she contemplated a collaboration in Brazil which is using ayahuasca to make neurons fire in a petri dish.

Do you believe in magic? I always wanted to, so I see it everywhere. It’s a useful weakness when you work in the fashion industry. A Jun Takahashi tableau, a Rick Owens ritual, a Raf Simons ceremony… secret ceremonies, all of them. I also see Sparks. Gaia is the primal Mother Earth, worshipped by Neopagans. Accept that the planet is a self-regulatory organism, and heed the words of the Brothers Mael: Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.

Taken from the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Another Man