Spells worth casting

Purple hat therapies and magic memes

Spells worth casting
Robert Bateman, Three people plucking mandrake, 1870, gouache


Laundry, groceries, cooking, dishes, vacuuming, taking out the trash, yard work, oil change, unclog gutters. Job, mental health, physical health, social life, take the dog to the vet, take yourself to the dentist, catch up on your shows, work on your side project, read, write. Learn more skills. Only you can prevent forest fires.

“New climate models suggest catastrophic—” “New data indicates that we should cut out products containing—” “New research shows that smiling for just ninety seconds a day can—”

Hey bud. Not now, okay? Any other time. Not right now.


I learned the other day during a thunderstorm that dogs are acutely sensitive to static electricity in ways we aren’t. This is why Thundershirts calm them down. Rubbing them with dryer sheets (preferably unscented) helps in a pinch.

Sergei Rachmaninoff dabbled in hypnotherapy. It cured a period of intense writer’s block, allowing him to write his 2nd Piano Concerto, my favorite piece of music. Some of my friends and family members, after certain types of guided breathwork, have found themselves untangling huge swaths of trauma in mere minutes. Shaking, sobbing, the whole nine yards.

Techniques that lie between the slow pickaxe of cognitive behavioral therapy and the dynamite of intense psychedelic journeys are out there. Some are “purple hat therapies,” where a practitioner will edit something that works, adding something functionally insignificant (like a purple hat) to distinguish themselves. But sometimes they still work. The body keeps the score in many ways. The scientific establishment is still catching up to some of them.


The brain notices patterns. Sometimes the patterns mean something more, something deeper, than we realize. Sometimes less. Usually less. Enneagrams, Myers-Briggs personality types, essential oils, a product called “Smartwater Alkaline” that landed a Super Bowl ad with Pete Davidson. On a good day I can turn the other cheek. I can sympathize with the desire for a little magic, some extra agency, in a world that can seem devoid of both. On other days it all gets to me at once. The willful blindness to the awe of the observable universe. The air of being holier than followers of right-leaning nonsense that’s just as nonsensical.

And yet. And yet. For all the things science says about free will, for all the ways we’ve been chipping away at it over the years, there’s something left. I find it most when I meditate. Where our attention goes, something follows; it’s between a tendency and an ability, but we can cultivate it, and it lets us edit how we receive and perceive things. What’s it gonna be? Animosity or compassion? Apathy or curiosity? Keep meditating or get distracted?

Joking aside, there’s power here. Magic power? I lean toward no. Power that’s less “of this world” than most? Of that I’m sure.