Hardscrabble #12--January 1995


Letter From Hardscrabble Creek: The Three Magicians

By Chas S. Clifton

Once upon a time there were three magicians. At least they thought they were magicians, and their names were Mike, Phil, and Teresa.

Phil, Teresa, and sometimes Mike lived in the little frame house on Trinket Street in the city whose name was a real-estate developer's lie. Now, obviously some details in this story have been changed because no one tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth in a story about magicians. But it is true that the city's name was a lie, a lie stretching back to the nineteenth century.

In the little frame house on Trinket Street, however, the three magicians did not worry about the lie because they were more worried about money, or rather, its lack. For Teresa had only the part-time clerical job that had sustained her while she was finishing her degree at the university, while Phil worked for very little money at a struggling advertising agency, and Mike managed a struggling used-book store that was not, shall we say, putting peanut butter on the table for him. Often times he would sleep in the store unless Phil and Teresa let him sleep on their sofa, for he could converse about anything and was not a bad cook.

Mike was also the first of them to become a magician. He had lived with three or four other magicians in a two-story house that smelled like cats in a part of the city where most of the houses had been replaced by printing companies, warehouses, auto-repair shops, and nightclubs of changing ethnic complexion. "If that was the way that magicians live," Teresa had thought, "then what's the point?"

But that household had split up, as magickal households so often do, and Mike, as mentioned, ended up sleeping in the back of the bookstore on God Avenue, which is merely a translation of its real name, except for those times when he stayed at Phil and Teresa's house.

So the three magicians decided, with some justification, to do a Big Ritual to improve their situations. They pored for days over volumes of forgotten mystic lore, most notably David Conway's Magic: An Occult Primer (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1973). And so they planned their magickal working.

As it happens, all three of them were born with their natal Suns in Gemini, and--for there must be some truth to this astrology business--they all worked in what could be called "Geminian" occupations: a bookstore manager, a secretary, and an advertising copywriter.

That being the case, clearly a Mercurial ritual was called for, and their books of magick told them all they that needed to know. Well, almost all. They did it on Wednesday, of course, and figured out from the tables of mystic hours that they should begin at something like 9:22 on a bright late-winter morning. Not being a morning person, Teresa was not totally sold on that idea, but it was what the book said to do.

On empty stomachs, they dressed in mercurial colors as much as was possible for economically disadvantaged magicians who did not possess great fortunes, noble lineages, faithful manservants, or any of the other helpful accessories owned by the magicians in the novels of Mr. Dennis Wheatley or Ms. Katherine Kurtz. They anointed their foreheads with the cinnamon-flavored "Mercury" oil that Phil had prepared in a pill bottle, and on their heads they placed circular bands of orange construction paper marked with special sigils that had to do with Mercury. And if you know what a "sigil" is, then you will understand how this was important magick stuff and not an attempt to look like the Friendly Indians in an elementary-school Thanksgiving pageant.

In the living room they carried away the table made of plywood and fruit crates and pushed back the other furniture, which was only an old sofa and some big floor pillows. They made an altar and lit lots and lots of cinnamon-flavored incense sticks. And then they performed the ritual, the one in Latin in Mr. Conway's book, and if you want to know what it sounds like, you may read it there yourself. And they visualized real hard and tried to go to the Qabalistic Sphere of Hod although none of them really could have explained exactly what that was. But the air in the little frame house still seemed sort of sparkling afterwards.

Since they were all three Geminis in Gemini-type jobs, they asked for something equally suitable but more lucrative and satisfying in the same line. Phil was still hoping for a better-paying copywriter job; Teresa wanted to work full-time; and Mike asked that the bookstore make more money, since his pay directly depended on what was in the cash register drawer.

Afterwards, Teresa had to leave for the office, since she worked only in the afternoon. Mike had a few glasses of wine from the big green jug. Eventually Phil persuaded him that it would be a good idea to open the bookstore and that he, Phil, would give him a ride up to God Avenue.

Phil was still pretty naive about the combination of ceremonial magick and alcohol.

That spring their lives did change. When Phil went to apply for a better-paying copywriter job, the universe spun him 90 degrees and he wound up in publishing. The agency that employed Teresa got some federal grant money and promoted her into a more challenging full-time job. And with warmer weather, the bookstore started doing better still. Its owners fired Mike, whose work habits were too erratic, moved it to a new location and had their best year ever.

Phil and Teresa are still together. One evening while they were eating supper, the telephone rang. It was an old acquaintance from the magick days, calling to tell them that Mike had shot himself to death.

They never do rituals in Latin anymore, nor do they think much about what magickal hour it might be. But sometimes when spring snows are melting they remember the sparkling air inside the little house on Trinket Street. And they realize how much they do not know.


Chas S. Clifton lives in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado. He edited Llewellyn Publications' Witchcraft Today series, which included The Modern Craft Movement (1992), Modern Rites of Passage (1993), Witchcraft & Shamanism (1994), and Living Between Two Worlds (1996) and was the co-author with Evan John Jones of Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance. He is now writing a history of American Paganism tentatively titled Her Hidden Children for AltaMira Press.


"Letter from Hardscrabble Creek" is a self-syndicated column furnished on a non-exclusive basis and copyright © 1995 by Chas S. Clifton.

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