Everyone is searching for the meaning of life. Not so much life in general, but of their own life. They want to know why they exist and what they are supposed to do with existence. They want to feel productive and fulfilled. Most of all, they want to be happy.
Living in a modern city is like being trapped in a great machine, whirled round by cogs and gears, shunted from place to place in repetitious patterns, never given an explanation for what is happening. The machine allows only one option to the poor rats racing madly inside its works. Either they get into step with the gears and push rods, or they are ground into hamburger. The machine has no time for pity.
Those who succumb to the remorseless song of steel become slaves, not to other men, but to the cold, calculating god of contemporary society—a god I have christened Mekanos—whose only criterion is efficiency. Never mind that a job serves no human function, so long as it is efficiently done. Never mind that it does nothing for the soul, so long as it is in lockstep with the social order. I am not preaching ideology here—Mekanos, like Janus, has two faces: one Uncle Sam, the other Karl Marx.
Those who opt out of the system or who cannot manage to march in step with it, are destroyed. For a while they may enjoy frolicking between the assembly lines while their more timid peers toil away. But sooner or later their feet slip, and like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times are consumed by the social process. They end up in prisons, in mental hospitals, or in coffins.
Magic is the doorway out of the machine. It is not a door that leads to another physical place because the machine is a state of mind, and no one can escape from themselves. Rather, it opens a new awareness of the world where dreams can happen, and where human actions do have meaning. It opens on hope and purpose.
People are not fools. If they are told that the world is gray and heartless, that their lives are insignificant, that the dreams they dream and the feelings they feel are trivial, and if they believe this lie, they will experience a sense of futility. But if they realize that they are important to the world, indeed its very heart, and that every thought and feeling they have is significant, not only in their own lives but to all life, and if it is pointed out to them that, at least potentially, they have complete and utter control over their own lives, they will experience a great sense of freedom.
Ritual is a mechanism for changing all four levels of being: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. We all know that our feelings affect our physical health and condition. We know that our minds, both the part we see and the part we do not see, control our feelings. What many do not realize is that there is a fourth level of spirit that determines the state of our minds. Normal activities deny the existence of this level of spirit, thereby denying access to it. If spirit is out of balance, the mind is affected, giving a jaundiced assessment of the world. If the mind is warped, the feelings will be unhappy. If the emotions are hurtful, health will suffer.
Through magic a channel of awareness can be opened between the spirit or Higher Self, and the ego or ordinary self, allowing the Higher Self, which always knows who it is and what it wants to do, to direct and shape the ego, thereby restoring a balance to the emotions and improving health. And because these four levels are intimately connected in a reciprocal way, improved health can restore optimism, which can in turn provide a rosier outlook on life.
The greatest benefit of ritual may be, not its limitless power of transformation, but the way it allows those who practice it to perceive value in things they already possess, whether these are the forests and lakes around them, or the people in their lives. To see the world magically is to see it in color, where before everything was black and white.