plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

‘What 20 years in playwork has taught me, again and again, is that extraordinary things happen in charged moments . . .’

‘We have to know and share the charged moments [so as not to] in some way lose the essence of playfulness that we are supposed to be advocates for.’

Eddie Nuttall (2012), Scribbles from the Noosphere Pt 1
 
 
At an adventure playground, once, I was talking with Ian (of a playwork persuasion) and he told me about the ‘mad magic’ in that place. Attempts to define this magic are futile really: the point of magic is that it’s magic. It’s not of the realm we usually see of the world. Except it is a part of the world, this place and planet we inhabit, the universe no less. We’re all a part of it, not apart.

I don’t wish to try to finely define magic here, strip it to its bones, but I am curious to dig a little deeper. Bear with me: this could get convoluted.

Magic is here. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either the mystic force that flows everywhere, through everyone and everything, or it’s the practice of focusing forces to make things happen, visible: or it’s both. Primitive culture and religions all around the world believed in magic. It’s still deep down in all of us: in superstition, in wish-fulfilment, in irrational attachment to objects. Magic is here. I’m not talking about illusion or trickery. Magic is of, and in, the world.

There are playwork writers out there who allude to how the act of adults observing children at play breaks ‘the spell’ – the children’s focusing of mystic forces in formation of their play?; or, at least, it changes the play. Perhaps, just perhaps, the act of observing brings the magic out into this world we move around in. Look and you will see. Sometimes, I’ll observe and the magic that is everywhere, the essence, the mystic force, becomes apparent. I spread a watery flow of paint over the hidden candlewaxed message; I sprinkle glitter on the invisible gluesticked marks.

This mystic force, this mana (as the Melanesians called it), in us, in supernatural entities, in objects, is the dark and light matter. In Guinea, western Africa, Portuguese sailors used their word ‘fetish’ to describe the natives’ reverence of certain objects. These objects had supernatural force imbued in them. Rituals were undertaken, and these rituals could make the force attach itself artificially elsewhere: a kind of ‘charging’ process. Incantations, spells if you like, could charge objects with the mystic force: objects like effigies, trinkets, charms, pieces of cloth or wood. Fetish in the reverence of object. Maybe people (person as object revered) can sometimes also be seen in such light of ‘fetish’ . . .

The reverence of the child. The child as object of wonder. The sacred child. Do not break the spell of the play of the child. Do not adulterate the play. The sacred child plays. There is magic here and it must not be disturbed. Playworkers are afflicted by primitive calls.

The Polynesian word ‘taboo’ refers to the sanctity of the ‘charged one’. Do not touch. Stay clear. Revere. Risk ill-effect and misfortune on your spirit if you breach the taboo. In playwork, purists: risk ill-effect on your playworking self – do not touch; do not adulterate; do not sully the play frame by your presence through it; stay in the shadows, phantom one.

Yet . . . the mystic force, the magic, is there all the time in the play. Will it really crumble away with the slightness of our observation?

We don’t, or won’t, always see the magic of the mystic. Do we need to evoke spells and incantations to make it apparent (‘freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated . . .’)? Stay clear of the chosen one. Or do we need to spread the glitter over gluesticked marks by our very observation?

There is mad magic, and mayhem, in the world: of that I’m sure. ‘Belief’ being what it is though, I can’t substantiate this. It’s just something that must be ‘known’. It’s irrational, but then we don’t truly live in a rational world. I touch wood that my words are understood. Magic comes in many forms . . .

A moment from my notebook, November:

I help Freida make sure the sheets stay over the climbing frame dome on this windy day: we do it in layers and the sheets stick and mould well to the frame when the netting goes on top. We’re at the darker end of the garden: the sun has long since set anyway. A little while later, I go over to see if she’s still in there. Quietly I check through a gap in the sheets. She doesn’t notice me or, at least, she doesn’t show that she does. She’s lying on her back, in the semi-dark, playing with a toy that lights up red. She’s on her own. I leave her be. 

As I write, literally as I write, a message comes through from my sister, to the effect of: that blue tennis ball [that my 18 month old nephew and I were playing with on Sunday last] . . . he hasn’t let it go since; even sleeps with it.

A reverence of object: magic imbued and charged within it. Also, though, this message comes in magic: as I write of magic, magic happens, magic is seen, presented to me. It’s a true story of now. It’s weird, but such is also the fabric of the primitive belief.

Extraordinary things happen in charged moments.
 
 

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Comments on: "Magic: mystic force and playwork incantation" (2)

  1. The blue ball – what a beautiful example of magic, real magic.

    And you are right Joel, defining it is impossible; we lose something, if not nearly everything; we take a snapshot of the river that has gone and was never still anyway. I did have a go at ‘framing magic’ in the last chapter of my book, largely because I felt a flat-land system of playwork qualification and training was ‘inoculating the mystical’ in playworkers, as Campbell once said (not about playworkers. though having Joeseph Campbell at Eastbourne might have been interesting).

    It remains true (though not a fact) that there is something there – beyond and within – the frame of playing, something numinous, a point with no point and with no circumference outside of it. If we lose this we lose playwork to modern and postmodern nihilism.

    It is wonderful that you keep it alive with such lucid writing.

    • Thanks, Eddie.

      That flat-land, non-mystical concern about playwork training and qualification also troubles me. For me it’s this magic, mayhem, love, mysticism, all things this way inclined, these ineffable aspects, that are all a part of what I do, what I see, how things are in this Universe. How to teach this? It’s certainly not assessable as ‘knowledge’ in learners. We can’t teach what can’t be taught, we just come to knowing what can be known. Perhaps. I still have a long journey, but I’m on it.

      The thing with magic, as your good self knows, is that I know it’s there, but I can’t make it happen (which is frustrating!) It’s only when I’m open, truly, that I see. None of this writing here is new to you, nor is it intended as such: just trying to get back into the flow of seeing what I know, typing my way back inside . . .

      🙂 You’re appreciated, Eddie.

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