Pop Culture
May 08, 2023, 05:55AM

Magic Hat Day

Some reflections on King Charles III’s coronation.

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I was a postal worker for a number of years, from 2005 to 2018. I used to drive to work, from Whitstable to Canterbury, along Tyler Hill Road. It’s this lovely, quiet, bendy country lane that cuts between Blean and Canterbury via Tyler Hill. Sometimes it’s single track, so you have to pull to the side of the road to allow other cars to pass.

One morning, I was listening to the radio in that half-distracted way you do when driving. I had work on my mind, the curve of the road ahead, the red blaze of the sunrise across the horizon, the prospect of traffic coming round the bend, the half-remembered residue of last night’s dreams, all the usual clutter. I wasn’t fully awake.

There was an item on about the Royal Family. Thinking back, it must’ve been about the wedding of Prince Harry to Megan Markle. I can’t remember the details, just my reaction. I let out a big, audible sigh. Why do people still buy into this shit? There are wars going on, a collapsing economy, the divide between rich and poor is getting wider, climate change is looming on the horizon and the future looks very strange. But what do people want to hear about? Some rich bloke with a title marrying a Hollywood starlet. Big deal.

That’s when it struck me. It’s Magick, I thought. Magic with a K, the way Aleister Crowley spelt it, in order to differentiate it from ordinary stage magic. Ritual Magick. High Magick. Magick on a grand scale. Whether it’s deliberate or not, whether they know they’re doing it or not, the Royal Family  employs magical techniques to get us to absorb this stuff. They’ve cast a spell over the collective soul of the nation. We’ve been bewitched, enchanted, bedazzled. Even an old skeptic like myself isn’t immune. We’re all caught up in the same dramatic myth.

I was born in June 1953, two weeks after the Queen's Coronation. I’m a child of the second Elizabethan age. My Mum, heavily pregnant, would’ve watched it. I think she saw it at my grandparent's house. They were among the first people on their road to have a TV. It was a little black and white screen housed in a weighty cabinet of polished wood in the corner of the room. The whole family and much of the neighborhood gathered in the room together to watch the occasion.

I wonder, now, if my Mum's feelings would’ve pulsed through her blood, through the placenta and into my waiting brain? Was she proud? Was she awe-struck? Did the scene impress her? She was a snob, my Mum. She always thought she should’ve been a princess herself. And seeing the princesses there, with their glittering jewelry, the peers and peeresses with their tiaras, necklaces, and brooches glittering in the lights of the television cameras (somehow enhanced by the black-and-white fuzziness of the picture, this miracle in the living room) would she have imagined that she was there, as one of them? And would that thought, that feeling, have washed through her bloodstream into my bloodstream and from there into my brain—even though there were no words to express it—and filled me with a blush of pride, while the sounds echoed through the room, through the flesh of her belly, through the amniotic fluid, and muffled into my tiny ears as I floated there, upside down, in a state of disembodied bliss?

Meanwhile the scene would’ve imprinted itself on the national consciousness on a psychological level. The young Queen, so gorgeous in her finery, almost like a wedding dress, was like the bride of the nation. As the women admired her, so the men wanted her. It was like the consummation of a long engagement, the hieros gamos of the Commonwealth, a “Chymical Wedding” taking place on a supra-national scale. Not only was the nation marrying her, but the Commonwealth was marrying the nation, with the whole world as our guests.

And I wonder if an erotic charge ran through the nation that day, and if there wasn't a spike in child-birth some nine months later. What else do the bride and groom do on their wedding night? I imagine the whole of Britain, and much of the Commonwealth, was fucking that night.

After that the Queen had kids and she became the Mother of the nation. We shared in her story as part of the national story. Through that story she entered our story, the story of our lives. Such large-scale stories come from an accordingly greater dimension. They go beyond stories and they turn into myths.

Materialists, who think that only the physical world counts for anything, don't recognize the power of myth and symbol. We tell stories to ourselves and each other all the time. Stories are how we construct our relationship to the world. By entering our story, by becoming our myth, the Queen became integral to our lives, whether as loyal subjects or black-sheep republicans is irrelevant. She was there, like spiritual gravity, holding us to the myth.

This is precisely how magic works. By creating a symbol which imposes itself on the imagination it’s possible to alter consciousness, and thereby the world. That's why all attempts by reasonable republicans to remove the Royal Family are doomed. It has nothing to do with reason. Reason works on the conscious mind, magic on the unconscious. What can reason do against the forces of the unconscious? It can circumscribe it. It can classify it. It can read its effects. But it can't change it. Only magic can change it. Only magic can plant symbols, like seeds in the mind, that will take on a life of their own.

That was five years ago now. A lot has changed. We’ve had the Platinum Jubilee and the Queen has died. Charles, her eldest son, has been declared King. The third Caroline era has begun.

What was clear in the build-up to the moment is how conscious the Royals are that what they are engaged in is ritual magic. Take a look at the invitation to the coronation, for example. It’s woven with ritual symbolism, the most prominent of which is the Green Man at the bottom. You can’t get more mythic than that: a symbol of renewal and rebirth, associated with May Day and the coming of spring. Also the Royal Crest, a rampant lion and a unicorn standing either side of a shield. The lion represents marshal power, which the monarchy wields in times of war. This still applies. The Royal Prerogative lends this monarchical power to the Prime Minister who is, through this mechanism, free to declare war without Parliamentary approval. The unicorn, meanwhile, is in chains. What does this mean? Some people say that it represents magical power, kept in check by the force of the royal majesty.

Prior to the ceremony a number of ritual objects were assembled, the most important of which is the Stone of Scone. Also known as the Stone of Destiny this is regarded as a sacred symbol of Scotland's monarchy and nationhood. King Edward I of England seized the stone from the Scots in 1296, and it was incorporated into the coronation throne he ordered in 1308 for London's Westminster Abbey. That throne has been used in the coronation ceremonies of all British monarchs since Henry IV in 1399. It was returned to Scotland on a permanent basis in 1996, but is still required for the coronation. For the last 25 years it has been kept in Edinburgh Castle but has been moved to Westminster in a ceremonial procession involving Joseph Morrow, the Lord Lyon King of Arms and the monarch’s representative in Scotland.

You can’t get much more magical than this: a magic stone attached to a magic chair on which a magic man will sit while they place a magic hat upon his head after anointing him with magic oil. It’s at this point that the man assumes the symbolic role of King: the nation’s health and well-being becomes identified with the person of the King. The man becomes the nation.

Also present at the ceremony was Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, who carried the Sword of Spiritual Justice, Long Houghton of Richmond, with the Sword of Temporal Justice, and Air Chief Marshal Lord Peach, with the Sword of Mercy. These are all real swords to which a symbolic meaning has been attached. The ceremony took place after a Lunar Eclipse on Saturn’s Day (Saturday). Saturn’s the god of time, generation, dissolution, abundance, wealth, agriculture, renewal and liberation. Saturn's reign was depicted as a Golden Age of abundance and peace. I don’t know what the astrological interpretation of all of this is, but I’m certain Charles and Camilla will have consulted about it to ensure the best prospects for their future reign.

All of this is very strange. It's archaic, like the remnants of a past age leaking into our modern consciousness. It’s an example of what is known as “Magical Thinking.” That term is generally used pejoratively, as a criticism. It’s associated with superstition, with fallacious, primitive or childish thinking, or mental health issues. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other disorders, engage in magical thinking. At the same time it’s also something that we all do.

I went to see an exhibition of magic, ritual and witchcraft at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford in 2019. At the entrance there was a ladder leaning against the wall. It was only on going past it that you were informed that this was part of the exhibition. It was a graphic display of that well-known superstition about walking under ladders. I spoke to one of the caretakers, and asked how many people walked under the ladder, this being the most direct route? He said very few, but he could tell that even those who did were doing so in a self-consciously defiant way. Hardly anyone was indifferent to its meaning. The idea that objects can be imbued with power, or that ritual actions can have an effect upon the world, is fundamental to how we operate as humans. We’re ritually engaged, even when the ritual is unconscious.

It’s this tendency of human beings, to ascribe symbolic power to objects and read meaning into ritual, that the Royal Family and their advisors are latching onto with their ceremony. The guidebook for the Ashmolean exhibition says this about magical thinking: it “is a powerful applied fantasy… worked out in rituals.” That’s a perfect description of what took place on Saturday.

Follow Chris Stone on Twitter: @ChrisJamesStone


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