One of the thing magic does for us is identify our “secret center,” the bit of us that is really ourselves. It’s easy to say Atma is Brahman (Self is God) but saying it doesn’t help. In fact, saying it might hurt: if you walk around content in your divine nature, then what happens when your headlight burns out? What happens when you get indigestion? Suddenly you move from God to frustration.
Magic, however, shows us what we’ve got on the inside, so that we have a central perspective. Suddenly, something boring and quotidian and not at all magical happens. A headlight burns out, say. If you live on the edge of the onion, you get frustrated, resent having to get a replacement, become annoyed and swear when you try to pry out the old one in the cold as it gets dark and suddenly you’re grumbling and muttering and you’ve lost the center.
But with magic, we might learn to live in the center of the onion. Suddenly, something inconvenient like that happens, we look at our burned out lightbulb and feel frustrated and annoyed that we need to go to the store — but we know that frustration and annoyance isn’t really the true self. The true self is watching the edge of the onion react with the soup, but the center’s still the same as it ever was.
Some people live entirely on the edge of the onion as it dissolves into the soup. These are people who take their feeling of panic at the sight of a stranger, and make it a racist identity. Or they find one truth and make it a religion. Or they panic and grit their teeth. Nothing wrong with them: it’s easy to go back there, too. But if you live only on the edge of the onion, the soup’s a mystery. It’s random carrots and celery and you have no idea what’s going on on the other side of the onion.
But if you live in the center of the onion, the whole soup is around you and you can see it laid out. You can see the pot, see the ingredients, see how they fit together to make soup, and you don’t panic.