Everybody has probably wanted, at some point, to become a superhero — and Doctor Strange, like Batman, is one of the rare superheroes that you conceivably could become.
Every kid who grew up reading Batman comics probably had the genius idea that if they just suffered some insane tragedy, did enough pushups and then somehow got rich enough to buy experimental military weaponry, they too could become the Bat and strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Likewise, Doctor Strange didn't get his powers from being an alien, a mutant, being bitten by a radioactive insect or some other impossible-to-replicate scenario.
Doctor Strange Got His Skills By Putting His 10,000 Hours Of Practice Into Learning The Occult
Which, believe it or not, is quite possible to replicate. This doesn't let you shoot fireballs out of your hands, unfortunately, but it does let you do all kinds of amusing and enlightening things with your own mind, so there’s that.
As a kid I obsessed over the idea of finding some way, any way, to become a superhero. In the '80s, comics still had back pages that sold all kinds of novelty items: giant model submarines, inflatable dinosaurs, x-ray specs — and often, enticingly and perhaps irresponsibly, books on mastering hypnosis and other strange mental powers.
I became convinced that these mail-away books would open the door to actual superpowers ... and wouldn't they be impressed at school then, particularly the girls?
My Early Interest Turned Into A Lifetime's Work
As a teenager I graduated to studying the actual occult — again prompted by comics, in this case those of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, who incorporated more serious "magical" material into their writing.
Like Doctor Strange, I soon immersed myself in the bewildering, fascinating and seductive world of chaos magic, Hermeticism, Kabbalism, Gnosticism, heavy meditation, yoga, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and lots more, while always maintaining a skeptical and even cynical approach. To my surprise, I soon found they were a big stack of methods for causing really weird — and often useful — things to happen within my own mind.
I Found It Was Actually Quite Easy To Replicate The Claimed Abilities Of Ancient Shamans
For instance, astral projection, divination, summoning spirits, speaking to gods and so on. It was just that all of these experiences took place within the province of the mind, much like dreams or psychedelic trips.
On the other hand, these experiments often had the tangential effect of seeming to cause bizarre coincidences and synchronicities in the real world (as if by magic!). Some of them could be explained away as confirmation bias, but some seemed to really stretch the limits of rational explanation.
Just like Doctor Strange in the new film, this quest soon led me to Kathmandu, Nepal, where I spent time after college studying as an apprentice shaman in the Himalayan mountains. Kathmandu — which is now struggling to rebuild after the 2015 earthquake and desperately needs help — is a purely occult city, which has been the home of shamanism, Tantrism, Tibetan Buddhism and the rest of the vibrant, psychedelic branches of Eastern mysticism for two Millennia.
If you want to find real magic, Kathmandu is the place to go.
Many Depictions Of Magic In The 'Doctor Strange' Film Are Fairly Accurate
Although reality doesn't have the special effects budget of Marvel films, Doctor Strange gets the basics right.
Stephen Strange learns magic from a guru — the Ancient One — which is usually an important part of studying; just like learning any other skill, having a mentor lets you make faster progress and avoid mistakes. Astral projection, as depicted in the film, is also real, although it is closer to a waking dream or guided meditation than an actual out-of-body experience (though these exist as well).
Doctor Strange activates his magical abilities with hand gestures, which are called mudras in Sanskrit — such gestures are used in advanced yoga and can potently influence the nervous system. Levitation is not real, although you can definitely get so high through meditation and yoga that you feel like you're flying. (The Maharishi, the Beatles' guru, claimed that levitation literally exists, but I'll believe it when I see it.)
Most impressively, Strange's Eye of Agamotto allows him to manipulate probability and time — this is actually exactly how magic works (though again, without the SFX).
It Is Quite Feasible To Do Magic To Influence Events In Your Life
However, the results don't manifest out of thin air or in any way that breaks the rules of the real world. They manifest through pathways of coincidence and synchronicity.
As a very basic example, a ritual done to get a job may coincidentally lead you to having a conversation with somebody who suggests an opening at a company.
Incidentally, I have long thought that much of "magic" can actually be explained as human beings' rudimentary ability to manipulate and orient themselves within time — divination through Tarot and I Ching, for instance, allows us a prop to momentarily get out of our own heads and intuitively grasp future events, while ritual magic allows us to plant seeds in our unconscious that grow into future experiences.
Clearly The Writers Of This Film Have Had Similar Ideas
And I’m not surprised. Hollywood is saturated with people interested in mysticism and the occult, and always has been.
To pass on what I've learned, I've created an online school — Magick.Me — that condenses all of this material into short video lectures that will train you in magic just as surely as Doctor Strange learns from the Ancient One, and all without having to get immunizations and make the slog to the Himalayas.
As the late scientist Dr. John C. Lilly (like Strange, a physician-turned-psychonaut) put it, "In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally."
Doctor Strange opens in theaters on November 4th.