#5 Father - Leader - Magician
Elias’s Identity Story
Elias shared three identities with me, as ‘Father’, ‘Leader’, and ‘Magician’. His is a fascinating story of parallel lives in different contexts: a life within an Organisation as a senior leader, and a spiritual journey that inhabits what feels like a very different world. These identities are held within different systems, with limited crossover. In some ways it felt as though one would diminish or deny the other, except in certain narrow contexts.
His spiritual life brings him great joy, and he frames it as a journey of lifelong discovery. His more formal Organisational one has provided him with opportunities to provide space, and support for others to ask their own questions. One feeds the other, even if the details remain clouded and around them both run his emergent identity as a father.
Elias almost chose the word ‘Shaman’ for his magical identity, but felt that whichever word he chose it would probably be mired in cultural contexts. I found great interest just taking his story on face value: shared with humility and conviction, it was an insight into a complex and layered identity.
Father - Leader - Magician
My three identities are as a ‘Father’, a ‘Leader’, and ‘Magician’.
My identity as a magician was the earliest of these three in terms of it’s emergence, and it’s the one most unusual for others to understand.
In this identity, i work ritually with spirits to effect change in the world around me. It’s a mixture of techniques that have varied culturally over time, and has both a scientific and artistic aspect. This work is spiritual as you meet spirits, mingle with them, speak to them: your bodily boundaries blur as your sense of self disintegrates, or foments, becoming more colourful, like a peacock.
When you embark upon this journey it is very deliberate: when you are in the forest at night, doing a ritual, it comes to life in the moment the more time you spend in this paradigm, the more you look at the world like this, the more you realise it is with you everywhere. In magical terms we call this the path of the empty hand: eventually you do not need the dress, the tools, but rather it is with you all the time.
I started my magical path when i was fourteen or fifteen, relatively early. I became a father in my late thirties, where i was at a point where i was about to learn what the empty path journey was like, and in this transition, at this point of my identities evolving, it was confusing to me at times, but it underpins how i feel as a father and a leader, it sits under all my other identities these days.
I just knew that this magical journey would be my life’s work: in the fourteen years up to that point i had felt incredibly naked, so it felt so natural that i would take this path. Perhaps this is how artists feel before they find their art? I recognise that my journey has been different to most of my contemporaries, and i have stayed on this path for longer, for almost thirty years.
Is it a construction or discovery of self? I think in some ways it’s a destruction of the ‘self’ - i learned this path alone, i never took part in any structured activities. It’s a very individual journey. In the first few years you are disintegrating what you are. There are very knock down moments where you see yourself deconstructed. This is very unusual to the western mind. You have to give up on the ideas that you hold and ask ‘what am i?’
You find different answers at different times. My answer today is that you are a small component of an ecology - one branch in a mushroom network. Insignificant. But vital. The question really is ‘are you doing the work you are meant to do?. This leads you to learn.
There is not really a stable single identity:everything is a construct, made up. I share this journey with others who have walked this path. We have all made the experience in our own way. This is a community, a tribe. Across place and time.
The actual identity is the eternal question mark.
In my other identity, as a leader, i have been factually a leader for twenty years now. A lot of people who call themselves ‘leader’ are affected by imposter syndrome. I call myself a leader, and i get my paycheque, but i wonder sometimes if i am living up to what i am meant to be - imposter syndrome is everywhere.
To be a leader is not the notion of a fatherly figure - not the notion of a 1950s where i say i have all the answers. Where i say ‘here is the playbook’, or that i am much more expert in my craft than you.
Rather my identity as a leader is to call a spade a spade - being brutally honest with myself and others. Being clear - what risks do we want to accept or mitigate. It’s a navigation function, not a control one. Orientation and navigation.
To help others to find a way - you have to do this before you can get down to business - the work before that is to establish psychological safety - no matter what your identity - if you want to navigate objectively you must create space where everyone can call the spade the spade!
I don’t have a firm definition of leadership myself: it fluctuates and evolves. It’s what is relevant now in a world that has become chaotic.
Being a leader is something i have learned to do - like most people, it’s a journey that defines you by the people you meet on your path.
You find aspects of their leadership that you find powerful and appealing, and you copy and paste it in your own voice, tone, manner.
It’s an emerging process, co-created by the experiences you have on that path.
Right now it’s specifically in my paid work - my job - because in my paid work, my day job is to find space where we lack orientation or clarity, at an emotional level, a community level, through business decisions etc. Outside of my paid work i really don’t see myself as a leader. My teachers on the magician side invited me to be a teacher in their schools, but i opted against it.
The father or motherly figure with all of the answers is dysfunctional.
There is this huge tension between my identity as a leader and as a magician.
Experiences as a magician are raw and real. As a leader the experiences are incredibly artificial - we all bring constructed versions of ourselves that are neat and clean - all overlaid with a myriad of different motives. I can allow myself, as a magician, to become incredibly raw - down to what really matters.
So my magician challenges the leader in me to be real.
Most trouble you encounter in a business hinges on fear - someone is afraid of something. As a magician you learn about fear - how you feel it and get out of it. My inner magician struggles with this - it’s so elemental.
My leader identity must stop my magician identity being arrogant! We have to walk two paths.
The magician brings a host of solutions to everyday problems, but these solutions are not necessarily invited to come to the table within my western cultural context.
The solutions challenge people to their core and some people don’t accept it: if you work at that raw ontological level, you are all in.
In therapy you stop having the privilege of holding something back - similarly you are all in.
My third identity is as a father, and it is the most scary of the three identities.
As a good magician i fail for myself.and as a leader i fail for people around me who are all grown up and get paid, but as a father, if i fail, it’s close to home and under my skin.
I had a very difficult time with my parents - i grew up very determined, never wanting to have children.
I had cancer and was told that i would be infertile: my wife and i were hesitating at the time as to whether we would have a family, but right then, at the hospital, it was immediately clear to us both that we would try. Me having cancer showed me the value of life. This identity was one that we realised we wanted.
Our daughter is now seven. I do know you are never fully successful as a father - your children will call things out that you did not see when you were there.
There is nothing that i am more afraid of than the tragedy of old age and looking back unable to see the positive plot.
The journey with my daughter is by far the most adventurous - and hard to predict where it will take us.
My journey as magician has shaped my journey as a father.
A year before i had cancer i was working with a spirt: there is a process whereby you can hand yourself over to a spirit. You say “i will become your worker, whatever the cost” - traditionally those people become a priest. So i said that i am willing to work with you in unconditional service - what shall i do - and she said “you need to become a mother”.
I had no idea what that meant! As so often, you do not know what they really mean. Then a year later, through the cancer, i lost a testicle and my testosterone levels dropped, and then i became a father. In my own mind i think i feel about this as being a mother.
This identity as a father is a meandering identity.
As a parent i am here to react to the reality of my child. I do not get to give her a reality - she tells me.
I am left with the riddle of helping her to unravel it. Like a river. You find your way around mountains. When you try to control your risks, that is a foolish undertaking.
Some people know all three of my identities, but in respect to my entire social circle, it’s only a small group.
I was super nervous of letting work colleagues know i was a magician. It’s a big deal for me. I was fearful. Some of my best fiends at work just said ‘it’s no big deal’ .
Perhaps because they cannot understand what that means - or because i was still the same person to them.
I remember a colleague who had chosen not to reveal an identity around their sexual identity and preference, except to a small number of friends - but when they told me, somewhat fearfully, i said ‘i love you as a friend and this makes no difference to me’. I accepted them: sharing the story was a far bigger journey for them to tell, than for me to hear. And i think when i shared my own true self to them, they felt the same. I was still the same person, just perhaps a little more complete to each other.
Why was i nervous?
This has to do with the tension between my inner identity as a magician and my other identity as a leader. I think my magical friends may feel some tension between my organisational and spiritual life, so i keep these identities very separate.
If that wall was publicly torn down i would have a really hard time explaining to people on both sides of the fence. On both sides of my identity, lots of people have stereotypes. With both sides you are left with the unthankful task of dismantling those stereotypes.
It’s interesting because in my role as a leader in a global business i talk about ‘bringing your whole self to work’, but for me i do not think that i need to do that - what matters to me is how i turn up, and the work i do with people
The label is not important. The label does not matter.
That has been journey for me, to reconcile or co-inhabit, my respective identities. I want to be able to bring my magician to work, but i do not need to give it that name.
I make sense of it like this: if i say to work people that i work with spirits, then that is a long journey to make to understanding. But If i tell them about particular experience i have had on that path, we may find common language.
For example: as part of my training i spent 48 hours in a dark room, but as the door closed on me i saw that there were spiders in there and that really freaked me out. But the experience was powerful, i learned to co-exist with the spiders. I realised i could co-exist with the fear, and that is a lesson, and story, that i can share.
If i use magical language, then i challenge them to learn that language, when that is not what they have asked for.
My job is to be a translator.
My tattoos are an extremely important part of my identity: i remember being maybe six, and my older sister was a few years older, and we sat on blanket in front of the shopping centre selling old toys.
We were crazy existed about making some money! So two guys walked past in tank tops, probably thirty years old, just totally cool, with tattoos, quite drunk, and they walked past me like gods.
It was just an epiphany of independence. Heavily tattooed, it opened my heart seeing these two free spirits walk past.
The beginning was there, but once you start you don’t stop!
It was a rebellion against how i experienced my father.
A deliberate attack, breaching the identity wall of who i had been told i had to be.
Who i wanted to be was someone else. By putting that ink into your skin you make that territory your own. No longer the skin of a five year old. But a twenty five year old who can do whatever they want!
I started out with an incredibly intricate design that i worked on myself for two years, and then the tattooist said it was shit and we cannot do that! Instead, he worked with me to get it right.
Each of my tattoos has a spiritual undertone, but they are also decorations.
Are they part of me? Yes they are a part of me in a way, as if you inscribed something onto the leaf of a tree. They are here for this season then gone.
My identity was challenged my whole youth: my father wanted me to be something i could never be. It was twenty years of war.
I did not know what i wanted to be, just what i did not want to be. I just knew where i needed to escape from.
I realised i had to pay the bills, so what to be in the rest of my life?
My identity has been challenged in becoming a father too: how do i hold the ring around the leader, the father, how do i maintain my integrity?
My identity is totally a belief.
The way i think about self is that - imagine an emergency room - doctor inserts a tube with a camera - it captures images in the body of the patient - healthy or not - that is how i think of myself, the top of the tube - capturing impressions of life.
The Doctor is part of me - my job is to send clear images back.
Identity is ephemeral, constructed, made up.
I am not the same person that i used to be. No, i would not say so.
I still have a terribly scared and tearful five year old in me, in my atavistic memory, but also an old man that i have not found or encountered yet. I stand between the two.
I thought i would always be the five year old, but i moved on.
All identities are fragile because they are constructs - in nature - and they are constantly prone to evolve into something else. It’s a matter of being the gardener to my identities. They will move on to be wild things if i do not nurture them.
If we think of a body, that every organism has consciousness, we need to know ourselves.
It’s a problem of what i want myself to be.
Identity is very precious for me: i wake up sometimes and think of my identity as a father or leader, or magician, and it fills me with a deep seated sense of fulfilment. I am in my mid forties right now - i get to be this version of myself right now.
One of my magical experiences was to meet the old man that i will become - we met on a street corner, but we did not speak. In him i saw qualities that are not part of me now, but they will be.
He was severe and gentle. It was clear to me that every life decision will turn me into this man.
My responsibility is to make that old man the kind of person that i will love to be.
Being a magician has so much to do with death. You cannot be it without confronting death. It’s like philosophy in action. The term Voddoo priest would have a more sinister meaning. Magician has become dignified.
Being a magician is hopeful, it’s the most joyful aspect of my life.