I once nearly chewed out my own eyeball trying to figure out what energy is. In an ill-begotten essay rough draft, I used a scene a college professor flagged as pretentious where I shuffled around from my computer to my ex, using the kinetic use of the wheels on my chair as an illustration.

It really was a losing proposition: the professor was grading a rough draft I wrote in class, on the spot. It was an exercise designed to humiliate.  Indeed, the red scribbles on my page embarrassed me so much I dropped the subject altogether. Also, the essay was terrible.

He was right, I was being pretentious – and the problem on the page was that I didn’t know what in the hell I was talking about. I still consider the technique of grading free writing a dirty, low-down trick.

I also never did figure out what energy was. I still don’t know, and that makes me feel awkward when I talk about magic. We mention all this stuff about “energies’” and “spirits.” Sometimes we bring it into something a touch more concrete, by mentioning vibrations that revolve around light and sound.  I’m among those that prefer not to stray too far from physics – the laws of magic must follow the laws of nature, and that includes working with the laws of human nature. To force your will is to break something irreparably, but to work gently within to without invites what you work with to cooperate, to lend its energy, to work with you in the reshaping of reality. But if it’s lending that energy – what IS that energy, that star stuff, that random filler word that isn’t quite Chi and isn’t quite electric current?

If pulling from Encylopedia Britannica might do me any good, energy is defined as “the capacity for doing work.” This makes it sound like the alchemists, Hermeticists, and Thelemites then work right along the line with various collective pursuits of the Great Work. I do think of my own energy levels within the atomic physics definition – how much work can I do? How much am I physically and mentally able to accomplish? Grounding and centering is phrased as such to refer to a current, to the connection of energies that flow through us, and not just what we naturally contain.

What continues to make energy and its processes difficult for me is its ephemeral nature. I’m Wiccan with polytheist/animist leanings; abstractions and ambivalence give me trouble and that’s why I reframe them. I’m less invested in whether the God/ess(es) are any certain way or pantheon – I’m more concerned with getting it all into a framework I can direct the energy of my belief to in a given situation. It’s not about what is to me – it’s about what works. If energy is the capacity for work,  then I’ve just brought myself right back around in a circle again.

I’m suddenly gaining some empathy for my dear departed fox terrier chasing  his tail.

Energy, by being defined as a capacity, is a noun…for a verb. It’s an action – but it’s also a force of being. We can influence and change energy, but it can also sneak up and pounce on us with a lightning strike or a sudden impact when an asteroid comes careening out of the sky. It is, without exception, in absolutely everything, living, dead, never alive in the first place. If it’s still, it’s potential. If it’s active, it’s kinetic.  It lies within air (wind), sun (fire), water (hydro-power and emotional motivation) and earth (through sheer, impassive potential.)

It’s always, always, always THERE. It prevails beyond the power of death and taxes.

With energy, I don’t think anyone knows exactly what it is, and what pushes it into motion can differ from one moment to the next – and a force had to start that into motion, like endless dominoes tipping over into infinity.

So I don’t know what energy is, but I know it’s the single major element in absolutely everything I do from brushing my teeth to casting a spell. I know it’s not infinite, but it can be renewed. Renewal seems to work best by rotating and even staggering the sources I draw from, whether that’s variety in my diet or hugging a different tree every day.

But energy is something I can’t pinpoint to explain when it’s still, and when it’s in motion, it’s slipping past me too fast for me to grasp.

I just know it’s there, and it’s important, and we can measure it and feel it, even though we can only see, hear, smell, taste or touch its byproducts. When When I talk about energy, the above is what I mean – it’s all “sort of” until you come to your own intuitive understanding of how you experience it.