We all live in our own stories, and it is central to magickal practice that where we put our energy helps manifest out lives. How we see ourselves and our actions becomes a script, a thought pattern that influences our lives. Sometimes these stories are beneficial. They give us inspiration and a goals to achieve. Other times, thought patterns of failure or helplessness can hold us back.
Often, the source of these thought patterns comes from literature, film, and pop culture. Characters from story provide something to compare our lives to. Witness the multiple quizzes that circulate social media promising to tell us which Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Game of Thrones character we “really are.” Users eat these quizzes up, perhaps showing some internal need to identify with someone else’s story.
Any good story can provide characters to inspire us. They help us reflect on our lives and bring some context to our own ways of living. New stories keep coming to bring us new insights and context. One of the most popular stories to enthrall people recently is the hip-hop inspired Broadway musical Hamilton. Based on the seemingly uninteresting story of the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, Hamilton delivers a beautiful panoply of fascinating characters with competing motivations, offering a large arsenal of stories for viewers and listeners to identify with.
Perhaps part of the musical’s popularity, and certainly part of what provides an extra layer of interest in its characters is that these people truly lived. They are not fictional characters. They navigated their own lives, struggled and fought with each other, made gigantic mistakes, and yet they did something extraordinary by creating a brand new nation from scratch. Each one has a story; each one has a motivation; each one has real, not fictional struggles, which makes their lives more real to us and can give us both inspiration for a well-lived life and warnings against the obstacles to that life.
This may be best stated by lyrics that were removed from the final show, but sung by The Roots in the opening of the Hamilton Mixtape. In the song “No John Trumbull,” we are confronted with the fact that our founding fathers were not the patient and virtuous Greek god types we see in Trumbull’s famous painting depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
You ever see a painting by John Trumbull?
Founding fathers in a line, looking all humble
Patiently waiting to sign a declaration and start a nation
No sign of disagreement, not one grumble
The reality is messier and richer, kids
The reality is not a pretty picture, kids
Every cabinet meeting is like a full on rumble
What you’re about to witness is no John Trumbull
Not depicted in Trumbull’s serene painting are the painful conflicts among the founders, nor each person’s internal struggles. Hamilton provides both of these in spades, and they can be inspirational for any modern viewer. Whether or not you are familiar, you are probably familiar with some of these thought patterns. They may be within you, or they may be in someone you know. They may help a life, and therefore be something to be encouraged, or they may provide a hindrance to living our best lives. So here are some thoughts about these real people, and their prevailing thought patterns according to this immensely popular musical.
Alexander Hamilton: “In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet.” Hamilton shoots from obscure poverty to fame and prestige because of the hurricane that almost killed him. His essay describing his experience inspires charity, which gets him to New York and begins his improbable journey to power. From there, he lives his life in constant chaos, seeking conflict and goading his enemies. From age 17, his life is a hurricane destroying every obstacle. His only peace is found in chaos, and he seems to seek it out “nonstop.” In our social media fueled world, it seems that so many of us seek discord and drama and their lives manifest exactly that.
Aaron Burr: “Talk less, smile more.” Hamilton’s executioner is also his foil. He seeks peace and compromise at all times, sometimes at his own expense. Misunderstood by the more opinionated characters, Burr seems to always be on the outside of every group. Some of us are peace-seekers and adverse to confrontation, a fact that angers our more opinionated friends. Of course, when peace fails and confrontation finds these folks, they struggle and make mistakes, as Burr does before he finally acknowledges, “now I’m the villain in your history.”
George Washington: “History has its eyes on you.” The great leader is always conscious that his actions have lasting consequences, even when he is attacked for considering them. This is the thought pattern of those who, like a military general, see the larger picture and contemplate the consequences of everything they do.
Marquis de Lafayette: “I’m taking this horse by the reins, making these redcoats redder with bloodstains.” Lafayette is fearless and brilliant. He faces danger and always comes out on top. This pattern can be seen in people who almost seem to have a golden touch and act with courage in whatever they take on.
Hercules Mulligan: “We in the shit now, somebody’s gotta shovel it.” The larger than life Mulligan isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. As a spy, he knee deep in his enemies. Especially in the world of social media, it is common for people to get stuck in the misdeeds of those they disagree with instead of living their own lives.
John Laurence: “I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight.” Laurence is a brave and idealistic soldier, yet he dies needlessly attacking the British after the war is basically over. Some of us are unable to pick and choose our battles effectively and run directly even to the most futile and fruitless of fights.
Eliza Hamilton: “That would be enough.” Eliza is her husband’s anchor and opposite. Not ambitious, she yearns for a quiet life. While this thought pattern can weigh us down, it can also provide a strong foundation for our ambitious loved ones.
Angelica Schuyler: “You want a revolution, I want a revelation.” Brilliant and self-sacrificing, Eliza’s sister seeks mental stimulation to the point where intelligence in others is sexually attractive to her. Unfortunately for her, her quest has to be balanced against her own line, “Nice going, Angelica, he was right. You will never be satisfied.” Many among us seek the next big thing, but find it always outside our grasp instead of being satisfied with what we have.
Charles Lee: “I’m a general, whee!” We’re not all great leaders, and some of us are more interested in power and glory than doing the difficult work.
King George III: “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” This thought pattern is shown by those with an exaggerated image of their own importance who are unable to see their own faults in any situation, leading them to just make that situation worse.
Thomas Jefferson: “The emperor has no clothes.” Hamilton’s enemy portrays him as a “vacuous mass,” an unrealistic dandy, but Jefferson is the actual overdressed and under-accomplished aristocrat in this story. His character echoes those of us who suffer from what is commonly known as “impostor syndrome” or those who project their own faults onto others.
James Madison: “Get in the weeds, look for the seeds of Hamilton’s misdeeds.” Madison doesn’t do direct confrontation. He’s more like that negative guy in your office who spreads harmful gossip about the co-workers he doesn’t like. Some people enjoy acting as poison pill, but don’t have the courage to confront those they dislike.
Philip Hamilton: “Even before we got to ten, I was aiming for the sky.” Philip’s innocence and desire to live up to his father’s example give him too much bravado and trust in others, with tragic consequences. In our lives, there are those whose trust in the world allow them to be walked over by those who are willing to break the rules.
Maria Reynolds: “Just give him what he wants and you can have me.” It’s unclear if Hamilton’s mistress was a conscious part of the sex scandal that plagued him. She debases herself for either Hamilton’s attention or her husband’s financial gain. Some of us yield our own wills to others for purposes that do not serve us.
James Reynolds: “Uh oh, you made the wrong sucker a cuckold, so time to pay the piper for the pants you unbuckled.” Manipulative and dishonest, Reynolds is willing to sell his wife for profit. Some of us are more interested in results than methods.
All of these thought patterns can live within us and cause us to live our lives in ways that manifest them. Like us, none of these characters are truly evil nor truly good. They simply live with their own stories that fuel the way they live their lives. And, of course, it is as simplistic to boil each of them down to one line as it is to boil ourselves down to one line.
But our stories motivate our lives. What is your story? Who tells your story? How is it fueling what manifests in your life? None of us is perfect like a John Trumbull painting, but neither were the subjects of his artwork, yet many of them lived good, meaningful, accomplished lives. Choosing our own stories can help us manifest excellence, even if we are no John Trumbull.