Magical Writing

As you probably know, I’m writing a storybook (or several) about magic and faery and cats and things like that. But the thing about a sometime-healer writing about magic is that one already knows that magic is real. So the question arises:

How do you write about magic that is natural and real and potent when fictional magic is usually so much more flashy and… um… misleading?

Having Marzipan’s story pushing at the back of my eyes I knew I’d have to try — and, as is quite common with magic, once a person sets an intention or asks a question, the magic itself immediately starts trying to teach us. It uses magical means, of course, but an untrained observer might call them co-incidence or synchronicity or even (and this is less likely to be said) a chronosynclastic infundibulum. Whatever.

Magical Realism

The Writers’ Workshoppe decided (at just the right time) to offer a class in writing “magical realism”. One important thing I learned at the class was that you could offer some outrageous magic if it was firmly embedded in a lot of detailed reality. You just have to slide the magic and “fantasy” in between the realism with enough down-to-earth detail that it goes almost unnoticed — and the next bit of fantasy can be even more magical and it too will just slide right into the mind without jarring it too much. Do you know why that is?

It’s because humans (and sometimes others) participate in magic all the time, and we’re accustomed to just letting it slide by without notice. In fact, we pretend to ourselves that it either didn’t happen or it happened some other way. So we don’t notice how it sneaks up on us in reality or in a story — embedded in detail and factual information. (This part and the following is my own experience — not the class.)

Think about it: you remember that you want to phone a friend that you haven’t talked to in quite a while. A few minutes later, the friend phones you. Coincidence. Yes. Sure. It can’t be telepathy because telepathy isn’t real. So this is the fantasy we mostly live in — the belief that magic is not real. We’re habituated to that fantasy and we find all sorts of excuses to convince ourselves that telepathy doesn’t happen. We invent words to cover it up — words like coincidence, lucky break, fortuity, synchronicity, and other words of that ilk. It can’t be magic, not our own innate magic. It’s just the way the cookie accidentally crumbles. No?

So in your magical story you begin the shift with small details, like perhaps a yellow flower slowly turning red as a character watches, and you don’t make a big drama with exclamation points and amazed expressions about it. You just move smoothly right on by. A little later you slip another detail in. It’s not important enough to stop and think too much about about it. The reader just accepts it… and moves on. This is preparing the ground of the unconscious, imagining mind — the dreamer, the mystic, the magician — to accept the seeds carelessly dropped and accept them again later on when they sprout and blossom vividly.

Magic isn’t something you turn on and off. Your awareness of it may be awake or asleep, but dreaming or storytelling or being the story, the magic is what holds it together. But they (I’m writing about faery magic, remember, and natural magic as well) had a lot more to teach me than just how to sneak up on magic.

Logic

Things need to make sense — even in magic. Logic is important. Take the “humna” (half faery and half human) in Marzipan’s stories. Faery, as we know (!) exists and vibrates at a different and higher frequency than we do, just like ultra-violet light shines at a frequency that we don’t normally see — our eyes are not built for it. We also know that there is a thing called “entrainment” that happens naturally. If you take two fine crystal glasses and set them beside each other and then gently strike one so it begins ringing, soon the other one is ringing as well. The second glass is entrained with the first because the first is active and the second was passive. (This also happens in the chakra system, but we’ll talk about the results of that another time, if I remember to do it.)

So faery vibrates at a faster (higher) frequency than we humans do. If we spend time with them in the natural world, our vibration becomes higher as well — and it gradually changes our DNA so that we become more faery ourselves. This is just natural magic. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Logical. Plausible. It especially makes sense if you consider the Japanese notion of “forest bathing” that suggest that we feel much more relaxed and healthy if we spend peaceful time in a forest. Trees. Dryads. Think about it. (Here’s another thing to write about later — the modern thing in some ethically and scientifically advanced cities is to build apartments with gardens on the roof and in large balconies — what would that do to the people who live in them?) There is much to consider on this topic, including scientific studies that show that hyperactive children who spend some time in parks or natural place become calmer and cope with life better.

The Writer’s Medicine Bag

Another useful concept about writing that I came across recently was about medicine bags and the power objects in them. (I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten where I read this — it may have been in a story or perhaps from Michael Meade.) Every medicine bag contains power objects, and together the objects contain more potency than each one alone. It’s about the way they blend together and reinforce each other. As a writer, consider this: how is your story or thesis or novel a medicine bag with the power to transform, to do magic with the reader? How is each character a power object within that collective whole? If you think of them as a tribe — who serves which function in the society? How do they work together to get where they want to go? Is there any power object in the bag that conflicts with the overall goal? Can the power objects (people, places, things, ideas) find a resolution to any conflicts they have? And how do the power objects themselves transform as they create transformation around them?

These questions have to be answered — at least in our own minds if not in the story. The author actually needs to understand what’s going on even if the characters are mystified.

Image. I, mage.

Transformation is vital. The other day a few people and I had a short discussion about what makes Sir Terry Pratchett’s books so awesome — and I don’t use that word lightly. To me, it’s all about transformation. The characters in the stories (mostly) grow.

This made me think a lot about what a “better person” is and why it’s important to be one — and a TON of stuff about writing and a writer’s responsibility to the rest of the world, especially when things are such a mess as they are now. Part of Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliance is that he showed us a path without ever “teaching” or “preaching” but by a sort of osmosis. I suspect he hoped we’d be smart enough to figure it out for ourselves, which is really the only way to truly learn something.

What is the Path that we, as writers, are showing? Do we know? Are we, as ordinary magical people following it ourselves? If not, if we aren’t constantly testing it, how can we expect others to believe in or understand it? How will the story make sense without magical logic? And I suspect that this may be what is at the core of “magical realism” — what do you think about it?

That Does It!

God/dess was quietly sipping Hir chamomile tea and thinking S/He would like to dream another new world, a better world. S/He liked to challenge Hirself to make each world better than the one before. That was what S/He did to comfort Hirself when things got difficult. It had been another rough week. It was, of course, the Earthlings still at it.

It seemed such a shame. They made so many sweet babies (too many really), but things just kept getting worse there. You had to give them credit — wrecking the climate worldwide while simultaneously making global war based purely on bigotry and greed had taken a lot of ingenuity. But you had to deduct all those points and more because they had actually done exactly that.

God/dess knew that poor Earthmother was doing the best she could, but everyone was realizing that something had gone seriously amiss there. Giving them total freedom to develop had seemed like a good idea — after all, it had worked well in so many other worlds. Didn’t they realize that they needed to fix things for themselves? That freedom included responsibility for themselves?

Just then the computer alarm went off — again. Prayers were flooding in at an unprecedented rate. S/He shifted Hir focus of awareness and found the office and courtyard outside full of doves, with an occasional cuckoo scattered among them. S/He held out a finger to the closest bird and it hopped on. Fluttering, it gasped out, “Florida, nightclub, 50 plus shot dead, more inj—” and fainted dead away.

“I’m on it,” S/He whispered grimly. Thousands, possibly millions of birds immediately disappeared, their message delivered. There were still thousands more. Possibly millions. Each one carried a message of unnecessary death and sorrow. S/He took a message from one of the cuckoos. “Please, we need a complete reset. This is just getting worse.” God/dess almost smiled. Trust a pagan to say “please”. They did like to keep up the old traditions — when they remembered them.

S/He wiped a tear from Hir eye.

That was it. No more.

The keyboard clicked >Earth>Humans>…. Hmmm. S/He thought about it for a full millisecond in all dimensions simultaneously, flipping through the possibilities far faster than light could move. DNA? No… it was so flawed — complexity upon complexity. Healers? Too few. Purge guns from the world? That might help temporarily, but not enough. There were so many parts of this, but it boiled down to a fundamental double-sided flaw in so very many humans — believing that they mattered more than other people and thinking that it was their right to do whatever they wanted to others. No empathy; no compassion, no true feeling for the community of all earth.

A few more keys clicked. The big green key went down and stayed there. Throughout the multiverse, the Powers converged on Earth. Within three milliseconds, they had checked all life forms and deleted those lacking empathy or compassion. God/dess was pleased to note that the population problem was immediately eliminated. But there needed to be healing as well. This would require finesse…

As dawn rolled around the planet, people woke and were astonished to find the world so still, rather like that silence that falls with the snow. Only this stillness had a crystalline quality as if everything were waiting to burst into song. And there was a subliminal sound of something — of comfort, of joy, of loving — a subdued and mellow rumble and roar.

Nearly everywhere there were people missing. The U.S. Congress, the various Houses of Parliament all over the world, and many other governing bodies and bureaucracies were decimated. Some were empty but for the tea ladies and floor sweepers. Rulers — kings, dictators, generalissimos — had all vanished. Armed forces were left almost without officers and some of their men had vanished — and those who were left were happily using the bombers to dump explosives into volcanoes and cheering at the fireworks.

Some pulpits were empty. God/dess hesitated a moment here. Grinning, S/He set up a subroutine that would instantly stamp the word LIAR in flashing florescent letters on the forehead of anyone misusing Hir Word out of insanity or for personal power. S/He thought of a certain comb-over and Hir grin grew wider.

The presses of the big newspapers were nearly silent. Among the smaller news distributors, some were buzzing busily and in others the computers and presses had melted into a stinking, smoking heap of slag. In many businesses, some offices were empty, especially the bigger and more luxurious ones on the higher floors. Wall Street and other stock exchanges were less populated than the moon. Banks… well, we don’t want to even think about the bigger banks. No, not at all. It was that way everywhere — the people who cared about others survived, even the ones who needed a lot of improvement and had foolishly followed false “leaders”.

But…

In the place of each and every missing person, there was a small ginger and cream cat. Fluffy. With big eyes and very endearing ways. And the tiny cats purred. Everywhere. Their purr was bigger than they were — that was the rumble heard around the world. And the purr made all hearts beat together — that was the soft roar in everyone’s ears.

infant Marzipan

God/dess watched. And purred. If this didn’t work, they weren’t worth saving.

People just stood around, blissfully smiling at the sky, at the trees, at each other. Smiling. It would be hours before they realized that they wanted breakfast. And they wanted breakfast together.

© Copyright 2016 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Cuckoo's Story

I wrote this story a number of years ago when I still lived in Scotland. It is based on an old Celtic legend. I wanted to post something here today, but none of the three things I’ve been working on are quite ready, and this is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Do you know the Celtic legend of the cuckoo? As I write this at the end of June, the cuckoo is calling in my back garden. The West of Scotland is magical country, suitable for a magical bird, and we hear the cuckoo’s call to tell us that spring is truly here, regardless of what the weather may be doing.

It seems that the gods decided (for godly reasons, no doubt) that they wanted to stop the to-ing and fro-ing between Tir-nan-Og (the Land of Eternal Youth) and the mundane world. Probably having so many mortals (heroes and druids and suchlike) rollicking about lowered the property values. Anyway, they told everyone in Tir-nan-Og, including all of the animals and all of the birds, that they would have to choose which world they wanted to live in – the world of immortality and stasis or the world of mortality and seasons, of growth and decay. They forgot to tell the bees who, ever since, have simply ignored the whole thing and done as they pleased, but that’s another story.

Everyone made their choice except Cuckoo. She thought and she thought, but she couldn’t decide. The gods probably said, ‘Come on! Hurry up!’ They probably tapped their toes impatiently. I don’t know for sure, because I wasn’t there, and she who reported what happened didn’t say, but I expect that they did. It would be just like them. And I most definitely wouldn’t like them tapping their toes like that at me.

Poor old undecided Cuckoo just couldn’t make up her mind. At last she told the gods that she couldn’t bear to live without the beauty and magic of Tir-nan-Og, but neither could she give up growing and changing, living and bearing and someday, but please not too soon thank you very much, dying. She begged and she pleaded and she argued. She just wouldn’t give up or give in. The gods got fed up with this and put their heads together (gods can do these things; the rest of us would probably get our brains all mixed and mushed up).

After a certain amount of argument and cogitation, they made a decision. They said to Cuckoo, ‘Right. You can continue to travel between the worlds. But there are conditions.’

Poor Cuckoo’s heart sank. You know what sort of things that gods tend to think up when they start thinking about conditions.

‘First, you must agree to serve as our messenger between the worlds, carrying our messages to mortal creatures.’

‘Oh, yes,’ Cuckoo interrupted happily, her heart bobbing back up. ‘I’d be honored to do that, Great Ones.’

‘That isn’t all,’ they said grimly and smugly at the same time. Cuckoo’s heart sank back down again, even lower.

‘You must never build a nest in either world. You must lay your eggs in the nests of other birds to be hatched or not hatched by them, as they will. For this you will be castigated and vilified and blamed. If ever you build a nest in either world, you will be confined to that world evermore.’

Now, when humans say ‘evermore’ it only means ‘until we change our minds’ or ‘until we forget about it’, but when the gods say it, they really mean it. Poor Cuckoo’s heart fell on the ground and cracked.

‘Does this mean,’ she asked sadly, ‘that I would not be allowed to feed and care for my own children, to nurture and protect and teach them?’
‘Yes,’ said the gods.

‘Does it mean I’d have to depend on the charity of other birds for the well-being of my little chicks, for their very lives?’

‘Yes,’ said the gods.

‘Does it mean that I would never know my own chicks, and they would never know their own parents?’

‘Yes,’ said the gods.

Cuckoo thought and she thought. Her wings drooped sadly, and her heart felt as though it would crack forever in two. At last, she asked, ‘But does it also mean that my children will have the freedom of both worlds, forever and evermore?

‘Yes,’ said the gods.

‘You swear? No games, no tricks, and no more conditions?’

‘Yes,’ said the gods, squirming a little because they had been thinking of a godly trick or two. (I certainly do hope that the gods feel at least a little bit guilty and ashamed about this whole thing, because it was a terrible thing to do to anyone, least of all to a little bird with a loving mystic’s heart.)

So that is how cuckoo became a career woman with an important job to do. For this she paid the huge price of never knowing her own children, never being able to feed them and cuddle them warm, never feeling the pride of watching their first flight, never… never… never… But in exchange for the things she lost, she gained them free entry to the Land of the Forever Young.

Nowadays many people think that cuckoos migrate to Africa or somewhere every winter, and they are right. But on the way to and fro, they detour through Tir-nan-Og, where they rest for a while, refresh their spirits, and pick up messages from the gods for delivery.

This is why spring, when the cuckoos first arrive, is such a magical time and everything grows so fast. They not only bring messages, but caught in their wings, they also bring a bit of the air and the magic of Tir-nan-Og to a bereft mortal world.

And this is why their song has such a mournful note.

This is also why it is most unlucky to harm a cuckoo or a cuckoo’s egg. It’s every bit as bad as harming a wren, and you know what that means, don’t you?

This is also why it is important to listen, listen, listen with all your senses, inner and outer, when you hear the song of the cuckoo. There is always a message from the gods in it for you. And as exasperating as they can be at times, it’s just as well to pay attention to the gods when they deign to speak to us.

I know these things are true, not only because they are Celtic legend (which is the best and truest kind of legend), but also because the cuckoo swears they’re true. And if you can’t believe a messenger from the gods, who can you believe?

© 1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Lineage & Hands


Megan’s Hands On My Altar Stone

Here I am this morning:
reading Mary Oliver,
having fits of ecstasy
at the beauty on the page —

and feeling that
I have wasted my life.
I am 75 and still
cannot write so exquisitely!

It’s all about seeing,
looking past the surface
into the layers of kinship
and deep story.
And yet —

Yesterday,
my granddaughter and I
sat in my garden and compared
our hands, the shapes and lines,
hers, young and smooth,
no more than a tracery of
the dominant pattern —
and mine, old and full of living,
a spider’s crazed web
between the main lines —
yet those deepest ones
forming a pattern
quite like Megan’s.

Once, many years ago,
I did that with my grandmother,
and we, too, found that our hands
were uncannily alike.

When Megan was birthing
and I was rushing
to be there to greet her,
I heard a voice say,
“She has your hands.
You women are like
pearls on a string,
and the lineage endures.”

I told Megan this yesterday. She is ten,
and her eyes grew wide as she listened,
as mine had ten years before
when I saw a line stretching
back and back into the mist
of pearls and hand prints —
healer’s hands.

So, perhaps it was
not wasted after all, this life,
but simply a pearl to be found on a string.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Healing by Dreams

Wild wolves were all around me this morning when I woke up and… but let me tell you first about the blog I read yesterday. Robert Moss wrote a blog on healing dreams, stories, and visions, which I read and thought was an excellent exercise. In fact, it seemed so good that I decided to try to remember to do it each night and see how it worked for me. But I forgot about it at bedtime.

This morning when I awakened, I was still half caught in a dream. In it, my granddaughter, Megan, was about three and she was my daughter rather than my granddaughter. She, my husband, and I were on a car camping holiday somewhere. We had parked far out in the bushes along a trail, near a small lake. We set up a tent there, but decided to walk back into town together for some supper. While we were eating my husband wandered off and disappeared. Megan and I finished eating, and I decided that it was getting too late in the day to linger, so we started back to the car and camping place.

As we walked (I carried her a lot of the time), it seemed much farther than it had while going into town. I was beginning to worry that we’d passed the car without seeing it. Megan was nearly asleep in my arms, and finally it became totally dark—that deep darkness you only get in the country on a moonless night far from any town. I decided we’d better stop and sleep where we were. I was a bit concerned about having no shelter and being in unknown territory, but there didn’t seem anything else to we could do. Fortunately, Megan was wrapped in a blanket that, when unfolded, was big enough to wrap around us both. We found a clear spot just off the trail purely by touch and settled down, snuggled together and well-wrapped up.

Then I felt a cold, wet nose touching the back of my neck. I could hear breathing and panting and rustling sounds.

Megan murmured sleepily, “Gran’ma, who’s here?”

I didn’t know! Yes, I was worried—who wouldn’t be? Yet I certainly didn’t want to alarm her, so I said, “It’s just some animals. They’ve come to protect us while we sleep.” I could hear the grass and bushes moving as several large beings moved around, but since they made no move toward us after the initial touch and inspection by sniffing, I snuggled Megan closer, tucked us in better, and I listened to her fall asleep, which she did quite easily and trustingly. I was so tired that, as soon as I was sure she was deeply asleep, I drifted off too and slept soundly.

When I wakened at first light in the morning, I found us encircled closely by a pack of wolves. All but one of them were sleeping right up against us, keeping us warm. Megan had one arm out from under the covers and was quietly petting the one that was awake. It was the largest wolf. His muzzle was gray with age, and he was looking straight into my heart with his penetrating golden eyes. He let his tongue loll out in a wolfy grin, and I told him, “Good morning, sir. We thank your for your protection and warmth.” I felt like I should curtsy to him, but it’s difficult while lying down, wrapped in a blanket. The pack silently got up and moved back to give us room to disentangle ourselves and stand up. Then they, still quiet, drifted away into the bushes like shadows. Megan waved good-bye to them and grinned up at me.

And I woke up, feeling incredibly protected and secure—more so than I’ve felt in years. It is not that I’ve felt nervous or in danger all this time, but this was like the difference between just not being angry and being completely happy—an enormous gap. This was a radically different feeling of peaceful security, and it was very healing for me.

I think I better understand now what Dr. Moss was talking about in his blog. And yes, I do plan to practice it. If there is no healing dream that volunteers itself, I can always tell myself a healing story and just see what comes up from my creative mind. How we envision our world has a profound affect on how we feel, and the more deeply that vision is embedded in us, the more strongly it influences us. The dream was quite detailed and had a smoothly logical sequence, more like a conscious story than an unconscious dream, but I’ve noticed that my unconscious mind is quite capable of following instructions—when it wants to.

© 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Stories

While everyone else was asleep at 4 a.m. this morning, I was dreaming about stories, all the many stories we tell—the true ones and the truth tucked inside made-up stories—and how we tell about ourselves, our hopes and our fears, in our fantasies. Even the wildest fantasy contains our personal truths about how we feel the world is or should be or how we fear it to be.

In my classes, I used to tell a lot of ‘teaching stories’ and I know that wrapping a truth inside a fantasy is a way to get it across, especially when the ‘fantasy’ is true too, and people just assume it isn’t because it doesn’t fit with their view of the world. If you tell them that this is how the world is they are likely to just go into denial (and maybe even get angry), but if it’s ‘just a story’ they can listen. It’s a seed, a penny that may just drop into the slot and something might happen. A connection can be made. Eventually.

The heart of a story can be hidden in jokes, in fables, in dream imagery. Our worlds, daytime and night, are aswirl with stories. We live them, we breathe them, we call them fantasies and say we don’t believe them—and then often we act as if they are true.

We are not things. We are stories moving through time. Dream your stories well, my dear, because they are your heart.

If I were to tell you
all of my stories,
you still wouldn’t know
how I got where I am.
You’d have to know
the stories of those whose paths
crossed and entwined with mine.

I only know fragments,
but if you want to know me
(or I want to know you),
we’ll really have to look
at all the stories and how
they wind together
into the One True Story
called the Universe.

Are you big enough
to hold all that?
Prepare to be surprised:
Yes. You are.

There are no lost
or separated bits—
just One
and we’re It.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Thoughts At Two In The Morning

I just had a burst of insight. I was reading Neil Gaiman’s short story “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”. (Yes, he is being funny; read his book, Fragile Things.) In it, his character was saying:

“It’s literature,” he explained, as if to a child. “Real literature. Real life. The real world. It’s the artist’s job to show people the world they live in. We hold up mirrors.”

And I suddenly understood something. “Real life”, aka consensus reality, is what we think it is. And we arrive at our thoughts from our experiences and input. We watch TV (well, I don’t, but lots of people do) and believe it portrays reality. But not even “the news” does that these days. We imitate (especially when we are young or not really thinking) what we see there, and we imitate the attitudes we’ve derived from other people, especially people we admire. Well, I don’t like the “reality” I see there of war and fear and paranoia and a greed that thinks one can never have enough. I don’t like it at all. I think we, as a society, have lost our path. Not everyone is lost, of course, but far too many are. And I certainly am not interested in writing about that version of reality.

I want to write about the reality we could live in if we just shifted our attitudes and acted as if we truly cared about the well-being of ourselves and each other and our world — the reality of what we could become if…

That’s all. It may not sound like much, but it’s important to me. I just wanted to write it down where I can find it when I wake up later and face the day. It’s 2:30 AM right now, and thoughts here sometimes get lost before morning. This is one I want to keep.

I recently read “The Space Between the Stories” by Charles Eisenstein with great appreciation and have now subscribed to the author’s blog. In it he talks about what we as a society of people tell ourselves about our culture — and how that story affects what we become. We are all, each in our own way, working on that story as we choose what to think and how to live. You might say it is written by the collective unconscious of all of us. He also talks about how the story we’ve been living by is coming unraveled as we face economic, cultural, and ecological crises. A lot of what he says so brilliantly makes great sense to me. I think our Story of the People is in serious need of revision — a new vision for a new way of functioning together. It’s important — and it’s unavoidable. There are several “stories of the people” trying to arise right now. I hope that all of us are paying attention and giving real support to the ones that seem best to us — healthiest for Earthmama and all of her children. A new story is coming into being amid the chaos of the old, disintegrating one. We are creating it.

What I’m most interested in at the moment is how we can re-write the current rather grim perception of our future into some of the wonderful possibilities available. There is so much we could do and be; so many choices face us. I want my own writing, both of stories and of spiritual “how-to” ideas to help to create that. I hope you’ll find some of those stories and thoughts here in my gropings toward a better path. I hope that, together, we can find a story that is more loving and more generous to live by.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.