“One day, you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again,” wrote C. S. Lewis to his god-daughter. Hopefully we have all reached this stage, for magic demands the openness of the child. Unfortunately, our life experience teaches us to button up, raise a shield, to avoid, avoid, avoidâ€¦ Until we fall in love, and learn that to be vulnerable and open to relationship is worth the risk. Then we get hurt and close down a bit more even though we know it’s a retrograde stepâ€¦and so the merry-go-round spins.
We can measure our success as magiciansâ€”and as mature humansâ€”by our relationships with the human and more-than-human world. So, how to stay in that accepting, non-judgmental state that’s essential to experiencing the world as truly magical?
Fortunately, we have basic “how to” guides easily to hand, in stories we can read in minutes, not hours: every time we pick up a fairy story, we align with the magical mindset of the hero/ines.
Letâ€™s take a typical example: we’ll call it, “Jack or Jill seek their fortune.” Theyâ€™re usually the third child; a magical placing, but as youngest, often overlooked. So off they go, with just a crust for their next meal; and what happens? The world makes demands on them, straight awayâ€¦ and they respond, gladly. A bird is hungry, and is given half of the bread; an unhappy gate is squeaky, and they grease it with butter; a horse whose mane is caught in the hedge is rescuedâ€¦ and so on, and so on.
Jill/Jack’s behavior is an example to all who would work magic: they are simple, open and trusting: seemingly alone, they respond to a world that is a marvel of sentient life forms and connections.
And what are the results? They find whatever has been captured or stolen by the evil magician, and liberate it, treasure or prisoner: this will be their reward, but only if they can make their escape. They flee for their life with their spoilsâ€”but how can an untrained adolescent escape from an angry magician? Here, they reap the rewards of their earlier selfless service, as the sentient world works against evil and allies itself with trust and goodness.
The bird warns Jack or Jill when they need to escape; the gate lets them through but then clangs shut in the magician’s face; they ride on the horse’s back to freedom and to a new life at the end of the quest. And, to point the moral, the story sometimes expands: if any siblings try to duplicate the adventure just for the reward, their selfish attitude means that they will undoubtedly come a cropper.
It’s not rocket science. If the simplicity and trust of Jack/Jill are the portal to magical relationships, then our work must be to maintain a generosity and acceptance of what the world brings us. Not an easy job, but what rewards if we can master it! Who knows, we might even end up with the prince/ss, the treasure or half the kingdom.
When we have learned that lesson from our earliest stories, we will be ready for stage two. That is to revisit grown up magical fiction and read it in the same wayâ€”not just for story, but also for hints about behavior, technique and underlying principles. Which should we to put into practice? What lessons can we bring to the real world?
In this way, with dedication and commitment, we might become the priest/esses that we have always known slept within us. Or, as the great magical teacher Dion Fortune once wrote, we might just gain the Keys to the Temple itself. With my co-author, Ian Rees, I’ve spent the last few years exploring and interpreting her system for doing just thatâ€¦ but that is a story for another day!
Our thanks to Penny for her guest post! For more from Penny Billington, read her article, “Five Aids to Magical Thought: Dion Fortune and the Path of Occult Fiction.”