Real Magic and the Mythkeepers of the World

This world we live in has a different ‘shape’ to the ‘shape’ we often think it as. By this I mean that the world is arranged in ways other than what we think we know. We block out what we don’t see because we either do not understand it, can’t countenance it, or have been swamped by a modern veneer that is an oil on our sights and skins. What we block out is magic. By this I don’t mean the Harry Potter type of ‘magic’, or the stage illusionist’s ‘magic’: I mean real magic.

For millennia humans have been storytellers. We used to embrace the mythical, the lore of the folk, the poetry of epic tales: we saw real magic in the world. The world was a wondrous and sometimes confounding and frightening place. There were phenomena beyond our comprehensions in the spaces where we lived, in the cycles of the planet, in the lights above our heads. Our ancestors could only gaze in awe at what they saw; give praise to invisible forces that filled the gaps in their understanding; accept that much of what happened around them happened in some vast ineffable space and dimension, far bigger than their collective comprehension or ability to control it all.

In the modern world we live with an inflated view of our selves as omniscient beings. We live behind our screens which shield us from sensory interactions with the planet and the stars. We do not, or will not, or cannot see the real magic of the world.

Some writers have been and are continuing to address this. What we label ourselves as isn’t so important: what is important is that there is magic in the world and awareness of it should be shared. The ‘magic (or magical) realist’ writers (depending on your persuasion) fused the fantastical elements of possible other dimensions, for example, into this world we see here (Márquez, for instance, wrote as the ghost of a long-dead child in Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses (1952), published in his collection Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories; painters such as Mark Rothko recognised the myths and archetypes of our primal selves and incorporated this thinking into his work; religious texts make reference to inter-dimensional beings as very real in this ordinary world (the jinn of the Quran, for example).

Writing magic into one’s work isn’t simply a grafting on of fantasy elements (the reader knows this isn’t ‘real’ but will go along with the flow of fantasy in this way instead). Fantasy serves its purposes but the magic of the real is an acceptance, knowledge, that what some might see as fantastical is an ordinary part of this world. In illusion and fantasy we can suspend our disbelief to create the self-delusion; in the magic of the real we see that other ‘shape’ and way of the place we live in, and on, as true — in all its ordinary extraordinariness.

In the artistic embracement of myth and archetypes, we understand that we are a part of what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’: we are linked entities, not merely limited-dimensional beings, behind our modern screens. From this we might see how we’re writer-mythkeepers and that we can all connect, with shamanic clarity, to the truth of the stories we’ve always told: to the ghosts and gods and goddesses, to the mesmerising hybrid creatures of the sea, to the dream visitations and other wondrous logics of spaces we breathe in. We can see objects infused with powers and energies, and we can make some sense of the way things play out because they do not play out according to the logic of what we’ve been taught. In seeing the real magic of the world we can find comfort in amongst some vast cosmic realm that’s far bigger than our imaginations can conceive.

For those of us who choose to accept the role, it is our duty as mythkeepers to uphold the lore of the folk, to keep alive the stories of the magic of the world. If we lose our connections to this magic, real magic, we lose our connections to each other, to those who’ve come before us, to where we live, and to what’s above and beyond us.

This post is part of a ‘magic realism blog hop’. Please also visit the other blogs in this specific community (see below):

What is Magic Realism? (Zoe Brooks)
Night Logic (Kirsty Fox)
Dragon’s Breath (Karen Wyld)
Magic Realism or Fantasy (Zoe Brooks)
Flying High with Magic Realism (Leigh Podgorski)
Magical Realism and a Floating Life (Tad Crawford)
Urban Fantasy and Magic Realism: a Matter of Agency (Lynne Cantwell)
Serendipity — Down the Rabbit Hole (Rebecca Davies)
Facts and Fiction: Historical Magical Realism (Evie Woolmore)
Magical Realism Blog Hop — Giveaways! (Edie Ramer)
White is for Witching (Laura at Curated Bookshelves)
Magic Realism in Movies (Christine Locke)
Every Little Thing I Read is Magic (Susan Bishop Crispell)
Everyday Magic(al Realism) (Jordan Rosenfeld)
What The Masters of Magic Realism Say (Muriellerites)
Magic Realism Blog-Hop: The Moon and Cannavaria (Children’s Fairy Tale Short) (Eilis Phillips)
Some Brief Descriptions of Magic Realism Books (Zoe Brooks)
Extract from Company of Shadows (Zoe Brooks)
The Unknown Storyteller (Karen Wyld)
Interview with Leigh Podgorski, author of Desert Chimera (Evie Woolmore)
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (Zoe Brooks)
The Bagman (by Rachael Rippon) Review (Jeridel)
Timeless Voice (Karen Wyld)

Writing as the Opposite Gender

How do you get inside the head of a woman? That is, how do you think like a woman if you’re a man, and vice versa? Getting inside the thinking processes of any other person (in the shape of character) is difficult enough. Switching genders in your thinking — for the duration of that writing period, and more, for the duration of the ‘building up’ to writing — is a stretching of the imagination. We have different brain processes, men and women (I would imagine!), and we have different psyches.

Even Carl Jung suffered from this difficulty. In his analytical psychology, Jung developed ideas on the anima and the animus: the first being the female representation within the male, and the second being the male representation within the female. Jung, being male, focused more on the anima. This is how I read it. He could, perhaps, only really speculate on the unconscious male archetype — the animus — within the female.

Jungian archetypes, in writing, are interesting with regards to character. That is, archetypes are ‘figures’, characters, call them what you will, within the collective unconscious (something we can all tap in to), and are ‘characters’ we can all associate with. These are not stereotypes. So, for example, we can all associate with ‘mother figure’ (not ‘mother’ here), ‘healer’, ‘goddess’, etc.

Archetypes, for me, can provide a useful starting point. By their very nature, archetypes aren’t fleshed out at all: they’re just outlines, templates. As such, the writing still needs to be put in. However, the template is the easy part: just take it off the shelf. How do you get inside the thinking of someone of the opposite gender though?

We need other starting points too. Within the text of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), Milan Kundera wrote:

It would be senseless for the author to try to convince the reader that his characters once actually lived. They were not born of a mother’s womb; they were born of a stimulating phrase or two or from a basic situation. Tomas was born of the saying ‘Einmal ist keinmal’. Tereza was born of the rumbling of a stomach.

This has stayed with me for years. Just like chance meetings with strangers in pubs, the after image of which might play itself out in characterisation in some story somewhere down the line, some other small oddities and insistences also find form and become personified. Thoughts on the minor movements of a dancer, perhaps, might play themselves out and grow into a character themselves.

That said, it doesn’t fully resolve the question: how do you get inside the head of a woman? How do you think like a woman if you’re a man, and vice versa? In what turned out to become Disintegration (2012), I realised that I was writing plenty of pieces from male perspectives because that was the way my brain was tuned. When the epiphany hit, I focused on tuning out of myself and into ‘the other’. What transpired are examples that still fascinate me.

In Kundera’s model, I don’t know what the equivalent rumbling of the stomach was for pieces such as Salute di Castellaneta, Tristan and Isolde, and Mbayo. Perhaps the main rumbling was my conscious focus on genders. However, what the other drives were, I can’t now tell. This is not troubling. The pieces have found their own forms, their own ways, and I am now not a part of them, as I might have been in other discarded works.

Briefly, Salute took me from an unknown start point (or, at least, not now remembered) to a way of thinking mainly alien to me; Tristan/Isolde was a conscious effort at voicing the female part through the medium of the male character; Mbayo came about as a thought on oral histories and, as such, the story and the narrator took on their own forms.

What I have learned in these departures is something I’ve known for a while, but something that I needed to be reminded of: stories take their own shapes, after a while, and characters written from unusual perspectives, such as those of the opposite gender, can also manifest in such ways.

Whether we start from archetypes, or templates, from observing the oddities of real others, or from developing characters based on minor moments (such as rumbling stomachs), richer characters can form the farther away from the writer they are.