Magic As a Form of Storytelling

A non-fiction-y snippet from one of my NaNoWriMo novels. Written 11.15.06.

When a body is moving, it goes through a series of swift and imperceptible phases of changing, like the phases of the moon. Left, right, a minute angle forward: the feeling is perfect. It's distinct. The changes fall into place and become what seems to be one motion. Above all, it is accomplished with technical skill and the extremes of diligence.

When someone is climbing a cliff with a rope tied around their waist, the best way to do it is to step careful and close, with one's foot touching the rocks just ever so lightly. One needs to have that whisper.

The word for "spirit" in a number of languages is derived from the word for breath. Ultimately, the reality of oneself is not made of some impersonal and shining energy which lies beyond the body. The beauty of it is that this thing, this robot-worker of bone and flesh and meat, hunger and sinew and sleep—that thing can create an actual person out of its framework.

It is a singularly unique instrument.


The exercise and the sweat and the intensity of energy, water that cycles from body to stream to sea, water that you never let flow from your eyes. Hold fast. Don't break yourself. Stand still and watch because when you do that the pain starts to dull and the magic starts to get stronger. It's the focusing of will, that's all.

It's odd how that works, but it does. The more you sit back and watch it—not ignoring it, just amusing yourself with it, observing it—the less the pain is. The less it bothers you, anyway. It starts to become even less a part of you. Eventually, like a bit of fingernail that you've snipped off but is just hanging, it splits and falls.

Your pain shouldn't be used as a weapon against you. That's the way fingernail clippings can work. A clever witch snatches them up, puts them in her pocket, puts them in a jar. She floats them in a solution of moon-water and iron-rust for a few days, adds vinegar and seashells ground up to a fine powder. It smells putrid and begins to boil over a fire that was only meant for cooking.

You die, in certain societies. In others, you're only hexed. If you can let it not get to you, you live pretty well. That's just the way of it.

Magic works when the story is good enough. All stories bang around in that dimension of fiction and imagination a bit, of course, but eventually most of them can't stand up to the stories that endure. And the stories that endure aren't always good. Somebody walking around drawing pictures of you, sticking pins into a doll's skin—that's a capturing of your identity in a pictoral form of storytelling, but if it's not a good enough story and doesn't please the way things work, it begins to trail off. Sometimes it's quite good, but no one really remembers it. It might die, or it might not.

(You can always know something is there, though, even if it's dead. Just look and see.)

So magic works on the same principle. It's a story that one creates using bits of sticks and stones and candle-wax, scents and ash and pins which leave droplets of water, or leaves falling on concrete Roman roads. Eventually the energy and the thought in you—the animus, truly, the breath—it acquires such reality in that dimension that it begins to bleed over to this one. It's a lot more subtle, of course, a lot more fragile and easy to get rid of.

It affects things, but not as clearly as just a simple action, picking up a ball and giving it a toss. If you toss someone's animus around, as a curse, or as a blessing, it begins to work in the world we call "real." An alignment of coincidences is what's "really" happening. Or maybe it's a twist of fate that's indirectly affected by an indirect action. Either way, the magic frees up your mind to let you know the complexity of that world. There are strands of human and animal and good and bad and evil and song and writing and speaking and talk and laughter, and they run through, and they're braided together into a purr of reality. Magic is when you separate those strands.

Say you're looking at a curse. The way to do it is, you break open the strands which are part of someone's life, and you give them a little nudge so that the "bad" becomes more apparent. Was it there—or would it have happened—all along? Quite possibly. But the "badness" of it seems an effect of the curse. It's nowhere near provable, being a part of the dreamworld or the otherworld, but it's still real in that it changes the direction of someone's thought-flow.

go back