The Storyteller as Magician

I came across this long essay a couple months ago and have been meaning to write about it ever since. John Michael Greer is the Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). I’ve found some of his work to be helpful (especially A World Full of Gods, his excellent theological treatise on polytheism), but this piece and most of his politics are far too radical (not to mention bleak) for my tastes.

What I find interesting in this article is Greer’s suggestion that storytellers are magicians – and by extension, that we can use stories to work magic. Greer says:

Quite a lot of magic, in fact, can be understood as storytelling. The mage uses symbol and ritual to tell a story, and makes it so spellbinding that the listeners come to believe that it’s real – and then make it real by their actions.

This is something anyone who passed high school English should understand, even if we don’t normally think of stories as magic. Greer goes on to say:

there’s … the subtler danger of falling under the spell of one’s own story, losing track of the fact that it’s a story rather than the raw undefined reality of human experience out of which stories are assembled. When that happens, the self-enchanted mage may not be able to let go of the story, even when it’s no longer relevant and another story would be more useful.

How many people have cast themselves as victims in their own stories? This lets them think of themselves as innocents who are wrongly oppressed and powerless to change their circumstances, and absolves themselves from responsibility to make things better.

The problem may not be your fault, but you’re still responsible for the solution – after all, it’s your life. Change your story, identify with the winners instead of the losers, with the heroes instead of the victims, with the magicians instead of the muggles. As above, so below. As within, so without.

If we want to change our lives and our world, we need to take a closer look at the stories we live by.

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