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About this book

In this engaging guide, teacher, poet and lyricist Adrian May shows how magic is a tool used by writers to generate creativity, where concepts of magic are seen as portals of creative power. This unique book features approachable chapters on aspects of magic and writing - such as the Tarot and the creative methods of W. B. Yeats. Blending literary criticism with practical exercises, this text will enable readers to understand the magical nature of creative writing, giving them a sense of wider possibilities and equipping them to improve their creative writing.

This an ideal resource for undergraduate or postgraduate students taking courses on Creative Writing, as well as established or budding writers working independently.

Table of Contents

1. Magic is a Dirty Word

Abstract
Magic, like writing, can never be quite respectable. How does a successful writer do it? Are they trying to be cleverer than you? Who do they think they are? Surely anyone can write. People can feel that something suspect is going on or that someone is tricking us while, at the same time, gaining some advantage over us. The search for some way into the secrets of the irrational involves the mind and the creative self being open to possibilities the conventional might justly shun. Magic, like writing, is always on the brink of breaking down the order which we tend to make, and to feel safe within. Thinking differently, finding a difficult or hidden insight, can be dangerous or a threat to the bland order of things. Attempts to make magic or writing respectable are doomed to failure.
Adrian May

2. Meeting the Magician

Abstract
A meeting with a person who has magical qualities is, as with magic generally, an ambiguous experience. Such an encounter draws attention to the ordinary quality of the one who approaches and the danger of over- or underestimating the more powerful presence. This means that such an encounter is useful to all writers, because the relationship between the two, enlivened by the concept of some hidden power or superiority, can both show a quest for something stronger or better and highlight doubts and revelations. This book deals with ways of beginning, or pathways into the magic of writing and the meeting with someone who personifies that promise is a prime way that writers begin. The ambiguity and controversy outlined in the first chapter are very much present again, especially when looking at the subject of meeting magicians directly.
Adrian May

3. Magic Words

Abstract
As we are creatures of language, self-created by words, it is easy to forget how powerful they are, as we take this extra dimension for granted. If we think of something powerful that someone has said to us – a declaration of love, or of hate; a word of encouragement or a curse of discouragement – and realise how that could change a life, we might begin to reawaken our sense of the power of words, or of words of power. The philosopher Wittgenstein said, in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’ (5:6). What he meant was that language has its limits, but looked at from our point of view, from the point of view of the writer, the power of language to define us is also called on strongly here. A word can make a world and a word can make a world of difference.
Adrian May

4. How to Make a Poet: Rituals to Turn You into an Inspired Writer

Abstract
Try this exercise before you read this chapter. Invent a ritual which turns someone into a writer. See later if there are echoes in some of the stories which follow (more exercises later.) Robert Graves’ The White Goddess (1948) mentions the legend of Cadair Idris in Chapter 5 of his book about poetic inspiration and ‘the language of poetic myth’, as he says in the foreword. ‘Cadair’ means chair and Idris was the giant who sat there on the mountain, in his stone chair, to practise his astronomy and compose poetry, as he was skilled at both these arts. Cadair, or Ceder, Idris is a mountain in Wales, near Dolgellau in Gwynedd, at the south end of Snowdonia National Park, very popular with hikers and tourists.
Adrian May

5. Magic Portals (Making an Entrance)

Abstract
Magical ideas are themselves portals into creative power, so again we begin in this book to sense magic as various kinds of beginnings. Beginnings are portals into new works or new lives. Every piece of writing has its portal, its crucial beginning. As I once heard novelist and teacher Lindsay Clarke say, ‘Beginnings are fateful’. My previous creative writing book, Myth and Creative Writing (2011), being about myth, dealt with the narrative and symbolic. Here, the intention is to go more directly into these concepts, as magic portals, which are ways towards creative power.
Adrian May

6. Tricksters

Abstract
The last chapter introduced us to the Threshold Guardian archetype, but the one closest to magic, in its broadest sense, is that of the Trickster. This figure, hard to pin down, contains something of the fertile, fraudulent and creative paradoxes, as discussed in Chapter 1. Tom Chetwynd, in his A Dictionary of Symbols (1982), defines the Trickster as ‘a figure who hovers on the border of conscious and unconscious, where the light and shadow play tricks’. The Trickster is linked with creation and destruction, absurdity, bodily folly and wisdom, extremity, sex, existential uncertainty, opposites – and shit! Linked to Dionysus, the God of wine and fertility, of spring and change, the Trickster personifies upset/revolution/disorder/down-to-earthiness, and ambivalence, uncertainty and the paradox of continual change. The most human of archetypes, the Trickster is the most likely to disrupt or embody human folly. The Trickster demands creativity, even, it seems, if it results in our destruction
Adrian May

7. The Tarot

Abstract
In the original version of John Fowles’ novel The Magus (1966), he quotes from The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1911) by A.E. Waite, using Waite’s description of the first card of the major arcana of the tarot cards, which is The Magus, or The Magician. The major arcana are the extra cards in the tarot deck and that which emphatically differentiates tarot cards from conventional playing cards. ‘Arcana’ means a place of containment or safe-keeping and these cards have been referred to as Trumps Major, as Waite does, quoted by Fowles
Adrian May

8. I Ching, Oracle and Creation

Abstract
The roots of the word ‘oracle’ are connected with oration and with the speaking of a ritual, although the first meaning of oracle in the OED is of a place, only the fourth being a person. The book as oracle links back to the source then and to writing as a kind of divination. We write to see where we are and to step outside our immediate vision into the mirror images of creativity and see what they can say of us, from us and to us. Examining the Tarot, it is easy for a writer to evade the question of divination in contemplation of a sequence of archetypal images. Consulting the I Ching involves direct interaction with this aspect of the book. The advantage of this is that the language of the I Ching is that of images, the drawback might be our Western unwillingness to take the chance casting of yarrow stalks, coins or tokens seriously in the first place.
Adrian May

9. The Magic Nine, or How to Use the Muse

Abstract
As we have seen, magic often offers us ways to begin writing. One of the oldest ideas about inspiration is that, rather than coming from within, it comes from without. The Muses, simply put, are Goddesses of inspiration, who go back at least as far as the Greeks. They personify and embody the otherness of inspiration, the feeling of being in flow, as we might say now, or being taken over by the writing. The persistence of this tuning into some unconscious or unknown source persists in the reported experience of writing, so much so that it is almost a commonplace.
Adrian May

10. Gurdjieff and Colin Wilson: The Woken Moment

Abstract
My 1970s copy of The Occult by Colin Wilson (1971) has a lurid green cover, with the title in purple and the legend ‘The ultimate book for those who would walk with the Gods’ below, taking up a third of the space. I always feel that this ludicrous-seeming claim is of its time, but also that it indicates something of the ambitions of magic which still seemed manifest at that time. Arguably, since then, the ‘Mind/Body/Spirit’ section of bookselling has aimed a little lower, to a kind of hobby market, or fashion section. I still recommend Wilson’s book to writers I teach, however, not only because it is a comprehensive and readable introduction to many areas of its subject, but also for the literary enthusiasm which he shows, in making the whole pursuit of the magical something which empowers the imagination
Adrian May

11. Yeats’ Apparatus

Abstract
W.B. Yeats (1865–1939) had everything at once, as a poet, and his reputation as the best poet of his time has continued, with no one seeming to come near him. He resonates in the public, private, prophetic, traditional and contemporary spheres simultaneously. He is tantalising to other writers because he seems at once accessible and serious, as if he should be a good model for future writers and yet somehow remains alone on a great height. The closer you get to him the more baffling he becomes. For us writers then, what was the equipment that made him write as he did and is there a way we could use the same methods? Like Shakespeare, he is at once ours entirely and yet beyond us. He is, also like Shakespeare, admired as much as read. Some of this is to do with magic.
Adrian May

12. Shakespeare’s Magical England

Abstract
If W.B. Yeats is a difficult magical writer to ignore or to be influenced by usefully, then Shakespeare is impossible. But even saying that might give us a starting point, as part of Shakespeare’s magic is just that – doing the impossible. Shakespeare is like God, as people even doubt his existence, as well as his identity. He is also an unapproachable old monument which looks like no help to writers, unless you want them to feel useless, or hopelessly up to date. My feeling is that we do not celebrate him enough in England and are too reverential and referential and tend to leave him to the literary experts. Yet, like Yeats, it may be that if we approached him as a local magician and with a sense of wonder and fun, we might get closer to him and find him on our side. The one thing that is worth emphasising is that he was a popular writer and a performer himself. His saving grace is that he was closer to the ordinary world, with all its fertile and rude magic, than it might seem.
Adrian May

13. Faust: You Are the Lucky Fist

Abstract
The story of Faust is the story of our materialistic times, about the man who sells his soul to the devil. It has everything: evil, magic, ambition, greed, lust, punishment. If it can be a pot-boiler, it is our pot it is boiling. There are versions of it everywhere and although it is not the first story of temptation, it is one of the most tempting. We have avoided evil up to now but here black magic must make its entrance. The first thing any book on magic will tell you is that the bad you wish on others will come back to you threefold. Faust is a morality tale, of course. But we get to share in the disillusionment, the lust, the power, the cheapness of self-righteous shame, thinking he is not us. But he is.
Adrian May

14. The Lost Fairies

Abstract
One thing you can say about fairies is that they are small and often gone, but even this is not certain. Fairy tales often do not have fairies in them, in the same elusive way. The Victorians, often mocked in our desire to see fairy tales as psychological archetypes and therefore a serious matter, or for their associating fairies with children’s entertainment, took them seriously too, in their particular way. Fairies, as small supernatural beings, as a symbol of something lost or overlooked, remain a potent symbol. Their disappearance is significant; their lost-ness is our own. Rose Fyleman, writer for children, expressed this well in 1918, in her poem ‘The Fairies Have Never A Penny To Spend’ (Fairies and Chimneys, 1918).
Adrian May

15. Childe Roland: Dark Towers, Slughorns and Oliphants

Abstract
I remember students being set an essay with the question, ‘What’s wrong with Victorian poetry?’ My feeling was that there was nothing wrong with Victorian poetry but that there was something wrong with us. At the time, this might have been a controversial point of view, but the noise of modernism, which is no longer even modern, now seems less pervasive. Mid-nineteenth-century gloom takes a lot of matching in my opinion and modernism owes much to it. The influence of the magical on such figures as Tennyson and Browning, not to mention Rimbaud, makes their gloom even more attractive to contemporary readers and especially to writers. Robert Browning (1812–1899) wrote ‘“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”’ in 1855 as a kind of dream, in the same way that George Eliot says she wrote Silas Marner, where she interrupted work on a longer novel to attend to this inspired work. Even for Browning, the poem is considered strange. Despite its distance of Victorian formality, its oddness, even its forbidding roman numeral verses, writers have been intrigued by it and he was frequently asked about it.
Adrian May

16. Magical Animals

Abstract
In the blowing of horns in the previous chapter, we have already caught a glimpse of the animating force of our fellow creatures. Our relationship with them is a complex one and the various ways we relate to them tell us much about ourselves. The German poet Rilke advised a young poet to write about animals as a way of getting outside the solipsistic concerns of youth. Animals are our other selves in many ways, the otherness, the difference by which we can define ourselves. We envy animals their naturalness and their being so much part of the world of nature. They symbolise the instinctual, the aggressive, the in-tune; their sheer primitive power reminds us of what we are as well as what we are not. They return us to the body, to sex and mating, to what is stronger than our surface of ego, culture and rationality. The instinctive side of us reawakens. Encounters with animals make us feel alive, or shock us into being alive.
Adrian May

17. Love and Magic

Abstract
In a world sceptical of the supernatural we increasingly rely on love to provide the magic, while at the same time seeming intent on removing the supernatural from it. This paradox gives an indication of the troubles of love, which can be useful to writers, but there are other troubles which make love troublesome as a subject. That said, the subject is impossible to avoid, as illustrated in the love of animals in the previous chapter. So big as a subject and so ubiquitous and our only way of increasing, it can seem that we are too close to see it clearly. It is impossible and impossible to avoid – but the impossible is our subject here. Beyond spells to ensnare a lover and the seeking of a hint of who a future lover might be, we had best look to the myths of love for some clue as to its serious magic. But first the difficulties …
Adrian May

18. Magic and Endings: Curses and Blessings

Abstract
For five minutes only, write using the title ‘The End of Magic’. Later, see if you can connect what you have written to the themes of this chapter. Beginnings are about us; endings are beyond us. Endings must still concentrate the mind, even as they remind us of what the mind cannot fathom. Writers must end things, must rehearse death, every time they finish a piece of writing, and some relish endings as a possibility of a lyrical flourish and some dread them as a trap – perhaps of cleverness or formulaic cliché – for the unwary. Endings have a magic which embraces the occult nature of acknowledging an end. Beginnings are significant and point ahead in a fateful manner; endings are fate itself.
Adrian May
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