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This is an essay from a book I am writing.

The Magic of the Story

My tradition in Wicca, equivalent to a denomination in Christianity, is called the Storyteller tradition. Part of what we learn in our teaching circles is why. Stories are magic. Children know this instinctively. “Tell me a story!” they ask, and before long they are trying to tell their own stories. We play out stories with our dolls or our trucks as children, curl up with stories in books on rainy days, or watch them played out on movies or television. We know instinctively that stories are magic, and a storyteller is a magician.

Writers make magic. We reach eagerly for a new book by our favorite author, trusting them like a guide to places and times that may not exist, or may be dead and gone. Books are time machines to past and future, and I know I am not the only person who sometimes closes a book and feels a bit disoriented, resettling into this time and place. It’s not the print or the paper that does’s the story.

But we all tell stories. We all know our own. Perhaps you are the poor boy that made good. Perhaps you are the hired gun who rides in, puts things straight, and rides away into the sunset. Perhaps you are the man with the black thumb for life, and whatever you touch ultimately ends in ruin. Families tell stories. They tell how Grandma’s brother drank away the family farm. They tell how a grandfather ran away and joined the army, became a hero in impossible ways. They tell stories of childhood, stories of people dead and buried, and in stories they still live. It’s magic. It’s the oldest magic.

But not only people make stories. Families make stories, and the stories speak of people who came and sold vegetables from a wagon, then from a store, and the children went to college, became doctors and lawyers. We Are Successful, says the family story, and the next generation feels pressure to live up to it. Another family Never Gets Ahead, and the story saps the will and the ambition of its children and they grow up never looking farther than the end of the block. Towns create them too. So do nations.

America is invested in its own national story, reinventing history to produce a story of a brilliant idea made flesh in a new nation that expanded in courage and innovation, strength and nobility, knowing that whatever it did was Right. But while it’s a lovely story, it’s not true. Not every family member is going to be better than the last. Even poor kids might have a shot at getting out of the ghetto, if you’re smart and grab it when it comes along. And every heroic beautiful act of American history has a corresponding act of cowardice and hatred and poisonous racism and entitlement to go along with it. That story isn’t as inspiring and comforting as the one we usually hear. It makes us angry and sad. Easier by far to listen to the happy stories, to ignore the evidences in our communities, our states, our country, that we aren’t telling the truth. And lies have a way of festering in the darkness.

    This is my tradition’s answer to the question of predestination. We are not playthings of the gods, but coauthors with Them. Sometimes They hand us a plot twist that we didn’t expect; sometimes we do that right back. But it’s a collaboration, and one that works better when we decide to cooperate instead of fighting. After all, sometimes They have some good ideas, if we’d shut up and listen.

Our story can change, whether it’s the national story or a personal story. But it has to change from the ground up. We have to stop listening and telling the stories that hold us back and keep us blind. As we move towards the decision point of the solstice, it’s time to make a new story, and even if it’s sad in points, it’s still a work in progress, and the plot can always change if the story’s not done. I refuse to believe that our story is done.

Originally posted to Alexandra Lynch on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 03:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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