I wrote a blog post on magical women, so I thought I should write one on magical men as well. But the strange thing is that I know fewer magical men than I know magical women. I’m not sure why? I can tell you what magical men are like. Just like magical women, they are writers and artists who show you mystical, fantastical aspects of the world: artists like Brian Froude, Charles Vess, and David Shane Odom, for example. Or writers like Charles de Lint and Cliff Serutine. They show you different ways of thinking and being. I could certainly name others, so I’m not sure why it seems as though there are fewer of them than there are of the magical women I know. Perhaps I just know fewer personally, which means it’s my fault? Or perhaps our culture allows women to connect with the world in a magical way more readily. Perhaps they are not mocked for it, or told there is no profit in it. Perhaps there is something in nature, in the understanding and celebration of the natural world, that we still consider feminine? Even though it is men who have traditionally been though of as woodsmen, hunters. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I want there to be more magical men. We need them. (Of course, I think we need more magical women too. We need more magic generally.) We need men who are trying, not to climb the corporate ladder, but to save the world. (In whatever way presents itself. Because you know, there are a lot of ways to save the world. Some days, it may involve writing a poem, or planting a garden.) I suppose what this blog post expresses, really, is a kind of longing. Let there be men strong enough to march to the beat of their own drummers, as Thoreau said. I know, I know, they’re out there. I just wish there were more of them, and that the men I know (and I am lucky to have wonderful male friends) felt more free.
There is something about relative powerlessness that can, ironically, give you more freedom. Men are expected to be serious, motivated, ambitious. Women are allowed to create an Etsy store to sell their art or crafts. It’s a shame, really. So yes, I suppose I wish men strength, freedom, courage — to be magical.
I’m going to end with a poem I wrote some time ago called “Green Man” that is a love poem. I’m not sure if it’s the appropriate way to end this post, but somehow it feels right.
Come to me out of the forest, man of leaves,
whose arms are branches, whose legs are two trunks,
rough bark covered with lichen. Come and take
my hands in yours, and lead me in this dance:
In spring, green buds will sprout upon your head;
in summer they will lengthen into leaves.
Oak man, willow man, linden man, which are you?
In autumn, they will fall, and through the winter
you will be bare, with only clumps of snow
or birds upon your branches.
Come and love me,
my man of leaves, my forest man. For you,
I’ll be an alder woman, birch woman.
In spring I’ll wear pink blossoms like the cherry;
in summer ripening fruit will bend my boughs;
in autumn I will bear, distributing
a hundred seeds, our children. And the birds
will sing my praises. Let us learn to love
the sun and wind together; let us twine
our bodies, filled with sap, until we make
a single tree on which two different kinds
of leaves are growing, where birds build their nests,
among whose roots the squirrels hide their nuts,
storing them for winter.
A hundred years from now, we will still stand,
crooked perhaps, the sap running more slowly,
our two hearts beating, separately and together,
under the summer skies, in autumn rains.
This was really inspiring, thank you for reminding me to bring more magic into the world
You’re welcome! 🙂
I was honoured to be included among those you named.
Your descriptions of the natural world are always magical, Cliff! 🙂
I think some of this might have to do with how you see magic and nature wrapped up in each other, along with a societal assumption that nature and femininity are connected. I don’t think nature is necessarily magical, or magic necessarily involved in an understanding and celebration of the natural world. Magic to me is more about understanding and celebrating (and sometimes lamenting) difference, and about seeing contrariwise.
But, yes, ambition to advance in most pre-existing human systems works against these things. It encourages conformity. You’re right that we men are very encouraged to be a rat in the race, and not enough of us try to work against that expectation.
Most of us who do, seem quieter about it than many such women might; society talks over us because in this patriarchy we are seen as a threat – that is, seen as a threat when we aren’t thought of as ludicrously feminine and dismissed thereby. Many of us who see differently, see thus because we must, because our nature dictates so no matter how much society might try to place us in its boxes.
We’re still out here. I know a fair number of us. Perhaps you’re not looking from an angle that would bring more of us into view?
You’re right, Richard. I do see magic as emanating from the natural world. I think that’s partly because I’ve always been a pantheist, tempermentally. Since I was a child, the natural world has always been the source of magic for me, and where magic resides. That’s where I sense it. I’m not sure what you mean by difference?
I may certainly be looking from the wrong angle. But I am talking specifically about writers and artists who give me a deeper understanding of the world–what I think of as the real world, as its deep reality, rather than the artificial constructs we as human beings create. So there are magical stories, magical works of art, like John Crowley’s or Arthur Rackham’s. This is very subjective, I’m afraid. There are certainly fantasy writers and artists that don’t do that for me–their works are about magic, but I don’t feel that connection to something deeper, something wild and real.
I find that connection to something deeper, something wild and real in the
work of Peter Beagle, and Graham Joyce. For friends, I have magical men
who are poets, writers and theatre folk, both on the west coast and new to
me in New York; a circle of joy.
What I mean about difference is liminality, I think – about crossing borders. Communication is an archetype of magic for me because it involves two or more people, so potentially vastly different from each other in background, knowledge, and temperament, somehow sending a message across a potentially great divide. And that we can do it through encoded sounds or thin lines on a surface alone makes it all the more magical.
I see the concept of “nature” as human-made, a delineation between the human-made versus everything else. It’s a useful concept even for me in some ways, but I see it as just one way of conceiving difference. It’s been a great way for a lot of fantasy writers to explore a boundary between us and other, to blur that border or leap over it, stand on the other side of the border and say “I’m a wild thing, why aren’t you?”, and do other interesting things – but to me it’s just one type of border. And it’s highly artificial; what makes a human creation less natural than anything else, really, if we were made by the same evolutionary processes as anything else?
That’s my intellectual argument of difference as magic. My emotional view . . .
I feel magic (that is, a sense of wonder and / or unsettlement directly connected to an intimation of the numinous) as a sort of frission involved in how I try to communicate and connect with others (human, animal or otherwise), about how we all try to deal with time and death, with what might be sane or insane (this particularly for me, due to my father’s mental illness), and what is true and what is a construction. I feel a sense of something deeper running behind these borders between me and others, me and the universe. It’s sort of like when Leonard Cohen said, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. These borders are to me where our artificial ways of making sense of reality break down or are unsettled enough that we can try to touch the winds that run behind it all (of course, that’s not necessarily a safe thing to do . . . ).
I think our viewpoints are quite similar in a lot of ways, it may just be a matter of where we place borders and from how wide an angle we view them. I wouldn’t say either angle is “wrong”, no – just different, so that we see different things and people as of more or less import. I’m a pantheist by temperament as well.
I’m completely with you when you mentioned artists who are talking about magic but don’t make work that feels magical. I think a lot of that is people making magical systems, as if magic could be technology, as if systematized magic could ever really be magic. I see a lot more male than female fantasy writers doing that. I’d say it takes the magic out of it, but I don’t think it ever really touches on magic in the first place.
“We need men who are trying, not to climb the corporate ladder, but to save the world.” Love this. I’m so glad a friend told me about your blog. And I so loved Richard Baldwin’s comment.
Your poetry is breathtaking! Thanks so much for sharing, as always. I wish there were more magical men putting out their hearts and arts and words, too, but I am happy that those who do, such as Charles de Lint and Brian Froud, are prolific beyond measure. In some ways, it helps to compensate!
Oh, and the poem is so beautiful. I have a lovely book of Greenman lore…which I
have now looked into and found notes for a forgotten project…it’s by William Anderson, photographs by Clive Hicks. If one doesn’t have a forest handy, it is a good way to summon up an imaginary one.
Interesting…I know that there is way too much of what I might call ‘The Pulp Aesthetic’ in fantasy art. A art stream that seems trapped within the narrow limits of very male power fantasies. Long ago, after many, many years of producing super-hero stories I choose to reject their implicit doctrine of “whoever has the biggest fist wins the day”. It was simply not how I wished to ‘see’ the world, but more importantly, not a legacy I wanted to have any part of. My parting shot was writing, drawing & painting a Spider-Man GN (Spirits of the Earth) which , admittedly, was a not so very successful effort, but when it did concern itself with the poetry of the earth it worked, but when, inevitably, it reached its dramatic and violent conclusion it was a failure. I was MUCH happier working from Neil Gaiman’s scripts for Sandman, Books of Magic and Stardust! Now I look for a poetic space in my art that allows the viewer/reader to collaborate with me in finishing a painting/ illustration/sculpture or writing. And by the way, you should look up the work of Larry MacDougall or Omar Rayyan, now they are magical.
In the modern world that conditions our body, mind and soul a lot of men have forgotten lost wisdom and have become removed from the natural world. Just remember we all are a spirit with a body not a body with a spirit and have faith in the universal energy that flows thru us all.