The Old Woman’s Magical Journey: A Tale for Midwinter


As we are

“… Whenever a fairy tale is told, it becomes night. No matter where the dwelling, no matter the time, no matter the season, the telling of tales causes a starry sky and a white moon to creep from the eaves and hover over the heads of the listeners. Sometimes, by the end of the tale, the chamber is filled with daybreak, other times a star shard is left behind, sometimes a ragged thread of storm sky. And whatever is left behind is the bounty to work with, to use towards the soul-making…”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes: from “Women Who Run With The Wolves

Part One

Once upon a time… not so very long ago… lived a woman who dwelt in a world without magic.

Although, from being a girl, she had always wished magic was real, the world around told her she was silly, that magic did not exist, it was just a story and she was foolish to even think that it could possibly be real. Slowly, and because the world said it so often, she came to believe what they told her and she grew up in this no-magic world, learning its ways. In fact, she became as non-magical as everyone around her because she believed what she had been taught; that this no-magic world was the only reality that existed.

After many, many years… so many that the woman was nearing her old age, she walked down a path one day and, to her surprise, saw a tiny breadcrumb of magic lying just where her eyes were looking and it twinkled at her. At first, the nearly-old woman was very surprised. She looked around but no one else had noticed the breadcrumb because, after all, magic did not exist, did it? But there it was – as real as life – a magical breadcrumb that was clearly twinkling at her. She wondered what she should do and, to her even greater surprise, the breadcrumb of magic whispered to her. It said
“Eat me.”

The nearly-old woman had not forgotten her little-girl wish for magic. She looked around again and when she was certain no-one was looking, quickly picked up the breadcrumb, popped it in her mouth and swallowed it down. Then she went on her way pretending as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile the breadcrumb magically burrowed its way into the nearly-old woman’s heart for, deep down, she still truly loved magic.

As the nearly-old woman began ageing into an old woman, she found more breadcrumbs of magic until she had swallowed so many and her heart had become so full of magic, she knew she could no longer live in a no-magic world. So she left it behind her, travelling far and having many many adventures until, finally, she came to dwell in a remote village deep in the countryside. She had found a land where some folk believed magic was real and where her now-magical heart could sing with content. It was far, far away from the no-magic world. Here she lived alone, content in the company of many cats, and she began to learn how to live in a land where life was made of magic.

More years passed.

There came a time, one day, as the days grew short and the nights became long, close to the darkest days of winter, when the now-old woman was going about living her new and happier life, when she heard a thousand voices carried by the wind. They were crying out for help.

“Help us” cried the voices, “Our people are suffering and dying. Our children are cold and hungry; our mothers are poor and weeping, our fathers despair and although we have tried, we cannot stop what is being done to us. Justice, if you exist in the world, find and help us.”

Now the old woman had known cold and hunger, poverty and weeping, and what it was like to try to change what was happening and fail, especially when she’d lived in the no-magic world. The voices sounded as if they came from there and their cries awoke something in her heart. She wished she could help but she didn’t know how or what she could do. So she asked the magic around. Soon afterwards, she spied another breadcrumb on her path, so she quickly swallowed it down and hurried home to learn what the breadcrumb had to teach her.

That night, the breadcrumb showed the old woman why the people had been crying out of help.

“You are correct.” said the breadcrumb, “The cry comes from people in the no-magic world you left behind. They are suffering because no-magic world is destroying them. “.

The breadcrumb said that those in charge of the no-magic world actually knew magic was real but they didn’t want the people to know it. So they lied. They told people magic didn’t exist, that it was foolish and silly to even consider magic was real while, in secret, they were stealing and gobbling down as much of the people’s magic as they could. The more they gobbled, the more they wanted, and this was how the no-magic world slowly grew in size and power. The bigger it got, the greedier it became. No-magic grew extremely fat and filthy rich, becoming exceptionally mean and horribly selfish, endlessly cruel and deeply heartless, especially towards those who might be magic if they thought it could be real. With every lie no-magic told, their power got stronger and stronger until they had eaten up almost all the magic whilst truly magical people, like the old woman, became poorer, hungrier and died sooner in their hopelessness and despair.

Then the breadcrumb showed the old woman that if magic ever really did cease to exist, the whole living world would die too. The cry for help she had heard, said the breadcrumb, was a sign that the world was getting very close to dying.

The old woman was horrified. She understood exactly what the breadcrumb was saying because she had lived it. She knew how painful it was to believe the lies of the no-magic world and she feared for the future the breadcrumb had described. She hadn’t understood she’d been lied to and was horrified by what the breadcrumb had told her about the greed and cruelty of magic thieves. Eventually she asked the breadcrumb, “Is there anything can I do to help?”

Into her heart, the breadcrumb whispered:
“On the darkest of darkest nights, when the world is has breathed out the last of the old year and before it breathes in the birth of the new, in that in-between moment where Sun, Moon and stars cease moving through the heavens – you must journey to the place where all the magic stolen from the world is being held captive. There you might set magic free to help the people whose voices you heard.”

“I will,” said the old woman and meant it with all her magical heart.
And so it happened, on the darkest of darkest nights, when the Sun, Moon and stars had ceased moving in the heavens; when the world had breathed out the passing year but had yet to breathe in the new one, the old woman stepped through her door and out into the night on a magical journey to free the stolen magic for the people crying out for help….
Part Two

“It’s a funny thing,” thought the old woman as she closed the door to her home behind her, “how similar the magical world looks to the everyday world I live in”. She looked around and everything looked just the same, only much much darker. She walked to the end of the road and then out into the surrounding fields, waiting for magic to find her. She didn’t have to wait long.

Suddenly a HUGE wind lifted her right off her feet and high into the air. Just as she feared she might fall, huge wings sprouted from her back and caught the air beneath them. The old woman found herself gliding with the wind!

“Oooooooooh! Now that is definitely magic!” said the old woman, once she’d recovered from her surprise. When she checked, it seemed that both the wind and her wings knew what they were doing and where they were taking her, and because she loved magic, she trusted and watched to see what would happen next.

She rode high in the wind for a while and then noticed that her wings were starting to carry her to the ground. At first distant, but then gradually coming closer and closer, she saw a light in the darkness. As she neared the light, she saw it came through the open doors of an entrance in a rocky cliff. Closer still and she saw a lake below the cliff reflecting the light from the doorway. The wind then softened to a breeze and the old woman’s wings glided her over the lake, where she landed on a stone platform outside the open doors. Once her feet touched the ground, her wings vanished and she stood with wobbling knees, shivering, in the light of the entrance.

Once her knees stopped shaking, the old woman took a step towards the entrance in the rocky cliff and as she did, she saw the tall dark figure of a woman who seemed to be waiting for her. So she slowly walked towards this woman and saw dressed completely in black with a Raven perched on her shoulder. When she stood before her, the old woman bowed because this was a magic journey and she knew she must be respectful to everyone she met there.

“Welcome, Daughter of Humans.” said the woman in black, “You journey to free magic back into your world. This is a very serious task. Do you have the courage for such an undertaking?”

The old woman carefully considered this question and answered,
“My Lady,” for surely, she thought, this dark woman was someone important, “I don’t know if I have the courage. All I know is that I heard a great cry for help from the world of no-magic and my heart calls me to answer. But I don’t know how to free magic. Can you help me?”

The woman in black smiled and nodded. “Come with me,” she said, “You must ask the Lady of this Land. I will take you to her.”

The woman in black turned and led her through the entrance doors into a vast rocky chamber with many doors in its walls. Leading the old woman, she crossed the chamber to another set of huge doors which opened at her approach. When the old woman passed through the doors, she saw she was in an enormous audience hall and, at its farthest end, there sat a woman made of molten fire sitting on a huge stone throne. Together, the two women approached this Lady of Fire and knelt before her.

“Majesty,” said the woman in black, “I bring the Daughter of Humans who seeks to learn how to free magic back to her people.
Daughter of Humans, before you sits the Creator Goddess of Earth Magic. It is She who knows the answers you seek.”

The old woman trembled with terror at these words, for she knew she was far from perfect, and looked down at the stone floor when she felt the sight of the Goddess pierce her, seeing through to her heart and knowing everything about her. But then she remembered the terrible cry she had heard and knew she still sought to help those people.

Slowly she raised her eyes and gazed upon the Goddess of molten fire and saw that her form flowed endlessly in hues of red, yellow, white and black. She felt heat crisp the air around her, filling the air with a scent of cleanness. She had hair of flame and a gown of smoke; her skin was smooth but black as night with seams of deep red, yellow and white; her eyes were the blue-white of the hottest flame; her lips bright, like red-hot coals. All the colours moved and flowed, and when she spoke, her voice was the sound of fire.

“Daughter of Humans, you wish to return magic to humankind?” the Creation Goddess asked.

The old woman nodded. “Yes, if it pleases you, your Majesty.”

“It pleases me.” said the Goddess, “There is a task you can do to achieve this but you must do no more and no less than that which is asked of you. Are you willing to do such a thing?”

“Yes, your Majesty,” said the old woman in a trembling voice.

“Then come. Follow me.”

The Goddess rose from her throne and moving, like fire, she crossed to another set of huge doors that opened at her approach. The two women followed.

Beyond the doors was a cave the size of a cathedral and in the cave, a silvery blue dragon whose colours flowed in the same way as the Creation Goddess. The Goddess moved to the dragon and held up a chain bearing four keys of fire; one black, one red, one yellow and one white, which she passed over the dragons head.

“You must not touch the keys. You must ride the dragon to the place where the keys belong and deliver them to the Guardians,” the Goddess told the old woman, “Do nothing more than that which has been asked of you and which you consent to freely. Do you understand this?”

“Do no more and no less than that which I am asked and consent to, my Lady” repeated the old woman.

The Goddess smiled and, with a wave of her hand, the old woman was lifted up onto the back of the silver-blue dragon. Then with a look of great Love, the Goddess turned to the dragon and said,
“You know where to go. Fly now, my beauty, and return to me when the task is complete.”

The dragon blew a dragon’s kiss to the Goddess, so that her hair of flame flowed out and filled the air behind her. Then it moved to doors at the back of the cave that opened out into this darkest of dark nights.

The old woman clung to the back of the dragon as it flew into the cold dark night. The dragon’s skin felt like the softest and smoothest of leather, warm to the touch, with ridges she could hold on to, but the night air was chilly and became colder the higher the dragon rose into the night sky. As if in response to the chill, and arriving as suddenly as her wings, the old woman found herself dressed in warm furs of white, trimmed with furs of black, red and yellow.

The dragon flew high and then set forth towards the world of no-magic. The old woman watched the sky above and the endarkened land below and she marvelled at the magic she was experiencing. They flew for what seemed to be the longest time until the land below began to change – street lights began to appear, followed by villages, then towns. Finally there appeared a great city filled with electric light. Above the city rode a whirlpool of magic threads of many colours, and the old woman could see these were all slowly being sucked into a dark core in the centre of the city.

The dragon circled the skies above the whirlpool of magic, as if seeking out a particular thread. The old woman watched as the dragon found one of silver-blue, just like the dragon’s own colours. They flew, following the thread’s circling path down into the whirling core. The thread grew in size and as they entered the spinning centre, it became a tunnel through into which the dragon flew with the old woman clinging to its back. The tunnel twisted and turned, bright with the flowing colours of silver and blue, but the dragon flew on and on until the tunnel began to dissolve around them.

As the tunnel disappeared, the old woman and the dragon emerged into a bright, warm summer landscape. The old woman’s furs disappeared with the tunnel and she found they were flying high over a vast green forest. Slowly circling, the dragon descended towards this green earth until, eventually, they arrived at a large open meadow within the forest. Standing in the middle of the meadow stood four huge human statues and the dragon landed close by them.

The old woman looked at the statues: made of stone, the first was black as blackest of earth; the second, red as the reddest of earth; the third as yellow as the yellowest of earth; the last as white as the whitest of earth. Beside each one was a huge box made of the same stuff. Whilst the old woman didn’t know what to do, the dragon did. It approached each statue in turn and breathed a dragon’s kiss over each statue in turn. With each kiss, the colours of each statue came alive and began to flow like the Creation Goddess and the dragon. Slowly each statue awoke, looked around and then saw the dragon and the Creation Goddess’s keys. Smiling, each one reached out and took the key for their box. When the last key was taken, the chain that had been holding them vanished.

Now each magical being, for surely they were no longer statues, used their key and turned the lock, then they opened all the boxes together. All at once, the magic stolen from the people flew from the boxes and out into the world – it filled the air; it filled the skies; it filled the forest; it filled the earth; and it filled the old woman with absolute wonder. It seemed as if the whole world held its breath while watching the magic return… and then the world began to breathe in the magic.

The White Magical Being then turned to the old woman sitting on the silver-blue dragon and, lightly, with its finger, gently pushed a small piece of freed stolen magic into her heart.

“This belongs to you,” said the being “I return it to you, Daughter of the White tribes, from all of us. The voices of despair you heard came from all the Sons and Daughters of all our Earth; the Black tribes, the Red tribes, the Yellow tribes and the White tribes, for our Earth is made of Magic.”

The old woman could ‘hear’ the truth in these words and knew them to be true; magic was so much more than breadcrumbs – magic was Life itself! Without magic, all Life would die. It was a truth so great, her mind could not grasp the enormity it so she thought of the smallness of herself and her actions. She had not freed magic, she thought, magic had freed itself, it seemed to her… but stopped when she realised the White being had not finished speaking.

“We would ask one further task from you, if you are willing?”

The old woman nodded, and then said, “I would be happy to.”

The White Spirit smiled and offered the old woman another key made of a dull grey metal, which she took.

“You will return now through the vortex of magical creation,” said the being, and it raised its hand to the skies. Looking up, she saw another whirlpool of magic but this time threads flowed in both directions in and out of its centre.

“In the middle of the vortex is another locked box. We would ask you to open it. Touch nothing but the key – you must turn the key to open it.”

“May I ask why?” the old woman asked, “For surely you have already freed magic into the world.”

“This box does not release magic, Daughter of humans,” replied the White being of Magic, “This box calls to all who choose to live in a world with no magic. It calls them home. They have a rightful place in the universe but it cannot here for, as you have seen and understood, to be without Magic is to be without Life itself.”

As the final words were spoken, the dragon lifted high into the air and, once again, began to search for the thread that would take them through the vortex. This time the thread was easy to find and they were soon within their tunnel passing through the vortex except… this time there was an opening in the tunnel itself. The dragon flew through this opening and into a space which held a large, dull, grey metal box and stopped close enough for the old woman to reach the lock. She leaned forward and carefully, without touching anything else, placed the key she had been given into the lock. Turning the key, she saw the lid of the box fly open. She let go of the key as the dragon began to fly around the box and back into the vortex tunnel. She listened hard for the call from the box but heard nothing. Then she heard a whisper from the new magic in her heart saying, “That call is not for you.”

The dragon flew and flew. It flew through the tunnel and out of the vortex above the city of no-magic. It flew high in the darkest of the dark night skies. But on this return journey, there was no need for furs; the old woman’s new magic kept her warm. Finally, the dragon began to descend and when they landed, she saw they were in the field above the old woman’s street. The dragon lowered its head so the old woman could slide safely from its back. When her feet were securely on the earth, she turned to the dragon and gave a bow of deep bow of gratitude and respect. Then, standing back, she stood and watched the glowing dragon rise again and fly off into the darkest of the dark night skies.

As the old woman walked slowly back to her home, she saw that her village was also glowing gently with returning magic. And when she opened the door to her home, the old woman knew her magical journey had come to a close… but the world’s journey into magic was only just beginning.

In all the worlds containing magic, this is known as a true story.

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
Charles de Lint

Cawfields Quarry, Haltwhistle, Centre of Britain

Cawfields Quarry, Haltwhistle, Centre of Britain. Boxing Day 2014.

One response »

  1. A beautiful, and very magical winter’s tale Dee. Thank you for sharing and wishing you all the very best for Christmas and New Year 2015.

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