A story about progress and the limits of magic. The little witch is the raven haired niece of the Witch Of Endor. The Hotei is her Uncle, a very powerful warlock who delights in taking the forms of mortals to amuse himself. Today, he has taken the form of the Hotei, a mendicant Buddhist monk who travels from village to village with his begging bowl while making toys for children from the bits and pieces of junk he picks up along the way...
just as this story is made from pieces of junk I picked up along the way.
When the raven haired little witch found her Uncle, he was frantically stabbing the ground with his staff into the tops of burrows of a mole that had taken residence in his yard beside his small hut in the forest. With every thrust, his big belly quivered and he laughed very loudly, while elsewhere in the yard, a mole pushed its head out of the ground and chattered at him just as loudly. She watched this for a moment until her Uncle finally collaped onto a small chair still laughing. He wiped his brow on his sleeve, then noticed the little witch as she hovered next to the Mole. The Mole chattered at her as if to complain about her Uncle's attempts to clobber him with his staff.
"Hello Little Witch! Have you come to help me dispense with this bothersome mole?"
"No. I have just come to get away from Mother. She yells at me and I wish to be somewhere where no one is yelling at me."
"Well, I won't yell at you. Come sit with me." He clicked his fingers and another chair appeared next to him.
"Sit down. You look very sad, little witch! Why is that?"
"I am learning to cast spells. It makes me very sad."
"My spells don't always work. I try to make white unicorns, but they become blue horses. I conjure rabbits but they don't have fur. I want to enchant my cousin's boyfriend, but my spells don't work on him. It makes me very unhappy. Try as hard as I can, I don't really think I am making progress."
"See Mr. Mole there. Every day he digs tunnels. He goes from here to there, and there to here. Is that progress?"
"I don't know. I suppose it is."
The old Hotei stood up, laughed even more loudly and put his hands above his head, palms raised and flat toward the sky. He smiled and twirled around, his beads rattling, his tattered robes flowing, and he chanted as if he were casting a spell, and as he danced, the Mole joined him:
"To see the world as it is,
Look straight without preconception.
To see the world as it will be,
Avert your eyes; dream your perception.
I can place my staff in Mister Mole's path
Crush his tunnels to block his way
But he digs around my complications
Leaving more tunnels each day.
What he does not know won't change him.
What he does not feel, rearrange him.
He makes no predictions or long term plans
So his world is exactly what he understands."
Mr Mole, inside his hole
Is as happy as you are sad.
A life lived for itself is a well-lived life
Whether you think it good or bad."
When he finished his dance, he swung his staff at the Mole still dancing beside him. The Mole ducked and chattered as if to fuss at him, then ran back to the entrance of his tunnel. The Hotei turned to the little witch laughing at them both, and asked deadpan seriously:
"Why aren't you making progress?"
"Mother says I am making excellent progress but that I try too hard."
"And your Mother would know."
"I can do simple spells quite nicely. But when I try to do complicated spells, things always turn out badly."
"The more complicated the spell, the less likely it is to grant your wish. The more you must know, the more you must control to ensure the success of your spell. As the spell involves more strangers, the stranger the things you must know, so the more intimate the knowledge becomes, the stranger the outcome. The more intimate the knowledge, the less it is your wish and the more it is you. From the moment you cast the spell to know your heart's desire, you become a stranger to your heart."
"But if I practice very very hard, can't my heart's desire be made of my magic?"
"That depends on what you practice."
"I practice my spells as Mother teaches them to me."
"So you say, but do you always practice them exactly as she shows you."
"Well, yes. No. Well.. sometimes I change them a little to make them easier to remember. Sometimes, I can't remember them completely and make...small mistakes."
"Ah then, so there is what you say you do and what you actually do."
"Don't tell, Mother!"
"I won't, and even then, it doesn't matter, Little Witch. Practice makes your magic better but only almost perfect. No matter how much you practice the spell, every time you cast it, it is different."
"Even if I practice a lot?"
"Even if you practice a lot more than a lot. The longer the spell, the more you must practice. The longer you practice, the more small mistakes you make. Each small mistake makes a bigger difference in the outcome. No, the only way to be certain of the outcome is to limit the spell, and so, limit the desire. Simple spells are the best. So are simple desires. The shorter the act, the more certain the outcome. The fewer strangers you involve yourself with, the more you remain yourself."
"Why can't I make up another me to do my spells? I know the Mirror Spell."
"But don't you have to look at the person or thing on which you cast a spell?"
"Then it wouldn't be your spell. It would be your almost-spell."
"But I can use the mirror spell on my cousin. She looks almost exactly like me! And then I can capture her friend and because I look almost like her, he will be captivated by me instead of her."
"You are the mirror image of your cousin. You are not your cousin."
"But when I look in the mirror, I look just like my cousin. Why doesn't he react to me as he does to her??? I used the mirror spell on her and he didn't react to the image at all."
"Use the mirror spell on yourself. The mirror image of you is your almost-cousin. I told you, strangers rearrange the spell, and if you make her in the mirror of his eyes, he will only react to her. If he is attracted to her, he will be attracted to your almost-cousin. But if he is not, then this almost-cousin will be just as loathsome. Either way, a simple mirroring spell will give you the answer you seek because the simplest way to unlock a secret is to use the lock itself to make an extra key."
"So magic doesn't change the rules?"
"You can change the form but not the rules of the form. There are many more ways to arrange the form of a horse but there is only one that makes it a unicorn. If you don't learn to cast the spell to make a white unicorn, don't be unhappy if it is blue?"
"Don't you like blue unicorns?"
"I think they are grand in a field of pink daffodils, but not in field of green grass. Context is everything. If you erase the context, all you have is a blue horse with a horn on its forehead which you must admit, isn't very magical."
"But I am magical? Can't I know everything all at once?"
"That you can, clever witch, but can you make sense of everything you know? And if you know everything, when you cast a spell, won't it create something new that you did not know before? How can that be? Will you still be you? Will your magic still be magical? That seems very dangerous, precocious little witch."
"How can I cast a spell to get what I want and still save my magic?"
"Look at Mr Mole. He digs forward, goes to and fro, and back, and around. Sometimes he digs across his own tunnel and then loses himself because he can't remember which tunnel was the first. He knows his own smell and that is all that keeps him out of the older tunnels. If he smells a tunnel from a different mole, he will follow the tunnel until he finds him and they fight."
"That seems awfully complicated."
"It is really very easy. Smell is complicated but Mr Mole is born able to do that complicated thing. It is much like you are born to do magic. But the mole doesn't find digging to be any more complicated than sniffing and scratching. It is a very simple spell even if it produces long and complicated tunnels. He only has to know how to dig dirt as the dirt presents itself to him, one dirty bit of dirt at a dig; he leaves the details of digging to the moment. Otherwise, he becomes a tunnel digger instead of a mole just as your unicorns become horses. Perhaps you should wish for horses with horns and they will appear as unicorns. Don't try to describe a spell to make a unicorn. Make the magic that makes the unicorn just as the mole
doesn't dig the tunnel, he tunnels."
"Is the mole more magical than I am, Uncle?"
"The mole can make the tunnel through the ground; he cannot make the ground through the tunnel. He can go forward in his tunnel or backwards, but he cannot regain a single second of his time. He can push every particle of dirt aside, but he cannot put them all back exactly as they were. The longer the tunnel he digs, the more uncertain he is of where he is. The more he eats, the fatter he becomes. The fatter he becomes, the more earth he must move. The more earth he moves, the slower he moves and the hungrier he becomes. Every little particle of earth grows bigger even as his happiness diminishes. Even as his tunnels trace the ground making patterns to and fro, the earth within them is less orderly and has less food for him to find."
"But if he digs less, won't he quit growing?"
"He doesn't care that he is fatter; only that he is hungry."
"Then he is a silly silly mole. He doesn't know anything."
"On the contrary, little witch. He knows much more about digging holes than you do about casting spells."
"But he is silly. He can't remember what he ate."
"He knows that he is hungry or not hungry. He recognizes food when he sees it but he doesn't think much about it being different from other kinds of food. You see, when we say something IS something, we hide as much as we uncover. The naming of the thing unnames all of the other things. What do you call the spell you cast to capture your cousin's boyfriend?"
"Mother told me to call it the Mirror Spell, although Father called it something else."
"Your Mother is the Namer of Names in your house, but does that make your Father's
names less powerful when used in spells?"
"If I can't remember them, I guess it does."
"And there is the rub, my forgetful little witch. The past is only a little more determined than the future. For the past, we only have witnesses. For the future, we only have victims. So even if we believe in the future, we can also only believe in the past."
"Then what is true?"
"What we are doing now. The mole believes in his tunnels. He doesn't ask if his tunnels are good mole tunnels, he uses them to find food."
"He looks tired."
"He is. Tunneling is hard work."
"Is Mr. Mole lonely?"
"Yes, but he is happy when he is alone because he doesn't have to share his food and his tunnel isn't crowded. From time to time, he comes out of his tunnel and searches until he finds another mole to mate with, but eventually, he forgets her and returns to tunneling."
"His friend must be lonely too."
"She is, but she may find another Mr. Mole digging around."
"I don't want to be lonely."
"No, you don't. That would make you unhappy."
"Yes. But leaving her to fend for herself, that is wrong. Does Mr Mole have a soul?"
"I can't say. A soul is something my staff cannot touch, my ears cannot hear, nor my tongue taste. I don't see it. Perhaps I feel it but no spell I can cast can make it more real than any other illusion you can make with your magic. Perhaps he does, but it doesn't seem to make a difference of his desire to dig tunnels."
"Do I have a soul?"
"I can't say. Would you be different if you didn't? Can you be other than you are?"
"I can be anything. I am a witch. That is my destiny."
"Your destiny comes of the making of making, not the air you breathe or the water you drink or even the forms you take. Desire is the cause of causes, and the end of causes. You do not become what you will, but what you will becomes you. It may not make you better but it will make you different."
"When does my purpose make a difference?"
"When your difference makes a difference you wish for."
"Do my wishes make me different than what I am?"
"Do you know what you are made of?"
"Mother says I am made of stardust and her wishes."
"And your Mother would know. The mole is also made of stardust and he wishes to dig alone and be unbothered while he finds food. But does a star wish to be a mole?"
"Stars are bright and shiny. The mole lives in a dark tunnel and cannot abide the light of day. I don't understand how a star can wish to be a lonely old mole."
"Because a star can become dust and stardust can be everywhere and for a very long time. It bumps into itself over and over again, changing itself into every thing you see, hear, feel, touch and taste. It can become all things even a lonely and hungry mole. Where there is one mole digging, there are others but each in his own tunnel. Mr. Mole makes himself happy, safe and fat in his loneliness. You make yourself happy, safe and beautiful with your wishes."
"I am tired."
"Magic is hard work."
"What do you wish for, Uncle?"
"I wish to make toys and to make you laugh?"
"Then why can't you make toys for Mr. Mole so he will laugh too?"
"I cannot make the toy be all things because then it would be the world and the world is not a toy. So I make toys of all the things I find in the world and give them to you because you like toys. The world is complicated and big but my toys are simple and little; yet as you play with my toys, the world is made a little better and a little simpler."
"Is this progress?"
"Do you feel good right now?"
"Because you make me laugh? Do you feel bad right now, Uncle?"
"I am a mole, but I am happily digging."
"You are very silly, Uncle!"
"Then, why are you laughing?"
"Because I am happy!"
"Well, that's progress."