Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Water Magic

Water Magic

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

This first sentence of Loren Eiseley’s essay, “The Flow of the River,” (1946) is etched on the wall near the Kelp Forest exhibit at the Aquarium.

The essay tells of a magical, mystical experience he had on a summer afternoon floating down the Platte River, where he became the water:

Tolkein's own drawing of Rivendell
“I drifted by stranded timber cut by beaver in mountain fastness…  I was streaming alive through the hot and working ferment of the sun, or oozing secretively through shady thickets.  I *was* water and the unspeakable alchemies that gestate and take shape in water, the slimy jellies that under the enormous magnification of the sun writhe and whip upward as great barbeled fish mouths, or sink indistinctly back into the murk out of which they arose.

“As for men, those myriad little detached ponds with their own swarming corpuscular life, what were they but a way that water has of going about beyond the reach of rivers? …I was three fourths water, rising and subsiding according to the hollow knocking in my veins; a minute pulse, like the eternal pulse that lifts Himalayas, and which, in the following systole, will carry them away.”

I’ve been rereading J. R. R. Tolkein’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” about the power of enchantment, and magic.  It reminded me of that Eiseley quotation, which I see every Thursday on my volunteer guide shift.

Tolkein and Eiseley were rational minded academics who were not embarrassed to profess their faith in magic and mystery.

In his essay, first a 1938 lecture at the University of St. Andrews, Tolkein addresses the entire realm of Faerie, not just the cute tales; “Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarves, witches, trolls, giants or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.”

In his “Lord of the Rings,” it is with the elves, at their river home in Rivendell, and in Lothlorien, that enchantment happens.

“Frodo stood awhile [listening to the elves singing] still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name…. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them… On the land of Lórien there was no stain. He turned and saw that Sam was now standing beside him, looking round with a puzzled expression, and rubbing his eyes as if he was not sure he was awake. ‘It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,’ he said. ‘I thought the Elves were all for moon and stars: but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.’”

Enchantment is, literally, being “in the chant,” inside the song.

The enchantment of water is like being inside a song.

If you take my meaning.

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