Saturday 20 August 2016

The Prophecy of John Uskglass (The Raven King) - from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

18 I gave magic to England, a valuable inheritance 
19 But Englishmen have despised my gift. 

20 Magic shall be written upon the sky by the rain but they shall not be able to read it; 
21 Magic shall be written on the faces of the stony hills but their minds shall not be able to contain it; 
22 In winter the barren trees shall be a black writing but they shall not understand it. 

31 The rain shall make a door for me and I shall pass through it; 
32 The stones shall make a throne for me and I shall sit upon it. 

The complete prophecy can be read at:

From Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - a novel by Susanna Clarke, 2004.

In this imagined history, John Uskglass was The Raven King, magical ruler of Northern England from 1110 to 1434 - he his realm included Men ('Christians') and Fairies, and was one in which magic was part of life.

Magic itself was based upon understanding and befriending the natural world of England - as the author explained in an interview: "If a fairy wants something he asks his friends — the Wind, the Rain, the Hills and the Stars etc. — to help him get it. English magicians developed magic — made it less fundamental, less natural, but ultimately they were drawing on the goodwill of the English Wind, the English Rain, the English Hills and those Stars that you can see from the Sussex Wolds or Birmingham or Carlisle. So English magic was like a conversation between the magicians and England."

But the prophecy above describes why the Raven King left England (because Englishment despised his gift of a magical life), and the consequence. As the memory of his presence faded, English people became increasingly cut off from perception of the magic which surrounded them - not merely unable to read what was 'written' by the sky, rain, stones and the barren trees; but unwilling to admit that there is anything there to be read.

In another sense, we have been - in England for many generations - living in a state of profound alienation, where our inner world of consciousness is cut-off from the outer world we receive from our senses; so that we are not at home in the world, find no meaning and can imagine no purpose.

It is from this self-constructed prison of materialist self-maiming which Albion must awaken - and is indeed awakening.

'Strange and Norrell' is about an imagned 'restoration of English Magic'; and what 'magic' is, is an awakening to what is - and always has been - there

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