When I was a little boy my daddy told me about a tree where the devil lived. It was behind town, back between the river and the jungle in that clearing where nothing grew. There Satan would hold court; and those who needed a favor or a helping hand could appeal directly to him and were sure to be heard.
In that Argentine town of my childhood the Guarani Indians lived in perpetual fear of a malady they simply called susto: fright. Babies taken too close to the waters would be possessed by the river demons; stricken unto death if they did not seek help – the right help. It’s always the water, isn’t it? Poseidon, Yemanja, the mermaids. The shaman priestesses, aged and saturnine in their wickedness would examine the child and announce the only cure; visit the tree to beseech the devil.
Late one evening in that same lost town of my youth an Indian family, converts to the new faith of the Jewish God knocked on our door. “You have preached,” they told my old man who was then still young, “that your God is more powerful than he who is in the tree. You must prove it.” And they held out their baby. Without further recourse, my daddy bent a knee, taking the child in his arms; and she was cured. The authority of the evil shaman and her tree was forever weakened.
We live in a world of communion between what we know and what we know not. Whether your devil lives in an Amazonian tree beside a river, tormenting local Indians; or he is Iblis calling the djinn to his side for council from his rock fortress of Kaf Adjnoun in the Fezzan; or even if he’s an old man in Young Goodman Brown’s Salem – there is a great deal that goes on around us that requires only some sensitivity of spirit to observe.
That little boy from the town beside the jungle has grown up. I have witnessed the magic in my own right. I have conferred with witch-doctors reading coca leaves high in the Andes; have visited with victims of the guerrillas in the jungles of Congo as they describe the amulets used so that the bullets flow off those evil men like water; and I have defied the will of a prophetess in Central America.
We are not so different, we children of the west who would scoff at suggestions of magic in our own lives. The baseball player who will not change his underwear; the Appalachian preacher who lifts a serpent high; the long-haired man perched atop a red rock in search of that elusive vortex.
I write magic because I have known this world.
And I write magical realism because I know too that the magic is really about power; power over others. Priests of an adipose church selling indulgences through access to sacred relics. Shrines to powerful political leaders, which cannot protect even them from disease when they transgress. Great men subconsciously channeling powers of men even greater who came before – carnival fare for the pleasure of the enslaved. So I harness the magic as I write – pulling it into the stories of the people I have known and their struggles for power – power over others and, yes, sometimes power to protect them from others. Power – above all. For if magic is power – then we wizards who write magic are the most powerful of all.