In 1992, I travelled with my best friend to Wales. It was a dream trip, because I’d wanted to go ever since discovering the Arthurian myths and legends. We castle-trekked (even snuck into one castle that was closed for the season – naughty Americans!) We ate in tiny pubs and met locals who considered us highly exotic because of our Southern accents. We climbed hills, we chased sheep, we bought trinkets.
One day, we decided to drive into the Brecon Beacons to see Llanthony Priory, a former Augustinian monastery. Legend held that it had been built on the site of a shrine to St Dafydd sometime around 1107. According to history, William de Lacey, a Norman noble, happened upon the site while he was hunting, and felt inspired to leave the world behind and immerse himself in prayer on that very spot. I could understand that feeling. The ruins stand in the remote Vale of Ewyas, far enough from roads and cities that the silence is palpable. One can hear sheep from miles away. Driving there was a challenge in itself, since the road became a lane, which became a path, before opening into a space to park in front of the Priory. We tumbled from the car and approached the ruins, chattering as usual. But once we crossed the threshold, something happened. We stood in what once was the church, and fell silent. I was staring at one of the arches when my friend started singing the Magnificat, very quietly, behind me. I felt weightless in that instant, although I didn’t feel I could move. Something from the very ground had waked up, was aware of us. It wasn’t threatening, but it was definitely there. We continued moving around the grounds, but the silly tourist attitude we’d had on the way up the mountain was gone. We were respectful and calm, because it was as if someone’s mother was looking.
Several years later, I was in the Lowcountry visiting my family. My husband had never seen Old Sheldon Church, so we drove out one afternoon. My church in town always held a spring service at Old Sheldon, which was crowded and noisy and buggy (mosquitoes and sand fleas…ugh) but on the day we went, we were the only people there. Once again, in the calm of the marshes, I could feel that presence. Not the same, of course, but it was clearly attentive. I laid my face against the mossy bricks and just stood, for a while, absorbing the feeling.
People ask why writers write. Some writers say they can’t avoid it, they have to write or they’ll lose their minds. Others say they have too many characters in their heads who want their stories told. There’s a different reason for every individual writer. I write because I’ve felt the magic and I want you to feel it, too. Magic is all around us, not just in a vale across the ocean, nor in the marshes of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, but in my backyard. If I could, I’d drive every one of you up a Welsh mountain, or invite you all to my house to hang out in the woods. But I can write it down, and share it with you. The world is full of enchantment, and no one is better qualified to show it than a writer.
Where have you found magic?