There is such a thing as a gift economy (Mauss 1954)*, in which things are given to another in no expectation of exchange. Instead the gifts given are part of a larger social contract, in which the web which holds us together is formed from the noticing of another’s need or desire, and fulfilling it, in recognition of one’s own abundance, or just because.
I have friends who will always offer you a bed for the night. I have others who would never come calling without a bottle or a baked treat in hand. This is the economy of ‘I saw this and thought of you’, and the economy of ‘buy a coffee for a stranger’ and also ‘pay it forward’. Gift economies make the world spin a little easier.
There is such a thing as a magical economy too. Like the gift economy, its rules are instinctive. Those that pester do not get. You get what you need, not exactly what you ask for. Magic takes its own time.
I remember my grandfather would take us on long rambles with a pocket full of sweets. I learnt that if you asked, the very existence of sweets would be denied. But if you walked, and waited, and chatted about the sky, and listened to the folk names of every bird and bush, once in a while, when you had forgotten all about them, a sly hand would press a toffee in your hand.
That memory runs deep. It is bright in my mind – my grandfather’s long coat, the tiny flowers of the egg-and-bacon plant, the high moors, and the taste of blackcurrant and licorice. Later, when I gained a teacher to take me walking through the spaces between worlds, traveling only on the breath, the rules became more complicated, and yet more familiar.
Always be polite. Watch your back because picsees have a strange sense of humour. Never eat or drink anything InWorld that your guides haven’t approved of.
The magical economy doesn’t take wages, and its contracts are strange, its laws arcane. Above all, remember this: following its ways is what makes the magic happen.
I know two women who live on a tiny boat, with a lot of plants and a round little cat.** They travel the canals and the backways, hop-step-jumping from civilised place to civilised place, dipping in from the wilds when they need to. On that tiny boat, they make magical things. They take a single side of leather (which let us not forget, is a by-product of a terribly wasteful industry), and they treat it with the respect and love due to all things.
They make bags on commission, and book covers, and hair barrettes and more. The smallest pieces become earrings that mimic leaves and flowers and feathers. They work from life, gathering found treasures and poring over botanical illustration. Their work is painstaking, and perfect, and never, ever quite repeated.
They use every scrap, and a few tools, a little paint, a little thread, and hour after hour of sunlight from precious days filtered through overhead branches. They rise with the sun, and eke out the light with a solar panel and the Lamp of the Wicked.
Each time they land in a civilised place, they parcel up the precious things, and set off on foot and bike and bus to consign their precious things to the post office. Then they return to the wild ways, keeping in touch with the rest of us via a capricious data connection.
They don’t have a website. They don’t have a shop. You can, if you prefer the usual economy of just-on-time and buy-it-now and buyer-beware and product-reviews, buy your own nearly-precious things stamped out in a factory or made in some unknown sweatshop, and you might even fool yourself that this is almost as good. But those things won’t be magical. Not just because of how the things have been made. Because magic comes also in the winding path you take to reach it.
Listen carefully. In the case of the two elf-women on the boat, living between this world and that, there are three ways to gain this magic for yourself.
You can dream of a thing you’ve wanted more than anything, approach them gently for a commission, pay whatever is asked (it will be far less than it’s worth, but more than you can easily afford), and then – and this is important – leave the details and the timing up to them. Trust the magical economy to do its work and learn not to pester, or to meddle. Pestering and interfering make them sad, and cross, and get in the way of the magic happening.
Or you can follow their erratic adventures on social media, read the daily accounts of life afloat, falling in love with the tiny boat and the little round cat, and once in a magical moment, when the stars align and they need bread for the table, a flurry of small things will be released like dandelion seeds – taking no more than minutes to go from ‘flash sale’ to ‘all sold out’.
If you’re lucky, you might catch a little piece of magic this way, but not if you stamp and sulk and plead. Stamping and sulking and pleading is worse than the other. We all learned that terrible things can happen to people who stamp and sulk in folk tales. I’m not saying these women have the power to curse you, I’m just saying that cats are also magical beings, and intensely loyal at that.
And the third way? That is where I am the luckiest changeling child alive. Because these two magical women are my adoptive, affectionate aunts, whom I love and adore. And once in a while, a little piece of magic comes my way through both the magical and the gift economy, just because.
There is the faery backback of many pockets that filled both our homes with picsees. There is the scabbard of huge responsibility. There is the unexpected shawl pin for my endless spinning. And now the tiny pocket book of grand adventures.
This is the magic that flows through the magical economy. Learn its rules and know its ways. Or not. The picsees don’t mind either way.
I’m not the only one whose thoughts are turning to mainstream and alternative economies right now. I’ll say more another time on Norman Blair’s quest for pay equity in yoga. Link here, if you haven’t read it, and if you’re a yoga person, you probably should.