“The Fetch is us, our reflection in the Otherworld, our faery shadow. And to find your faery guardian is to rescue your hidden nature from obscurity. That true self is a wellspring, often hidden deep below the surface but well worth the finding, for its pure flow is sustenance to you and those around you, even in times of drought.” – The Runes of Elfland by Brian Froud and Ari Berk
When I was a kid, like most kids, I had a handful of favorite movies that I watched on repeat. One of these movies was The Neverending Story, which, for a while, I’d watch just about every weekend. The story follows a little boy named Bastian as he reads a mysterious, ornately bound book he stumbles upon called The Neverending Story. He absorbs himself in the fantastical world of Fantasia and the characters within it, particularly the young warrior, Atreyu. As he reads, the world of Fantasia becomes more and more vivid.
A few years ago, I decided to revisit this film that had been so ingrained in my memories as a kid. I was expecting to find it cringe-inducing, as a lot of kid’s movies are, and to probably turn it off after about 20 minutes. To my surprise, I quickly found myself enthralled by the brilliance of the story, and once again enchanted by the fantastical world and characters (much like Bastian!) I would go so far to say that I appreciate this movie even more so now than I did in my youth.
A primary reason for this is that I instantly recognized the undercurrent of active imagination in the storyline, a technique that I had recently started to incorporate into my spiritual practice as a Witch. Active imagination is a special use of the power of the imagination, developed by Carl Jung in the early 20th century. It is essentially a dialogue that you enter into with the different parts of yourself that live in the unconscious, and can be compared to dreaming, except that you are awake and consciously interacting. So you are effectively engaging the conscious AND unconscious parts of your mind, via the realm of imagination.
Active imagination is about creating a fantasy, but it is not a passive fantasy – you are telling the story in the first person, and actively engaging with the characters, environments, and events. You experience emotions, sensations, and insights. On the level of the psyche, this is a healing way for the ego to have a conversation with the inner self. Rather than getting too far into the details of this technique, I will point you to the book Inner Work by Robert A. Johnson to learn more about it and try it for yourself.
So, what does active imagination have to do with magick? One of the principle tenets of witchcraft is, Know Thyself. The practice of active imagination is an excellent way to do just that, through metaphor and symbols. As you practice it over time, this will become more clear to you. For instance, I noticed in my own storyline within active imagination, that the elements of water and earth (in the form of metals and crystals) became a repeating theme. From this I then gleaned that these are the elements I am most effective working with in my magick. This is just one example.
It is also an excellent way to flex your imagination and visualization muscles, which any magickal practitioner will tell you is absolutely essential to working effective magick. Conscious participation in the imaginative experience can be see in many practices of witchcraft: creating and charging a sigil, divination, casting a circle, even creating a vision board or magickal piece of art. Our magick often brings our imagination to the material plane.
On a personal level, I have found active imagination to be one of the most effective ways to communicate and work with my familiar. And I will say this (which bring us back to the Neverending Story) – the longer you utilize this practice, the more crossover you will start to see in your mundane and imaginative life. And this crossover, of course, is at the heart of Magick.
There are two pivotal crossover moments in The Neverending Story where we see the power of active imagination come alive. The first is when Atreyu goes on a quest to find the Southern Oracle, to learn how to save Fantasia. In order to do this, Atreyu must pass through two gates. The first is guarded by two sphinxes. In order to safely pass, one must know their own true worth, otherwise they are blasted to dust by the sphinx’s laser eyes. Fortunately, Atreyu makes it through!
The second is the Magic Mirror Gate, which is supposed to be an even greater challenge than the first gate.
Engywook: Next is the Magic Mirror gate. Atreyu has to face his true self.
Falkor: So what ? That won’t be too hard for him.
Engywook: Oh ! That’s what everyone thinks. But kind people find that they are cruel, brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves most men run away screaming !
Atreyu gazes into the Magic Mirror Gate, and sees in his reflection, Bastian staring back. This is the moment of realization of Self.
We see the second pivotal moment at the end of the film, when Bastian gives the Empress a new name and thereby saves the world of Fantasia from the Nothing. This moment is the realization that magick is real. The Empress Moonchild gives Bastian the one grain of sand left of Fantasia, for him to rebuild with “as many wishes as he wants”, in other words to form from his True Will.
Bastion can now travel through Fantasia and “the ordinary world” as he likes, and form his reality within both worlds. By discovering his true self via active imagination, he has achieved the understanding of magick.
Bastian: How many wishes do I get?
Empress Moonchild: As many as you want. And the more wishes you make, the more magnificent Fantasia will become.
Johnson, Robert A. Inner Work. New York: HarperOne, 1986.
Froud, Briand and Ari Berk. The Runes of Elfland. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.