Stories are like magic. They blow about the world like spells, casting themselves upon the right people at the right time.
And one day it happened to me. I was boarding a plan to fly home to visit my family in Florida. It was 2002, and I had just moved to the UK the year before, so I wasn’t really thinking about the flight because I was already mentally back home, embracing the tropical humidity and drinking hazelnut flavoured coffee that I could never find anywhere in Cambridge.
I sat down next to a young guy who was reading, but I honestly didn’t pay him much attention. I think it was about halfway through the flight when he suddenly turned to me, and without any of the usual banal introduction chat, held up his book. “You have to read this!” he told me.
The book he held up was The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho.
I honestly don’t remember what we talked about after that. Whatever he said, it convinced me that this was one of ‘those books’…the kind that can change your life. The thing I do remember is the feeling of that conversation, sitting next to him in that stiff airplane seat. You know, the feeling when your skin suddenly tingles a bit and you feel a sense of fate or serendipity…
But then I came across the title in something else I was reading. And then back in the UK months later, I saw a copy of it at a used book store. And I thought…okay, there is something going on here. I guess I better read this book!
I bet most of us have had this happen, someone mentions a story in passing, something we’ve never heard before, and then suddenly we keep coming across it. Almost as if the story itself has come to us, and then keeps following us, keeps whispering in our ear again and again. Until we get it. Until we pause to listen to the message it has for us.
The story Paolo Coelho tells in The Alchemist has stayed with me. Just like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I read in high school and which fundamentally changed the way I thought about the world. There are so many stories I could list here that have woven into me and transformed the way I see my life. They are like proverbs or mantras, and they come to mind sometimes when I’m feeling confused about what decision to make or how to respond to a situation or how to prioritise things in my life or how to deal with some of the really hard challenges life throws at us all.
So when I was writing The Oracle’s Tales and thinking about how an oracle might impart wisdom to the people who came to see her, what came to my mind were all these stories.
And I thought, wisdom doesn’t come to someone because a supposedly all-knowing sage told them what to do, or gave them the ‘right answer’. True wisdom has to respond to all the nuances of each individual situation and each unique person. Which means it has to come from within.
It’s like that Zen koan, the finger that points to the moon is not the moon. A word can try to describe a thing, but the word isn’t actually the thing. And in the same way, a teacher can point you in a direction, show you the way, but they can’t simply bestow wisdom. They can’t simply tell you The Answer.
That’s what is so magic about stories.
Especially certain stories, at certain times. They point the way. They speak to us at a deeper level, and if they ‘work’ for us, if they resonate with our experiences of life, they stay with us. And then they become Our Stories.
We remember certain parts of the story, we interpret, understand. And then something else happens in our life, and suddenly that story pops us with a different message, and we remember something else about it, and we see it in a new light and understand more.
So I thought, that’s how it is with the oracle.
I first met the oracle while writing my novel The Boatman. And I say ‘met’ because to me it feels like she came to me just like The Alchemist came to me, out of what Salman Rushdie called the sea of stories. But of course the oracle exists at a deeper archetypal level for all of us. She represents wisdom, compassion, healing. She is the crone who knows what to nurture and what to let go of, what to let die. She is the deepest embodiment of female power and human wisdom.
On this journey, looking for better more fulfilling ways to live, it is stories I rely on for wisdom and truth. As a writer, I’ve collected stories from deeper places, and I’ve placed a few of them here on the lips of the oracle. Now she will blow them out into the world in her own way. She will whisper them to you in the way you need to hear them.
And I hope they become your stories as they have become mine.
(To get your FREE COPY of The Oracle’s Tales go to www.sarahbhunt.com)