The following story was written as a column for Prediction magazine, but never published. One of the Editors was on holiday at the time and had sent around a circular saying that, unless you knew the secret of invisibility, you shouldn’t contact her. I wrote back to say that I did.
To be honest, the story originates with Idries Shah, the Sufi writer from the 70s, from his book The Sufis. His version wasn’t as succinct as mine. Also I’ve changed the central figure from a Sufi to a Magician.
The reason Prediction magazine rejected the story is that they felt it was negative “Is that all there is to it?” they asked. What do you think? I think it is rather sweet and touching, and it shows that anyone can leant the secret of invisibility if they apply themselves with diligence and grace. It also describes my attitude to life.
The magician’s apprentice
There was once a famous magician.
It doesn’t matter what the country was, nor the period: what matters is that the practice of magic was illegal at the time, and that the soldiers of the country in which he lived were charged with wiping it out.
The magician lived in on the outskirts of a small village, in an out-of-the-way corner of the country. In other words, he was free to practice his magic, despite the fact that it was illegal. The soldiers hardly ever came this way, and when they did, they were usually only passing through.
People came to him from miles around, to consult with him, to be cured by him, and to have him cast his spells for them. He was a white magician, meaning that he only ever cast spells for the benefit of mankind, and never for personal gain.
He wore a patched cloak, walked with a staff, and carried a book of spells under his arm.
He was also famous because it was reputed that he knew a very secret spell called ‘How To be Invisible’. It was said that only the most powerful magicians knew this spell.
One day a young man from one of the neighbouring villages came to him. He said he wanted to learn this spell. He said wanted to learn how to be invisible.
The magician smiled.
‘That is indeed a very powerful spell,’ he said. ‘It takes many years of training and hard work to master it. First of all you must become my apprentice, and only when I feel that the time is right will I teach you how to be invisible.’
So the young man agreed to become the magician’s apprentice.
Years passed. The young man learned many complex and difficult spells. He learned to read the heavens and to understand the deep forces at work in the world. He learned to listen to the trees and to the birds and to all the wild animals of the forest and to hear their secret words of wisdom. He learned how to cast spells to bring rain, to clear the blight of sickness from the land, to help lonely people to find love and sad people to find happiness. He too became a magician in his own right. He too earned the right to wear the magician’s cloak, to walk with the staff, and to carry his own book of spells beneath his arm. But still his master never taught him the greatest spell of all: how to be invisible.
Over the years he tired of asking for this spell. Whenever he asked the question his master only answered with an enigmatic smile.
‘When the time is right,’ he would say.
In the end the young man gave up. He began to suspect that there really was no such spell, that maybe it was some sort of a trick, just a means to lure unsuspecting youngsters like himself into the art, so that they too could learn the secrets of magic.
Then, one day, many years later, as they were walking down the road, in the distance they spied a troop of soldiers marching down the road towards them.
‘Quick,’ said the magician to his apprentice, ‘now is the time for us to be invisible.’
And he took off his patched cloak, folded it up and hid it in the ditch beside the road, along with his staff and his book, urging his friend to do the same.
Ten minutes later the soldiers came trooping by, their heavy equipment rattling and clanking as they trudged passed in unison.
The magician and his apprentice saluted the troops, who hardly threw them a second glance. They were too busy marching.
Once they were gone passed, the magician turned to his friend.
‘There,’ he said, ‘that is how to be invisible.’
Sometimes the best magic is the simplest of all.
© 2008 CJStone