One of the spiritual areas that fascinates me is prophecy. I love fantasy books featuring people who strive to reach a high spiritual calling. Being a Mystic / Prophet appears to be one of the toughest roles anyone can take. They can be held in awe, regarded with fear or suspicion or ostracised… if left alive. It is as demanding as the role of a warrior.
Some prophets have it easier than others. For example, the Oracle of Delphi in Greece, was constantly breathing in toxic fumes from volcanic gasses that came up through a rock. The priests around the Oracle did the interpretation of the gibberish this chemical high produced. They were the ones with the real power. The actual position of Oracle doesn’t sound too onerous to me, though definitely dangerous to their health!
Often these mystical people were embroiled in power battles within epic fables and stories. Being a mystic supposedly gives ordinary people marvellous power; but is that view a myth? Depending on the storyline, that power can be public and impressive, or limited and only able to be used in a covert manner. The little power they have may not be enough; it could often leave the mystic frustrated. How often do the wise ones have to stand back and watch those they warned make avoidable mistakes? That or they can be so power drunk, they start to destroy everything around them, including themselves. You can turn the storyline so many different ways.
According to the Old Testament, if you were a prophet and your accuracy was less than one hundred percent, you could be stoned to death. Nostradamus would never have made it. The Egyptians could change gods like you change your socks. Depending on who you represented, being one of their religious leaders could be a job with a limited shelf life! If you were ever on the wrong side of the current religious fad, you could kiss your robes and your good life goodbye.
Look into the job description of a mystic further. While literature romanticises quests and great adventures, more often, the wise ones were called on to deal with the conflicts and faults of their societies. That can mean that their purpose in life was to be unpopular. I can see why figures such as Jonah legged it when given a tough challenge. For most prophets, the training and standards are anything but easy and would leave them feeling humbled and impotent. Then to make them feel better, people don’t tend to roll out the welcome mat when it’s your divinely-given task to go tell them they are wrong. In the same shoes, I’d go whale watching too. It could be worth the risk. There are always plenty of rocks laying around to be thrown… Moses was another Biblical figure who firstly said “I don’t think so!” when he heard what he was meant to do.
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The early life of a prophet involves sacrificing a normal life; developing exacting discipline; being misunderstood; learning focus and meditation; studying relevant areas such as magic, medicine, history and literature; making your fair share of humiliating bloopers when you hear or judge the facts wrong and the obligatory “character building” wilderness experience.
The best prophets are grown in the toughest places and at times, are called into a time of living in solitude, while they do the equivalent of a Prophetic Masters Degree… in the middle of nowhere with scant protection and few comforts, if any. If they were really lucky, the wilderness would be their permanent mailing address. Loneliness is often the prophet’s closest and only friend.
Prophets are deliberately developed where the conditions are toughest. If you were a Celtic mystic, they may have chosen to go to sea. Sometimes they made landfall, sometimes, they didn’t, being on a boat for weeks. The forests and the desert are not the only choices for getting away from it all to hear clearly.
Celtic Monasteries have been found on tiny, wind-slapped islands (not wind-swept, that is too gentle), where you need to be a mountain goat to move around. The tougher the life, the better one’s attitude grows. It’s the truest of cliches; suffering gains you perspective on human nature and shows you what really matters in life. You must have suffered to be able to relate to others’ pain.
So as you write about awesome soothsayers, crystal ball gazers and wand carrying heroes, consider what manner of life experience and training that led them to the centre stage in your novel. True mystics are not born with all the talents and graces they need, they’re made: most probably the hardest way!
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