Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

Have you ever blown-out a candle, squeezed your eyes tight, then made a wish?

Have you ever glimpsed a shooting-star and asked the universe to deliver hopes & desires?

Have you ever flicked a coin into a fountain? Or made a fuss breaking the wishbone at a turkey dinner? Have you blown seeds from a dandelion?

Did you know wishes only come true if you keep them secret?

Wishes are, of course, superstition. Wishful thinking is usually provoked by a misunderstanding of science or causality (false causal attribution) or a belief in fate or magic, or perhaps a belief in some dubious supernatural influence, or an attempt to confront the unknown. Mostly, wishing is fun. Wishes gives us a sense of calm.

Wishes are used in fantasy fiction, myth & fable to “make things happen” in the narrative that, of course, would never naturally happen without external influence…

For wishes to “work” for you, you must find a bound supernatural entity. Most wish-giving entities are spiritual creatures that have been imprisoned inside or bonded to some place or item — even if it’s only a pseudo-physical bondage — so the entity is closely connected to (or imprisoned within) that substantive object or place.

The wish-giving entity will be obligated to grant wishes for you…

This explains the concept of breaking the wishbone, glimpsing the shooting star or giving a sacrifice (a coin) to the thing that “lives” inside the wishing well. Folks believe the wish-giving entity is trapped inside the bone, the water, the dandelion head, or the stars.

Is a wish-giving entity trapped inside a birthday cake? Yes, it gets trapped there when the cake is mixed!

The wish-giving entity will be obligated to grant wishes for you, if certain conditions are met. Normally the bound, supernatural, wish-giving entity must wait in the place of bondage until an expectant wishful person comes along either to help free it from its bonds, by asking for a wish, or just to “pass the time” by freely conversing with it. At some time in the past a higher authority has imprisoned the wish-giving entity for all eternity in the place of bondage and any distraction from its imprisonment will be a welcome relief.

Because of the wish-giving entity’s damned situation, there is often a transaction that needs to be negotiated between the wishful person and the entity — and it’s often this transaction that will provide the wish-giving entity some temporary or perhaps even permanent release or (at least) will allow it some fleeting pleasure.

A lot of accepted “rules” about wishes and wish-giving come from the collection of folk-tales known in the west as the tales of “One Thousand and One Nights”.

Incidentally, most folk think the memorable stories “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” “The Voyages of Sinbad” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” come from this collection, but they don’t! A professional storyteller added those better-known tales to the collection, much later, and probably in the 18th century. But the most ancient of those 1001 Nights stories (tales that doubtless date back as far as 3000 BC) contain djinn (genie) ghouls, sorcerers, and magicians who offer wish fulfillment. From these stories we can agree on some loose rules regarding wish granting, these are:

1: You may not receive more wishes than the wish-giving entity has originally allotted you. Some genies, leprechauns and magical spirits offer more than one wish (three wishes came as standard much later, with Grimms’ Fairy Tales, in the 19th century.) Receiving more wishes is not tolerated. However, we know from situations & stories that there are numerous loopholes!

2: A wish may not be used to create or end life. Typically, the wish-giving entity cannot kill or give birth. The wish-giving entity might provide the means for you to do it yourself, but the wish itself cannot be used to kill or create/recreate a living thing. No genie, for instance, can raise the dead

3: A wish cannot affect free will or autonomous agency. A wish-giving entity might help you become prosperous, gain a winning personality and even become better-looking, but you will have to use those gifts in your own way to get the guy or girl you want. The wish-giving entity can’t, for example, get someone to fall in love with you! Neither can you use your wish to change another person’s free-will or opinion about you!

Djinns, along with Angels and Humans, are said to be the third sentient creatures that were made by the deity-creator of the universe during the Genesis (creation myth) narrative. Djinns (we know them better as genies) are the main wish-givers in “One Thousand and One Nights” but other elementals, including leprechauns and spirits, might grant wishes to humans who need them.

Faeries have completely novel ideas about compliance, completeness & sacrifice…

Be careful when accepting wishes from faeries, though. Faerie creatures are, of course, very alien to us and have completely novel ideas about compliance, completeness and sacrifice. They often have a penchant for trickery and are known to be arrogant and self-serving. Faerie creatures enjoy puzzles, so they might make things complicated for the wishee and will often construct perverse contractual transactions. If a faerie ever grants a wish, the wish might have a high price attached to it, and if the human doesn’t pay (in full) the consequences are almost always unpleasant.

Other wish-granting entities include the Psammead, pronounced “sammyadd”, which is a snail-like creature described in H.R. Millar’s novel “Five Children and It” This entity is said to be a sand-nymph, like the Oread of ancient Greek myth, and is likely to be a beastly manifestation of Psamathe, depicted above (SAM ATH AY) who was one of Naieid nymphs, and daughter of Nereus and Doris. The objects wished-for when one asks a Psammead will turn into stone if not used by the end of day, so it’s best not to ask for physical objects!

The University of Exeter in England has run a course on the best way to get fairies to grant wishes! They studied 15th -17th-century spell books & grimoires to find instructions on how to summon and conjure fairies, demons and other spirits, so they might yield their magical powers! The PhD researcher, Samuel Gillis Hogan, has been trawling through ancient manuscripts in many of England’s oldest libraries to find evidence and records of how people thought they could harness the power of fairies, over the 300-year period of research, to see what influence this had on people’s lives and culture.

The research has been supervised by two historians: Professor Catherine Rider & Professor Jonathan Barry. The Rothermere Fellowship funded the research.

Thought: How are wishes different to prayers?

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

I wish you well! Any comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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