Hall of Mirrors in Royal Palace of Versailles

Do you exist in an Echo Chamber of public opinion? How do you avoid the mirrored gazebo? Here is how to escape your own personal Hall Of Reflections

Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors (like the grandiose one in the Royal Palace of Versailles near Paris, which has 350 mirror surfaces) is designed to display the wealth of a king, and make the place appear larger than it actually is and to reflect the faces of those who promenade past. 

Even if you haven’t been to Paris, you’ve likely been inside a hall of mirrors. They are a traditional attraction at carnivals and amusement parks. If you’ve ventured into one of these attractions, I’m sure you’ve found them a bit labyrinthine and when the mirrors are distorted, due to their curves, they might have given you an unusual or confusing reflection of yourself that could have been funny, but might have been terrifying.

Scaramanga used a hall of mirrors to trap James Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun and Batman chased the Joker through a hall of mirrors in The Dark Knight Returns.

Funny Hall of Mirrors

But do you exist inside a gazebo of mirrors? Are you trapped inside the hall? Do you know the way out? Socially, when you have surrounded yourself with reflective images of your own views, judgments and opinions, it is sometimes difficult to find your way clear.

When you are trapped inside a hall of mirrors, it feels impossible to see things in their true light. And as long as you are trapped inside the hall, the perverted & deceptive images you see all around you will mock you… don’t you know they are just mirror images of your own unstable impressions?

Snow White

Everybody has a level of unconscious emotional patterning. In other words, we all want to “fit in.” We think we know what society expects from us, so we prefer to be a reliable “cog in the machine” rather than a flying bolt that looks as if it’s escaped from the gubbins and is causing havoc. That makes sense. Society is about compliance & conformity. It is about following certain axioms. But what if we don’t see society “the right way” because our view has been skewed by distortion so all we now see are perverse reflections of our beliefs…
Are we tempted to think the skewed reflections we see all around us are the truth?

What if the truth (we believe we see)  is just another reflection of the truth ( we want) to see?

Freeing ourselves from the corridor of mirrors is about letting go of everything we think we know. It is about separating ourselves from social conditioning, ideologies, political opinions, music, images and memes… all the things that we see every day that appear to remind us we know we are doing the right thing… in other words, all that stuff that seems to confirm to us that what we think is broadly the same as what everyone else thinks; in other words,  our perspectives are correct. But, to become an honest, free-thinking and broad-minded artist it’s vital we break free from this echo-chamber of opinions. 

How We See Ourselves in the Hall of Mirrors

When we see ourselves in the wonky reflection at a funfair, we might “lean” a certain way to “right” ourselves or to adjust our perspectives, or we might make ourselves look more ridiculous, just for fun. Buy when we’re at the funfair, we know the reflection  is not us and we know the distortion is just a silly game. We can walk away. We know the reflections are merely distorted lies of ourselves. But it’s not so easy to walk-away from the hall of mirrors in real life!

When we leave the funfair hall of mirrors we see our “real” selves again, don’t we? But some people are tempted to hide in a mirror maze all their lives. As an artist, we can’t afford to be one of those types.

Here’s a test to see if you have escaped the hall of mirrors:

Group A

  • Do you find yourself at odds with authority figures (scientists, teachers, academics)? 
  • Do you find everyone you know agrees with you on most issues? 
  • Do you often share memes or images you find funny or instructive? 
  • Do you often re-post friends’ opinions and their jokes and memes on social media? 
  • Do you enjoy getting rave reviews and lots of likes when you make a good point? 
  • Do you have to stop being friends with people sometimes because they post something disagreeable?

Group B

  • Do you ever ask others for help or advice?
  • Do you have lots of friends on social media that don’t think the same as you?
  • Do you have friends who some might describe as “way out there” in beliefs or lifestyle?
  • Do you have religious friends? Do you keep in regular contact with them? 
  • Do you like to listen to the opinions of others, even if they do not correspond with your own thoughts?

If you answered mostly yes to questions in higher group A and mostly no to those in lower group B, then you might need to ask yourself some additional questions:

  • How will you avoid following the pack? 
  • How will you know what to believe? 
  • How will you know which opinions should be questioned? 
  • How will you come up with original & creative content? 
  • How will you present your own ideas on social media?
Distorted Reflections

Can we break free from the hall of mirrors? Yes, but we have to do the following:

Understand what matters to us by searching (in our hearts) for our core beliefs and trusting in those beliefs

Trust in our own resolutions, knowing we don’t need others to help us decide what is best for us

Take ownership of any unwise decisions we made and acknowledging our mistakes

Understand our flaws and know that our mistakes make us resilient in the longer term, because there is less chance we’ll make the same mistakes again

Believe in ourselves. Understand we you are capable of making the right decisions.

Acknowledge that we don’t need someone else’s point of view to understand what is happening around us… if we don’t understand exactly what is happening, we can find out the facts for ourselves

Know that the best and truest answers lie within ourselves. When was the last time we searched our own conscience for an explanation? We must learn to do this before accepting another person’s opinion.

Ask ourselves questions to get answers: We must use common sense, intuition, and instinct before we seek the opinion of others

Learn to trust our own judgment. It is usually reasonable and it does not need to be confirmed by some other person

Recognize that it is sometimes wiser to consult an expert for guidance or information than an opinion-holder

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Thoughts, ideas or suggestions?  Tweet me @neilmach 

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

Where is now

Where is now? How to live in the now. Have you lost your way to now? Here is a plan that will help you find your way back

Our life right now is full of worry. We have so many anxieties that we don’t know where to start. How do we continue? What will happen next? But the biggest threat to our mental health is caused by circumstances beyond our control: things that happened in the past or that could happen in the future.

If you think you may have lost orientation in the last few months; and you are confused about what is best to do, for you and / or your loved ones, and you guess that you may be suffering a crisis of confidence as well as a personal identity crisis and you’re becoming evermore disoriented by all the bad vibes that the Universe is throwing at you… it is likely that you have lost your way. You have lost your way to now.

lost your way to now?

They say that living in the present is a great awakening… but what is it a great awakening from? Is it an awakening from past bad dreams?  Is it an awakening from future nightmares? If you are one of the many who struggle against the trials of the past and the (imagined) dangers of the future, then it is time for you to live in the now. The truth is that neither the past nor the future have any power over us. Yet  we spend so much time preoccupied with what are, in essence, metaphysical constructions. The past and the future exist outside our plane of existence. The only thing that really matters, actually, is the immediate herein.

find the immediate herein

So here are some tips to get you back on track, so you can start living in the now:

  • Living in the present is likely to be a new skill for you. So you will have to learn to do it! First, write a list of everything you have to be thankful for today. This should not be a list of accomplishments, achievements, nostalgic joys, or past glories, nor should it be a list of aspirations or expectations. See? It’s harder than you think, listing things that are important right now. So take time to consider your list carefully; reflect on it; spin the ideas in your mind
I feel better already : living in the present
  • Dive into a project that’s creative, start a new hobby that incorporates both an element of play and technique: drawing, air-fix modeling, Lego, jewelry-making, scratch art, flower crafts, or anything that provides a sense of accomplishment with a degree of concentration. The idea is to focus on something that brings joy and isolates you from the extraneous & jarring noise of the universe.
  • Now has never been a better time to be a kid in your own world. See the world from knee height (you don’t have to literally get onto your hands & knees to do this), but maybe envision your day as your six-year-old self. What’s fun about right now? What do you really want to do? What do you really want to eat? What do you really want play? What do you really want to wear? How do you really feel most comfortable? How do really you want to sit? Nothing can bother you now, because you have such meager expectations. You don’t need permission from anyone else for these immediate wishes to come true (although it might be a good idea to tell your partner or family member before you come-over all childish) but this exercise is about creating an easy perspective
Eternal now
  • Problems are unavoidable, but they only occur in the future or are  “felt” when they intrude from the past.  If you continue to focus on problems (and even solutions), you will find yourself trapped in a never-ending cycle of worry and defeat. So close your head to problems and focus on someone you love. Write your dearest heart a poem (it doesn’t have to rhyme) or a story (with them as the main character) or if you don’t like to write, draw a picture or make a greeting card for them. Or you can use one of your newly learned skills (from your creative hobby, as described in paragraph 2 above) to make a special gift for them. Your creation does not have to be handed over to the apple of your eye, that’s not the point, the goal here is to dedicate time, energy and spontaneity to another
  • One of the reasons we worry so much about the future is because we don’t trust the flow of the Universe. However, the universe is quite reliable. One way to prove this to yourself is by breathing. When you breath in it’s called “inspiration” and when you breath out, it’s called “expiration.” Throughout a worrisome life, many of us have adapted a “stressed” breathing pattern in which we breathe too shallowly (often due to poor posture) and too quickly — when we ought to be taking nice, long, deep, slow and steady breaths. And we ought to be concentrating on the “inspiration” bit that comes during the inhalation, and we must learn to push away all the unwanted stuff in our lives during the exhalation. So why not give yourself the easiest workout of your life! Set your timer for two minutes and try breathing! You don’t need to hold your breath, you don’t need to count to any special number and you don’t need to “feel” your diaphragm or any other mumbo-jumbo hippie stuff… just breathe for two minutes and focus on “inspiration” and “expiration.”
  • We live in a time of constant distraction and the past and future continue to scream at us from televisions, screens, gadgets, written words, music, slogans, memes, adverts and messages. Shut them out! Take back control of your happiness! You don’t have to do this all day. Or even half your day. But you should be able to prevent distracting pollution coming in from the leaking Universe for at least a short period. Put your devices away, turn off sounds, close your eyes (put on a serenity mask / sleep mask if it helps) put in some soft foam earplugs (or noise-canceling headphones, with nothing connected, of course), calm down and indulge yourself in a settle. Go ahead, give it a try. You don’t need to meditate, or pray, or get into a difficult yoga position for this nowness exercise … just practice emptiness ten minutes each day. 

Ideas, questions, or comments? Tweet me @neilmach Let me know if you have found your now

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

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

Magical Thinking

What is magical thinking? And how can you use it in your fiction?

How to illustrate superstitious thinking in your fiction

Magical thinking is the belief that events are connected to each other even though there is no plausible link between them, except for some curious and inexplicable supernatural phenomenon.

Although most theorists think that magical thinking is irrational, the belief that one’s thoughts by themselves can produce effects in the outside world… or that a thought on its own can somehow correspond to something (usually bad) that happens, is a powerful and compelling assumption that most of us have, at some point in our lives, succumbed to.

Knock on wood

For example, if you’ve ever said, “I don’t want to tempt fate” or you have casually flicked a coin into a “wishing well” or you used a euphemism for death to avoid conjuring it, or you “knocked on wood” after making a favorable prediction, then you are guilty (like all of us) of magical thinking

Lines like “I don’t want to tempt fate” and “touch wood” are mystical phrases that we use all the time in everyday life.

magical thinking

I think we’re drawn to magical thinking because — deep down — we’re still four years old, and we hold-onto that nicer time in our life when we utilized make-believe & fantasy to help us understand very tricky and complicated things: so we still believe in magic because it helps us understand problems that we can’t deal with or grasp easily — for example, we believe in the magic of special places (like churches, old stones or graveyards), we believe in the magic of special people (like priests, fortune-tellers, mentalists, or aromatherapists,) we believe in the magic of coincidences (thinking about somebody and then they call us on the phone or they turn a corner) and we believe in the magic of serendipity (solving problems by so-called lateral thinking)  and the magic of good fortune (if you blow on a dice, it will roll the number you wished for.)  It seems that we wander through this world with our kindergarten mind still open to magical thinking… we explore with the willingness of a child.

Magical Wish fulfillment

If you want to introduce an element of magical thinking into your writing, I suggest that you blur the boundaries between magic, science, and religion in your story. If you are describing something technical, give your technical object a dash of sentience, if you are describing something magical in your story, make it sound sound plausibly mechanical, and if you are describing something that’s spiritual in your story, make it sound pragmatic and tangible. Once the boundaries are properly blurred, you will find that anything can happen in your plot and, actually, the blurred lines will become your plot-drivers.

When using elements of magical thinking in your fiction, try to describe a character’s sense of joy when his/her magical thinking comes true, and their sense of loss when it does not. Also, do your best to describe a person’s everyday struggles with life and how they deal with challenges by using magical thinking. Also consider and explore the argument that if a person believes in something strongly enough, then that thing will happen.

Also, try using lots of

  • Symbolism
  • Imagery 
  • Ingenious metaphors

Good luck with your magical thinking. Please let me know how your fiction project goes. Share your thoughts on twitter @neilmach

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

Writers: dealing with the confidence crisis #selfesteem #selfconfidence #writingwithconfidence

Writers: dealing with a confidence crisis

Dealing with criticism (you can sweeten it by calling it feedback, comments, or impressions if you want… but they all amount to the same thing: disapproval) is never an easy thing because it can poison your soul and destroy what you love most: your creativity.

Plain truth sugar coated

The reason criticism hurts so much is that an artist puts his or her own identity in their representation or interpretation, so that a casually given two-star review or a disposable hurtful comment on a social network can feel like an attack on your unique character. It feels personal because it is personal. It’s as rude as saying you have an enormous nose. Except it’s actually worse than that: because the artist has put themselves (their innards) on the line for that piece of writing… they labored for their artistic creation and they made themselves vulnerable — they revealed themselves — just to guide, help, or entertain those weaselly critics.

The writers knew from the start that by revealing their sensibilities and conceptions, they would face criticism, because that is the transactional nature of art, but when criticism arrives (as surely it must) it will be a demoralizing experience that might lead to a period of self-examination, self-discipline, and even self-persecution. Where does this take an artist? It takes the artist into a place of meanspiritedness (for his neighbour) or worse-still, into a period of self-inflicted demotivation.

the transactional nature of art

How does a writer deal with a confidence crisis?

We could take a lesson from Mozart who said, “I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings...”

And that’s quite a good place to start. But here are a few tips that go a little deeper.

Self-confidence doesn’t come free with oxygen. It has to be earned. As an artist, you must refill the confidence-cup every day. How? By performing better (in your own eyes) that’s how! — and when you perform better in your own eyes, you’ll know it! Because you’ll feel the pleasure inside your heart. You will know when you have done well because intuition will tell you so. How can I be so sure of this? Because that’s how we all work. It’s a natural human sensation.

hesitation goblin

But beware the little seed of doubt that is laid by something I call the hesitation-goblin.

The nasty little hesitation-goblin hides a seed in the back of your mind where you don’t notice it at first. And in the darkness the seed grows into something that’s quite difficult to cut down. Before you know it, you have a fully developed confidence crisis blooming inside your brain and what happens then? I’ll tell you what happens: Some mouthy gadfly comes along and drops a flipping-great wodge of smelly slurry all over your precious creation. What did they do? They fertilized the seed of doubt didn’t they? They fertilized the seed of doubt that was already growing in your mind.

So the best news is that you can forgive all the critics, even the prominent critics, and all the naysayers, and all the carpers too, because it’s not their fault. All they did (the nasty, vapid, dross-wits that they are) was to re-vegetate your own secret misgivings by pouring manure all over the seed!

So, first, you must remove the critics from this feedback loop. Turn your back on their weasel words. The next thing to do is to take back control of your honest writing… that way, you’ll ward-off the pesky hesitation-goblins. But how do you do this?

  • Write about things that excite you
  • Write directly (and only) from your heart
  • Write what you feel
  • Write about what is activating you right now. Find the trigger, then release the energy
  • Write when your heart is full of ideas
  • Write without self-judgment, discover your own solutions
  • Avoid fixing and proofreading as you go along (wait a few days before proofreading for grammar, punctuation, and formatting, for example) this allows you to enjoy the free spirit of writing
  • Be impish, be feisty, be impetuous. Write with gusto
  • Be brave enough to dig deep. Gone deep already? Go deeper!
  • Write every day… write big, write small, write long, write short… but above all write passionately

You have enemies? Good.
That means you’ve stood for something…

― Winston Churchill

Good luck! And I wish you lots of happy creative writing! Thoughts or comments? tweet me @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

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


The problem with hominidroves, swarmanlike behavior and herd immunity. How did intelligent primates become flocksitizenry?

Fifty years ago when I joined a uniformed organisation (the Scouts) my father, a WWII veteran who served on active duty in Northern Italy, gave me this advice: “Never stand out, never volunteer. Always keep your head down, never talk back. Don’t look them in the eye. Be unobtrusive. Be modest. At all times be unremarkable. Most important: be unexceptional.”

These were words of wisdom that served me well through life. I later learned that the way to manage a discreet presence within the herd is:

  1. understand how most people see you (because they unwittingly evaluate what they see, not what they know), and try to adapt your behavior to what they expect of you

  2. Recognize how most of the population, through shared perception, discriminate against those who “stand out” — any obtrusive behavior may reflect poorly on them
No One Will Notice Me

The trick is to adopt the same image as everyone else in any given environment — do not fight to remain unnoticed, on the contrary — recognize yourself as one of those who belong “inside” the obedient flock. Always look as if you belong. Always obey.

Camouflage works the same way, you don’t try to be unnoticed: on the contrary, you strive to be obvious but ignored. The idea is to blend in with the environment.

As you can imagine, this must be quite difficult if you typically “stand out” from others (through no fault of your own). Perhaps you have unusual hair , or you are taller than the others, or you have facial differences, or the “wrong” skin colour. Or there is some other type of mismatch. If you cannot be inconspicuous by nature, you will have to work doubly hard to mingle and stay camouflaged. You must be a genius at unnoticeableness if you want to look the same as everyone else in the hominidrove.

herd mentality

The main problem I have with all of this, even if it is sober advice, is that we are not unthinking quadrupeds, right? We’re not designed to be jawless, submissive, spineless, oinkers, are we? We are not cattle. If you accept the evidence for evolution, then you know we are intelligent primates. So why, when and how did we become cattle? Why did we become sheeple? Well, it’s a long story…

Livestock farming is wholly related to production and has nothing to do with exclusivity and uniqueness. Yes, some in the herd might be selected for breeding… but most of the herd will be consistent, standardised and identical. Most importantly, they must remain obedient.

Covid Herd - herd immunity?

The breeding, keeping and slaughter of livestock, known as animal husbandry, has been a major component of agriculture and practiced in all cultures since humans first transitioned from hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers, thousands of years ago. Along with agriculture came landlords, farmers, peasants, exploiters and slaves. From the moment a powerful man claimed land for himself, then demanded others to work on it, he created a class system.

It didn’t take long for landowners to see themselves as superior, perhaps even eminent. They saw themselves as the intelligent primates, while “everyone else” born lower in the power structure could be grouped under the same term. It’s a term they would typically use for their livestock: the herd. The ancient Greeks called the superiority of one group over another: hegemony. Whenever you see cries of “authority” “rule of law” or “leadership”, be vigilant — in the post-classical world, all these terms meant the same thing: the perpetuation of hegemony.

And so, along with kings and princes, priests and druids, landlords and free-holders, came lower ranks of dependent, uneducated, poor and illiterate workers. It is in the interests of the ruling oligarchs to keep the peasantry in their “rightful” place. The oligarchs reasoned that — only if the peasants were “tame” — would they willingly work in fields and follow difficult orders. And the peasants themselves preferred to be unobtrusive, modest and unremarkable —otherwise they might be singled out and chosen for more work, or more dangerous tasks. Their neighbors and relatives wisely encouraged them, like my father, to “keep their heads down” or risk drawing attention to the entire clan.

During the industrial revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy, when the population grew beyond bounds and the standard of living rose, the need for herdfolk continued. Landowners became industrialists, landreeves became middle-managers, and overseers became bookkeepers. But, at the bottom of the pile, those reliable beasts of burden were still required; in fact, the system required even larger quantities. Now the peasants became consumers as well as functioning livestock.

The culmination of the industrial revolution should have ended with the slaughter of over twenty million peasants (those lions led by donkeys) in the Great War of 1914 -1918. Yet even after this industrial cataclysm, the rulers and their sycophants did not weaken the reins on the enslaved flocksitizenry. And where capitalism once promised democracy, instead it brought fascist regimes, absolute monarchies, one-party states, and authoritarianism.

British Soldiers in the Trenches - Lions Led by Donkeys

And so we limp towards 2021 in the fastest-growing global capital economy ever seen. But let’s not forget that over 60 percent of Forbes’ 400 richest Americans grew up with privilege right from the start. They are descendants & heirs of those same ancient landowning families that started all this. And it is in their personal interest (perhaps performed without conscious knowledge, I’ll allow them that) that they keep the herds in their place… while, of course, they continue to enjoy the abundant benefits of a higher position.

Meanwhile, the beast of burden might consider itself free, but this will never be the case. The beast of burden will never be free. Herd members might choose where and when they eat. They might sit down. Or stand. But that is the limit of their freedom of choice. For example, a beast will /will not reproduce offspring as directed by owners. A beast of burden lives and dies at the will of a master. A beast only works/doesn’t work as the owner decides. We have seen evidence of all these things during 2020.

And, of course, the beast will never think for itself. Or ever consider breaking free. Why would it want to? Why break free? Why would a member of any herd want freedom? It has everything it needs right there. The owners provide a herd with food, water, security, and amusing distractions. Why does a beast need anything else? Moreover, membership of the herd brings a sense of comfort. And a sense of continuity.

Spoon Feeding the herd

The problem with herding humans and treating them as flocksitizenry is that the drovers who fumble their flocks will always underestimate (even hate) exclusivity, uniqueness, and any particularity they see from their livestock… because they view these attributes as inconsistent aberrations or non-compliant deviations. Aberrations must be stamped out. That’s why my father told me to “be unexceptional”. He was sincere when he gave that advice.

Remember, my father was a product of the 1920s, so saw for himself the rise of fascism and the spread of communism. He survived the Great Depression, he worked in heavy industry, then was called-up to fight in World War II. So, my father knew, from personal experience, that the cattle might smother a guy who stands out from his herd: “Keep your head down, never talk back, don’t look them in the eye…

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Comments? Tweet me @neilmach

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


Neuschwanstein — the beautiful Disneyland castle that connects myth & magic with real world history

How does the most beautiful castle in Europe connect all our ideas about myth and magic?

If you are an American writer of fantasy fiction or an American reader, you may have wondered why fantasy fiction focuses so often on a theoretical medieval Europe.

And you might also have wondered whether the medieval Europe of fantasy tales is really like it’s shown in the stories… or is it false? To be fair, it seems that the Disneyfication of our collective folk memory hasn’t helped much to disentangle truth from fiction. For example, we know that at least half of Disney’s most beloved films have been set in a speculative fantasy Europe (this includes recent films) Brave is set in Scotland, Frozen is set in Norway / Sweden, Maleficent is set in England, of course the much-loved Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are both set in Germany, Beauty and the Beast is set in France, The Little Mermaid (it should have been set in Denmark) is set in Switzerland, Peter Pan is set in England, etc. Even one of the most iconic motifs of the Walt Disney Universe, Cinderella’s Castle, is based on an existing royal castle… and I contend that it’s this castle — the most beautiful castle in Europe that unifies all our ideas about fairy-tales: But I warn you that you may not like what I’m about to say, especially if you consider yourself to be a rationalist: it would be a mistake to assume that the Europe of fantasy writers and the world of Disney film-makers is imaginary or counterfactual. It’s not. Fantasy Europe is real!


Wonderfully (perhaps hauntingly) and always fascinatingly… the Europe I live in is not just a fabulous micro-world of magical stories and narratives… it is not simply a place that is historically rich and “Disneyish” to behold… it’s a real fairyland! You do not believe me? I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I live in an absolute monarchy and only a couple of miles from where a real-life queen sits in an ancient stone tower, inside a thousand-year-old castle. She keeps a Golden Ship near my place, she uses occasionally uses it to row down the Thames near my hometown. She travels down a river, incidentally, named after a water god of such antiquity nobody can remember its origins. Her home, which is a castle / palace sits atop a mighty mound that provides supernatural energy to her and her family… and is one of several castles she uses. And if she takes a coach ride (using a coach from her fleet of carriages and horses) through the local town of Eton, she will see schoolboys dressed in tailcoats that attend a school that looks more like Hogwarts than any school you’ve ever imagined. And this was where our prime minister Boris was educated! This is now, 2020. As I write this. This is real-life Europe.

Windsor Castle
Eton Schoolboys
Eton Schoolboys

We Europeans coexist with history in a way that establishes a special fusional relationship between fact and fable: between the mythical world and the “real and current world”. To understand this, try to guess how many castles there are in Britain. Go ahead, I dare you. We know the Queen lives in one (and she owns others, scattered around the islands) but how many of us Brits pass castles on our way to school, to the shops, or to the office? How many castles are in Britain? No one knows for sure — that’s how many! Historians quarrel over it (there are too many to count) but they settle on a figure of about 1,500. The principality of Wales has the highest number of castles per square mile in the world, over 500, in such a small country, making it the epicenter of castles in Europe. Although Germany has the most castles of any country in the world, France, Spain and Great Britain are close behind.

As for splendor, you probably can’t beat the Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark, as for impressive and ancient, Windsor Castle still stands out, what about H.M. Tower of London for darkness? And for romance you won’t get much better than Eilean Donan in the Western Highlands of Scotland. But today I would like to introduce you to the most beautiful castle in Europe – Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Germany.

Eilean Donan in the Western Highlands of Scotland
Eilean Donan

Not only is Neuschwanstein so architecturally magnificent that it inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, it also meets my conjecture that we Europeans live alongside our history in a way that creates a peculiar interplay between the allegorical & mythological and our current prosaic “real world”.

The castle of Neuschwanstein was built recently. The noble castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a haven created in honor of the German “Ring” composer Richard Wagner, who lived between 1813 and 1883. It was built at the end of the nineteenth century. That may sound like a long time ago to you, but to put it in perspective, as a teenager I had an aunt who was born in 1870… so she was present when this place was still being put together. It was constructed basically “yesterday” in terms of castle building. If you go to the tall citadel now you will see its Norman-Romanesque features with sky-scraping arches, proud towers, and exalted pinnacles, all built at enormously surreal eagle-soaring heights and titanic dimensions. But, to be honest, it’s not finished yet!

But the thing is, this place is not just a Disneyland castle, it also cuts across the gaps between history, modernity, and mythology. This place blurs the boundaries of what is “real” and what is “magical” and what is halfway between! This is the wonder of the castle.

Sadly, although it was a glorious tribute to Richard Wagner, the “Ring” composer never visited Neuschwanstein. And much of the castle remains unfinished (it looks finished on the outside, I admit, but it’s half-built inside). If Wagner had ever visited, he would have seen a performance hall where his operas would be sung. He might also have visited the famous Venus Grotto, a cave of artificial stalactites located on the third floor, which was inspired by the legend of Tannhauser, a mythical knight who supposedly found Venusberg, which is the legendary underground home of the Goddess Venus, in other words, Tannhauser visited the otherworld of classical legend.


Upon retiring to the castle grotto, visitors can still move into this liminal darkness to experience for themselves the concept of travelling from one dimension to another. And this would be especially sensational if there is singing from the concert hall situated above the grotto. So, this castle connects fable & legend with modern life. And, if you wanted to prove the link further, the connections between history, prehistory and legend, what about the fact that looted artworks, stolen by the Nazis during WWII, were stored here? Hitler planned to open an art gallery in the castle after the war was won. And inside the castle the Nazis stored-away several rare, magical and powerful symbols. After the Allied victory, U.S. troops discovered 21,000 stolen items within the castle, including altar pieces from churches, private jewelry taken from prominent Jewish families, and vast amounts of furniture. There were so many artifacts, they still haven’t all been catalogued.

And this is not the only castle that has been located here. Schwanstein castle was here long before the place we see now. But that edifice was demolished to make way for the Disneyland towers. And that older castle sat upon the remains of an earlier one, and that upon the stones of an even older one, and so forth. This area was settled in Roman times and the Romans probably put their own fortress on top of an existing prehistoric earthwork. The area later became a favorite summer resort for prince-bishops.

The Swan King - Ludwig II

This astonishing place links Saint Magnus of Füssen with water nymph-maidens of the Rhine, the Viking Valkyries and the dragon slayer Sigurd with the Roman goddess “Venus” — and all this was created in the mind (some say the mad mind) of a fantastical fairy-tale King known as the Duke of Franconia and Bavaria, Ludwig II, the Swan King, who was a direct descendant of a German-Bavarian dynasty that ruled over Holland, Germany, Sweden, Romania, Bohemia, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Greece, and the entire Holy Roman Empire and gave rise to the Royal House of Windsor, thus the current British royal family who still rule over Britain and the Commonwealth.

It’s all connected. And we go full circle. King Ludwig’s fantasy castle links all these things. Neuschwanstein has associations with magical treasures, precious holy relics, sorcerers swords, the loot of the Nazis, the Royal families of Europe and the oldest of Norse beliefs. And it is built upon the sacred mounds left by prehistoric civilizations. You can visit it one day. It’s the most beautiful castle in Europe.

See the 2014 film The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney, to learn more about Nazi looting.

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Comments? Tweet me @neilmach

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

Royal Navy Woolie

Twelve (fun) reasons British men should take up sewing as a matter of principle. Why men ought to practice needlework for health

Sewing is an appropriate hobby for a man.


Needlework encourages mindfulness, reduces stress and alleviates anxiety. A man who focuses on a manual task such as embroidery will genuinely relax. Sewing improves hand-to-eye coordination, develops motor skills, and relieves physical problems such as muscle tension.

Sewing requires creativity and using the brain in a creative way stimulates mental growth.

Sewing increases dopamine in the brain, making needle-workers feel more positive about life. Stitching keeps the mind clear, focused and active, and this helps prevent dementia.

Lt Col Neil Stace

But if, as a stalwart and hearty male, you’re still not convinced about the merits of sewing, here are twelve manly reasons why you should pick up a needle in the New Year:

  • The style known as Opus Anglicanum or “English work”  was once famous all across Europe — but what was it? It was silk thread embroidery. Isn’t it high time we took back control of our sovereign stitchery?
Opus Anglicanum
  • In the fourteenth century, when people spoke about a “particularly English richness” they were not referring to hedge fund managers or scruffy, plump “High Street Kings” languishing on yachts — but rather they were talking about lavishly embroidered wall-hangings. Sewing makes you seem richer than you might actually be.
  • The orange-haired megalomaniac, state executionist, serial womanizer, country bankrupter, and famously selfish guy who inherited a fortune from his father, only to throw it all away on fancy women, country estates and idiotic business ideas, (I’m talking about King Henry VIII here, by the way) was a big fan of hand sewing. Wouldn’t you want to be a bloated, annoying, orange-skinned, pig-head… just like him? Are you a fan of demented despots? Yes? Then take up embroidery! Make needlepoint great again…
orange-haired megalomaniac
  • Other royal narcissists who allowed themselves to sew (a bit on the side) include: Edward VIII, Charles I, and William I
  • The famous and respected Cockney Pearly Kings of London reportedly sew-on their own buttons. Wouldn’t you like to be considered salt of the earth?
Pearly Kings
  • We all know about shell casings and woodwork being carved in trenches, but British soldiers were far more likely to engage in embroidery than any other form of “Trench Art”. During World War I, the British Army’s work in Egypt included sewing and embroidering clothing for Syrian refugees. Trench sewing has been done by British troops since the Napoleonic wars and is a noble tradition.
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Stace, British Army (pictured with sewing machine, above) was a finalist in the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee 2015.
Sewing Machines
  • English men invented sewing machines. During the world wars, sewing machine factories aided the war-effort by making ammunition and machine guns. Some made parts for Spitfires! Sewing helped win the Battle of Britain.
  • Coldplay’s Chris Martin keeps busy on tour with his band, knitting and sewing. Both George Clooney and Ryan Gosling do sewing too. Not manly enough for you? What about Paul Newman? Paul used to darn his own socks for pleasure and relaxation. While Burt Reynolds did cross-stitch on the weekends.
Paul Newman darned socks
Paul Newman darned socks
  • Captain ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce dealt with the stresses of working in a busy M*A*S*H field hospital during the Korean War by drinking copious amounts of martini cocktails, back-chatting senior officers, teasing nurses and sewing (knitting.)
  • An important element in any escape plans for British troops held captive inside German POW camps during WWII would be the sewing and embroidering of patches, badges, folding maps, and other essential escape items. If you couldn’t sew on the stalag, you’d be of no help to the escape committee.  Keep the spirit of the Great Escape alive by learning to thread a needle!
British soldiers were far more likely to engage in embroidery than any other form of “Trench Art”
Trench Art
  • The sailors of the Royal Navy have always been experts in all forms of sewing. Sailors spent their time completing projects such as appliques with old sail scraps, chain stitching, darning, woolen work, rope drawings, and clever embroidery known as “woolies” (see main picture.) Keep the spirit of Trafalgar alive by learning to cross-stitch… landlubbers!

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

Comments? Tweet @neilmach 

Is magic impossible? How can an author make magic more believable?

Is magic impossible? How can an author make magic more believable? Why do some readers hate the idea of magic? Here are things you can do to make magic believable

We want to believe in something that’s exciting, wondrous, and dumbfounding. It’s the nature of human expectation.

Our worldview has evolved so we expect to “attain” the unattainable “reach” the unreachable and “think” the unthinkable. This gives us the drive and determination to create and develop. So, of course, fantasy authors turn to sparkling promise and glistering dreamstuff when they write fantasy epics. They choose to rustle things from thin air, and they like to create characters that come super-equipped with extraordinary — perhaps even preposterous — potential.

And let’s be clear, science has taught us that nothing is truly impossible: “Any science or technology which is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic” said novelist Arthur C. Clarke. This means that if anyone ever reliably demonstrates magic, it’s not magic any longer… because it has become science!

But why do some readers hate magic so much? And what can we do, as fantasy authors, to offset or reduce these reader aversions?

Three Wishes

Well, for a start, it might be because these folk think of themselves as rationalists so they don’t base their beliefs on emotional responses and untested knowledge. They almost certainly don’t base their understanding of this universe on tittle-tattle. Such level-headed individuals are quite certain that there’s little or no physical evidence to show the existence of what we like to think of as “magic.” Most accounts of magic are just urban myths, cautionary tales based on symbolism, superstitions based on quasi-religious beliefs, fantasy inspired hoaxes or enjoyable ‘campfire’ anecdotes.

Often we learn of magical happenings by re-quoting or hearing about the experiences of a friend of a friend. (This is what’s known in social science circles as: FOAF) When sharing knowledge of supernatural experiences, there is a tendency to offer no actual firsthand testimony of a magical event; neither will any witnesses be put forward to test the accuracy of the testimony — in fact, the identity of witnesses is never known to the narrator, because witnesses to supernatural events are generally FOAF; in other words, the narrative is little more than hearsay. 

Second, there has never been a magic spell or an enchantment that has been subjected to peer review. So, without refereeing, how can we ever trust something that’s not been tested for quality standards or performance? How has its credibility been proved?

Book of Spells

Next there’s the upsyturvy conundrum. How come, not once, has there ever been an empirical scientific discovery that has been deemed wrong, only to be replaced by a more convincing magical explanation?  Yet, the upsyturvy upshot is very often the case —it happens the other way around, all the time. For example, here are some magical ideas that have scientific explanations:

  • stones that fall from space [physicist Ernst Chladni proved meteorites come from space, in 1794]
  • human-created force fields [these became a verifiable fact in 1995 with the invention of the “plasma window”]
  • invisibility [research into metamaterials to make objects disappear continue, breakthroughs were in 2006]
  • teleportation [entanglement of large molecules was proved possible in 2002]

And what about controlling gravity to move things around? Or manipulating cells so wounds fix faster? Research is being done into both those things right now, with marked success. So, how come we can’t “wish” a spacecraft into orbit or make a talisman that provides its wearer with immunization against all ills? How come angels don’t arrive to save people from disaster? How come voodoo doesn’t protect the rain-forests? And when (if) these things ever happen, won’t they be scientific break-throughs?

Lastly, there’s the immutable balance of universal forces to contend with. In the universe there’s an equilibrium that depends on fundamental forces such as: gravity, strong force, weak force, and electromagnetism. It’s possible that there are universal forces yet to be discovered, though there can’t be many and they must be rare. But we can safely assume that the balance of the universe can’t be shifted or confounded without Cartesian notions of causation.

So what can we do about these inconsistencies as fantasy authors? How will we make our magic more believable? How will we bridge the gaps and jump the obstacles?

Magic Orb

As a fantasy author, you might one-day face a crisis… how do you include “acceptable” magic in your writings? Here are some tips:

  • Write about emotions. Emotions are magic. We cannot see them. They cannot be evaluated. And they manifest themselves in different ways and differently from person to person. However, they are part of our human experience and being emotional is a magic we all perform. Concentrate on emotions in your storytelling.
  • Write about storytelling. Words are magic. Think about it. As an author you pass a “thought” from one person to another using telepathy and a scatter of runes (runes are just the ink spots on paper or dots on the screen). How does this magic happen? How does a story materialize into the mind of the recipient?
  • Write about maths. Numbers are magic. Numbers don’t really exist. They are simply convenient ideas that might be scratched onto paper or evaluated.
  • Write about money. Money is magic because numerals are magic. Money doesn’t exist. Money is just a convenient idea that can be easily assessed within a spreadsheet.
  • Write about humans. Humans are magical beings. You don’t need unicorns and werewolves to add magic to your story. We come “out of nowhere” and one day we will enter “into nothingness.” However, for a short time we are capable of singing, laughing, inventing, creating and loving. Isn’t that magical? We seem so ordinary, yet we encompass everything that is impossible. And that is true magic. Isn’t it?

Comments? Tweet me @neilmach

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

Groucho on pillow
what is a cult?

What makes a cult a cult? 15 ways to identify a cult

A cult is an organization that employs deception, orchestrated by peer pressure — with psychological abuse, and repetitive indoctrination (brainwashing) — to promote a simple ideology that the cult leader is always “right” and deserves the utmost respect and earns unchallengeable authority

How can you assess a cult? Here are fifteen ways to identify a cult leader and a disciple:

What makes a cult a cult?
  • A cult frequently has its own unique proposition that differs widely from what is generally accepted by the larger society
  • A cult generally has an inspirational founder or spiritual leader
  • A cult leader (so the disciples too) often consider themselves above or beyond written law & accepted authority
  • The founder of a cult is normally considered irreproachable: i.e. sanctified
  • The goal of a cult is to increase power and control
  • The credibility (or not) of the teachings and doctrines of the cult cannot be disproven by ‘unbelievers’ (because the views of non-believers are impertinent & irrelevant)
beware of cults
  • Cults originate their own rituals & ceremonies to celebrate the advancement/achievements of disciples
  • A cult will demonize anyone who might be considered “outside” their narrow belief systems
  • Cults practice behavior control: followers must work, speak, or act only on behalf of the group
  • Cults practice information control: followers can only receive information through approved channels
  • Cult leaders practice emotional control: followers will be euphoric one moment, baffled (or even panicky) the next
  • Cults practice mental slavery: cults deprive followers of freedom of mind and freedom of choice
  • Cults offer a sense of belonging, a sense of being chosen, a clear sense of purpose, and a strong, unambiguous leader who offers straightforward direction
  • Followers of a cult feel needed, feel loved, and feel desired by their leader
  • Some cults justify or even allow morally deviant acts, perhaps including mass suicide

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©