Notes toward a Pagan Theology of Fiction

Pagans widely agree that fiction has spiritual power. In their interviews of Pagans, Margot Adler (Drawing Down the Moon) and Sarah Pike (Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves) both found that Pagans often cited science fiction or fantasy as important inspirations for their spiritual life. In religious studies scholarship generally, there’s an enormous amount of material on how people have engaged novels, films, and other media for spiritual purposes (one good recent example is Invented Religions; some of my own contributions to this topic include papers on matriarchal Goddess novels, Heinlein and Starhawk, and film as religion).  My take has generally focused on how fiction with a spiritual impulse has inspired real-life community practice, followed by individuals re-fictionalizing those community practices in order to better articulate and spread their religious values. As in myth, which tends to focus on spiritual or cultural truth rather than historical truth (though there may be a historical event or person at the core of the tale), Pagans often use fiction to clarify values, describe ecstatic experiences, or articulate hopes in a way that feels spiritually authentic—a purpose for which literal, historical prose accounts are not well designed.

Here at Patheos, we’ve had quite a few posts recently touching on the topic of fiction and Paganism. Sterling, for instance, writes about how the images from a favorite novel allowed her to form a real-life connection to the spirit of a particular river. (Her experience reminds me of the conversation in this blog, where the author argues that the local gods and spirits of a particular place are forced to use images we are familiar with in order to speak to us – such that, while we may seem to be speaking with a deity from across the world, we may actually be relating to a local deity who has clothed hirself in a way designed to get our attention.) Gus diZerega has offered a two-part series on pop culture and the formation of independently acting thought forms, suggesting the power that the media we consume may have on our behavior as individuals and as a society. Sunweaver recently shared about her use of fictional heroes as a way of exploring human virtues, and Aine Llewellyn responded with some reflections on how fiction and pop culture help to inform his work with contacting local and/or previously unknown spirits.

Although I myself have found fiction to be religiously inspiring (especially fiction that includes the worship of historical deities), I largely keep characters derived from pop culture entertainment out of my devotions. There is something compelling in diZerega’s suggestion that given enough attention and energy, a thought-form originally based in a pop culture narrative can become responsive (or, perhaps, a previously-existing spirit will clothe itself in those images in order to make human contact). Yet I still tend to agree with Galina Krasskova that making pop culture the focus of a spiritual practice could distract us from forming relationships with the partially forgotten, but potentially very responsive spirits of our local land and of our particular ancestors. (Krasskova’s post is in response to Sunweaver’s, as is this very interesting post on the nature of film vs. theater and its relationship to ritual by Sannion.)

As someone who makes her living largely at a computer screen, I know I already struggle to be present with my little square of earth and its particular flora and fauna (including the human fauna who are my neighbors). Keeping up with internet communication and its rapid change is intellectually stimulating, but in other ways, its demands directly contradict what I know is best for my health in its broadest sense. Spending time outside, being present with my surroundings, and cultivating a pace of life that allows deep contemplation and deep intimacy is good for me, good for the health of my community, and good for the health of the world—but I find myself summoned to the computer to earn a living and try to disseminate those locally-focused values to the wider world. Ah, paradox. —In any case, I worry that fiction can have an escapist quality, and that engaging with it too directly in my spiritual life might distract me even further from the local.

And yet… Although I find myself sympathetic with Krasskova’s argument, it hinges on the idea that there is a kernel of historicity at the heart of tales of Cu Chulain, Heracles, and Achilles. Krasskova suggests that these heroes’ historical existence gives them a tie to real-life communities that purely fictional characters cannot have. But I am skeptical, because as we know well, the relationship between the tales told of historical people and the historical reality often diverge wildly within even a few generations. Pick up a copy of Lies My Teacher Told Me and consider the propaganda that passes for history in our public schools—the distortion of even basic facts about important American figures. It is in no way clear to me that heroic legends have the power to put devotees in touch with personalities who are more than literary creations, particularly when the historical gap is one of thousands of years. Even in a post-Enlightenment era where we observe a line between fiction and fact that many ancient peoples did not, our “history” is far more literary in content than we like to acknowledge.

I plan to continue to collect resources on this topic, perhaps to write something more substantial about all the ways Pagans use fiction in their practice and theology. What are your thoughts?

EDIT: I should have mentioned here Alan Moore‘s theology of fiction as articulated especially in Promethea (and which scholar Jeffrey Kripal finds underlying a number of different works of science fiction and fantasy). Moore sees reality itself as narrative—that all beings are tales being told in the mind of God (an idea he derives partially from poet and artist William Blake). This circumvents the claim of a certain group of Pagans that for gods to be real, they need to be historical, not fictional. For Moore, since reality itself is narrative, both human beings and gods are real *because* they are part of the narrative of creation. The line between the fictional and the real is blurred, if not entirely erased; although some fictions are manifest in flesh and others are not, and fictions have varying degrees of consciousness and power, all fiction is understood as ultimately real.

About Christine Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer is Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com. Christine holds a PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University. She has published widely on literature, popular culture, and Paganism and is the author of Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies (Patheos Press, 2012) as well as Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective (Routledge, 2013). Christine is also an instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, where she served for two years as chair of the Theology and Religious History department.

  • Traci

    I think the second part of Gus diZerega’s series is lusciously ripe with mythic imagery, and tantalizingly available for crafting into a true American Mythos. I am beyond ready for American pagans to come fully into the land they inhabit and, as Steven Posch has so eloquently said elsewhere, naturalize: (http://www.penton.co.za/how-do-you-say-that-in-witch-an-interview-with-culture-builder-of-paganistan-steven-posch/)

    “It’s an anthropological truism that when people travel they take their mythologies with them, and in time those mythologies naturalize. That’s the job of our generation of new pagans. What D. H. Lawrence calls Isis in Search is the perfect metaphor for us, because the old ways that we love were broken and scattered, and so we’ve got to patiently, patiently gather up all their sundered pieces and, with the very greatest magic we can muster, breath life back into them…”

    “First, we need to set hoof to ground, and I mean this both literally and figuratively. …So we need to set down the book, turn off the computer, and go take a walk in the woods. Can you identify your local birds by their songs? Can you point to the place on the horizon where the Sun rises on the shortest day? Where is your nearest local holy place? The genius of the paganisms has always been to understand that the only way to touch the universal is through the specific. What we do needs to naturalize: it needs to put down local roots and take on local coloration.”

  • Sunweaver

    Part of my perspective is that historicity isn’t necessary for someone to derive spiritual meaning. I think that when we absolutely have to have our myths be historical truth, we get bogged down in how factual the story is rather than how True it is.

    I’ve been to some very powerful rituals that used metaphors derived from fandom. One, for example, called for the spirit of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland whom I had the honor to embody. And the experience was as real as you please. The White Rabbit isn’t “real” in the same way that my cat is real. I can’t poke him with a stick, but when I say “White Rabbit,” most of you will know what I mean and about half of you will start singing Jefferson Airplane. Myth and magic both rely on metaphor to speak to our limited monkey brains and there are ways in which some works of fiction do that very well.

    This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also go talk to the spirit of the cottonwood over yonder or the God of Stones River up the road apiece. It’s not a zero-sum game. In fact, a more expansive view of myth might even help us get in touch with the divine manifest in our natural world.

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      Agreed; I’ve been to some great rituals based on fictional characters or settings too. But I think the question I’m asking here is, is there something enduring there with which we can form relationship in the same way we can a deity or a spirit? And if not, do we risk distracting ourselves from the here and now by focusing too much on fiction? Is it the purpose of such rituals different, but equally useful?

      • Sunweaver

        In some cases, yes – there’s absolutely something enduring there. In some cases, perhaps no. There’s a reason some characters endure for decades or even centuries. They speak to us on some deep level. Of course, there’s also a reason some characters do not– like that monkey that hung around with the Wonder Twins. For me it’s less like speaking to the gods and more like accessing archetypes. The former is more poke-with-a-stick tangible than the latter (for me– your mileage may vary, etc. etc.), but I’m totally into metaphor being all up in my religion. That’s just how I roll.

        If you bury your head into fiction and don’t come out to smell the rain or get your hands in the dirt, then yes, it’s a distraction. All things in moderation, after all. I can both give the common names and some of the scientific names of almost all the trees and plants in my yard and derive meaning from the Hulk comics. My eldest is simultaneously getting into bird watching and Iron Man, so again, not a zero-sum game.

        I’m in the “different but equally useful” camp.

      • Aine

        I think there can be something enduring there, though there isn’t always. And I also think something enduring there is just…there, perhaps always has been, and sometimes what endures was created by the love of the people for that character or world. But a lot of my relationships with spirits and gods are brief, fleeting, and so it can be with spirits that are from or wear the masks of pop culture.

        I also think the usefulness of such spirits depends on what we’re focused on. I’m not as focused on earth worship or nature reverence, and most of my path is about urbanity and modern goodness (and badness), and I’m not all that worried about being distracted from the here and now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=629481545 Suzanne Hill Thackston

    i think the problem may lie in the human tendency to over-emphasize the value of ‘history’ over ‘fiction’ and ignore how very, very blurred these lines become when we’re discussing ancient heroes.

    the very suggestion that herakles might not have been ‘real’ makes some folks hyperventilate. for many of us, though, the historicity of a guy named herakles is far less important than the myth.

    as joseph campbell said ‘”Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”

    few sensible pagans advocate worshipping fictional characters. sunweaver never suggested anyone should, despite all the pop and squeak. but not the import and impact of myth and mythical heroes should not be judged on their historical veracity. they’re far too vital to be reduced to that.
    khairete
    suz

    • Sunweaver

      You win for mentioning Joe Campbell. His work was/is integral to my religious education.

    • KNicoll

      I’m often really cautious around situations where historicity comes up as important, because frankly that’s one of the things that I perceive as a root of sickness in particular flavors of Christianity: the idea that the historical Jesus is critical, and their religion falls apart if any of the purported facts of that historicity fail. (Which means the entire edifice of scripture has to be factualised, because who knows where the boundaries of historicity have to go in order to keep that safe?)

      There’s a reason that a lot of ancient myths put most mythic events in some sort of different time – a lost Golden Age when this sort of thing happened, or the kairos/chronos distinction, or whatever else. Because as soon as this stuff is framed in terms of ordinary time, then ordinary laws and logic apply, and the mythic truths can get buried under “Well, when did *you* see a pig fly, huh?” I suspect this is one of the reasons that a lot of pagan materials appeal to the Great Universal Matriarchy or the Lost Witch Cult; to tap into the essential timelessness of mythic reality.

      But when the initial spark of vision, or whatever, is within some span of “recent events”, it’s easier to dismiss. It’s harder to see a recently developed/articulated/imaged truth as falling into that same span of the timeless as other mythological information. I mean, Columbia is a pop culture goddess, but because she’s an eighteenth or nineteenth century pop culture goddess, it doesn’t cause pop-culture controversy for people to propose venerating her. There isn’t the same sense of living memory of the time before there was this imagery. (The US: where a hundred years is a long time….)

      I’m the sort of person who’s totally thrown for a loop when a goddess who was codified in ancient imagery chooses to appear to me in a form that’s clearly post-Victorian; updating my imagery to incorporate the twentieth century is hard for me, let alone the twenty-first. (But, at the same time, if I’m honest with myself, I know that one of my gods first spoke to me by quoting Kosh from Babylon 5.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=629481545 Suzanne Hill Thackston

        yes! you’ve nailed it really well here, i think.
        if persephone speaks to me through alice, or ares through beowulf, it doesn’t mean that i worship alice or beowulf.
        the gods aren’t restricted to traditional forms.
        and heroes aren’t bound to gravesites.
        khairete
        suz

        • Sunweaver

          Bingo!

  • KNicoll

    In a world where an atheist working for Marvel can speak of being visited by Thor and Odin in a dream, who spoke to him about his work and to whom he kept the promises he made in that encounter, I am … wary about the outrage that has been spilled about the application of fiction. The gods I know are large enough to take on many forms (and in fact my theology claims that they do, and that not all those forms are known even to the other gods).

    My virst Vocation was as a novelist, and I was constantly dealing with people who treated that work as trivial. I would occasionally say, “If what I write isn’t true, I fucked it up.” Fictional reality is not that far askew of mythic reality; the fact that most of my writing these days is theological rather than fantastic is not a huge shift for me.

    Yeah, some people spend a lot of time in fantasy worlds. So what? They’d do that anyway. The difference between someone claiming to have spiritual support and a relationship with a spiritual entity who answers to “Batman” and someone claiming that the Powers that Be have tapped them to be a mighty hero in the perpetual and immediate War On The Astral is, at minimum, that the first doesn’t have a massive overinflation of their self-importance.

    I can’t help but connect this all, mentally, to the previous discussions and arguments about venerating Columbia as a tutelary goddess for the United States, despite her blatant ties with “manifest destiny”, and, you know, her origin in popular art. (Where was this flamewar then? I didn’t see a whole lot of people suggesting that the veneration of such pop-culture deities might be problematic while Native folks were trying to point out that one of Columbia’s domains was genocide.) Y’know, if I have to pick between pop-culture entities, I’ll go with some that don’t have the legitimacy of oil paintings if it means I don’t have actual ethical problems with their veneration. I’m thinking Steve Rogers.

    • Aine

      It’s very interesting that the same people throwing hissy fits about pop culture paganism were a-okay and supported venerating Columbia…and I’d definitely prefer to venerate Steve Rogers as well.

      Aaaand I like your point about fiction reality being not so different from mythic reality. I’m confused as to when pop culture paganism became an issue of ‘true believers’ – it’s as though acknowledging that fiction has power and reality makes us ‘fake [whatever label]‘.

      • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

        > It’s very interesting that the same people throwing hissy fits about pop culture paganism were a-okay and supported venerating Columbia…and I’d definitely prefer to venerate Steve Rogers as well.

        That *is* interesting. What was the difference, I wonder? Was it the perception that Columbia had more widespread cultural cachet and history than, say, comic book characters? (Although, as KNicoll points out, WOW problematic political history with Columbia.) Yet some comic book characters are going on 80 years old — not that much younger than Columbia, and some are close to being as well-known. So is it the idea that comic book characters were largely invented for entertainment purposes, while a symbol like Columbia was always meant to be a community inspiration? And if that’s the difference, why is the original intent the most important thing?

        • KNicoll

          Honestly I don’t think it’s that sophisticated a reasoning. I think it’s just that the pop culture of the 1700s and 1800s doesn’t parse to children of the mass media age as “pop culture”.

          • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

            And the assumption is that pop culture is not to be taken seriously, but “history” is?

          • KNicoll

            Some of that, I think.

            Some also, I think, that named and nameable myth-originators are … uncomfortable for a lot of people, and to a certain extent named and nameable religion-originators, likewise. This is why “Gardnerian” originates as a slur, after all – the implication being that it was all What Gardner Made Up, and thus didn’t have any particular legitimacy because he was just some guy.

            (Mormonism: also gets hit with the Just Some Guy effect. I have seen it directed at Islam, as well. I have not seen it directed at Jesus or the Buddha, however. I suspect they get off because of being more “history” than “some guy”. There’s also something about the production of scripture striking me as more likely to get a hostile reaction – if Smith had just preached and formed a schismatic movement, the result would probably not be treated with the same skepticism and presumption of illegitimacy.)

            Tracking down the origins of the concept of Columbia isn’t hard to do – I mean, Wikipedia suggests that Samuel Johnson coined her name, states that her first appearance as a personification was in the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley, and so on – but it’s not common knowledge in the same way that “Stan Lee created Spiderman” is. It’s knowable but not known, in other words, so it doesn’t ping the same “this can’t be legitimate because I know (of/about) the person whose idea it is” effect.

          • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

            That’s a great observation. Thanks.

          • Sunweaver

            People like to be validated in their beliefs. They want “science” or “history” to tell them they’re right, but religion simply doesn’t handle the same kinds of questions that history and science do. You’ve got to have something tangible and measurable to support your ideas in history and science, but that’s just not necessary to validate a spiritual experience or religious belief.
            “I just know it to be True” doesn’t fly as an argument anywhere except in religion– and that’s okay! It’s okay just to know something about your religion (coughcoughgnosiscough). The only evidence you need is your heart.

      • KNicoll

        I don’t actually recall whether the people I’ve seen weighing in on the pop culture end of things had much to say about Columbia – I don’t recall them doing so, as that argument was mostly had in areas where I didn’t see most of it.

        Part of my fundamental perspective on a lot of this is that I’ve always treated my fiction work as a combination between a devotional act and the actions of a creator god (which places me pretty solidly in Alan Moore’s narrativist theology in many ways). A lot of people have been puzzled by my treating it as work for a primordial creator god rather than a wordsmith one, but … it is what it is.

  • Ellen Evert Hopman

    In my Druid novels my aim has always been to teach Celtic spirituality through fiction. I call the books “Bardic teaching tales” because I embed rites and passages within romance-adventure novels. The books have strong female Druid protagonists, to counter the usually male depictions of Druids. The current trilogy ( hint – there may be a fourth book gestating) covers the realms of sacred Land, Sea and Sky respectively. Priestess of the Forest – A Druid Journey, The Druid Isle and Priestess of the Fire Temple – A Druid’s Tale are available in all the usual places and from my own site http://www.elleneverthopman.com

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      Thanks!

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  • http://astroherbalist.com AstroHerbalist

    Well? My thoughts actually are too long for comments (and will refer to ElvenSpirituality.com for now)! Great post, and your ebook is on my wish list! I wanted to add a couple more resources for you on this comment thread. You may be interested in Markus Davidsen’s work, found here: http://leidenuniv.academia.edu/MarkusDavidsen – he did an article that was featured in the $200-ish “Handbook on Hyper-Real Religions” on spiritual paths that integrate Tolkien’s Legendarium to differing degrees. The other, less scholarly, more practical but still quite worthy is Taylor Ellwood’s books on “Pop Culture Magick” and the accompanying Grimoire he put together with Andrieh Vitimus. See “My Publications” at http://magicalexperiments.com to check them out! :-)

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      I know that Handbook! Very interesting volume. Thanks for the other resources.

  • JasonMankey

    Why is the worship of Herne (based on a folktale) OK and the worship of Superman not? Science fiction and fantasy could essentially looked at as the folktales of today. I think we often look at age as a legitimizing factor, if something is centuries old then it’s legitimate, if it’s relatively new then it’s not.

    I’m certainly not advocating Superman worship, but people always seem to be fighting the wrong battles. Saying “not a god” is limiting to deity, how do we know how gods evolve and develop?

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      For me, I think it has to do with the intent of the creators and storytellers. (I’ve made this argument against the people who want to treat movies as a religion — see the link in my post.) Movies can be spiritually inspiring, but they’re created mainly for entertainment purposes. If audiences work with those movies in a spiritual context, they may gain spiritual insight and inspiration from them. But they’re not quite as spiritually meaty and juicy as myths and stories that were created for the purposes of spiritual insight and devotion. In fact, movies often unreflectively reproduce really problematic cultural and political patterns, just because they sell. Whereas in a religious context, well, not all religious stories are equally good and ethical, but they do tend to be more deliberate about their values and intent. I put more trust in the ability of a religious story that has been preserved for centuries (and has been worked with by thousands of people) to be spiritually insightful than I do into a movie that was made last year by people who were trying to make money.

      Superheroes do get into interesting territory, though, because they *are* being worked with by hundreds of storytellers and fans, some of whom have no financial interest in the matter. I think there’s potential for pop culture to become religious culture when the intent of the people working with the story or character becomes explicitly religious and stays that way over decades or centuries.

      • Allec Guire

        I just want to point out that myths were originally the form of entertainment. Theatre Dionysus existed as a place to tell myths, but also as a festival of enjoyment (hence the connection to Dionysus.) They also had a lot of problematic virtues, depending on which myth and how it is being retold. So discounting a source of a god because that source was meant for entertainment would invalidate almost any myth, legend, or fairy tale–yet these are often seen as primary forms of learning about deities in any culture.

        A frequent criticism I get for worshiping and having a spirituality built around gods/desses of Celtic and Greek history is that they are “only stores” and “not real.” Is that not the same argument being made towards those who find contemporary stories spiritually inspiring?

        Also, Super Heroes have more apparent and direct ties to American culture than Celtic myths or Greek myths.

        But at the end of it all? The people who practice “pop culture” paganism are the ones to determine if their religion is valid and as to why. It isn’t a place for someone who is outside that framework of belief.

        • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

          Yes, and before the 20th century, church was also a major source of entertainment — but I don’t think either ancient theater or church was ever understood as *solely* entertainment. Modernity is, I think, peculiar in that it has such sophisticated pieces of art that are not necessarily intended to have greater meaning.

          > A frequent criticism I get for worshiping and having a spirituality built around gods/desses of Celtic and Greek history is that they are “only stores” and “not real.” Is that not the same argument being made towards those who find contemporary stories spiritually inspiring?

          Yes, which is a good argument for the other side of the issue :)

        • Traci

          The questions that arise for me, when considering this line of thinking, are:
          -what was the context of daily life
          -how was entertainment understood by the culture engaged with it

          It would be a mistake to apply the modern, western understanding of concepts such as ‘entertainment’ or ‘religion’ onto pre-modern cultures. Context is everything.

          I would wager that the Greeks celebrating Theatre Dionysus had a radically different perspective on what they were doing, and what the activity meant to their daily lives. Political systems were different, lifestyles were different, how they made a living was different, family systems were different…every single area of life–of culture–was different, including how those peoples viewed the world around them. The living world was still animate (though diminishing); trees still spoke, storms still had a mind of their own, and mountains could move.

          Our modern engagement with fiction and story is necessarily altered, due to the enormous changes in social structure and culture.

    • http://www.facebook.com/henry.buchy Henry Buchy

      we do “know” how ‘gods’ evolve and develop. Just look at any cultures mythology. There’s lots of information to draw conclusions from. :-)
      I’ll tend toward the reverse. Folks often look at what is centuries old as fable and unsophisticated and take anything new as the legitimizing factor.

  • elorie

    I don’t know if I think that reality is narrative, but our consciousness certainly is. Anyhow as I mentioned in response to one of Aine’s posts, what intrigues me most here is the implications about the nature of being a writer, or an artist in general. It leads one to the notion that inspiration is divine and I am a priestess of those forces, or at least their intermediary…and that IS a historical religious idea.

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      Yes!

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

    It’s good to see this public articulation of the subject. I noted the many instances of pop culture mythology surfacing in various new religions, and in order to explore this I started my blog TheoFantastique.com. Since then I have enjoyed the various research directions this has taken, including fiction-based or hyper-real spiritualities (the work of Adam Possamai is noteworthy here). Christians have been trying to articulate a theology of fantasy, and to far lesser extents, science fiction too, while horror is usually kept at arms length. I appreciate reading a Pagan’s efforts at doing the same.

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      Thanks for the blog link! I like Possamai’s work too. I should check out some of the Christian theologies of fantasy. Recommendations?

  • http://www.facebook.com/henry.buchy Henry Buchy

    are they really works of total fiction? The characters may be different but the plot lines are pretty old, recurring themes. I’d agree to an extent that ‘fiction’ can be seen as modern mythos in a sense where they can convey ethical/moral principles/struggles. In that area at least Jung and Campbell got some things right. I’d say the reason some fictions ‘hook’ folks more than others is due to a closeness to ‘reality’ or ‘history’ and taps into a deeper strata. Both of what might have been and what may be. Also, lots of our present day tech was inspired by fiction. if so with physical, why not metaphysical?

    In regards to what you mention about Alan Moore re:narrative, that’s evident in quite a few of the epic works of fiction/fantasy, Dune, Lord of the Rings, Earthsea, to name a few. Though Moore may have gotten the idea from Blake, the idea that “all beings are tales being told in the mind of God” is far older than Blake. A good reference to this type of narrative mechanics can be found in Julian Jaynes,’The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind’. Is the mind of the author analogous to the mind of god? heh

    Another aspect enveloping this question is the idea of egregore, and the metaphysics behind ‘life force’ and ‘thought form’. There are also other metaphysical considerations on the question of “historical personality”

    Are we just ‘analogue ‘I”‘s in the metaphorical mind space of cosmic consciousness?heh.

    • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

      > In that area at least Jung and Campbell got some things right. I’d say the reason some fictions ‘hook’ folks more than others is due to a closeness to ‘reality’ or ‘history’ and taps into a deeper strata.

      That’s a great point.

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    Awesome response to this post here, on an animistic approach to fiction and folklore: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asenseofplace/2013/05/an-animists-take-on-fiction-to-view-or-not-to-view/

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer
  • Taylor Ellwood

    From my own perspective, older belief systems were at one point the pop culture of their day, and in some ways even now are the pop culture of our day, reapropriated and redone into more contemporary culture. And I can’t help but think that both the Norse and Greek Gods, as an example, appreciate the renewed interest and attention from various people due to the retelling of their stories (and new stories) as found in pop culture.

    • Traci

      “older belief systems were at one point the pop culture of their day,”

      Can you expound on this a bit? Do you have a particular ‘belief system’ in mind? I am aware of a profound shift occurring from the mesolithic (hunter-gatherer customs) into the neolithic (farming customs), but have considered historic era systems to be of a kind.

      • Taylor Ellwood

        Let’s use the Greek myths as an example. The Greek myths are stories about heroes and gods, and those stories are used to explain why the world is the way it is, as well as model certain normative behaviors that were essential to that culture. But, in my opinion they were also pop culture of that time, told to entertain as well as educate. They didn’t have T.V. way back when but they had stories if you look at pop culture now, it boils down to stories. People love to tell stories and stories are a cultural constant. Every culture has stories…so I think of stories as pop culture and the myths as pop culture in the original time they were written.

  • Taylor Ellwood
  • Ashley Yakeley

    I haven’t read all the posts in this debate, so maybe this has been said, but,

    I see two related problems with devotions to characters from fiction. The first is the intellectual property issue, which really ought to give pagans pause. Someone else, some person or company, has the right to decide which stories about the character you are devoted to may or may not be told. Of course this doesn’t apply to all characters, Alice in Wonderland for instance belongs to everyone.

    The second is the difference between literature and mythology. The first is the work of, typically, a single author. The second involves a telling and retelling process that refines and distills the vital meanings of a story, and binds it more deeply to the culture. A single person, even Tolkien, cannot do that. Possibly we see a little bit of the retelling process in the Superman stories, with all the reboots and adaptations, I don’t know.

    Of course, this still leaves our own folklore. I know there are lots of pagans who make offerings to the fairies, informed by European folk tales. I’m not sure about hero stories though, maybe King Arthur?

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer
  • yewtree

    I wrote an article some years ago on the parallels between science fictional ideas and Pagan thought (and it is linked from the Articles tab of the blog :) )

    http://pagantheologies.pbworks.com/News+from+Nowhere

  • yewtree

    On the issue of regarding fictional characters as deities – it depends very much on the character, and the intentions of the author or authors. I regard Robin Hood as a demigod, and yet he is a possibly historical character with other legends that have got attached to him (much like King Arthur, Jesus, Buddha, and perhaps even Aradia). All these characters were worked on by multiple storytellers. However, I would imagine Tolkien would be shocked at people actually calling on Varda (Elbereth Gilthoniel) and it jars for me if someone does this in ritual, in a way that it would not if they called on the Oh God of Hangovers, or Herne the Hunted, from Discworld.


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