Paganism In Fiction: Glamour & Lightning Bolts?

“I want to be a Pagan!” My cousin slammed the door behind her, pulled a book out of her backpack and shoved it so close to my face that I could smell it.


I leaned back in order to check the cover, The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. “Does Auntie know about your latest, um… desire?” My young cousin’s life changing decisions, which last a couple of days at the most, are usually inspired by reality shows and young adult romance novels.

“Are you insane?” She looked at me like I was already wearing the straightjacket. I didn’t blame her. Anyone who knew my cousin’s mother would react in a similar manner.

“Okay, she doesn’t know. So why do you want to be Pagan?”

“Ohmigod Magaly! I would expect that question from anyone but you. You are a Witch. You know what the Pagan gods can do.” She stared at me expectantly, but I didn’t know what she thought Pagan gods could do, so I didn’t say a word. She continued, “I mean, I just love the teleporting, the glamour and the lightning bolts!”

I sighed.

I glanced at the moon and sun symbols on the book cover and wondered about how to answer my cousin’s question, without living her disappointed with the book’s theme or with real life Paganism.
***
First, let me thank every fertility god for my abundance of cousins, which has allowed me to write this story without fear of eminent torture. My beloved aunt would probably skin me alive and bathe my cousin in holy water, if she ever learned about the blasphemy contained in her child’s latest reading choices.

Now I’ll move on to the reason behind this post: to introduce the topic of Paganism in fiction. I love fiction—in particular, Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. I enjoy reading this type of writing because it is exciting to see a writer’s imagination at work, and because these sub-genres often portray Pagan characters and traditions. Plus, where else am I going to find stories about Pagan superheroes who can travel through time/space, change their appearance at will, and throw lightning bolts?

But as with any other relationship, my fiction-Paganism affair is complicated. Many Pagans believe that there is already way too much talk about Paganism being fake, so why add more fuel to the fire by using Pagan characters and beliefs in fantasy writing?

The answer is simple: I don’t think fantasy writing is bad for Paganism or that it threatens the credibility of the belief system. Not as long as fantasy lovers realize that what they are reading is a fictitious story; a wondrous tale about real life characters and events that have been made incredible, by a writer, for their enjoyment.

I do understand that certain books and movies have made non-Pagans—my cousin for example—believe that Paganism is something otherworldly, unnatural and often scary. But this does not make fantasy writing a bad thing. It is just fantasy.

What about you, do you believe that modern fantasy writing affects Paganism? If so, is the effect positive or negative? Are you a non-Pagan who first heard about Paganism through a fantasy book or movie? Are you a Pagan who enjoys fantasy writing?

Share away…

18 comments:

  1. A friend of mine who is a minister at a local Methodist church recently asked me for my opinion as a Witch on Harry Potter. To sum up my answer, it's entertaining fiction, but Harry Potter has about as much do with real Witchcraft as X-Men has to do with the scientific theory of genetic mutation. It's a plot device at the least, or at best a metaphor for some social divide. But the magic (or mutation) is only a tool, and doesn't connect with the character's morality. Dumbledore's power doesn't make him the hero who's willing to bend rules for the greater good, nor does Magneto's particular gift incline him towards his ruthless approach to society.

    Where it does get confusing is where you have stories where the magic is tied to some theology or worldview - Lewis' *Chronicles of Narnia* or Pullman's *Golden Compass* series. There the magic does have more inherent moral weight, though it's important even here to remember much of the magic is metaphor only.

    I applaud your efforts to distinguish the Pagan from the fantastic.

    Blessed Be!

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  2. Grey-

    I really like this example. It does explain the most basic difference between fantasy and real life.

    I'm also glad you pointed out Phillip Pullman's "The Golden Compass" series. That is going to be a great topic for a post, just like Michael Scott's "The Alchemyst" series and Sherrilyn Kenyon's "Dark-Hunter" series. All these fictions books use very real characters, events, or societal conflicts and make an amazing story. To tell you the truth, I was a bit scare to start this type of discussion, but I'm also excited!

    I love and live Paganism, and I really like fantasy writing. I don't think that neither of the two hurts the other, but I would like for people--especially those not familiar with Paganism--to understand the difference. And I plan to have a blast while I'm at it :)

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  3. My name is Christa, and I love The Craft. I know it's just a bad nineties coming of age qua "witch" movie, but it's fantastic. And, yes, I've had people ask me if Paganism is like The Craft. While frustrating, or amusing, I don't see the harm here.

    Myths told in ancient times had their skeptics and their believers. Socrates and Plato did not credit the myths with reality in the same sense as they gave history (or philosophy) any more than the average person believes that Star Wars documents the actual events of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Even then, as they are now, they were stories told with a purpose. Not necessarily the Aesop's Fables brand where the message is tightly printed at the end as one character discusses "what they learned today." Rather, the myths of yesterday, and the fiction of today, play the function of exploring aspects of our lives. Look at the Epic of Gilgamesh, which struggles through many problems: the fear of death, the stages of grieving (in fact, Gilgamesh may have already been aware of the psychological stages of grieving millenia before the modern world did), the meeting of city and nature (city wins when Gilgamesh defeats Enkidu). Modern day fiction does a fulfills a similar function.

    I am willing to believe that little real damage is done by the fantasy genre among the majority of the population. Certainly, there are those rather vocal minority groups who think that Harry Potter should be band from school because it promotes Witchcraft, but they do as much damage to themselves as anyone else in being so loudly ridiculous.

    Besides, I'm not willing to give up my fantasy novels.

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  4. I would distinguish between fantasy in the sense that someone is setting out to write something 'fantastic' or to write about paganism as a fantasised construction, and books about faery or on mythological themes written because the author wanted to write about those things as experienced modes of perception. The latter certainly contribute to my life as a pagan whether they are 'traditional' or modern. The former do not.

    Phillip Pullman - as mentioned above - is an interesting example of fiction that obliquely touches pagan interests.

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  5. Hi
    your blog is the perfect combination of some of my core interests; I am not a believer of any religion, but enjoy exploring the philosophy of all religions and the signicance believing has to humans now and throughout the course of history. In addition I love fantasy, so I will be a dedicated follower.
    Finally: thanks so much for being my first follower! I will keep you posted :)

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  6. Christa-

    I love The Craft too! To be honest, there are a few movies I watch a couple of times a month and The Craft is one of them. I just laugh so hard every time that bigot girl's hair falls out, and I have a feeling that if I had that kind of power, there would probably be a bunch of bald people walking around. Just kidding... maybe... lol

    Like you, I believe that saying that saying that HP is bad for kids is just mildly insane. Whenever I hear someone say that I ask them when was the last time that the saw a kid jumping off a building because he thought he could fly like superman. I usually get a blank stare or a "It's not the same" lame excuse.

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  7. Heron-

    I see what you mean about learning something from fiction books that speak about beings and/or beliefs that we believe in real life. In my case, books about ancient Greek mythology have contributed during visualization. They enhance my imagination.

    And when it comes to Phillip Pullman, I think that the man touches many sensitive points when it comes to organized religions, to Paganism and to the huge theist vs. atheist issue. I've read "The Golden Compass" series a few times and I'm still amazed.

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  8. Alie-

    I'm glad you'd found something you like in Pagan Culture. And I'm thrilled to have you as a follower!

    I am a theist, but more than anything I'm a lover of religious thought and culture in general. I'm just amaze to see how religion affects society as a whole.

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  9. My mom is much like your aunt. She'd breathe enough fire to fill up the seven levels of hell, if she found out I mentioned even one witch in my book. Thank goodness she doesn't read my stuff. ;)

    I think fiction makes people want to know more about witchcraft. Not because all of them want to become Pagans, but rather, out of curiosity. Readers who love fiction involving witchcraft will eventually learn that not all of it is the same (and possibly contradictory) and want to know the truth. If they're writers, then they'll want the information to spice up their world building. Either way, I feel like it's a positive effect because the knowledge people gain will put to rest many of the stereotypes and rumors. The only time it seems negative is when someone deliberately sets out to find the bad in Paganism so they can point the I-told-you-so finger.

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  10. I'll confess to a certain guilty pleasure in watching The Craft. Though for thoughtful Pagan discourse (Minus that whole human sacrifice thing at the end, of course!) might I recommend the original (1973) The Wicker Man...?

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  11. Marcia-

    I your view on the issue is then one reason I believe any type of decent fiction writing is good for Paganism. When a writer takes the time to do research and his/her writer reflects "the good, the bad and the ugly" of a particular topic, the writer is enriching the topic. And like you say, is giving the readers a reason to do some more research if they wish to know more.

    There are always going to be happiness vampires everywhere, and if they want to go around sucking the fun and beauty out of everything that's their business. I usually give them a silent questioning look and wonder if they've ever been happy about anything in life.

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  12. Grey-

    I enjoyed The Wicker Man too (the original) even if the end freaked me out a bit. The new one was a not all that great, but I really like Nicholas Cage, so that helped me endure the torture of watching the coolness been sucked out of a good movie.

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  13. Grey-

    I enjoyed The Wicker Man too (the original) even if the end freaked me out a bit. The new one was a not all that great, but I really like Nicholas Cage, so that helped me endure the torture of watching the coolness been sucked out of a good movie.

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  14. Alie-

    I'm glad you'd found something you like in Pagan Culture. And I'm thrilled to have you as a follower!

    I am a theist, but more than anything I'm a lover of religious thought and culture in general. I'm just amaze to see how religion affects society as a whole.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Marcia-

    I your view on the issue is then one reason I believe any type of decent fiction writing is good for Paganism. When a writer takes the time to do research and his/her writer reflects "the good, the bad and the ugly" of a particular topic, the writer is enriching the topic. And like you say, is giving the readers a reason to do some more research if they wish to know more.

    There are always going to be happiness vampires everywhere, and if they want to go around sucking the fun and beauty out of everything that's their business. I usually give them a silent questioning look and wonder if they've ever been happy about anything in life.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi
    your blog is the perfect combination of some of my core interests; I am not a believer of any religion, but enjoy exploring the philosophy of all religions and the signicance believing has to humans now and throughout the course of history. In addition I love fantasy, so I will be a dedicated follower.
    Finally: thanks so much for being my first follower! I will keep you posted :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. hi, Magaly... I know, i know, it is hmm.. an old post of yours. but i found to be so much of what I am trying to write about in my witchy blog... Paganism in popular culture, people's stereotypes...you can definitely skip my comment)) just wanted to share my thought.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, Anna, I love when people comment on old posts. I would never ignore your thoughts ;-)

      Maybe one of these days we can do something together, and write a few posts about Paganism in popular culture and interfaith and inter-racial relationships. That would be sweet!

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