Paganism In Fiction

“I hate Artemis! Why doesn’t the Simi bite her freaking head off already?” I almost threw my latest Dark-Hunter Novel across the room… almost, but I love my books way too much.

“She is a mean goddess,” agreed my friend, who is as addicted to Sherrilyn Kenyon’s novels as I am.

I stared at the book cover, remembering the horrible things Artemis had done to Acheron, and I sighed. “The meanest goddess of them all...”

“It must be hard on you.” My friend touched my right shoulder.

I cocked my head to one side, and blinked a few times. “Huh?”

My friend clarified. “Well, Artemis is a Pagan goddess, so it must bother you to see someone turning one of your deities into such a despicable character.”

“The Artemis in this book is a fictitious “despicable character”, not my Pagan goddess.”

My friend raised a confused eyebrow. “So you don’t find the book offensive?”

I threw my head back and laughed. “Offensive? No! I love the Dark-Hunter Novels. Sherrilyn Kenyon is an amazing writer, and she knows so much about ancient mythology that her characters are very believable. I think her writing, if anything, may compel a few readers to find out more about Paganism and its gods.”

“What about the ones who judge Paganism based on the novels alone?” My friend wanted to know.

The remnants of my laughter vanished. “Good fiction should stimulate the senses, feed the imagination, and take the reader for a good ride. It should never be the only source for knowledge. I guess I’d have to feel sorry for anyone who uses only fiction to make sense of their reality.”

***

The friend in this story is not Pagan. We met in a philosophy of religion class a few years ago, and have been engaging in delicious (and heated) spiritual discussions ever since—don’t tell her though. She believes we are just talking about school stuff.

My beloved atheist friend is not alone in her thoughts about Paganism in Fiction, for it seems that everybody has something to say when discussing how fiction affects Paganism. There are Pagans who believe that fiction has a negative effect on the credibility of our belief system, while others feel that “any publicity is good publicity”. I can’t fully agree with any of these two groups.


I believe that fiction serves to expand a reader’s perception of Paganism. A person who believes Paganism to be evil will probably focus on some of the ugliness found in certain works of fiction. Those who love Paganism will very likely use fiction to take the enjoyment of their beliefs to the next level.
artwork by Cynthia Rudzis
My own feelings on this issue could be best explained by words found in “Growing Our Pagan Culture”, my favorite issue of PanGaia: A Pagan Journal for Thinking People. In her article, “Tales Seldom Told: Pagan Fiction Comes of Age”, Witch and writer Barbara Fisher suggested that “Sometimes fiction can convey truths that non-fiction cannot touch, and can bring humanity together in ways that no other thing can.”

I have made a lot of non-Pagan friends who would not approach me—no joke—in the past because they knew I was an Eclectic Witch and didn’t know how to deal with the information. I led a group a few years ago, called Witches’s Reading Lounge, where Pagans and non-Pagans came together to enjoy fiction and to discuss how it influenced our spirituality. We used fiction to deal with social and spiritual issues that most people wouldn’t “touch” otherwise. Many members of the group found out a bit about Paganism through the novels I chose. And I found some great information about other religious paths, which are now part of my eclectic Pagan vault.

Acheron, the Sherrilyn Kenyon's novel my friend and I were discussing at the beginning of this post can be used as an example. In its pages you find a sadistic Goddess of the Hunt—Artemis—who spends her eternal existence torturing a god who she believes had betrayed her. A reader who dislikes Paganism might flaunt the book on the face of the Pagan they loathe the most, saying “I knew it! Your fake gods are evil demons.” However, an open-minded reader—who is not Pagan—might think “Hm, a goddess of the hunt, how interesting. I wonder what else is there to know.”

The same process can be applied to Kim Harrison’s White Witch, Black Curse. Rachel Morgan, the witch in this novel has spent 7 books struggling with conflicts that come and go, but one issue seems to constantly haunt the witchy bounty hunter: she continues to struggle with the guilt/fear of using demonic or evil magic according to the novel. And Rachel has more than her conscience to deal with, for there is also the public that has labeled her as the lowest of the magical community because she used some ‘dark’ spells to protect her loved ones. Once again, the Paganism-hater might use this novel to fuel the hatred-fire, but more informed people would have already read Magic: Wild Power Colored By Intentions, and know better.

Both, Kenyon and Harrison are outstanding fiction writers. Their novels are by no means Pagan educational texts. Nevertheless, there have been Pagans and non-Pagans alike, who have developed interest in Paganism after reading one of their fantastic stories. I have more than a few non-Pagan friends who have approached me after reading Kenyon, and asked how much of her writing was actually true. And their reactions to my answer can be summarized in a few words: “I didn’t know there was so much to Paganism!” To which I always add “Oh, that’s nothing! Wait until you read…”

So tell me your tale. Have you ever been questioned about the veracity of Paganism in a work of fiction? If yes, would you care to share your experience? How do you feel when a writer turns your god into a “despicable character”? Or when they give your god a role that makes you think: “what is s/he talking about”? What about when your spiritual path is portrayed as something you can hardly recognize?

Write on…


P.S. I’m still waiting for the Simi to bite Artemis’s head off ;)

11 comments:

  1. I agree hermana. Fiction is not the same as a religious text. I read one of Kennyon's novels about the Babylonian god Sin and found it entertaining. She made Sin look like this bad body sexy god :)There are a lot of good novels that show Paganism and Wicca in a positive light and show that either the author is pagan or at least did good research. Yet still a work of fiction is a work of fiction. I knew this one Celtic Pagan who proclaimed the Mists of Avalon was his 'bible'. Now I love the Mists of Avalon and I have to re-read it every few years but again it's fiction :) There are some novels about orisha, Vodoun, or African traditions but I think for us it is the dance and music that gets people to want to learn more about African traditions.

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  2. "Fiction is not the same as a religious text." My point exactly! No matter what a novel wants to convey, at the end of the day, it is JUST fiction. It is up to the reader to make sense of what's written and use it the best way s/he can.

    And yes, Kenyon made Sin a very sexy god. I mean, what's sexier than a god who owns a casino in Las Vegas? Exactly, fiction is sexy, but one does well to NEVER forget that it is just fiction.

    P.S. don't get me started on the issue of certain people claiming that certain fiction books are their "spiritual bible", for I might get kicked out of Blogger if I tell you what I really think. We don't want that, do we? ;)

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  3. I just recently finished Spellbinder by Melanie Rawn. It was a good read. Sometimes I can tell by the way the author describes magic that they either do practice or at least spiritual. I agree with you on the previous point. We have to appreciate fiction for what it is, fiction.
    P.S. I wouldn't mind if Sin manifested like he does in Kennyon's book in real life :)

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  4. Ha! I would love to see Sin cleansing the world of scum. Although, I'm sure most environmentalist most frown at his practice of burning demons in the middle of Central Park ;)

    Someone else, recommended Spellbinder, I have to check it out.

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  5. Your favorite magazine is quoting a very old greek, though his name escapes me at the moment, when he said that authors use lies to tell the truth about life while politicians use lies to decieve others about its true nature. This was during the birth of political nations and it would seem even as far back as the pantheons of old politicians have been seeking to either tell people who to believe in or how to do it properly.
    Makes you sad when you see this hasn't changed at all.

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  6. Cogent Ascending, you are right many have use similar phrases and tactics. Your example reminds me of a group of poets and fiction writers who have addressed issues that happened during the Spanish-American Wars in 1898, La Generación del 98 (The Generation of '98). These group of writers used their intellect and craft to make sense of a time in history when confusion and deceit were the norm.

    We can no dream to change the entire world or the horrid ways of some of their leaders, but I always hope to be able to touch a few--not that way you pervert!--intellectually of course ;)

    Call me a dreamer...

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  7. LOL a dirty, dirty dreamer . . .

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  8. I was actually introduced to Paganism by Juliet Marillier's "Sevenwater's Trilogy." It's historical fantasy (though sort of not so great on the historical detail, since it was originally pure fantasy and was placed in history as an afterthought -- but it was her first book publication, and her other books are better about historical detail) and the characters follow the "old ways" in Ireland. She does take a little artistic license, but then again it also does a good job of portraying Paganism.

    I've got to add. My mom has suggested that when good meaning Christians ask if I've read the Bible, I should say "Oh yes, all seven books! Harry Potter really is a great read, isn't it?" :P

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  9. Sarita, that is just too cool! Isn't it great to know that our spiritual path has no issues with us using our imagination? That is one of the things I love the most about Paganism. I guess I'll have to check Marillier out.

    BTW, tell your mom that she is at the top of my hilarious list!

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  10. Sarita, that is just too cool! Isn't it great to know that our spiritual path has no issues with us using our imagination? That is one of the things I love the most about Paganism. I guess I'll have to check Marillier out.

    BTW, tell your mom that she is at the top of my hilarious list!

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  11. Cogent Ascending, you are right many have use similar phrases and tactics. Your example reminds me of a group of poets and fiction writers who have addressed issues that happened during the Spanish-American Wars in 1898, La Generación del 98 (The Generation of '98). These group of writers used their intellect and craft to make sense of a time in history when confusion and deceit were the norm.

    We can no dream to change the entire world or the horrid ways of some of their leaders, but I always hope to be able to touch a few--not that way you pervert!--intellectually of course ;)

    Call me a dreamer...

    ReplyDelete