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Monday, November 15, 2010

In other news, I've converted to Jedism

Well, not really, but if I had to have a religions...well, actually, I'd go Sith.

ANYWAY.

So, awhile back I read God of the Witches by Margaret Murray, partly for research purposes but also partly for the lulz. It IS pretty funny (although shockingly dry), and I suppose anyone interested in modern pagan movements should give it a whirl, being that we're still seeing the influence of some of Murray's theories today. In an undergrad anthropology course I read Journey to Ixtlan and then a few more of Castaneda's works; at the time I thought some of the ideas presented were compelling, but confusing--now that I know a bit more about Castaneda, I am inclined to shame that professor for not mentioning the air of disrepute and inauthenticity surrounding Castaneda and "Don Juan".


Given these experiences, and a discussion on a previous post here, I was inspired (o hai LDS buzzword) to make some notes about the effects of fiction on religious feeling and experience.* For my part as an a-religious person, I venture that fiction books can have at least the same impact and sometimes a greater impact on a person's religious development than "scripture". I've read a good bit of Marion Zimmer Bradley's works (and by good bit I mean all of them. Even the crappy "Diana L. Paxson as Marion Zimmer Bradley" books in the Avalon series) and though my opinion of them, chiefly The Mists of Avalon, has changed somewhat since I was 15, I still find their depiction of ritual and goddess worship extremely beautiful and evocative. Similarly, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant purports to tell the story of Dina in the Old Testament, by way of Semitic and proto-Semitic goddess worship. Like Mists, The Red Tent shows a women's religion in full flower and I found Dina's story of her four "mothers", Jacob's wives, and their commitment to their goddesses quite moving. One of my favorite blogger/authors, Dianne Sylvan, noted in a post some time ago that her reactions to the book Strands of Starlight affected her personal religion more than "a dozen Wicca 101 books".

I think there is a lot to be said for allowing books you love to affect your religious feelings. If I were looking to implement a personal religion, I would likely take a smattering from Wrapt in Crystal, a pinch from the world of The King's Peace, a dash from the Living Circle path outlined in Tamora Pierce's Emelan books, mash together with some good old-fashioned spiral dancing, and paint it on thick as woad. I guess my point is that if you happen upon something, whether in a book or in a movie or in a song, and it moves you to some specific deep feeling, if it makes you want to be better, if it makes you rejoice--that's what I want a religion to do. It should be touching, moving, rich and interesting and active. Does it matter to your bones and your spirit if that something that kicked you into gear is "inauthentic" or "not real"?

Authenticity, or lack of, is intriguing. Carlos Castaneda's books about Don Juan are almost certainly false; Margaret Murray's books The Witch Cult in Western Europe and God of the Witches are based on scant evidence and a fair bit of complete fiction; Charles Leland's book Aradia has a similarly murky factual basis. But in the religious realm, does this really matter? Not to say that religious paths must ignore facts, but I think it's possible for a person to read any of the above purported non-fiction books OR any of the admitted fictions and draw great inspiration from them. The only problem arises when a person tries to make their personal truth into a universal one, but this happens with ALL religions.

If I find The Wicker Man compelling and beautiful, if I listen to "The Old Ways" or "Moon and Moon" and am moved to change or action, if I read The Firebrand and from there immerse myself in classical mythology and Hellenic reconstructionist religions, where is the difference from reading the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita or listening to hymns? If the end result is the same--a new outlook, a changing soul, an active spirituality--who is to say boo? Find inspiration everywhere, in all things, proven fact or glorious fiction.





*Of course the snarky among us may say, What religions AREN'T based on fiction? Snark away, my dears.

1 comment:

Carla said...

*adding some books to my Amazon wishlist* teehee!

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