Literary Paganism

Jul 4, 2006
I'm not really tech-y enough to claim a Technopagan identity (just like I'm not Reconstructionist enough to claim a Celtic Reconstructionist identity, or witchy enough to claim a Witch identity...), but I have to say, William Gibson does truly magical things to my brain. I was into science fiction long before I was into Paganism, but the two things seem to share space in my head somehow, and they occasionally start running together.

Technopagans have heard this all already, but -- I read Gibson's Count Zero for the first time for a class my final semester of college, and I had to restrain myself from doing little Pagan dances of glee through all the discussions. Fortunately most of the class was relatively familiar with basic magical concepts (it was a class designed by and for geeks of all stripes), and the professor had done her homework, so we got to move fairly quickly through explaining the nature of loa and into why the idea of loa emerging out of the global Internet and taking on full existences of their own was just so. damn. cool.

My professor tried to draw a connection between that and C.S. Lewis' Space trilogy, to say that both featured higher beings that amounted to the same thing, but to me the respective cosmologies kept getting in the way (for all that C.S. Lewis is the most Pagan of all the Christian authors). Lewis writes Good and Evil with capital letters -- in That Hideous Strength, for example, the leader of the forces of Light (who simply drips Christ figure in a way that's strangely evocative of Aslan) stages an elaborate formal ritual to call down the eldils, higher angelic forces who represent the souls of the various planets. The embodiment of Venus in particular appears in both her benevolent and terrible aspects, and there is no question that she will be benevolent on behalf of those who called her down with good intentions, just as there is no question that those intentions (and the action taken to satisfy them) are good. It's a little bit Pagan and a whole lot Kabbalistic. It also comes off as very elitist; Christ-figure and Merlin, whom he's awakened from his sleep to help with the ritual, do their work in the drawing room upstairs, which is where the manifestations happen, while the rest of his followers congregate in the kitchen. They feel the effects of the summoning, and you could argue that they have some effect on it, but they're clearly well out of the loop.

Gibson doesn't give us a lot of direct interaction with the loa, but from the way people talk about them, they're something very different. (And here I hauled out my class notes to write a blog post; I've completely fallen into the depths of academic geekdom now.) "Voodoo [...] isn't concerned with notions of salvation and transcendence. What it's about is getting things done. [...] In our system there are many gods, spirits. Part of one big family, with all the virtues, all the vices. [...] Voodoo says, there's God, sure, Gran Met, but He's big, too big and too far away to worry himself if your ass is poor, or you can't get laid." And when the loa show up, they're liable to act unpredictably, to pursue their own ends, to actively get in the way of the people who brought them there in the first place.

I'd be lying if I didn't say both of those worlds ring true to me. (And from what I know, they're very true to their respective traditions as well.) The writing in both is good enough to give me goosebumps, I'll admit, but it couldn't do that if I thought it stretched its gods too far. They ring true enough that they have come to reflect the ways in which I view the Universe -- not that I didn't believe such things before I read these books, but that they've given it shape and contour and texture. I haven't yet decided if they're incompatible, but for the moment they do both seem to be working.

This is what I mean when I tell people that I get half my theology from science-fiction and fantasy novels.

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