Monday, April 26, 2010

Paranormal Theology

Thank you Rebecca, Annie, and the rest of the gang here at Paranormal Romantics for having me over! Today, I’m going to talk about a topic that even sometimes makes me squirm – religion.

A few months ago, I blogged about paranormal work that was almost too religious for my liking. I dubbed it inspirational erotic joked that I didn’t like my kink with a side of “come to Jesus.” But when I step back, just about all of the paranormal stories out there have their roots in religion.

First, there’s the latest fad, angels and demons. When researching my upcoming Samhain release, Angelic Surrender, I did tons of research on Fallen Angels and the different types of demons. It was amazing to learn that angels and demons are not just confined to Judeo-Christian-Islamic mythology, but are parts of the folklore of India, Japan, and Polynesia. It was fun to take bits and pieces from each religion and form my own mythology for the story.

Then there are shape-shifters. Different Native American tribes talk about men with the souls of animals living inside them or warriors who embody the spirits of their totem or clan. Sometimes the connection was so strong, warriors could become that animal. Then there are the Greek myths where Zeus became the ultimate shape-shifter to seduce his human lovers, taking forms of swans and bulls. Again, another paranormal element with religious roots.

And what about vampires? In the original Dracula, two of the seductive blood-drinker’s weaknesses were crosses and holy water. Some literary professors even postulate that vampires were the embodiment of some of the “deadly sins” – gluttony, wrath, greed, and above all, lust. Today’s vampires may not have the same weaknesses, but they still carry some of their original roots with the intimate embraces when they feed, the blood-tinged lips, and the seductive charm.

And lastly, there are witches. Wicca is a form of modern-day witchcraft, but its roots are centuries old with ties to the Druids, Celts, and Ancient Egyptians. Magic ritual and spells were important parts of these ancient religions, and their presence is still seen in the casting of spells and the calling of the five elements.

What are some of the most memorable ways you’ve seen a religion incorporated into a paranormal story? Was it a retelling of a myth? A revival of an unfamiliar religion?


Rebecca Royce said...

I always think of this moment in Christine Feehan's book "Dark Legend" I think where Lucian starts talking about walking with Jesus...

I recognize that all Paranormal is rooted in religion but, having said that, I prefer when it's not all that overt. One author in particular lays it on really, really thick.

Thanks for being here today Crista.


Chrissy said...

I prefer to use the term "spiritual," which leaves Jesus and everybody else out of it.

Belief can jump those tracks... and in fiction, it should.

I find preaching or blaming in fiction really distasteful. It's just as insulting to me as a reader to pick something up that villifies priests as it is to read something that bashes the hell out of witchcraft.

Leave it vague or make your own world rules.

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott/Kate Davison said...

My of my stories have some kind of religious roots, though it may or may not be of my beliefs. It's whatever the character believes that is important. What they think. I'm not the author to give commentary on anything, just the vehicle for the characters. It's funny how even in politics, like religion, my characters often do not share my views.

It doesn't bother me to have the basis of any religion in a work of fiction if that stays within the context of the character. When it blatantly comes from the narrator as preaching (no matter the religion discussed) it tends to turn me off.

Great post, Christa.

Rebecca Lynn said...

This was a great post. To me, the theology of paranormal worlds is more about world-building than beliefs, so I think it's important to be true to the basis of the world you're writing about. I've never read a paranormal book that I felt was preaching to me, but I do have a Master's Degree in theology, and so I am maybe more interested in the theology of worlds than others might be. I don't want to be preached at when I read fiction, either, but I always appreciate a paranormal world more if it is firmly rooted in its foundation of world-building (whatever that might be).

I remember being a huge fan of Buffy, for instance, and the theology of that world was very obvious. The writers did not take a stand about religion (and in fact, there were several conversations about God existing or not existing that were pretty funny), but that's different than theology. Religion is supposed to be the practice of theology, but theology can exist without religion.

Loved this post! And thanks to whomever put it up on Twitter. That's how I got here!

Bella Street said...

I agree with Rebecca Lynn (and am a Buffy fan). If the world-building is defined by whatever mythology/theology the author chooses, be faithful to it. Any 'agenda' in writing should be to tell the best possible story. If a spiritual/religious/paranormal nature adds to it, that's great. But to preach is an instant turn-off. There are plenty of avenues to seek out preaching. Fiction ain't it!

Jean V. Ryan said...

According to Jungian theory, things like religion and art (such as writing) come from the collective unconscious. The most powerful stories tap into this. It makes sense that the two would bleed into each other, often in the form of the paranormal.

As for Buffy, Joss Whedon is a self-professed "angry atheist existentialist," and this is all over his work. Each one explores a different aspect of the existentialist hero. He has point blank said that people should not only not believe in God, but that the belief is dangerous. (I have a button I wear that says "Joss Whedon's bitch"). He uses Judeo-Christian mythology just like he uses Shakespeare, Greek mythology, music, and countless other symbols. They all tap into the collective unconscious, which is what made the series so powerful. He is our Homer.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

While my current WIP is based on Norse mythology, I'll be using biblical elements like a sea serpent (Leviathan) that swallows my people's ship whole (Jonah and the Whale).

Annie Nicholas said...

Nice thought provoking post. I agree with what the other commentors say. I am surprised by my own reactions to the angel crazy. I'm not a practicing catholic but something stuck. I get uncomfortable with angels having sex. LOL I understand the attraction. It's just weirdness I recently discovered about myself.

Gwen said...

Great post, Crista.

I agree with Rebecca Lynn and with Jean. As a neutral outsider, I would say that we often get our "religion" and "myth" wires crossed. Basically, one person's religion is another person's myth and vice-versa. We rely heavily on mythology to build the mythos of fictional worlds, unless that mythos is completely made up. Also, there is a lot of cross-over in the mythologies of every culture, so it's hard to trace origins. I think leaning on these myths is natural and a means of making suspension of disbelief more likely.

Then again, as a non-neutral party, I don't like to see parts of my religion I consider sacred mis-used to serve someone else's ends. But what can you do?

When addressing the big questions (and it doesn't get much bigger than "how did we get here?" <--creation myth) it is pretty much impossible not to offend someone.

Danielle Monsch said...

One of the things I really love about anime (careful all, I'm showing my Otaku roots here) is that, since all the myths and different religions we grew up with are brand new to them, they use myth and religion in these crazy warped ways I don't think any Westerner could truly conceive of.

As a writer, it gives me something to think about in my own handling of those things, and how to change them.

Of course, some of the things they do a Westerner could never truly get away with :)

Crista said...

Great comments, everyone! I'm glad I'm not the only one who had an issue with inspirational erotic, but that was post months ago.

What I was hoping to achieve with the post is that as a paranormal writer, I have tons of material from various cultures' myths and religious traditions to work with. It helps when trying to come up with the "the same but something different" that editors always seem to be looking for and forces me to look outside the box for new ideas. For example, will valkyries be the next big paranormal fad? Volcano gods?

Gayle Ann Williams said...

Hi Crista,

What a great subjet. I love the comments, some have given me a bit to think about. I too do not like a heavy hand at an "inside" message. Of course we as writers have our own view of the world, our own "truth," but I like to discover this gradually and not be force fed a philosophy at breakneck speed. This was a great discussion, and as for your possible "Volcano Gods," bring em on, lol.

Jean V. Ryan said...

I was taught by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington DC that much of the Old Testament is myth. A wonderful book to understand the Old Testament it Reading the Old Testament by Father Lawrence Boadt. It looks at mythology on two levels: first myth is a story using traditional motifs and themes, second myth is a theological explanation of our relation to the god(s).

Myth to me should be mythic, meaning it taps into something huge, something universal. When i started writing my cute little story about vampires and rejection, Lucifer and his battle with God found its way in. You can't get any bigger than Lucifer's expulsion from Heaven. Since I am no longer Christian, i was able to step back and look at this story from another perspective. What if Lucifer's motives weren't just pride? What if he wanted to overthrow God because he didn't approve of the way God did things because he didn't think people should suffer? Now we have the same story, but GMC has changed.

I enjoy how writers play with myths, but I think some lose the mythic quality of the story. Vampires, angels, gods, demigods, shifters, etc live in our collective unconscious. My favorite stories are ones that tap into these universal themes, rather than just give me a different race so they can be different.