Fantasy – A Pagan Conspiracy?

First a big Thank You to the 30+ people who filled out my survey – Who Are My Target Audience – I am going to keep tweeting it and hopefully reach my goal of 50 responses (it makes it easy for my mathematically-challenged brain to do percentages).  If you have not had the time, please consider three minutes to answer ten questions by clicking here.

The first time I read that someone was uncomfortable with her children reading YA fantasy because of the Pagan themes running through it, I dismissed the reader as a maverick who is worried she won’t succeed in passing on her religious lifestyle to her children. But I have now seen this a couple of times.

I am sensitive to this. My first published novel, A Gardener’s Tale, follows the yearly cycle of the Pagan religion as it was (and still it) celebrated in rural Britain, and shines light on the struggle of Christianity to crush it.  While the novel was received enthusiastically in the Pagan community (their leader Vivienne Crowley called it “A beautiful and elegiac evocation of a timeless Britain and of a man of the ancient ways of the earth who brings peace and healing where the flames of persecution once burned.”), I incurred the wrath of many religious Jews and Christians.

The Pagan religion is based upon the agrarian cycle and the farmer’s connections to the earth. Being mysterious, the emergence of an earth-based religion, where there was power and magic in the earth and those who stewarded her (yes – her, another topic) were worshiped and studied.

A common theme in many books, mine included, is the source of magic comes from the earth, from nature, through animals and the elements. The Druids, so often mentioned, were a genuine religious order. The witches, millions of whom were burned at the stake as Christianity raised a frenzy of anti-women, anti-anything, were often healers who used herbs and minerals that were gifts from the earth. Even the Jedi Order harnessed an energy, the Force, from everything living around them.

Other common elements include the quest, the holy (magical) props, the connection with and reverence of nature. Most of all, however, is the power of story. All religions and spiritual practices maintain a powerful element of stories, legends, parables, a narrative history (the best selling book of all time, anyone?).

I am skeptical that there is an international conspiracy to revive the Pagan religion through instilling scintillating epic fantasy novels insidiously into the minds of our unsuspecting youth (now you are convinced that I am the High Priest – isn’t this how conspiracy theory works?).

However, it is not a huge leap of faith to think that those who put quill to parchment (there is probably an app for this) and write such stories do have aspirations of teaching certain noble morals and principles. I recently wrote in an interview:

“Working on the novel with my (now 12-year-old) son and seeing the potential to share my values and political beliefs while imbibing a profound love for storytelling and reading. I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

Now if that is not a declaration to take over the world

Finally, one more plug – if you have a few minutes please fill out my survey – Who Are My Target Audience – and Thank You again to those who already have.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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8 comments on “Fantasy – A Pagan Conspiracy?

  1. NC Pendergast says:

    Ah, conspiracy theories. What would we do without them?

    While I prefer my fantasy without propaganda in it, there’s nothing wrong with putting some of your own beliefs in there and hoping they will inspire people to change something for the better. That is, as long as that’s not the main purpose of writing the book, obviously.

    I’m neither pagan nor of any of the big religions, and it never ceases to amaze me how some folks see the devil incarnate in everything that’s outside their own beliefs. *shakes head* I don’t see their point either – there’s Christian fantasy apparently, so why shouldn’t others have their own fantasy as well?

  2. Mel says:

    I love any kind of fantasy and I am a Christian. While the author made an effort to write some Christians, I don’t see that in NC Pendergast’s comment. Not all Christians are narrow-minded.

  3. there’s certainly enuff Christian themes in some popular epic fantasy (from CS Lewis to Tolkien) that one might ask this question in reverse–is the fantasy genre a conspiracy to use pagan elements to convert people to Christianity. One could ask that–if one were a total nutter with too much free time. I’m always fascinated when dominant traditions /groupings whose power base is pretty solidified, often by doing away w the competition, find conspiratal dangers from minority traditions/groupings who have near no power or ability to offer threat. Me thinks, it’s a bit of projection…

  4. There is certainly a pagan element to many fantasy novels, but more often other forms of mysticism. Paganism was a derogatory term used by educated Romans for the folk beliefs of the rural people which is why there are lots of rumored ancient books about those beliefs but nothing extant. The people who so believed were mostly illiterate. Most fantasy novels either create their own religions/belief systems using bits and pieces of others, or lean towards the Zoroastrian/Kaballah-type world-view or the semi-Christian Manichean view. You don’t see much paganism per se, but lots of angels/demons in various ranks, witchcraft of several kinds, but most often either MacBeth or Bewitched rather than any of the actual ancient systems, which after all weren’t written down so are subject to change by anybody who feels like changing them. Much of present day ‘paganism’ is based on theosophist speculations and deism, and bears more resemblance to the Code of the Jedi as to any ancient beliefs.
    My own father gave me a pamphlet with the beliefs of 30 different religions and told me I should study them all when I was eleven, and here I am still a Mormon. That’s the position of strength and confidence; trying to force your kids to remain ‘on the reservation’ by disallowing them to learn about anything else is a losing method, and certainly the position of weakness. So I think parents who worry about their kids learning things they don’t like are wasting their time. Preserve innocence by all means, as kids have to walk before they can run, and have the scales lifted from their eyes gradually. But trying to keep them ignorant of everything outside the family microcosm is a recipe for losing them to and adversarial belief system.
    The trope about ‘Christianity’ killing millions of women as witches is long since debunked. I looked into that when I was a teenager in the 80s, and it was long debunked even then. I’m not a pre-schism Catholic, an Arian, a Cathar, or a Celtic Christian, so I don’t really have a dog in the fight–but there’s no reason to slander any of the above with false allegations. And even if you can’t be bothered to look up the statistics, try the common sense test: people don’t long tolerate the intolerable. ‘Millions’ is a big number, but nicely vague. I’ve seen estimates as high as 50 million, which is ridiculous, but even 1 million would be extremely difficult. Since witchcraft was a punishable offense among nearly all European cultures regardless of religion, it was always a fringe belief system, and during the Black Death and other plagues, doubtless many women were accused of witchcraft and murdered in the general frenzy of fear. That is no reason to exaggerate and pass along those exaggerations as facts. It would be like saying thousands of women (and men) were killed for witches in the Salem witch mania. The Roman church kept careful records of every execution presided over by the Holy Office and the Spanish Inquisition branch, and they amount to barely more than a hundred thousand including every sort of heretic over a period of 1000 years, while their crusades against the Cathars were certainly far more deadly those killed were only a few tens of thousands more.
    It should be obvious that I don’t approve of anyone being murdered because of religion, but I state it just in case it’s not. I don’t see it as helpful to say ‘millions’ killed by ‘Christianity’ because such vague terms are mere bigotry; say that around 50,000 women were killed as witches by the Catholics, and a few tens of thousands more by Calvinists in the 16th-17th centuries, and a few tens of thousands more by the early Celtic Christians and and a few thousand more by the Arians in Spain and the Cathars in the south of France, and that’s bad enough. And of course if you believe in the pagan folk religion then you have no business denying the possibility that there are other gods who are at odds with nature spirits, which of course absolves the followers of wrongdoing as they’re only following the orders of their god(s).
    We Mormons believe that Christianity died in the 3rd century, and by the time Constantine rebuilt it from the ruins it scarcely resembled its original design. We call it the “Great Apostasy.” Those ‘christians’ running around in imperial magisterial robes and ordering witches and heretics burned or hanged were themselves heretics against the religion Christ preached. That doesn’t mean there were no virtuous and peaceable servants of Christ among them; there always have been. Painting them all with the same broad brush is every bit as bigoted as anything the witch-hunters themselves believed. Tossing around such casually harsh judgements of many millions of people over better than a thousand years gives the wrong impression, and I’m sure that’s not what you intended.

  5. lisafender says:

    I love fantasy novels, I must I am writing a fantasy series and for those who are still in the box of religion, it is their problem, not yours. I too am not religious and I do have several people in my family who are Wicca. I don’t practice any religion. Even though my grandfather’s, yes both of them, were christian ministers, my one grandfather studied all kinds of religions to broaden his mind and to be open to all. That is, in my opinion, the way it should be. Thanks for the post!

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