BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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Rant: On Witches, Fantasy, and Christian Cosmology

I don't often rant. I prefer to praise and celebrate and point people in the direction of excellent literature (or at least entertaining literature). But I feel the need to rant.

First, a bit of background. While I read almost every genre of fiction, I tend to read more fantasy and science fiction than any other type. There's nothing quite like escaping into an exciting, terrifying world of monsters and warriors and wild Gods. I especially enjoy a good witch story: powerful, kick-butt women are awesome. (Not that the witch has to be good, just the story. Ethically ambiguous characters often make the most interesting protagonists.)

Unfortunately -- here comes the rant -- the overwhelming majority of fantasy out there is based on a pseudo-Christian cosmology. One supreme, omnipresent, omniscient God; hosts of angels; hordes of demons; and (sometimes) Lucifer. And, in the middle of that mix is a witch or two or three, bolding fighting on the side of Good, occasionally falling into bed with a super-sexy angel or demon.

I'm tired of it. I want to read a good fantasy (epic, dark, urban, whatever) starring an awesome, amazing witch that is based on some mythology other than that of a pseudo-Christianity.* I want to read an epic fantasy about a nahualli set in a magical Aztec Empire. I want to read a dark fantasy starring a kitsune-tsuki in Occupied Japan. I want to read an urban fantasy about an inyanga in modern-day Johannesburg. Maybe a nice sword-and-sandal epic centered around a Roman lamia, or a good science-fantasy set on a world colonized by Wiccans.

In all fairness, there are some fantasy novels and series out there which deal with other-than-Christian mythologies. Keven Hearne's The Iron Druid Chronicles is a good example. Hearts of Chaos by Kira Brady includes Norse, Native American and Sumerian mythologies. Lily Ivory, the protagonist in Juliet Blackwell's Witchcraft Mystery series, is a hereditary witch of Aztec, Mexican and European descent. And the Cainsville books by Kelley Armstrong center in the fae lore of the British Isles. But they are too few.

Magic and those who use it are understood in different ways in cultures around the world. They might be benevolent or malevolent, selfish or altruistic, deeply devotional or agnostic, healers or diviners or warriors, and everything in between. I am tired of one kind of witch (and it's almost always that word) fighting the same good versus evil battle over and over again. I want variety! I want something new!

You hear that, all you Pagan and polytheist and Pagan-friendly writers out there? Gimme stories!

 

* For a Pagan twist on Christian cosmology, check out Joey W Hill's In the Company of Witches and Something About Witches; and Erzabet Bishop's Sigil Fire. Hill's duology is set in a universe maintained by God, Goddess and Lucifer. Bishop's book features angels and demons, but Lilith and Hekate also play important roles in the story.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

Comments

  • Heather McGuirk
    Heather McGuirk Thursday, 03 July 2014

    The Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop is interesting. It may be something of a take on the cosmology you wish to avoid, though there is no "god" really and Saetan is not really any such an xian might recognize.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 04 July 2014

    @Heather: I've read Bishop's "Written in Red," but I haven't read any of the Black Jewels books. I keep getting mixed reviews from folks' whose opinions I trust.

  • Lisa Niebuhr
    Lisa Niebuhr Thursday, 03 July 2014

    You may also enjoy the "Change Series" by S.M. Stirling. The first book is "Dies the Fire". http://www.amazon.com/Dies-Fire-A-Novel-Change/dp/0451460413/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404414828&sr=8-1&keywords=dies+the+fire

  • Heather McGuirk
    Heather McGuirk Thursday, 03 July 2014

    Dies the Fire is AWESOME. I hadn't even thought of that one. ^_^

  • Lisa Niebuhr
    Lisa Niebuhr Friday, 04 July 2014

    Oddly, it's not a series I ever would have found on my own. A co-worker of mine lent me Dies the Fire because it features mounted archery and she knew I practice mounted archery (my wallpaper on my computer at work at that time was a photo of me shooting off horseback). The book sat on my desk for a couple of weeks before I actually picked it up and looked at it. I flipped it open and read the acknowledgements where the author thanks both Kassai Lajos and Lukas Novotny for their assistance with the mounted archery portions and I knew I had to read it at that point. In the photo that inspired her to lend me the book, I was riding Lukas's horse and shooting a bow made by Kassai. It felt like one of those moments where someone was trying to tell me something :)

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 04 July 2014

    @Lisa: nice!

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 04 July 2014

    @Lisa: yeah, Stirling's series has been on my To Read list for a while. According to an interview by Cara Schulz that I recently read, the next book in the series ("The Golden Princess") is supposed to be a good jumping on point for people who have not read the other books. It even features a Hellenic Pagan. I may give that a shot. :)

  • Lisa Niebuhr
    Lisa Niebuhr Friday, 04 July 2014

    Yes, I agree that would be a good "jumping on point" as it's really about the generation that was born after the Change and goes in a whole new direction. However, I would also strongly to encourage you to start with Dies the Fire. I think to really "know" the world he has created you need to start where "it" started and see how that world evolved. :)

  • Chelsea
    Chelsea Thursday, 03 July 2014

    I agree with your sentiments over all. You may also like Juliet Marillier's work and Kate Forsyth's Witches of Eileanan series. Marillier is a member of The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I'm not sure if Forsyth is a Pagan at all, but her series contains a lot of elements from Wicca.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 04 July 2014

    @Chelsea: I had no idea that Marillier was with the OBOD. That's neat! I'll look into Forsyth's books. :)

  • Paul DeThroe
    Paul DeThroe Thursday, 03 July 2014

    You should read my dark fantasy novels, Suffer the Witch Vol.1, Rise of the Raven Knights and Vol. 2, The Dragon-Wizard's Crystal Skull. The good guys are brother and sister witches that lead an order of undead knights and the bad guys are led by a wicked female witch with ambitions of world domination. And they all kick ass!

  • Bekah Evie Bel
    Bekah Evie Bel Thursday, 03 July 2014

    Mmhmmm agree with this fully. I'd also be supremely happy with more non-romance paranormal/witchy/pagan/urban fantasy-fiction. Have you ever tried to google for that sort of thing, makes me want to scratch my eyes out. Best I have found so far are the witch-detective type ones, Rowan Gant series and Ophelia and Abby series. I've been too scared to try any of the other "suggestions" I get.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 04 July 2014

    @Bekah: If you are looking for non-romance fantasy/urban fantasy/paranormal titles, I can recommend a few. :) There is "Deadly Curiosities" by Gail Z Martin (urban fantasy with platonic protagonists); "Clean Sweep" by Ilona Andrews (science-fantasy); "Dirty Magic" by Jaye Wells (urban fantasy); the "Emperor's Edge" series by Lindsey Buroker (epic fantasy); "Imaro" by Charles Saunders (African-based epic fantasy); "Trio of Sorcery" by Mercedes Lackey (good urban fantasy anthology); "Unquenchable Fire" by Rachel Pollack; and the "Young Wizards" series by Diane Duane (technically YA, but sill fun).

  • Paul DeThroe
    Paul DeThroe Friday, 04 July 2014

    One shouldn't fear something new. My Suffer the Witch series is far from paranormal romance/urban fantasy fare. Its a R-rated thriller from the word go. It represents paganism and Wicca well, in a way only a pagan could. Writing it helped me grow in many ways, personally, as a writer, as a researcher and as a witch. My works are fiction, yes, but they are very dark, and contain no bs or stereotyping.

  • Clark
    Clark Friday, 04 July 2014

    I'm a huge fan of Charles De Lint's work myself. Very based in Fey lore and Native American mythologies.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 04 July 2014

    @Clark: adding de Lint to my To Read list. My ever-growing, never-shrinking To Read list .... Which is a good thing! Really!

  • J'Karrah
    J'Karrah Friday, 04 July 2014

    There is a book on Amazon called "Solerna," by Anna Schubarth which is exactly a sci-fi book about a planet colonized by Wiccans. It's a young adult novel, so it's a pretty easy read, but I enjoyed it very much :)

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Friday, 04 July 2014

    @J'Karrah: found it! It's available through B&N, too. Thanks for the recommendation. :)

    http://www.amazon.com/Solerna-Anna-Schubarth/dp/1105579123/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404516734&sr=8-1&keywords=solerna

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