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Beautiful Creatures: Pagan Themes in Teen Fiction

Beautiful Creatures is a teen fiction book written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl in 2009, and made into a film earlier this year. In some corners, it's getting the same attention as other teen book-to-movies, like Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Mortal Instruments series. In other circles, it's not getting a second-look. What does the Pagan community think about it? For this blog, we'll look at the over-arching Pagan themes (if there are any), and think about it in terms of the canon of "witch" books. In a sea of zombies and vampires, reading about witches--or Casters, as they're called--might be a bit refreshing.

The story takes place in the fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina. Ethan Wate is your typical high school student. Living in a small town, he hopes to "get out," of one day. In the meantime, the new girl shows up, one typical of teen fiction. She's different, an outcast, pretty, and changes the world of the main character, Ethan. (This is almost the same plot of a hundred other stories, including Stargirl  by Spinelle). 

In this case, Lena Duchannes is a Caster, and forced home because she's been kicked out of every other school for her lack of control with her magical abilities. She is also awaiting her sixteenth birthday when it will be decided whether she is for the dark or the light. 

This becomes the central conflict in the novel (and movie). Lena has Ethan on her side, rooting for her to remain the way she is, her true nature--part of the light. On the other hand, she has a family history of dark casters, including her mother Sarafine, who is considered "dead" having become something so dark. The other major conflict is that her cousin, Ridley, who was just like her in every way (prior to her sixteenth birthday) went dark--and it is implied she didn't have a choice. 

This for me is where the details teeter. Do we live in a world where we don't have a choice to serve the "good" or the "not so good." It's quite the opposite, yet the book moves along this course, as Lena navigates whether it is in her power to be a "dark" or "light" Caster. 

With the help of Ethan, or more so, the power of his love, she is somewhat kept safe from her mother, who tries to win her over. But as the day approaches, despite her efforts to learn as much as she can about herself, she thinks the worse will happen. 

(Spoiler alert, if you haven't read the book or seen the movie). 

In the end, Lena does make a choice, and that is to have balance--dark and light. (In the movie this is shown by way of having one eye different than the other). Dark and light are in balance with Lena and ultimately usher in the "new age" for Casters. 

This is a general review of the book, and some other significant plot lines have been omitted. For our purposes, looking at the idea of choice in magical practice, along with balance, are things I think many Pagans can relate to.

Something we can take away from it is that we do have a choice, even when family and friends, and circumstances are against us. Every moment we can choose to emphasize the positive in our lives--including our thoughts, which often focuses on the negative. What is in our lives that is negative and how can we eliminate it? 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in his book, The Compassionate Life, writes: "From my own limited experience, I am convinced that through constant training we can indeed devlop our minds. Our positive attitudes, thoughts, and outlook can be enhanced, and their negative counterparts reduced. Even a single moment of consciousness depends on so many factors, and when we change these various factors, the mind also changes, (p. 18)." 

When our thoughts are in the right place, we can begin to find harmony in other things. Pema Chodron gave a talk about perception, and in it, she said something to the effect that after practicing compassion for others, she began to see those around her differently. She said, I thought to myself, wow, did everyone around me suddenly change and become nice? In reality, it was her perception that changed. She started looking at people differently. 

A fun practice, suggested by Pema Chodron, is to sit in a public place and try to regard others without any form of judgement. Often, when we look at someone we try to size them up, we create stories for them. If we could do less judging, what would the outcome be?

In the documentary With One Voicethe emphasis is on cultivating peace within, in order to find and bring peace on the outside. By looking solely on ourselves to fix the problems in the world, we ultimately change it. It's a simple concept, but often hard to put into practice. We tend to not want to let go and fight. We see violence and hurt perpetrated on the news or newspapers and we want to fix it and fix others. If we focus on what we can do in our small sphere, it will actually make a difference--a rippling one. 

Returning to Beautiful Creatures, if nothing else it serves as a talk-piece about our inner lives, the "dark" and "light" we battle and face, and the choices we make minute by minute to live kindred lives. In the end, the goal is to be like Lena, to find balance within, and hopefully, we find out place in the world. 

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Hunter Liguore, a multi-Pushcart Prize nominee, earned an MFA in Creative Writing and a BA in History. Her work has appeared internationally in a variety of journals. She is the editor-in-chief of the print journal, American Athenaeum, which is dedicated to publishing "voices" that ultimately inform our times. (To view current submission guidelines: She revels in old legends, swords, and heroes.


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