This week: Faith and the SupernaturalEdited by: Kittiara
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Witches and vampires, demons and flying broomsticks... Some would argue that it is best to stay clear of works of art that involve the supernatural. But should we really?
This week's Spiritual Newsletter has a look at darkness and supernatural forces in the arts, and whether or not avoidance is really the best approach.
When I was a teenager, I lived in an apartment block. One of my neighbours there was an elderly lady who was a Jehovah's Witness. She and I got along very well. I'd sometimes stop by her place for a cup of tea and a chat. She never tried to convert me to her faith, though if I had questions she would answer them. In fact, she only once expressed a faith-based view uninvited, and that was about my room. I was going through a rock phase back then, and my room's walls were covered in associated posters. She expressed the view that this was bad for me, as some of the posters were quite dark and supernatural, and that was the kind of stuff that shouldn't be messed with.
I have heard such views expressed by other people of various faiths. The Harry Potter series received some criticism because it was thought by some that it would encourage children into witchcraft. Personally, though, I don't agree. As with any novel, or movie, or piece of music, it is important to look at the deeper meaning of such works of artistic expression. Harry Potter, to stick with that example, is, at its core, about friendship and family, loyalty, duty, and personal responsibility. It's about overcoming the darkness outside as well as that within. The characters aren't purely good or purely evil - they have layers. Harry Potter isn't always nice. He has his own struggles. And even Voldemort is shown to have had a difficult upbringing and certain insecurities. If a reader looks into the story beyond the surface level, he or she will learn that Harry and Voldemort have more in common than the feathers in their wands, yet, when it comes to it, they choose different paths in life. The reason for that is much more important than the fact that the main characters happen to do spells and fly around on broomsticks.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is another example. Yes, there are vampires and demons in this show, but as the seasons unfold, its content is about more than rubbery looking foes and fiends with a knobbly forehead. There is friendship, sometimes under strain. There is love and there is loss. The relationships - within family, within a circle of friends, within the tricky realm of romance, are complex, just like in the real world. The characters have layers. Good and bad aren't easily defined. It deals with serious issues, including how to deal with the weight of responsibility when it would be so much nicer, so much easier, if that weight could be transferred onto other shoulders, or at least shared. Yet, in the end, we all have our burdens, and we need to deal with them. Sometimes, whether we like it or not, what we want is outweighed by something much more important.
Just because a novel, or a movie, or a series, has supernatural aspects, does not mean that it glorifies the supernatural, or encourages the reader or viewer to dabble in it. Terry Pratchett's Discworld is the home of some of my favourite witch and wizard characters. Rincewind, a cowardly and completely inept "wizzard" (he can't even get the spelling right), tries so hard to stay out of trouble that he always runs right into it and then ends up having to save the world. Granny Weatherwax teaches that witching is difficult, unglamorous work - you have to look after your people and that includes sitting by their bedside when Death makes a visit, looking after the poorly and the vulnerable, and standing up for what is right. There are worse things for a child to pick up on than the importance of finding courage when you feel afraid, and looking after those in need even when you feel sometimes that people can be a bit silly. At the very least, you can enable them to look after themselves.
Horror novels, too, aren't necessarily "bad". The strong, spiritual undertones of a Dean Koontz novel might surprise those not familiar with his work. It is clear that the author has a powerful faith in God. In Intensity he writes, for example - "Much of her life had been lived like a balancing act on a spearpoint fence, and on a particularly difficult night when she was twelve, she had decided that instinct was, in fact, the quiet voice of God. Prayers did receive replies, but you had to listen closely and believe in the answer. At twelve, she wrote in her diary: "God doesn't shout; He whispers, and in the whisper is the way." That, too, is my experience. When I was in deepest doubt about my faith I always wondered why some people claimed to receive answers from God, whilst I never heard a thing. I felt unheard, perhaps unworthy. And then I looked at my life and started to notice that those times when I was at my lowest, I'd find help. I might not have a two-way conversation with God, but that doesn't mean my prayers go unanswered. It's just that the answers are subtle.
To quote Dean Koontz again - "Each reader needs to bring his or her own mind and heart to the text." Those who seek darkness in a novel can find it in the most innocuous piece of text. On the whole, I think that readers, viewers and listeners are quite capable of enjoying works of art without being at risk of corruption. I also feel that if we stay clear of certain materials because of a touch of darkness, or a hint of the supernatural, or a spark of magic, that we may well miss out on something magical - that sensation of being taken by the hand and entering a different experience that leaves us feeling enriched. And that has nothing to do with witchcraft - and everything to do with the skill of the artist and how we relate to what's being shared with us.
I may have moved on from walls covered in rock posters (though not from rock itself, as I am currently looking forward to a Guns N' Roses concert!), but some of my most cherished novels contain aspects that my neighbour lady wouldn't have approved of. I am sure that she meant well. That she spoke out of a genuine concern for my wellbeing. However, I feel that if we shelter ourselves too much from that which we fear, we will never be able to cope with it in a healthy, rational manner. Although I have read horror novels from a young age, and never stayed clear of supernatural fiction, I have also never had the urge to drag out an ouija board because I feel that if there is something out there, it's probably not that keen on me messing with it.
Which may be hypocritical and not that rational after all. But then, we all have our quirks.
I will leave you with the insights of Granny Weatherwax:
Granny Weatherwax had never heard of psychiatry and would have had no truck with it even if she had. There are some arts too black even for a witch. She practiced headology---practiced, in fact, until she was very good at it. And though there may be some superficial similarities between a psychiatrist and a headologist, there is a huge practical difference. A psychiatrist, dealing with a man who fears he is being followed by a huge and terrible monster, will endeavor to convince him that monsters don't exist. Granny Weatherwax would simply give him a chair to stand on and a very heavy stick. - from Maskerade by Terry Pratchett.
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Scarlett - Sensitive and eloquent writing on a difficult and heartbreaking topic. I'm very familiar with the symptoms of dementia and how it robs us of the person we love. A Spiritualist once told me those affected are between the two worlds and once they pass will return to their original selves. I do hope so, but in the meantime there's no reason not to keep saying I love you.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope so, too. And I agree with you - I will never stop saying "I love you"!
pidah - I realy liked the topic being selected today as spiritual.In my opinion love cant be expressed by oral words i think it can only be felt and when it is spoken and expressed by mouth then it vanish.I realy apreciate the sentence of today`s letter"Three simple words that have a lot of meaning when they're spoken from the heart".Thanks alot.
Thank you so much for your feedback! I am glad that you liked the newsletter
embe - Hello Kittiara,
Thank you for sharing your personal family experience of dementia.
I have attached my poem based on a friend who passed away.
embe, in appreciation.
Thank you so much, embe!
MysticValley - Kittiara~ What a wonderful gift you recieved from your mother and grandmother as a yound girl...the gift of their time, their love and the gift of the arts...I know how sad it is to no longer be in the mind of your grandmother~ My great grandmother developed dementia when she has fallen ill in her 90's, everytime I went to visit her she thought I was there to steal her stuff!! She no longer recognized me or even wanted to talk to me and it broke my heart. The mind is a marvalous thing but i agree with your question...where does the mind go when dementia strikes?
This is the second time Ive recieved this newsletter and I really like it.~ the first time I recieved it, the first 2 chapters of my book; Beauty From Ashes was highlighted so thank you very much~~
Thank you so much, Bobbi! Yes, it does break the heart. I celebrated my birthday on the 18th and this was the first birthday when my grandmother didn't wish me a happy one. I don't think she realised it was my birthday. For all that I had a nice day, it felt incomplete without her. I am sorry to hear of your experiences.
I am glad, however, that you enjoy the newsletter, and I hope that you will keep on enjoying it!
parwatisingari - Your grandmother would dear. Just think of her and smile. when you miss her too much visit the old people's home
Thank you so much for your kind words! I will always think of my grandmother . And I hope I can visit her one day. It is so difficult, with us living in different countries, but I will make it happen!
skyangel2011 - I liked what you said about your grandmother. I can relate to all of that. I lost my sister the 26 day of Feb. We were close all our lives. The last words I said to her that she understood was I LOVE YOU. I will see her in Heaven, but I sure miss her now. If you love someone tell them often. Thank you for this news letter, it came at the right time for me.
I am so very sorry for your loss. And glad to hear that she understood your final words. I can't imagine losing my sister... my thoughts are with you.
njames51 - Kittiara, thank you for the fine newsletter. Thank you especially for publishing my poem. "Twirling Night Sky". How did you find that? I barely wrote that a couple of weeks ago! But, I have received some reviews since it was highlighted here. So, that is much appreciated! I get behind at times reading this newsletter, but it seems you guys always bring up the thing I most need to hear at that particular time. And I relish reading newsletters or poems that aren't fearful of emphasing God, our spiritual journey toward what God wants us to do or be; and reading about the basics: Love God, Love Your Neighbor, and Be Willing Just to Open Ourselves to a Willingness for God to enter. Good work guys!
You are very welcome! I tend to be on the look-out for new items to highlight. Even if I do not have the time myself to review them (and I am working on that, as I miss reviewing items!), if I like something I will highlight it in the hope that it gets reviewed!
And I am glad that you enjoy the newsletter and read it when you can . This is a perfect place to share such items, and I am glad that this space exists!
Wishing you a week filled with inspiration,
The Spiritual Newsletter Team:
Sophy , WitChi Woman , kittiara
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