Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Science Fiction and Spiritual Insight

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

One of the main draws of science fiction is that it can examine ideas outside of their normal cultural context. Hard sf always starts with a "what if" based on science or engineering, which goes something like "What if we had x technology, and how would that change society?" Softer versions of science fiction are basically just set in the future, though.

When we think of spirituality in sf, we usually think of various types of meditation, such as the Litany Against Fear in Dune or the Vulcan mantra against pain in the original Star Trek, or depictions of religious ritual, such as the rituals and customs of different Newcomer religious sects in Alien Nation, the religions of various aliens in Babylon 5, etc. There are religious elements in sf that are obviously drawn from real world religions, such as the obvious Eastern influences on The Force in Star Wars and the depiction of the world as illusion in The Matrix. 

Spirituality asks the big questions, just like science fiction asks the big questions. Setting a story off of Earth and including alien cultures or future human cultures with different cultural norms than ours can highlight the big questions in new and interesting ways.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 had an ongoing storyline about the Prophets of Bajor, entities who lived inside a wormhole. The main character, Benjamin Sisko, met them in one episode that illuminated the nature of humans as linear beings contrasted with the Prophets as non-linear beings, that is, beings that don't exist in linear time the way human beings do. Gods are by nature more like the Prophets than they are like us.

The gods are not linear. They don't experience time the same way we do. They exist in more dimensions than us.

The Lore we heathens have received is written stories, all of it by definition written by literate people, which means either Christians in the post-conversion era or outsiders like Tacitus and Ibn Fadlan. We can speak of our lore having a timeline, because it tracks with our history, but it's the timeline of who wrote it down when. The stories of the gods happen all the time and at no time.

The experiences of devotees can be radically different from how a god is portrayed in a story. Stories have to have conflict. The gods in stories are portrayed as if they were humans with powers. They aren't. They are completely different than us in real life. Story Thor has a red beard; real life Thor is a thundercloud. Fiction helps us explore and imagine spirituality and religion, but it's up to us to understand which parts of a story are just a story.

Image: Las Vegas Skyline with UFO, a sunprint by Erin Lale, which is in the permanent collection of the Hammargren Home of Nevada History, a private museum.

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


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