Sunday, July 1, 2012

Of Gods and Things that Go Bump in the Night

Urban fantasy can be said to be made up of two elements: the urban and the fantastic. Well, yeah, it's much, much more. It's almost synonymous with paranormal romance, but it's a darker shade, grittier, in my opinion. Yet we've come to expect the supernatural elements to be either hunky vampires or even hunkier werewolves. Hunky gods? Not so often.

My intro to urban fantasy was through the works of Charles De Lint. He had Old World Fairy living in Canada mixing with Native American spirits. I loved the gentle whimsy streaked with violence in his work. It all sparkled with magic, in a good way.

When I decided to write Chasing the Trickster I was also inspired by Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume wherein Pan complains how he is depleted by the lack of people's belief since so many switched to Christianity. That aggrievement is at the core of Joe Cernunnus' character. He's an old world god of the Celts who has tried to adapt to Christianity but finds himself playing the buffoon to St. Nickolas as the Krampus, and then as a mortal's captive. To make things worse, the Trickster god of the Southwest is highly territorial, he understands that power comes from worship, and as Coyote he is worshipped. He sees Joe start a power base in Sante Fe and takes action working with the Web of Fate to change things more to his liking.

Little is known of the Celts. Mostly we associate them with the people of Ireland and to a lesser extend Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Brittany (the six Celtic Nations). These are all that remain of a language and culture belonging to pre-Roman Europe going back in places to the Bronze Age. The Celts had no written language (this is argued as there are some ancient inscriptions extant) and so most of what we know of them come from artifacts and the writings of the Greeks and Romans. As the Roman and Germanic migrations grew, the Celtic people were pushed back to the few areas we see them today. I'm tempted to say they were absorbed by these two cultural groups, but there is so little to be seen of them, it's hard to say. The name Cernunnos is from the Latin for "horned one" and is an inscription for an image of the god with stag horns (on the Boatman Pillar).

When sitting in a college course on early European Religion I expected to learn more about Cernunnos, but really there is little. I wondered how could Christianity, only adopted by the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century, so quickly push out the older religions. Was it the idea of accepting a symbolic sacrifice instead of the human or animal ones declared by those older religions that was so appealing? We know that many of the pre-Christian religions of the area demanded the death of a human being. Could the pain of such cruel practices have lead entire peoples to embrace a kinder, gentler religion?

And what of poor Cernunnos and his followers? The image of Satan comes complete with horns. Demons have horns. Has our stag god (and Pan) been vilified by the followers of a new religion? Many would agree.  Furthermore we have the demonic follower of St. Nicholas from Austria, Krampus. He's hairy and horny (pun intended). I introduced the Krampus into my novel, as a strategy taken by Cernunnos so at least he'll have some attention, some worship.

As a child I had a keen sense of the numinous (sublime). I grew up on 3.5 acres of land in Westchester County. There were ancient willow trees surrounding a pond, and there was an area of pine trees behind the pond. And the house I lived in was built in 1756. There was a strong sense of history and mystery. It probably helped that I was in love with books from an early age and devoured Andre Norton and Madeleine L'Engle when young, and then later Hawthorne, James and Poe (and let's not forget C.S. Lewis and Tolkien).

In many religions, we learn that God or Spirit is all around us. We can connect with this feeling whenever we choose. Even atheists will agree to a sense of the numinous can be found in nature, science or the arts. However, I love the idea of spirits, whatever names you give them, including the Holy Ghost, surrounding us. In writing about gods, I hope to connect with numinousity, a sense of sublime, and perhaps lead others to experience that when reading my work.

As a Fourth of July special, if you will promise to write a review of Chasing the Trickster (leave it at Goodreads, Eternal Press, Barnes and Noble, Amazon or your own blog) I will send you a free reviewers PDF of my novel.

Hope you take advantage of the offer.


  1. Religions of all kinds are such great fodder for stories. What might a writer do with, say, the ancient Egyptian pantheon? Have you seen any novels along those lines? If so, let me know please...

  2. I agree that Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy are closely related, and that the line between them often blurs. Yes, Urban Fantasy is grittier. The plot is also different, especially regarding the love story. In Paranormal Romance, there's one Mr Right and the plot is about how the heroine gets him. In Urban Fantasy, there are usually two Mr Rights, and the Heroine can't decide. But I gather this doesn't apply to Chasing the Trickster?

  3. Rick Riordan is best known for his Greek god centric YA, but he's recently branched off into Egyptian gods.

    Wilber Smith wrote a lot of novels set in ancient Egypt, but I don't know if the gods were characters in it. And there are tons of reincarnation tales involving people going back in time, forward in time, whatever.

    The Egyptian pantheon was also used heavily in TV's Stargate.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Sorry for being out of sequence Rayne; the reply button still isn't working.

    You are on the mark about the one vs. two (or more) lovers. Thanks for the insight. Pascal's rival is the Stag god residing in him. It's difficult to compete with a fertility god and so we have not just a triangle but a foursome of confusion when we include Kate, the best friend of our protagonist.

    Thank you so much for dropping by.