As a child I was taught that it was best not to discuss religion or politics. It is a guideline our culture espouses as polite and conciliatory. Being the rather rebellious sort, I grew up not only discussing these prohibited subjects (religion in particular), but I took religion deeper, into the realm of spirituality. And I not only discuss it, I write about it through the arena of Visionary Fiction
We Visionary Fiction writers are authors foremost, after all. We do not write to convince our readers of anything, but rather, to open them to new and unorthodox possibilities of awareness and realms of existence. We write with a skilled imagination and a fine honed craft in order to immerse readers in a story that is meant to bring them along a character’s journey, giving them an opportunity to transform their own consciousness.
Writing good Visionary Fiction that weaves in spirituality is a craft issue. Any form of spirituality should serve the characters, not the other way around. Most people don’t like proselytizing when reading fiction, finding it dry, pedantic, even tiresome. Spirituality woven into Visionary Fiction stories comes through the side door, disguised within enjoyable entertainment, a good literary read. It appears through plot devices, character transformational arcs, paranormal incidents, among other routes.
All novels have a theme. As Visionary Fiction authors, I propose we also have a message, oftentimes a spiritual message. It is something related to, yet subtly different from the theme. An example of a theme vs. a spiritual message can be found in the classic Star Wars films. The story’s major theme was about facing and integrating one’s dark side. The spiritual message involved the apprentice Luke, where he is taught to ‘feel the force’ that will guide him to right action. In my novels, the theme is about stepping into one’s life purpose with authenticity and courage. My spiritual message is that embodied love is the ultimate magic and the next step in human evolution.
While pondering the topic of weaving spirit into stories, I wondered how other Visionary Fiction authors integrated the spiritual into their novels. I asked our VFA Facebook community this question and received wonderfully enriching and diverse answers that I think we can all be inspired by, and hopefully they will catalyze more thoughts and even more discussion.
Here are some of your answers.
Theresa Crater – I think I put the spiritual beliefs into my characters. Often I have a character just learning about things or needing to search out answers to solve a mystery. They consult with older, wiser people in the book, so the teaching is between characters. I usually don’t have the narrator espouse things. We discover spiritual truths through action and character experience.
Rea Nolan Martin – Great question regarding spirituality and preaching to the reader. For me it comes down to the characters. I build them from scratch with certain gifts and foibles, then let go and see how they respond to an earthbound or spiritual event/conflict. Sometimes they surprise me. My rule of thumb is, never let anything come out of my characters’ mouths simply to serve the plot, an agenda, or my preconceived idea of them. Characters evolve. Plots should change with the characters, not the reverse. Everything my characters do or utter must be congruous with their personalities and experiences; in other words — organic. Any spiritual lessons should ensue from the characters, not be pursued by the author. Bottom up, not top down.
Esme Ellis – In answer to your question about how we see Spirituality a propos Visionary Fiction, I can only say that Spirituality has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t give it a second thought. Spirituality, as apart from Religion, or Religiosity, becomes something I take for granted, so that when I‘m writing a book it will be woven into the pages as my stories evolve. The characters also begin to evolve as the story evolves, so that by the time the story ends, both they and _ maybe the author too, have made an important change in their lives – and hopefully our readers also.
Marian Lee – I weave spirituality in my stories through archetypal symbolism and short bits of dialog between characters without seeming too obvious. The dialog has to fit into the story. It can’t just be, ok, now it’s time for a spiritual message. I don’t think any of us are that heavy handed. Also, the muse brings me symbolic plot points that move the story along with underlying spiritual meanings.
Jim Murdoch – First and foremost my books are not spiritual stories. They are works of fiction and fantasy. One could say that they have spiritual elements in them. I have just completed book three of my Dragons and Visions series. In book one, Pursuit, I have a magic book, a magic ring and pendent and my characters find themselves drawn into this Inside metaphysical space somewhere in there sub-conscious minds. Immediately you can see that there are non-physical or super-physical elements to my stories. In that inside space they first meet dragons, a non-physical species who have learned to raise their vibration and exist in a non-physical plane. Later in book two, Dragon Song, the Inside experience includes speaking with the deceased. In book three, The Giants of Glorborin, the Inside meditative state allows the characters to see into distant places or even distant worlds, rather like remote viewing.
The stories also portray how my characters overcome their personal weaknesses, like facing the dark past in order to release blockages or overcome fear based on past experiences.
My next book, which will be a completely new story not related to the series, will explore the effects on the mind caused by abuse, a lack of self-love and a lack of purpose. This story will also deal heavily with reincarnation, something I touched on in the series. An interesting dream which I had of an ancient battle involving two women in leadership will find its way into my story. So here you can see that the spiritual aspects which are appearing in my stories are related to human development, consciousness, sub-conscious and super-conscious contact and souls who reincarnate back into the physical world. Just talking about reincarnation immediately opens up the idea of souls existing in some other plane of existence between their physical appearances on Earth.
It is not my intention to preach or proselytize. I have no affiliations into which to proselytize, neither do I have a dogma to preach. It is simply my desire to awaken the human spirit who reads my work to the possibilities of a higher consciousness and to a more determined, successful and purposeful life. And of course to entertain with an exciting, well written story.
Eleni Papanou –Weaving spirituality into a story is easy if it’s organic to the character’s growth. The backstory about who she is, what she is missing in life, and what she hopes to learn determines the path she’ll take to evolve.
Of course, as VF authors, our spirituality ends up in the story. However, If the spiritual path connects to the growth of the character, then it will not come off as proselytizing. I learned this lesson when I wrote a screenplay—very long ago– that had a character who went off on a tangent regarding current political attitudes. A reviewer told me I was being preachy. I couldn’t understand what he’d meant at the time, as character development was new to me. This was also before I detached from political and religious ideologies. A clearer sense of what it meant to be spiritual happened after I’d detached from ideological labels. My own journey taught me my actions, as opposed to my words, demonstrate my spiritual growth. This translates into my work because my characters grow without having to mention they are on any type of spiritual journey. Whether they’re Jewish, Christian, or atheist, they all have a strong drive to improve and evolve. I guess you can say that I see spirituality as a form of self-actualization, the need to transcend the societal label and become unique, moral, compassionate, and ethical beings.
Steve Weinstock – I think the two main ways I incorporate spirituality in my books is through humor and mystery. One of the main decisions I made when first planning my series, 1001, The Reincarnation Chronicles was to avoid a common practice with stories about reincarnation and immortality, which is to sustain a mysterious question until the end of the book when the secret is revealed that the book has been about a quest for eternal life. I wanted to start from that premise, that we are all immortal and live countless lives, and then proceed from there with the consequences of that reality and the knowledge of it in my characters. What if we knew we had lived many lifetimes and could remember them? Would we still binge on Oreos when we got anxious? Would we choose our friends differently? Would we go insane?
So from there I found my characters could often take a lighter, more relaxed view of things eternal, the way we look at daily tasks at hand. So while they’re discussing the Big Questions like karma and ethics, they can be down to earth, and have a sense of humor about it all. This frees me greatly as a writer, and allows me to bring up whatever spiritual, moral, or religious area I want. On the other hand, I love mystery, so I did not want to bleach the mystique out of the books by the matter-of-fact approach. So in The Qaraq, it takes half the book for Sahara, the main character, to discover her visions are past life recalls, and that the local reincarnation support group she encounters is her qaraq, the linked souls she has spent lifetime after lifetime with. In The Qaraq and the Maya Factor, the group goes through a series of puzzles and revelations to understand why their recalling powers have vanished. Mystery is often the background, humor the foreground, and spirituality happily floats on top.
Tom Hoffman –In my Bartholomew Trilogy I have two tactics. First, I never use emotionally charged buzz words like “psychic”, “out of body”, “mind reader”, “God”, “angels” etc. I make up names that are fun and also clearly describe the event or skill.
For instance, when Bartholomew learns to have out of body experiences, he learns a skill called “The Traveling Eye” from a mysterious and reclusive monk. It is thought by many mystics that when we have a thought we are actually creating an energy field. So, Bartholomew learns to see colorful “thought clouds” that come out of the ears of other animals. He draws them to him and then “hears” the thoughts in his mind. It’s all very non-threatening and fun and he is just as amazed as the reader at the wonder of it. He is learning about it all just as the reader is.
I don’t say, “I believe in rain and so should you.” Instead I show the character walking around in the rain and being amazed by it. I also have a number of skeptical characters in the trilogy who don’t believe any of these things actually exist. Some of them, like Bartholomew’s best friend Oliver T. Rabbit, a brilliant scientist, come to realize that these seeming magical, mystical events are nothing more than physical events, the mechanics of which are currently beyond our understanding. Bartholomew and Oliver call these events “bumblebees”, because scientists once said it was impossible for bumblebees to fly, and yet there they go, buzzing across the fields. In summation — no buzz words, and I keep it fun, full of joy and wonder, and very non-threatening. I would guess that 75% of the readers never even suspect the events in the trilogy are based in reality. To them it’s just a fun fantasy adventure. You know, like life!
Sandy Nathan – What I do now is write the story in front of me. I get the ideas for my books from transcendent experiences, usually related to personal tragedies. The idea pops out, often whole, then I spend weeks/months/years getting it right. I stopped trying to put a visionary message (the knell of death to almost any novel) into my stuff and just let it come out through me. My brain, my writing.
Thank you to all the wonderful VF authors who shared their answers. Now I’d love to hear from even more VF authors. How do you weave your sense of spirituality into your novels? And, in line with our definition of good Visionary Fiction, how do you do this without preaching or proselytizing?