This is the concluding part of this mini-series on how Woody Carter’s possession experience inspired his novel, Narada’s Children: A Visionary Tale of Two Cities. For the first part, click here.
I sat in Nana’s chair overwhelmed by what I had experienced and being released from spirit possession, until I had an epiphany: What’s to stop this thing from re-entering my body like returning to wear, again, a comfortable pair of leather gloves? And why was I not aware of this thing inside me? How did I become its victim? It then occurred to me that I had to strengthen my inner life to ward-off any possible recurrence of spirit possession. I had to learn how to meditate. Little did I know at the time that embracing such a practice would also transform my life.
My work as a writer continues to be informed by this life-altering experience. This event was certainly seminal in writing my first novel, Narada’s Children: A Visionary Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps, I could have approached the development of the work as a memoir, but who would have taken such a biographical narrative, seriously? Narada’s Children seemed to write itself. And as the writing progressed, I was often reminded of a fleeting yet recurring revelation that my bout with spirit possession was my Guru’s (a spiritual master whom I’ve never met, and who passed away when I was only eight years old) doing. This traumatic occurrence was my teacher’s way of returning me to a spiritual path that I had embraced long ago in a past life . . . in a previous incarnation.
Only after finishing Narada’s Children, and reading a five star review did I begin to think about genre. One reviewer wrote, “Carter’s is a novel that fits neatly into no category, but manages to enchant on all fronts.”(Foreword Reviews) I realized, then, I had a problem. Who is my target audience? Narada’s Children weaves two mystical narratives together into one spiritual allegory, connecting an ancient land in the Horn of Africa to a contemporary urban African-American community. So is my readership mainly people of African descent? Or is my audience mostly East Indians who might appreciate a fictional narrative rooted in their sacred ancient text, the Ramayana? Or, although the book develops two distinctly different love stories and unfolds a murder mystery sub-plot, would the novel best attract readers who enjoy spiritual narratives with broad universal appeal?
Narada’s Children should be viewed as visionary fiction literature, because it grapples with the expansion of human consciousness which is requisite to this genre. The story perceives the transformation of human consciousness as an imperative – an inherent impulse in humanity’s struggle to come to grips with what it means to be fully “human” and whole. I think this drive is a “spiritual” quest or spiritual pursuit, and speaks to the fundamental purpose of life. For to be human is to become self-reflective of one’s expanding awareness and, as a member of the human family, a mindful participant in the evolution of human consciousness.
While the word “spirituality” is employed in many different ways it is, here, defined as that dynamic process of becoming fully human (and whole), by moving or being moved to the edges of one’s consciousness and the limitations we ordinarily accept, and discovering that there is more beyond. We, as humans, are summoned to walk this organic path whether we want to or not. We can choose to embrace it or move along the path’s contours kicking and screaming all the way. Sometimes, life-negating behavior may force us to take three steps back, but the intrinsic demand to move forward remains an underlying constant shaking-up our inertia and ignorance to break away from our internal darkness to move towards the light.
The trajectory of visionary fiction as with spirituality is a life-affirming one, given the genre’s focus on the expansion of human consciousness. But what is most interesting – and the most challenging – for me as a writer is grappling with the obstacles we create for ourselves; these tensions between the darkness and the light; between good and evil; between the flesh and spirit; between the expansion of our awareness, and our resistance and fear of change.
I am especially fascinated with creating narratives and characters that explore the primal and dynamic tension between the forces of “attraction” in nature that finds expression in harmony and unity, and that of “repulsion” which manifests as the expansion of cosmic energy into material forms. In anthropomorphic terms, these two diametrically opposed impulses transmute into conflicts between love (attraction) and hate (repulsion); between one’s desire to live in harmony with all that is, set over against those who perceive the world and the cosmos as frontiers to somehow conquer and control.
In Narada’s Children, for example, this battle between two opposing ways of being in the world, relative to harmony versus control, finds unique expression in the inner lives and worldview of people of African descent living in white supremacist America. W.E.B. DuBois, noted African-American scholar, writer, and social activist described this conflict in his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, first published in 1903. He wrote, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness – an American [with an ethos and worldview marked by the need for dominance and control], a Negro [whose genetic make-up remains encoded with a desire for living in harmony with ancestors; with family and community and, most of all, in harmony with Spirit]; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder . . . . This history of the American Negro is the history of this strife – this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double-self into a better and truer self.”1
This peculiar legacy rooted in slavery haunts my writing, and will continue to be explored and find expression in my work as a writer. It feels good to find a home in the genre of visionary fiction.
1: BuBois, William Edward Burghart. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: New American Library, 1969. p 3
About the author
Carter has served as an associate professor in the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and an instructor in theater arts at several community colleges in the Bay Area. He taught courses on mysticism and social change; produced a documentary film entitled “The Healing Circle,” integrating the practice of “quiet sitting” with cognitive behavior therapy for young men released from incarceration, and facilitated meditation circles in predominantly communities of color.
He is a retired executive director of the Bay Area Black United Fund, an identity-based philanthropy in Oakland, California, and the author of two published works: Theology for a Violent Age: Religious Beliefs Crippling African-American Youth (Non-fiction), and his first fictional novel, Narada’s Children: A Visionary Tale of Two Cities, published in 2016. He divides his time between living in the Bay Area and Saint Croix, US Virgin Islands.
Visit his website at sleepingmansbooks.com