Fiction and Spirituality

Life is very, very busy at the moment. I am hoping I will be able to keep up regular postings here. Archery season starts on October 1 here in Michigan, and I have been preparing as time goes on. Ranging in the woodlands and picking my spots for the year, fletching arrows, sharpening knives and broadheads, generally making sure all my gear is in order. Writing progresses at a good rate, I am in the final stretch of my trilogy at this point. Hoping it will be all done with writing by the start of November, so that I can editing and polishing done by the end of the year.

All my ranging in the woods, as I have mentioned before, certainly has a spiritual component to it. As a writer, I also read a lot. I always have to be learning, new words and new ideas that will shape my own stories. My experiences also go into my stories. Recently, I have reread the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien and am almost done with A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. When I say done, I mean with the books so far published. Nearly done with A Dance of Dragons. Those two series are primarily what inspired this post.

My path does not fit neatly into labels. I am a hunter and woodsman, animist, polytheist, pagan and heathen. My gods, ancestors and spirits are those of north, of hunters, trees and wild places. As such, it should come as no surprise that I am drawn to the rangers of Tolkien’s work, the Starks, northmen, wildlings and children of the forest of Martin’s. These works have given me new ideas to play with, new things to consider in my practice and my life.

So I would like to start with a few quotes, to give examples of how and why some of these ideas contained in the stories resound with me, starting with Tolkien.

“But in the wild lands beyond Bree there were mysterious wanderers. The Bree-folk called them Rangers, and knew nothing of their origin. They were taller and darker than the Men of Bree, and were believed to have strange powers of sight and hearing, and to understand the languages of beasts and birds….” It also goes on to tell of how they told “strange and forgotten tales….”

Rangers have a particular kind of magic, very much grounded in the wild places of the world. They are also scholars and lore-masters after a kind, knowing Elvish and well as the tongues of men. Aragorn is the most notable, and at turns appears as wanderer, hunter, warrior and even king. He also is wise and knowledgeable, and knows of herbs and healing as well. These are important traits for someone like me to know, at is is easy to see how this translates to things most spiritual and mundane.

On a practical level, knowledge of land, plants and animals is useful in the woods and during the hunt. Knowledge of this kind, wind patterns, game trails, can really aid in the hunt and the hike, and any other form of general ranging. From a spiritual perspective, working with trees (especially for me) plants, and animals, known collectively as vaettir, or landvaettir, is a large part of my practice. Landvaettir are useful allies and teachers, especially for the outdoorsman.

Moving now to Martin (note that this numerous quotes strung together); “What do trees remember?… The secrets of the old gods… A thousand eyes, a hundred skins, wisdom deeper than the roots of ancient trees… A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, the man who never reads only lives one. The singers of the forest had no books. No ink, no parchment, no written language. Instead they had the trees, and the weirwoods above all. When they died, the went into the wood, into leaf and limb and root, and the trees remembered. All their songs and spells, their histories and prayers, everything they knew about this world. Maesters will tell you that the weirwoods are sacred to the old gods. The singers believe they are the old gods.”

Could not have said it better myself. In Martin’s story, the children of the forest(alternately “those who sing the song of the earth” or “little wise men of the forest”) are people that existed before the coming of the First Men. They worship the trees, the stones, the earth. As I am, I have a special connection to trees, and these ideas resound strongly with me. What do the trees remember? What memories do the vaettir hold? What histories, what stories? Interesting ideas to say the least. Ideas that have some parallel in my own practice.

Both these quotes show elements of shamanism, shape-shifting, skin changing and general spirit travel. Speaking the language of birds and beasts? Shamanic. Changing skins, joining spirits, communing with old gods? Shamanic. A relationship with the spirits of the earth, the gods, and the ancestors. Shamanic.

The idea that there are ancient memories in the world, ancient spirits that deserve to be treated with respect, this is a powerful though, in fiction or in reality.

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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