Monthly Archives: August 2005

The Gospel According to Trolls

I am disgusted (but not surprised) to see idiots attributing Katrina to the sins of the Gulf Coast. The wrath of God is not something one wishes to mention lightly, much less judge as having occurred. Those who do it are tempting God to send a judgment upon them.

The only sin being punished here is the sin of under-engineering, and the defiance of natural laws. Like gravity. And Murphy’s.

Natural Theology
by Rudyard Kipling

I ate my fill of a whale that died
And stranded after a month at sea. . . .
There is a pain in my inside.
Why have the Gods afflicted me?
Ow! I am purged till I am a wraith!
Wow! I am sick till I cannot see!
What is the sense of Religion and Faith?
Look how the Gods have afflicted me!


How can the skin of rat or mouse hold
Anything more than a harmless flea? . . .
The burning plague has taken my household.
Why have my Gods afflicted me?
All my kith and kin are deceased,
Though they were as good as good could be,
I will out and batter the family priest,
Because my Gods have afflicted me!


My privy and well drain into each other
After the custom of Christendie. . . .
Fevers and fluxes are wasting my mother.
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
The Saints are helpless for all I offer�
So are the clergy I used to fee.
Henceforward I keep my cash in my coffer,
Because the Lord has afflicted me.


I run eight hundred hens to the acre
They die by dozens mysteriously.
I am more than doubtful concerning my Maker.
Why has the Lord afflicted me?
What a return for all my endeavour
Not to mention the l.s.d.! *
I am an atheist now and for ever,
Because this God has afflicted me!

* Pounds, Shillings, Pence.
(l. for liber, d. for denarius.
What were you thinking this meant?)


Money spent on an Army or Fleet
Is homicidal lunacy. . . .
My son has been killed in the Mons retreat,
Why is the Lord afflicting me?
Why are murder, pillage and arson
And rape allowed by the Deity?
I will write to the Times, deriding our parson
Because my God has afflicted me.


We had a kettle: we let it leak:
Our not repairing it made it worse.
We haven�t had any tea for a week. . . .
The bottom is out of the Universe!


This was none of the good Lord�s pleasure,
For the Spirit He breathed in Man is free;
But what comes after is measure for measure,
And not a God that afflicteth thee.

As was the sowing so the reaping
Is now and evermore shall be.
Thou art delivered to thine own keeping
Only Thyself hath afflicted thee!

May the good Lord have mercy on us all, and continue to soften all the curses we bring on ourselves. (And don’t forget to donate.)

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Katrina’s Aftermath

aftermath: A somewhat delayed consequence or result, especially a bad one. [Root sense: “second mowing.” After, w. OE maeth, a mowing, a swath. Hence, at root, a second mowing of hay. And since in most of Britain the growing season is short, the second mowing is likely to be inferior to the first, whence the root implication, “lesser (bad) result”. As distinct from the upshot (which see), an aftermath is an eventual rather than immediate result.

A Second Browser’s Dictionary by John Ciardi.

Like everybody else, I feel horrified by the difference between the night after Katrina blew through and the horrors of yesterday. We still didn’t know quite how bad it had been in Mississippi and Alabama. We honestly thought it was going to turn out to be all right for New Orleans. We didn’t know the levees were still going to go.

Everybody’s freaking out about the looters. Yeah, stealing food when you’re hungry and penniless is morally permissible. (Though you ought to leave an IOU on the counter if you can.) Profiteering and stealing DVDs and computers is bad, unless you can prove you really needed a computer for some higher purpose. (And then you definitely have to leave an IOU. And bring the thing back afterwards.) But no policeman should be stealing from Wal-Mart. Not at all.

But to get to my point, what freaked me out about the Wal-Mart looting was that nobody was picking stuff up off the floor. Not even kicking it out of the way. They would go around it, rather than do anything remotely tidy. Now, I’m hardly a domestic goddess, but it drives me crazy to see clothes displays at Wal-Mart that hit a certain level of disorder! How can people stand to see this chaos and not do anything about it?

I guess I just want to see people pulling together to help each other, giving themselves a good memory of strength in the bad times instead of weakness and evil. When things are as bad as this, there’s just no point making things worse. When there’s damage everywhere, who can resist the impulse to pick some spot, however pointless, and start picking things up?

But I guess that’s not the kind of people who spend much time looting Wal-Mart.

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The One-Armed Man Did It

This is a very sad and shocking story. Like we didn’t have enough human misery today.

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Most Hated TV Show

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Is it just me, or does everyone hate the commercials running for that new ABC drama, Commander-in-Chief? It’s a great concept for a show, and yet already I want to kill every character I’ve seen. So do they quit running these annoying commercials? Oh, no. They run them all the time on every channel, so the hate gets stronger.

Look, I don’t care if Alexander Haig were this chick’s staffer. If the President had just died or been assassinated in office, the staffer would stand behind the Vice-President. There might well be a feeling that the Vice President knew nothing and would be a disaster, as in Allan Drury’s real life account of Harry Truman’s succession to FDR, or his retelling of the whole thing as a novel. But nobody would call upon the Vice President to resign, even if the Vice President were dying or a real idiot. The succession of the office according to the Constitution, and the confidence of the American people that the succession will always go according to that constitutional plan, are more important than mere qualifications for the office. We all know this, instinctively, just by being American.

Furthermore, the idea that some staffer would object to the President being female is stupid. Nobody would even mention such a thing. It’s a nonstarter. Like someone said, if you have a problem with a woman in power, you obviously never had a mom.

Most of all, if you were an Evil Staffer(TM), you wouldn’t torque off your new boss as soon as she became your boss. No, you would rejoice in your new boss’ lack of qualifications, certain that you could make her dance like a puppet on your strings. You would become her Lord Melbourne and make her regard you gratefully as her political father, or her Disraeli and be all courtly and helpful. You would conspicuously defend her against all comers (especially in front of her), never letting anyone know how you really felt. (Until sweeps, anyway.)

So the commercials are advertising “Our show is going to be utter crap! With no connection to reality!” And obviously I know how to plot this show better than whoever’s in charge.

Sigh. I really would like a decent show about a woman president. Especially if she were allowed to be conservative, Republican, and a force for good. But the networks have something against giving me shows I want to watch. How did House get through?

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After Katrina

Well, the hurricane’s dwindling into just another storm. The rain’s coming our way to end our drought. (And my Nawlins uncle and aunt did indeed bug out — all the way to family in Atlanta. I slept a lot better last night.)

I was glad to see St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans come out okay (minus a couple of oldtimer oak trees). It looks like Biloxi got hit hard — yeah, it really looks like Xenia. That same unsettling mix of destruction here, houses standing there. (And my aunt and uncle have houses both in New Orleans and Mississippi…oops.)

But the people of Xenia rebuilt, and so can Biloxi. I promise.

Meanwhile, here’s a prayer from Ohio for you Mississippi folks, since your state patron saint is Our Lady of Sorrows:

Dearest Mother, before you could become the Consoler of the Afflicted, you first had to know true sorrow. I pause with you now, and meditate on that great suffering in your life, the death and burial of your most beloved Son.

Oh, how humble I am, dear Mary, when I see before me your Son in the tomb. He gave His life so we may know freedom from sin. Remind me always that any suffering in my life is passing, just as the suffering you experienced passed in the joy of the Resurrection.

Holy Mary, Mother of Sorrows, I mourn with you, knowing the certain joy of your Son and His gift of everlasting life. Through this act of His, you have become our Mother of Consolation. Amen.

May every tear be wiped from your eyes, and may your skies be clear.

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Katrina’s Not Looking Good….

New Orleans is just plain one of the best cities in the world, much less the US, and one of the lowest, too. They’ve got a giant hurricane heading right at them. There are a lot of other folks on the Gulf Coast also facing this trouble.

St. Louis, patron saint of New Orleans, pray for them. St. Barbara, patron saint of storms, pray for them. St. Gregory the Wonderworker and St. Florian, patron saints of floods, pray for them. St. Jude, patron of New Orleans’ fire and police officers, pray for them. St. Expeditus, pray for them. Mary — patroness of Biloxi; Star of the Sea; Our Lady of the Assumption, patroness of the Acadians; Our Lady of Prompt Succor, helper of New Orleans and patroness of Louisiana; Our Lady of Sorrows, patroness of Mississippi; Our Lady of the Gulf, patroness of Alabama — pray for them. And all you saints in Heaven who’ve lived in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, and all you souls still in Purgatory who’ve lived in these places, please pray with us for the people along the Gulf, and especially in those places you loved in your time on Earth. In Christ our Lord, Amen.

All things are tame to Him Who made;
He called their names and they obeyed.
Jesus can calm the stormy sea,
As once He did in Galilee.

So if it be Your will, please keep the storm surge from going over the levees, Lord, and comfort and protect those poor people who could not get out. Keep an eye also on all those whose jobs keep them in harm’s way: the doctors and nurses, the public safety workers, the reporters and camera handlers, the hotel employees, and all the rest. And may you bring anyone who dies safely home to You. Amen.

I realize that this may sound very hysterical to folks out there. To be honest, seeing as my nursery school and my dad’s workplace were destroyed in the Xenia tornado, I do have personal problems with big huge storms. I don’t know where my aunt and uncle who live in New Orleans are now, although I’ve no doubt they bugged out in good time. Beyond that, I really wish there was something I could do, and besides donating money to Catholic Charities, this is the only thing I can do that seems even vaguely useful. So if I’m being a bit compulsive, that’s why.

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Book: Our Lady and the Church

Somebody was just mentioning Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner, S.J. (the other Rahner’s brother). I don’t know who it was, but when I find out I’ll give them a hat tip and many thanks. This is yet another awesome little theology book with lots of spiritual nuggets of information in it. Apparently there’s a lot to be said for taking the old puzzle pieces and putting them together into a coherent picture.

See, I’ve always had the vague impression that whatever you said about Mary, you could pretty much say about the Church, and vice versa. (I even remember saying this in a discussion with my friend Joy.) But Rahner takes that tiny old piece of information and goes forth and studies all kinds of interesting things which relate to it. He moves freely from the earliest Fathers to the Middle Ages to the stuff people said practically last week, and the richer and more beautiful the picture gets. I could quote from this book all day.

So yes, Mary is the Mother of God and Jesus’ first follower, and hence the Mother of the Church. Indeed, some early Christian people even called her Church; and back when she was Jesus’ first and only follower, she in fact was the Church. (Among other reasons.) But on the other hand, the Church carries Christ’s Word within her, and with much pain and labor, she is delivered of many newborn Christians, many newborn Christs. (Without having sex, even!) So you can even call the Church the Godbearer, the Theotokos.

(Of course, if you go around calling Mary “the Church” and the Church “the Theotokos”, people are not going to understand you without an explanation.)

On the way, we have some fun with Jesus telling Mary and John, “Behold thy son” and “Behold thy mother”. Well, considering John had just eaten and drunk Jesus the night before, he really was Mary’s Son. Similarly, when Jesus said that those who followed his word were His mother, he was not just complimenting believers (and His mom the perfect follower, of course!), but telling the literal truth. Apparently lots of folks have pointed out that at baptism, we begin to carry Jesus inside us, and hopefully we let Him grow. So the Christian soul becomes the Theotokos — another Mary. For this reason, St. Ambrose liked to point out that after his resurrection, Jesus just called Mary Magdalene “Mary”, and that it was the same thing with the newly baptized:

When the soul, then, begins to turn to Christ, she is addressed as ‘Mary’…for she is become a soul who, in a spiritual sense, gives birth to Christ…Not all have brought to birth, not all are perfect, not all are ‘Mary’; for even though they have conceived Christ through the Holy Spirit, they have not all brought Him to birth. There are those who thrust out the Word of God — miscarrying, as it were. See to it, therefore, that you do the will of the Father, that you may become the Mother of Christ.

All those wacky St. Ita visions of rocking Jesukin don’t seem so wacky now, huh?

(And maybe Rocco should be a little less snarky over at Whispers from the Loggia about “Bearded Marys”, ne?)

Another good bit I noticed is the importance of the baptismal font’s symbolism as the womb from which we are born again (both Mary and the Church’s womb). So no more of this “chalice as symbol of femininity” stuff. (I always thought it sounded dorky and wrong when applied to Judeo-Christian stuff, and now it turns out it’s in the whoooooole wrong part of church. So I laugh hard.)

You will notice just how far beyond feminism or any kind of -ism this sort of sacramental and Biblical imagery goes; everyone is Mary, everyone is Christ, everyone is the Church. Being male or female isn’t important to any sacrament of the Church except Matrimony and Holy Orders. (Which I’ve always thought was a nice and just balance.)

I just wish we’d learned all this back in CCD. They’re not exceptionally difficult concepts in themselves, and they give you a lot of deep implications to think about and discuss. There are times I just like to look around church and let my mind rove through the meanings of the symbols everywhere around us, one bright picture melting into another. Thanks to this book, I’ve picked up a lot more symbols to play with. Now I only hope they’ll inspire me to live up to those implications.

Btw, going back to Sor Juana below, she also had a good Mary/Church insight. She wrote a villancico celebrating Mary for being “black and beautiful” in the Song of Songs, and pointed out that the reason Mary (especially la Guadalupana and the popular Black Madonnas of Spain) was so tan was that she spent all day in the light of the Sun of Justice and was also clothed in the Sun; and also that anything, no matter how spotless, that’s held up against the Sun looks black by comparison. Fun, fun poem.

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Russian SF/F Sources

Most of the Brothers Strugatsky’s major novels are still available in the US, if you regard used bookstores and libraries as available. I read some of these in junior high, and found the translation very flat. Of course, I may be older now and have a little more patience; and any translation is helpful if you’re using it as a crib for the original. The Strugatskys were also pleased to make their books available online as soon as possible.

(Many Russian authors are happy to do this, given the oddities of book distribution in Russia. Generally, however, you will find only excerpts or nothing at all of their newest or most popular books. This is because Russian publishers are now selling low-priced e-books to catch their farflung markets.)

There were also a few Russian anthologies that came out in translation, so you might poke around looking for them.

Fossicker Books is now publishing translations through Capricorn Publishing. Their catalog is a PDF file at the top of the page. They primarily sell their books online through Barnes and Noble or, apparently. (Amazon has plot blurbs explaining what they’re about, which B&N apparently does not.)

Current selections include: Kir Bulychev’s charming stories about Alice, a little girl of the future who manages to get in and out of trouble faster than her biologist father can keep up with, his story collection The Perpendicular Worlds of Kir Bulychev, and his starship wreck novel, Those Who Survive; the Strugatskys’ Destination Amalthea and Far Rainbow; Ivan Yefremov, The Andromeda Nebula; Vladimir Vasilyev, Death or Glory; and Alexander Belyaev, The Amphibian. These are all pretty famous books. But you’ll notice a distinct preference for fairly hard sf!

(Not to mention that the authors are all men…though apparently this was largely true of Russian sf until quite recently.)

If you want to buy books in Russian, there are immigrant Russian bookstores in most big cities and most carry at least some sf/f/horror. There are also several Internet bookstores and bookstores with Internet presence. I’ve had good luck with, which is out of New York.

If anybody else knows any English language sources for translations, I’d be glad to post links to them on my blog.

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So Anglosphere SF/F Isn’t Sacral?

First let’s start with an extreme view. I can’t get in and read this article, but Project Muse contains the following abstract:

Nikolajeva, Maria “Fairy Tale and Fantasy: From Archaic to Postmodern”
Marvels & Tales – Volume 17, Number 1, 2003, pp. 138-156
Wayne State University Press

The essay discusses the ontological, structural, and epistemological differences between fairy tales and fantasy literature, two genres often treated together in critical works. Using contemporary theories of the fantastic, it is argued that unlike fairy tales, with their origin in archaic thought, fantasy literature is firmly anchored in twentieth-century science and philosophy, especially the postmodern concepts of uncertainty, intersubjectivity, heterotopia, and heteroglossia. The characteristic features of postmodern fantasy literature are illustrated by the works of Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, Susan Cooper, and Russell Hoban.

and Google contains the following line from it:

“….however, fantasy has distinctly lost the initial sacral purpose of traditional fairy tales.”

It’s hard to know where to start on a comment like that. First off, are we truly sure that fairy tales had sacral purpose always and everywhere, or are we drawing a line around what fits the thesis and calling everything else a folktale?

Second, has Nikolajeva deliberately chosen examples which leave out fantasy written for sacral religious purposes, and is she misreading the examples she has and missing that purpose? I mean, including Pullman is just one giant gimme. (But it also argues against her thesis, because Pullman is a perfect example of an atheist with a fierce interest in promoting beliefs which he holds by faith. He is no less a missionary as his despised Lewis and MacDonald, which is endlessly amusing to the rest of us.) And no, contemporary mainstream fantasy isn’t particularly known for promulgating Christian religious beliefs, but there are tons of folks promoting pagan and gnostic beliefs. The quote should not have been “fantasy has lost the sacral purpose”, but rather, perhaps, “The need to get authors and sell books in a religiously pluralistic society has made sacral purpose a nice but not essential element of fantasy.”

Although, to be honest, if you don’t have religion in science fiction also, you are betraying the fact that you don’t think religion is real, and isn’t just a nice nostalgic element we don’t believe in anymore. Which leads us to this essay by Vladimir Gakov, “The Clever Heresy of the Fantastic” (via the Sacral Fantasy LJ community).

Gakov, quoting from the article on Religion in Peter Nicholl’s e Science Fiction Encyclopedia, claims that religion was TABOO back in the old pulp days. Well, yes and no. (And Nicholls, that capitalization of yours!)

Now, sex, that was TABOO. Religion was not TABOO in horror magazines at all, because any evil priest or whatever was just being possessed by the Devil — though it behooved the editors not to offend their Catholic buyers. Religion was only semi-TABOO in fantasy, which found a home right next to horror in Weird Tales and its few imitators. But the science fiction zines were dealing with a crop of young science-minded people, some of which were extreme atheists, some of which were extreme believers in all sorts of religion, and all of which were willing to get worked up over tiny things. More than that, they were dealing with drugstores and newsstands which they wanted to stock their magazines, blue laws they didn’t want to break, and parental and ministerial anger they didn’t want falling on their heads. They were living in an America in which depicting the President in a play or movie was deemed disrespectful, much less Jesus. So religion was a subject the editors just didn’t want to deal with, unless it came from a “classic writer”, like in a reprint of H.G. Wells, or it was some exotic Eastern belief. Writers could just save the religious discussion for hardcover books.

Indeed, as soon as American science fiction writers got a chance, they did start writing about religion. Often not in flattering terms, and often coming up with new “heresies” — yes, Gakov is right about that. But often too, writers came up with deeply religious stories. He admits that Bradbury often sounds very religious — so much so that Russians didn’t get to read him for forty years. He doesn’t spend any time on Poul Anderson’s classic story of a telepathic alien and a black hole, which begins and ends with a main character praying among the nuns of a convent on the Moon, set up to pray perpetually for starfarers. He doesn’t mention Anthony Boucher, Zenna Henderson, Manly Wade Wellman, or the little faith stories or religious characters that have always showed up here and there. But oddly enough, Gakov’s Russian take on Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories is much more religious than I ever read them to be; he reads the whole thing as a sort of rabbinic discussion of morality.

The problem with these sorts of cross-cultural discussions is that so much depends on the size of your net and what you’ve happened to drag in. The place of religion in British and American sf/f and horror has varied widely over the years, but it has never gone away entirely. Even the atheists — especially the atheists — would never let it go.


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Sacral Fantastica: Hot New Russian Subgenre

The Russian term “fantastica” includes science fiction (nauchniy fantastica, aka NF), fantasy (fentezi), and horror (uzhas) under its umbrella. For this reason, the subgenres are not separated quite so clearly as they are here. This does have its advantages. Detective fantastica and military fantastica are not separated by the minor detail of their type of settings, even though the intellectual interest in both — seeing how detectives and soldiers deal with the challenges of a different setting and different rules — is pretty much the same.

(Over here, Baen Books has made a lot of money by figuring out what kind of fantasy will appeal to the typical reader of Baen science fiction, and vice versa. There’s a joke that says Baen fantasy features a beautiful woman in armor with a monster; but Baen science fiction features a beautiful woman in space armor with an exploding spaceship. This isn’t so far off.)

So over in Russia, the huge numbers of new Christians are beginning to produce a hot new subgenre called “sacral fantastica”. Ivan Moskvin provides a wonderful roundup of this process. Since it’s from an actual magazine, I don’t want to quote the whole thing. But there are some very good parts:

In the first half of the 90’s, the Church was augmented by millions of intellectuals. They said, “It’s the fashion.” Intellectuals for whom this was only fashion soon turned aside. For others, “fashion” turned into life. The spiritual flowed from the process; considerably more people began to believe than the notorious 91 million. And for the most part, they didn’t give a care how the whole world felt about their faith.

In essence, Rus had received a second baptism.

The sea of former atheist/agnostic/godless people started to ponder, which indicates their new state of soul. At all levels of existence. Including the literary one. Here’s Chekhov. Here’s Sholokhov. And here’s Panferov, even. Is God in their texts? Are there angels and demons? Is there even a hint as to the possibility of a miracle? The peace of another world? But faith indicates that all this exists. So what are Chekhov, Sholokhov, Panferov, and the rest? Realists? Not a bit of it. It’s one big lie, not realism.

The paradox is in the fact that a believing intellectual is being totally logical when he comes to a conclusion like this: “Angels exist, God exists; Christ suffered on the cross, the saints suffered; demons tempt unfortunate people to this day; and all of us expect judgement in the other world. But we see nothing in ‘realistic literature’ about all this. That means mystical Christian realism is in opposition to any other kind, whether critical or socialist.”

Conclusion number two: “Postmodernism says nothing about this. The formal searching which appeared after postmodernism doesn’t say anything about this. So why read all this pap?”

Conclusion number three: “What is out there for us? What can today’s fine literature give us?” But he holds his tongue. And now, in this way, a very original intention naturally appears: “Let something fill the empty place!”

The article also points out that Russian fantasy before the Revolution included tons of religious content. But now fantasy itself is a relatively hot young genre in Russia, since science fiction was favored by the USSR and fantasy was relegated to kids’ books. He feels that most subgenres of Russian fantasy exist solely because they existed elsewhere. So he regards pagan/esoteric fantasy as yet another example of this imitation, and not as truly Russian. However, he doesn’t feel the need to point out the obvious, which is that Christian authors like Tolkien and Lewis have had a massive influence on most Russian fantasy writers and fans. Unfortunately, he also doesn’t mention Western religious sf’s influence (if any).

Moskvin dates the sacral fantastica movement as beginning with Yelena Khayetskaya’s 1997 novel The Obscurantist (Mrakobes). Unexpectedly, her obscure novel was given the Bronze Snail Award by none other than Boris Strugatsky, known for his atheist science fiction. She followed up from 2001 – 2003 with the Languedoc Trilogy: Bertran from the Languedoc, Arnaut the Catalan, and Lady of Toulouse.

Meanwhile, Moskvin is quick to point out that you don’t get a literary movement without fans and writer-participants. Fans appeared who called themselves the Bastion, and wanted to support good old-fashioned Russian values. This crew invented the term “sacral fantastica”. They began by wanting only Orthodox-based fiction, but gradually decided to go for broader appeal (ie, Jewish mysticism was okay, too, but paganism was Right Out).

In 2000, an anthology called Sacral Fantastica appeared, with stories by Olga Yeliseyeva, Dmitriy Volodikhin, Maria Galina and Natalia Irtenina. They wrote more sacral fantastica after that. Many prominent critics began to support sacral fantastica; Vitaliy Kaplan even wrote the novel Circles in the Void.

Meanwhile, “neo-Gothic” fantasy which used certain sacral fantastica tropes, but was not primarily interested in religion, began to come out. Lukyanenko’s Night Watch is the best example of this, and its success has produced many imitators. However, like Lukyanenko, many of the imitators have also gone on to write sacral fantastica.

At the same time, sacral fantastica began to turn into a marketing category, and the Sacral Fantastica anthology became an annual. The well-known fantasy writer Daliya Truskinovskaya wrote the Christian near future apocalyptic novel Make Way for God’s Wrath (2003), which won the Ivan Kalita Award. Other notable sacral fantastica novels included: Victor Tochinov, Tsar of the Living (2003); Natalia Irtenina, The Labyrinth’s Call (2004); and Vsevoloda Glukhovtseva and Andrey Samoilov, God of Twilight (2003). (It won’t surprise any member of any fandom that it was exactly at the point when the subgenre’s name became well known that people started arguing for brand new names for it, like “theocentric literature”. Yeah, whatever, folks.)

Moskvin concludes that sacral fantastica “is still a very young cub. What kind of critter it will grow up to be, only God knows.”

There’s another informative sacral fantastica article on the same site, by C.I. Chuprinin. This article points out that the Bastion was founded by none other than Dmitriy Volodikhin. They quote him as basically saying, “Being a reactionary and a religious fanatic is a good thing. Being a progressive and an atheist is a bad thing.”

Works named include: Vadim Nazarov, Circles on the Water (guardian angels); Vitaliy Kaplan, Circles in the Void (parallel universes and Christian teachings); Olga Yeliseyeva, Falcon on the Wrist (ancient gods); Maria Galina, A Lid for Abaddon (Jewish mysticism); Nataliya Mazova, Amber Name; Petr Amnuel, All Is Permitted; and Dmitriy Volodikhin, Tonight’s Noon, To Kill a Peacemaker, and Children of the Panther.

So it looks like there’s some very interesting stuff out there. I was also very amused to learn that Yelena Khayetskaya wrote the Russian novelization of that Crusade movie, Kingdom of Heaven. Anything she did to that tripe had to have been an improvement.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Amy! I’d like to extend a warm welcome to anyone visiting here for the first time, or the first time in a long time. Feel free to look around; you might also be interested in my post below on Sor Juana de la Cruz.


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Third Bloggiversary!

I talked about it last week, but I forgot to celebrate it yesterday! (Too busy playing with Russian stuff.) So we’ll just say that today is the first day of Anno Blogini 4.


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Retook the IPIP

I’m in a much better mood today, so I retook the IPIP and got very different results!





..Activity Level………..52


























..Artistic Interests…….88





So I guess the key is to take it when you’re in a decent mood and it’s a nice sunny day. When you’ve actually eaten that day and had plenty of sleep and coffee, too.

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Sor Juana: These Little Questions…

Apparently there’s a massive new book called Hunger’s Brides which weaves fictional academic adventure today with a fictionalization of the life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, poet and natural philosopher. All well and good.

But you know, though they showed nice pictures of her convent and all…they didn’t mention what kind of nun she was. In fact, I came to realize that nobody I remembered had ever mentioned what kind of nun she was. Dominican? Franciscan? Diocesan? What? And what was her order’s spirituality and charism?

Well, thanks to a little Google-digging, I can now announce to you that Juana Ines Ramirez’ novitiate with the Mexican edition of St. Teresa de Avila’s crew of Discalced Carmelites didn’t work out, but a year later she entered the female side of the monastic and contemplative Order of St. Jerome (the Jer�nimos, aka the Hieronymites). The male side (Monjes Jer�nimos) was founded in 1373, under the influence of great devotion to St. Jerome at the University of Salamanca. The female side (Monjas Jer�nimas) was founded by Maria Garcias in 1375. Both sides of the order were favored by the Spanish kings and queens (they had a monastery at the Escorial), not to mention the king of Portugal. They were known for generous almsgiving and followed the Rule of St. Augustine. Both sides of the order also founded extremely productive convents in the New World.

The male order was suppressed in 1835 by the government. But the Hieronymite nuns in Spain had not been affected, and “with their help and prayers” in 1925, the monks were restored as an order. Just in time for several civil wars and our buddy Francisco Franco. So the monks didn’t really get rolling again until 1969.

Currently, the men have two houses (here’s the one at Yuste) and the women seventeen. There’s also a couple related female orders: a Mexican branch, the Hieronymite religious of Puebla (Religiosas Jer�nimas de Puebla — 17 houses in Mexico and Venezuela), and an even more contemplative bunch of contemplatives, the Hieronymites of the Adoration (Jer�nimas de la Adoraci�n — 3 houses in Spain and Mexico). So Sor Juana’s sisters and brothers aren’t doing too badly. They even have a magazine and several beatification causes going.

Here’s the important bit: since they were into the learned and contentious St. Jerome, they were very much concerned with contemplation upon Holy Scripture. They also celebrated Jerome’s friend and funder, the rich, learned, and peripatetic Roman widow St. Paula, and her even more learned daughter, Eustochium. They like hospitality, alms, and service. All this makes perfect sense for Sor Juana. But beyond that, they are concerned with silence and enclosure both as a gift given up to God and an aid to contemplating God; and that’s the part of Sor Juana’s story that modern people don’t like.

Beyond that, I’ve always wondered just how close Sor Juana was to sainthood. I haven’t read enough about her to really know, and certainly most of her biographers are concerned with hagiography of a much more secular sort. But I will say this: Jesus warned us that we would face persecution. Every saint I know got persecuted by somebody. If they were lucky enough not to be persecuted by people outside the Church, then people inside the Church do the job. So it’s likely that Sor Juana was doing something right, especially since she was then given the grace of dying of plague while treating her sick sisters. (As a nun death, this really is pretty good.) So I really wish someone would do a spiritual biography of the woman. (Preferably in English.)

Also, although she did have remarkable learning, she was hardly alone in her mental world. It’s likely that her initial attraction to the Discalced Carmelites was based on her own attraction to that learned and holy woman and font of pure Castilian poetry and prose, Teresa de Avila. She hadn’t yet been named a saint, much less a doctor of the church, but her books and poetry were everywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. Moreover, she was from a Jewish background, and should have been an outsider in Spanish society. Instead, she remade it to suit herself, despite opposition from the Inquisition and false friends. But even now, Teresa’s work is notoriously misunderstood as referring to frustrated human love, when in reality she is using the language of human love as a way to talk about something which is far greater and more difficult to describe. It is ironic that nowadays it is women academics who often read her as wrongly as her more envious sisters in the convent.

Juana’s concerns are not the same as Teresa’s, though she also is doing what she feels is her duty to God and her own soul. She, like Dorothy L. Sayers, approaches God and her life from an almost entirely intellectual perspective, though being clearly in touch with her emotions. She is not ashamed to have this intellectual perspective, and claimed that education and knowledge of science strengthened faith in God, even though approaching God mystically was the more acceptable nun style in her time.

Teresa and Juana’s very uniqueness, and their bold acceptance of their difference from each other and all others, is exactly where their spiritual kinship lies. You will also notice that both bowed to stupid orders from authorities who perhaps did not deserve their obedience; but anyone who takes this obedience as a sign of their weakness or defeat gravely misunderstands what living a monastic life is all about. By obedience, they demonstrated self-mastery, not to mention loyalty to their vows and overwhelming trust in God. They accepted a small martyrdom, and thus demonstrated that they (with God’s help) were bigger than their tormentors. You will also notice that for all their enemies’ hard work, both Madre Teresa and Sor Juana are still in print. So who really won?

Perhaps it is relevant to relate that the Monjas Jer�nimas, like their brother monks, were known for being an order which insisted on both proud bearing and humility of spirit. (And isn’t that a Spanish combination!)

Another major misunderstanding of Juana’s work is that, like other female poets and even just plain females throughout the ages, she wrote very affectionate notes to her best female friends. You know, at some point, we’re going to have to stop calling every woman a lesbian or bisexual for engaging in this kind of perfectly natural behavior between heterosexual women. Just because our culture expects heterosexual women friends to be huggy toward each other but not to write each other poems, doesn’t mean every other culture is that impoverished. Given all the heartfelt email chain letters and Xerox poetry on the subject of “You are my friend and you help me survive life” which are passed around among the women in my office and my circle of acquaintances, even our culture keeps trying to get out of this hole.

On the lighter side, I’ve often wondered what the woman who said Aristotle would have written more about science “if he’d been a cook” actually cooked in her kitchen. So of course, our Mexican friends have produced a redacted (for modern ingredients) edition of her own Mexican Baroque monastic recipe book (“recetario”) called Sor Juana en la cocina. Here’s a recipe from it which utilizes chemical principles.

Poetry class materials. These are pretty good, but the movie thing is all made up. Also, I think “fertilizes herself with her own humors”, in the rose villancica, is best understood as speaking of blood, sweat and tears acting as fertilizer, not in terms of actual pollination or fertilization. So it’s not as radical feminist a statement as all that.

A good short biography of the good sister.

The Cervantes Biblioteca Virtual. In Spanish. But much easier to read from than the Sor Juana Project.

Some Sor Juana sonnets and translations of them.

Primero sue�o (First Dream): a supremely complex rhyme scheme and a storyline about a soul seeking complete knowledge of the universe or at least a single thing; but failing to accomplish this, being awoken by the Sun. Not so much a rebuke to the intellect as an acknowledgement that in this world, you really can’t know it all. (But of course you have know quite a lot to know just how much you don’t know….)

A poem she wrote to someone snarking at her illegitimacy.

Bio and links to online sources.

Sor Juana’s Page In Spanish. A scholar protesting postmodern interpretations of her work. Soriano has written both a Thomist analysis of Sor Juana’s “First Dream” and a whole spiritual biography emphasizing her intellectual humility versus contemporaries’ intellectual pride. Of course, they are both in Spanish. Sigh.

And last of all, a very good poetic essay about the lady by Morton Marcus


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“Cross on the Mountain” — Essay

This is my translation of an essay by now-pro fantasy writer Natalia Mazova which I found online. I can’t guarantee that all the sociology and history jargon is translated correctly. I don’t speak Academese in English, so Academese po-Russkiy is Right Out. However, I think there are some very interesting and useful ideas here. Enjoy.

“Cross on the Mountain,
or On the Lord God’s Secret Service”

an essay by Natalia Mazova, 2000.

“You see there, on the mountain, the HQ raised
Around three thousand soldiers?
Go visit it!
But when you tire, come back —
To work in GB, to work in GB,
To work in GB with me….”

— Vadim Kazakov

The text of this article, originally, was an expanded dissent against the old Constantina Krylova article, “Russian fantasy: Between Empire and Steppe”. For those who haven’t read or don’t remember this work, I will recap her basic theses.

It goes like this: Western fantasy, as was long ago explained to us in that “Piruge” by Sapkovskiy, all comes from the archetypes of the legends of King Arthur, who has his own inclusive European “progress myth”, i.e., about the truth given out to those who have not yet tasted this satisfaction. Recently, as a contrast to this myth, an Eastern myth formed (more precisely, an Asian-Eastern), the “ancient source of knowledge myth”, i.e., about the heritage of the past, which is the main property of Eastern civilization. However, Russia does not have its own distinct fantasy precisely because the “native heroes in no way defended the chivalrous law of honor, and even more, did not perform the tea ceremony”. The Russian mind is not directed toward the present or the past, but into the future.

Up to this point, I agreed with the worthy Krylova, though with some reservations. But after this she started to discuss Russia’s oppression, between Byzantium in the West and the nomads to the East, and also about the mythological consequences of this oppression….

Right away, I want to specify that I am a convinced follower of L.N. Gumileva and a supporter of the “civilizational” (also called the “national-sociological”) analysis of history. For that reason, for me it was all too obvious that:

A) Byzantium — is not quite the West (in the sense of not being part of European civilization), since, like us, it had the ideal of civilization’s high value as a positive, whereas the West has it in the negative;

B) it’s even more obvious that the nomads were not by any means the kind of Eastern civilization in which ancient wisdom and tea ceremonies are to be found, since they never had in their civilization a positive concept of a harmonious system (“conformity”, according to V. Rybakov’s terminology).

C) Finally, Kievan/Slavic Russia, according to ethnogeny theory, is not our ethnos at all, but an inertia phase of the previous one. Our ethnos and stereotypes of behavior began with the building of Moscow.

And at this moment, enlightenment came upon me: yes, indeed, it seems like the inclusive myth used subsequently as a basis for fantasy is always drawn from the ascent phase of this ethnos; moreover, in a very high degree from the phase of hidden ascent!

Specifically, this is the moment when a new people realizes that they are something different than all that is around them, and all that came before. In fact, the Arthurian cycle of legends corresponds to exactly this stage of Europe’s development. Our Prince Vladimir coupled with Olga/Helga — are an inheritance from the previous ethnos, and therefore is also “they don’t disappear” together with the three bogatyrs and the whole pagan Slavic pantheon.

So, what formed the attitude of our native Russian/Muscovite ethnos in this phase, that is, somewhere from the 13th to 15th centuries?

First, it had been Christian for a long time and with stability. And if those same Celts had happened to drop a even one single goddess (eg, Brigit) into the number of the saints, then charge all Paganism’s expenses to Demonology’s account. However, the place in history for the Sword in the Stone — had been occupied once and for all by the story of the Cross on the Mountain, while the place of the Knights of the Round Table by the apostles, i.e., the missionaries. (Poor, poor Andrezej Sapkovskiy in his Catholic Poland! If he only knew how Christian myths sink into folklore and in that, can convert the minds of people not stupefied by too much learning! They don’t have the archetype of this in Poland; in Holy Russia, there are too many to be able to fit them in a cart.)

In the second place, it was wonderfully aware that it had obtained Paradise thanks to Byzantium, and therefore it treated it accordingly. Probably exactly as the Dunadan of Arnor and Gondor felt about Numenor and its legacies: the land of the kings of old… Or in our case, of the saints — this doesn’t change the essence of this approach.

However, the nomads were not completely received as a “deadly east wind”; this is exactly the influence of western cultural infiltration, what Gumileva called the “black legend”. More likely, they already had taken up the same place in our legendary layer as the Saracens in Europe’s: an enemy, yes, but an “old and dear” one. (An uninvited guest was worse than a Tatar, and whoever in that epoch was worse for Russia than a Tatar — is three times worse for ourselves…)

And in the third and last place, exactly in the 15th century was when Byzantium finally fell to the Turks’ attack. What’s more, there occurred what is known in historical grammars of the old Russian tongue as the elegantly-named Southern Slavic influence. Simply put, the greater part of the Byzantine intellectuals fled to the only place which remained Orthodox — to Russia.

And maybe, without themselves wanting it, it gave our people their main sense of meaning — to be the last and only stronghold of the True Faith. “Two Romes fell, the third is lost, a fourth there will not be be!” But what sort of Rome is taken as an archetype? First of all, the Eternal City, the city equal to the world, and located in the center of the world. In other words — the City-for-All.

Going from all of the above outline, I formulated three archetypes inherent in the containing myth of our ethnos. (What’s more, I made this deliberately lofty — it’s myth, after all.)

A) For them, in order to save the world, is sacrificed a Savior, but not a savior. However, the real meaning of his acts are — Triumph after Sacrifice; and his weapon itself — not a sword, but the Word.

B) There were Kings of Old, in whose hands was the True Light — but they fell. However, their descendants rejected their inheritance, except for a few, and these few, from now on, stand on that wall which separates existence from nonexistence.

C) On these few is founded the City-for-All, which they know — is only the shadow of the shadow of the True City; however, it works with no less success than the True one. Specifically, all roads lead here for those who want to become one of those sharing the inheritance.

It’s not hard to see that the given archetypal complex has not been realized in full measure in any one work of Russian fantasy, yes, not in all of fantasy, either. The whole Numenorean line in the professor’s work is built on the second and third archetypes, and I give him a deep bow for that. But nevertheless, the Professor is English and Catholic. The motif of the legacy of the kings of old is very beautifully defeated by Lev Vershinin in his “Return of the King” (I originally borrowed the terminology from there; indeed, I love this narrative almost as much as if I’d written it myself). As far as Triumph after Sacrifice is concerned, these motifs undoubtedly exist in Nienna’s The Black Book of Arda, but it’s not hard to notice that the Sacrifice there is large, and here there is clearly a strain against triumph.

(All these conclusions were made in July 2000. Since then, “sacral fantasy” has arisen, but also, in essence, it has begun to work with the archetype “participation in the Wall-at-the-Edge-of-Darkness”.)

However, our nation has always been famous for a conscious that doesn’t always fully track our subconscious glitches. Which is why the line actively giving us this archetypal complex has been present in our fantastica since olden times, but in this situation has barely managed to penetrate into our fantasy.

This — is the progressor motif in that classic form in which we encounter it in the Brothers Strugatsky.

In the ideal — in him is very much our own traditional messianism. Indeed, the progressor carries not an “ideal world order”, but a world of unconditional truth, towards which he is working by right of what dwells within him, and in essence using the Word. On the use of weapons, more or less rigid prohibitions are imposed. And the difference between the “white burden” and its carrier is exactly the same as that of Savior from savior.

(At one of the Zilantcon seminars when the discussion turned to progressor-ism, I asked, is someone considered a progressor of men who never has lived by the ideal he preaches, but who is confident of its existence? To me, the answer was obvious, but the community’s opinion interested me. Alas, there didn’t turn out to be any opinion at all in the community on this score….)

But unfortunately, the progressors differed from the apostles precisely in the fact that they are not holy, and so doubt, not without reason, that their deaths will serve the triumph of the ideal preached by them. And their own logic is in this — the sacrificial spirit must not harm effectiveness. For this reason precisely, the activities of any good progressor are always compared to the activities of a good intelligence officer — conspiracy, agents of influence, and all the other stuff. Finally, if the Lord God has a Spetsnaz, as my co-author Dmitriy Volodikhin loves to say, why would he not also have reconnoiterers?

Alas, this line in our fantastica is as compromised by its many inadequate incarnations as by the general ruin in brains. For this reason, many have a completely different concept built from the term “progressor”, a far more unpleasant rank associated with it. That whoever doesn’t like the word can’t use it — a change in labels doesn’t change the Essence. Here, Sergey Lukyanenko (also subconsciously, not otherwise) has hit on a good idea — the “Regressor” — a person returning civilization, which is going in its own development somewhere that’s not there, to the place from which this “not there” itself began. Such a mission is personally very much after the hearts of myself and my friends, and sometimes in jest we even call ourselves the Regressors’ Committee…

Here, on this collection we may also construct our national fantasy: service to the Light, when there is no other leader besides God; a legacy from the world before, lovely but ruined; the center of the universe, where one might find a share in the highest powers; and a chosen group which works in places covered in shadow, forced to frequently hide its appearance, but little by little, step by step, changing the world toward the best.

No, I call on noone to sit down and start writing this way, and only this way. I also am aware of what kind of world I live in, and I know how far the erosion of our national worldview has come. I’m willing to believe that a text written on the basis of these archetypes could be felt by the reader to be even worse than the crowded aftertaste of the sequential adventures of Vodkolava…

I just would very much like to read something like this somewhere. But as C.S. Lewis said in an analogous situation, “It was nowhere, so I had to do it myself.”

My comments on this essay:

First off, Russia is hardly the only country in which religion is part of its folklore. Indeed, I would be very surprised if “Catholic Poland” doesn’t have such legends. The Brothers Grimm’s famous collection of fairy tales includes stories in which Jesus wanders the earth with St. Peter. The Devil also wanders about their book, looking for souls but defeated by shrewd peasants and old soldiers. I’m fairly sure I’ve read similar tales from all sorts of places. Spain’s chivalry, by necessity, is all bound up with religion, and of course we all know the more entertaining Irish hagiographies, which include St. Muirgen the mermaid and St. Ailbe (who was raised by wolves). Maybe this heritage of religious folklore hasn’t been given much attention by fantasy writers up till now — in fact, I know it hasn’t. But it’s there and there’s plenty of it, whether or not it’s being used.

So if the Cross has really taken the place of Arthur, you have to ask what’s different in Russia from all other long-Christian countries, why non-Russian religious folklore doesn’t come to Mazova’s mind, why mainstream fantasy writers have shied off from all religious folklore, and why Sapkovsky and Krylova didn’t include religious folklore in their ideas.

(You also can ask yourself why Russians love this Third Rome idea so much, especially when the original Rome is alive and well, and Moscow clearly has so much more to offer the world as itself.)

Second, it’s pretty obvious why Lukyanenko’s Night Watch has made a lot of money. (His book came our in 1998, btw; the film in 2004.) I also think it’s an impossible statement, that one about the Strugatskys’ myth of progressors, since of course it’s closely related to the Communist theme of inevitable historical evolution, but also to the general sf myth of progress (promulgated in the US by folks who were mostly in some measure influenced by Communism, as we of course know). Again, this isn’t a dig at anyone or even the idea of progress and “progressors”; it’s fact.

Third, I’d be a lot less worried by an English or American writer comparing God’s chosen people to intelligence officers or special forces. This is not to taunt anyone, mind you — Mazova and Russian fandom are hardly responsible for everything that’s ever happened in Russian history — and I expect that Russian people would be just as nervous if I made such a comparison to the CIA. (And if I comment about how the Russian “Our Father” talks about the coming of God’s empire, they could always counter with the American religio-political belief in “manifest destiny”. But there it is.)

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