The Karma of Obsession
I am married to a god.
Well, no; but there are more than a few individuals out there who believe that he is: the ones who also think they know better than I do the nature of the man I wedded, or the truth of his life, or of our personal relationship, or of their own claim and stake and interest in all this. A belief perhaps not to their best advantage, since, logically, if my husband is a god that would make me -- in the time-honored tradition of Olympus and other divine hangouts -- a goddess by marriage.
And goddesses -- another time-honored tradition -- have been known to lob the odd thunderbolt at worshippers who get up their divine noses...
The mate in question is James Douglas Morrison, better known to the world at large as Jim Morrison, lead singer of the 1960's rock group The Doors; by no means a god (at least not by choice, of which more later) but very much a man, very much a living, loving, human, being. We met in January 1969, when (an initiated Witch and Maiden of a Celtic coven at the age of 22) I was the editor of a national rock magazine and he was the Lizard King, just turned 25, tall and shamanic and gorgeous and smart. Actual literal sparks flew, suitably portentous, when we first shook hands, at a private interview; instant karma having gotten us both on the spot, we became lovers eight months afterward, and on Midsummer Day 1970 we were handfasted in a ceremony conducted by the founding priestess and priest of my coven. Thirteen months later Jim was dead in Paris of a heroin overdose, though he was never even a casual user.
And if I seem to dwell on our story, it is only because it illustrates a weakness in the Pagan outlook that is on one hand merely foolish and on the other truly dangerous.
From the very hour of his death, Jim Morrison has been seized and appropriated by the legions of those who know no joy, apparently, unless they are feeding off the creative and karmic energy of those they never knew in life -- would have been afraid, indeed, to know in life; in the process reinventing those lives to their own needy specifications -- specs that have little or nothing to do with how things actually were.
I see this phenomenon in many other places besides the empty other half of my marriage bed: people who have built their lives into the voyages of the Starship Enterprise; people who just know their true rightful selves are not regular working stiffs but kings and queen and war dukes, if only someone other than the Society for Creative Anachronism would confirm it; who are Luke Skywalker wannabes wrestling with the Force (and, all too often, losing badly, 'cause they Just Don't Know The Power Of The Dark Side); who long to take oath as Free Amazons to Marion Zimmer Bradley or who dream of Impressing as dragonriders to Anne McCaffrey.
Before I proceed further, I wish to make it clear that I am not by any means anti-pretend, or anti-fandom, or even anti-fantasy. Indeed, how could I be, for I write it myself: a series of science-fantasy novels called The Keltiad (or, as I and its readers like to think of it, "Kelts in Space"). Fantasy is essential for our overall good inner health, and we all need at least the minimum daily requirement.
But there's a big and critical difference between fantasy and delusion; and whether we choose to get our fantasy ration from the SCA or other such groups, or from television, books or movies, we would do ever well to keep this difference firmly in mind. All lies within the power of our own choices, and the balanced inclusion of fantasy into our personal mental menus is most emphatically not what this piece is about.
Oh-kay. Ideally, what fantasy should do for us is show us a way (not the way); it's about things as they might be, even as they should be. It is not about things as they are (that's why we call it fantasy). It's like going to a Renaissance Fair of the mind, for a day (or a lifetime, if the fantasy is good enough) of relaxation and refreshment and enjoyment and removal from our own realities. And this is fine and good. But it is when people start turning other people's work and lives and even souls into some private RenFair of their own that the trouble starts.
For what these people are doing -- the ones who worship my husband as a god, the ones who do not just play Klingons but think they are Klingons -- is as simple as it is invidious. It is living between two worlds with a vengeance; it is fannishness carried to an unwholesome, unhealthy extreme. At best, it is larceny; at worst, it is psychic vampirism. Either way, it is a sin and a crime, and those upon whose reality or creativity, upon whose life or work (we are talking here about two separate, though closely related, matters) the fannish fangs have fastened are by no means the sole victims. Almost always, the vampire is victim right along with the victimized, and no one is well served.
And all too often, those who commit such sins and crimes, against the living and the dead and their own selves, are Pagans.
As a fantasy writer, I can appreciate the temptations we as creators put before those who admire our work (I'm a fan myself, of much the very work I speak of in this piece, so I know how it feels from both sides of the fence). Here comes along a nice attractive fantasy universe, just the sort of world we'd all like to be living in given half a chance, a few crabs here and there maybe but by and large a fine and pleasant place: all the hard work already done, everything lined out -- the physical plant, the rules, the characters good and evil, the history and languages and clothes, the conflicts and alliances and systems of weapons and morality.
I don't blame anyone for longing to move in, because a created fantasy world rests, if the fantasy is even halfway a good one, on solid mythological and psychological underpinnings. And the author or creator, if he or she is even halfway a good one, will have taken great pains and put in staggering amounts of time and labor to have made it so, so that it will be real and true, so that it will be attractive to readers or viewers.
The problem arises when those readers and viewers start to think that mere admiration for the creation vouchsafes them some sort of bizarre entitlement: as if by right of their enjoyment of the book or the film or the TV series or the music, they have been handed blanket permission to lift whatever elements they might fancy for their own personal use; and, by extension, to further warp and distort those same elements from their intended context, very often clean against the stated wishes and intentions of the creators.
The greater the admiration, the more license the lifters seem to think this confers. But the creations belong to us who created them; not to you who enjoy or admire them. We allow you to share those creations, to enter in upon them and to enjoy them with us; indeed, we very much want you to share, and hope you will, it is why we created those worlds in the first place, as homes and havens for ourselves and others. Even so, they are ours, not yours; you cross the borders by our grace, travelling on the passports we stamp for you. 'Co-creation' between reader and author, or viewer and creator, is a wishful delusion, not divine right; in the end, it's our toy-chest, and you must respect that. If you wish to join us in fantasy sovereignty, create a world of your own; you will be more than welcome.
(This, by the way, is why I do not permit fan fiction set in my realm of Keltia, and why trespassers will be hearing not only from my lawyers but from my astral enforcers...)
The other side of this debased coin is when the exact same thing is done TO REAL PEOPLE, when real (and usually safely dead, hence unable to protest or fight back or take legal or chivalric action) individuals are used as the source for the theft. And make no mistake, theft is what it is. Not a nice word. I know. But then it's not a nice concept, either.
In fact, there are two distinct sorts of thievery going on here: the theft of a fictional truth and creation (let's use Star Trek as the example of this, since almost all of us are well familiar with its components); and, far more serious by my lights, the theft of a real person's persona and reality (Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis -- let's use Jim as the example here, since he is the only one I know personally), feeding one's own inadequacies at that person's expense and at the expense of those who know and love him.
I think we can all agree that, as a rule, stealing is a bad thing. (This is a good commandment no matter whose god originally promulgated it -- and it wasn't the one you think, either.) And theft of this sort -- creativity theft, soul theft -- has most particular repercussions on many, many planes, which we as Pagans cannot and should not dare to deprecate or ignore.
Because when you are guilty of this kind of theft, you have not only stolen from another being, you have -- listen up now -- stolen from yourself. Your theft has been accomplished at the expense to yourself of your creativity, your reality; indeed, at the expense of your own soul. And that is a very, very high price to pay for what began as harmless fun.
When people take a template not theirs to begin with -- tinkering with it, filling it with their own neediness, wrenching it from its original purpose and its creator's control -- they lose track of what is rightfully theirs, their own imagination, and instead they fasten like vampires onto something that is not theirs and never was theirs from the beginning. In so doing, they prevent themselves from exploring the unsatisfied creativity that led them to do this in the first place.
It is a subtle and particularly vicious cycle: If they weren't creative to begin with (since it's never the dull stupid ones who do this), they would not be tempted to play with other people's creations, and if they didn't embroider and obsess so on the creations of others, they'd be able to explore and fulfill their own.
We resonate to fantasy or science-fiction (or to art like Jim's) because the artists or creators have carefully made sure we shall. Even when the foundation archetypes have been dumbed down for mass consumption, as so often they are to meet the lowest common denominator of TV and movies, the residue of power cannot be tampered with, and remains active and alight.
Who among us, after all, does not thrill with Luke Skywalker when Obi-wan first speaks to him of the Force? We have no more idea, at that moment, of what this Force thing is any more than young Luke does; but we know, as does he, that it is something of vast and critical and life-changing importance, and not to him alone. And we thrill to this in awed unison with Luke and with one another not only because the archetypal foundations are rock-solid but because George Lucas worked his fanny off to make it so.
Or we were entranced at Doors concerts, frozen in our seats by the sheer force, or Force, of psychic violence when Jim broke on through by means of the music and took us with him over the edge, showed us what was there -- demons and glory, darkness and light, all ours and his, and us together -- and then brought us back again (I know! I was there! I saw him do it! You'll have to take my word for it). And the thrill lay not only in the danger and the perception, and, yes, the incontestable magic of the moment, but also in the excited anticipation -- indeed, the certain knowledge -- that we would not come back unchanged, and neither would Jim.
And all this is as it should be, this is as the creators intend. But what no creator ever intends is that the beholders of his or her art should attempt to co-opt that art simply because those beholders are too shiftless in brain or sluggish of spirit to do any thinking or seeing or creating of their own.
The Holy Grail (and there are many Grails...) was not found by sitting in front of the tube and obsessing on Trek; the world will not be changed by staring slacker-jawed at MTV; work and query are ever the watchwords. Whom, indeed, does the Grail serve?
What we have here is the tyranny of misapplied imagination, the profligate waste of creativity and insight, all squandered on something stolen. The evil of it cannot be overestimated, and it can be fatal, even epidemic, if left chronically untreated.
J.R.R. Tolkien, who understood better than just about anyone else how this works, was blunt and plain-spoken about what our response should be. We are all in prison, he said, our spirits shackled by the money-grubbers and the soul police and the timeservers. If we are creative persons, it is our duty to escape, and we must take as many people with us as we can.
Now this is a high and noble destiny for the humble fantasist, who wishes only to tell some pleasing stories to entertain herself and like-minded others; but a destiny, I think, which we all strive both consciously and unconsciously to fulfill -- not only fantasists but all artists. The pathology sets in when those whose breakouts we are abetting mistake the escape for the reality into which we intend that escape to lead them.
Because full-time escape is the biggest prison there is. If your idea of a good time is to put on a Klingon tire-tread headpiece every now and then and go around saying "PataQ!" that's one thing, and I say "Qapla!" to you all. But when, for instance, people start incorporating Klingon words and concepts into Pagan rituals, giving some sort of spurious zomboid life to what was after all a thing originally created for (a) profit, (b) entertainment, and (c) Gene Roddenberry's personal artistic satisfaction, then I think I have to say, right along with Bill Shatner, "Get a life!" And I would add, "Your own life -- not Jim's, not Worf's, not anybody else's life but your own."
Where, after all, are the glory, the freedom, the personal truth and honor, in recreating (stealing) someone else's vision, always imperfectly (since it is not yours to begin with, and, to be blunt, you are most likely not so talented as its creator or you would already be out there creating something of your own) and always unjustifiably?
It is no freedom, but purest slavery, to make your life into a Xeroxed version of another's creative achievement. AND IT IS NOTHING REAL!!!
A thousand million times graver, where is the achievement in stealing someone else's LIFE, his soul even, for your own rapacious use? To turn a created fantasy into a life for you to live (because you're too cowardly or too lazy or too bored to live your own, or to change your own) is one thing, and hugely reprehensible; it is quite another, and a far graver sin, to hijack, without permission or compunction or even a sense of wrong, a total stranger's very history and existence -- his or her past and present, work, loves, marriage, even death -- and proceed to change it all from truth and fact into a delusional construct to support your private needs.
After all, how much of a step was it, really, for that smirking little obscenity of an assassin, from admiring John Lennon to thinking he was John Lennon to killing the real John Lennon because only one John Lennon at a time can exist, like matter and antimatter... It's by no means so far a stretch as one might think; and is it a difference in kind, or merely in degree?
I run into this sort of thing all the time with "fans" of Jim: not the ones who admire him honestly and correctly, as a songwriter and musician and poet and priest, but the ones who have builded him an altar out of beer cans and attitude and a vague, deeply erroneous idea, if you can call it that, that he is some sort of spiritual brother. Jim was many, many things to many, many people, and no one knows that better than I, but above all else he was a deeply disciplined creative artist, and no kin whatsoever to vampirical morons who wouldn't understand that kind of discipline if it bit them on the behind.
And the thing my Jim ABSOLUTELY AND FOREVER was not was some sort of god manqué. His worst fear was to be made into an icon: Jim Morrison was one of the great iconoclasts of all time, one of the great image-breakers. His avowed purpose (which he never ceased to serve both publicly and privately) was to show people that what he was doing, they too could do -- not the drinking and the drugs and the various wretched excesses, through which out of the unmitigated pain of his life he was desperately and tragically attempting to heal himself (he was wrong, but that's another story), but the moving out, the breaking through, the finding of one's own proper Path to joy. However many his own lapses along that Path may have been, Jim never failed to obey the dictum to follow his bliss, and his life and soul and art and being were all dedicated in the end to one thing only.
And that one thing was God/dess. Jim had a deity-sized hole in his life that he was trying to fill until the day he died; one of the reasons he chose as he did to wed in the Craft was that he found in our ways something that spoke powerfully to him, something he had always known, something he had been moving toward all his lives. In his early days of rock stardom, he generally described it (when he deemed the interviewer capable of comprehending) as shamanism; and it was -- all the shamanic elements were there, being deliberately and consciously used by Jim for their rightful shamanistic purpose.
But it was much, much more than that: And when he met me, and I began to instruct him in the ways of the Craft, progressing him toward his initiation and his place beside me as mate and High Priest, he also began joyfully to accept as real the mighty archetypes he had been, half-knowingly if wholly correctly, espousing all along, and espoused me along with them.
A vulnerable soul himself, Jim became the focus for souls both far needier and far more ruthless than he, and so he has remained ever since his death -- a poster boy for the psychic fringies. The transition was now complete, from Jim's truth to their fantasy of Jim, his actual life and death becoming, in the process, an inconsequential and largely inconvenient fuel cell for the juggernaut of iconization that was already rumbling down the road.
Jim became larger than life, but he had never stopped being a man; and were he still alive, he would be appalled and furious at the iconization, and with the iconizers themselves. (In fact, he is steamed about it; believe me, I know...) It's not even about the real Jim Morrison anymore; it's about the self-serving perceptions of him put forth by those who never knew him, for purposes of their own. It is not real, and it is not good, and this is where I go for my guns in his defense.
I have gone on at such length about Jim and his worshippers/vampires because I hope thereby to make the larger point. Historically, no one probably ever asked the Sacred King's wife what she thought about the sacrificial trip the people laid on her consort, or, if they did, her answer has not come down to us. But -- speaking for wives of Sacred Kings everywhere and throughout history -- let me tell you what her answer would be: WE ARE DEEPLY NOT PLEASED. And as a witch and priestess myself, one who has seen this sort of thing in far too many places and people, I am more than slightly alarmed.
Pagans seem more susceptible than most to this aberration: this spiritual pilfering or soul plunder, depending on how deep it goes. Almost none of those guilty of it, though, ever see it as such, and are probably even now self-righteously aghast to think I am actually accusing them of it. Because, oh, you know, they are never the ones, it's those other Pagans, they themselves are perfectly justified in their practices...
Well, you cannot dress up fannishness to pass it off as the Craft. What shall we say, then, of those Pagans who invoke the Goddess in the persona of Stevie Nicks or k. d. lang -- two people very much alive, of course, who might well be expected to have extremely strong views about this sort of thing? What gives these Pagans the right -- no, the absolutely staggering hubris -- to think they can just pillage the ranks of the living and the dead, looting what they like, what they find attractive and resonant, from anyone at all? What makes them think, if indeed you can call it thinking, that this is a practice the Goddess would sanction, far less the soul being so raped? And it is rape, make no mistake about that -- more violating and more lasting than any rape of the body.
We probably all know people who do this; perhaps some of us even are people who do this -- all you Rainbow Galadriel Silverwindmistdancers, all you Arcturus Darkstar Raventhunderers (oh, sorry, I mean all you Lord Arcturus Darkstar Raventhunderers). There's nothing religious going on here, people! What it is, is fannishness to the max, the side of fannishness I personally like least. Maybe even the side the Goddess likes least, since it also reduces Her (or Him, if we include the God here, though He doesn't seem to come in for anywhere near as much of it), to the level of, well, Stevie Nicks.
(I venture to say it's also the side Jesus likes least -- fannishness is by no means exclusive to Pagans, you have only to observe fundamentalist Christians for about fourteen seconds to pick up on that -- all those wussy mooncalf pictures, all those excruciatingly embarrassing, all but sexually explicit hymns.)
In a very real and very alarming sense, it's obsession with the Goddess (or with Jesus) the same way it's obsession with Marilyn or Elvis or Jim; and any way at all, it is not right.
As declared and acknowledged Pagans, we already stand apart and removed from the mainstream world, by virtue of our own conscious choice (and all of us have made that choice, all of us have come to it sooner or later down the years). There are many reasons for this, of course, and whether or not this is a good and needful thing is not here under discussion.
But then to make a second, totally volitional, further withdrawal into what is after all a mere construct -- whether it be the Kingdom of Caid or the Weyrs of Pern, Amber or Middle-earth, Darkover or Bajor, Tatooine or Keltia or even, gods save us, a Doors or Zeppelin or Hendrix "tribute" band (it's no tribute, and don't you ever let me catch you thinking it is!), or, worse, into the very life fabric of James Dean or Elvis Presley or now, alas, Kurt Cobain -- cannot but be wholly destructive in the end, both to the one making the removal and to the ones into whose helpless reality the intruder is busy relocating uninvited.
The rationalization usually nervously offered is that such altar building is "really just like ancestor worship." That would be just fine, with Jim as well as with me, if only it were true. But it's nothing of the sort.
Just because someone has done something you greatly admire does not give you the right to appropriate them. You can admire them, certainly; in fact, that's what you and they are both there for. Honor them, by all means, as guiding spirits and revered dead if such is what they merit of you. But do not DARE try to steal their souls and lives and truths for purposes of your own. That will only end in tears, karmic cooties for you, big-time.
These people were/are real; they do not exist simply to serve your sick little fantasies, to be used as you please, with no regard for them as souls, no respect for their karma -- or for the ones they left behind, if their crossing has already been made.
If the Goddess is too remote and inaccessible for you to worship except all tricked out like k. d. lang, then you don't deserve to be worshipping Her in the first place. If you think it's so cool to worship my handfasted lord as a god, don't come crying to me when you get blown away (and you will be, I promise) by your own bad karma and his defenses (and he is defended; you cannot and will not get to him, and if you even try, I will carbonize you like day-old toast). Now you are warned.
In these dark days of superhype and media-fueled feeding-frenzy celebrity worship, far too many hapless souls seem to get derailed on the gleaming, often bloody tracks of the Personality Express -- a fate deleterious not only to the derailees but to the creative engines as well.
In the very old days, syncretism was the norm: You had your basic local common-or-garden goddess or god, and so did the folks over in the next ëhood -- Canaan or Moab or someplace. Sooner or later, with to-ing and fro-ing, bits and bobs of your deities would graft painlessly onto the gods of your neighbors, and vice versa; or one particular deity would gather unto him- or herself the neat or nasty attributes of all the other ones. Until after a few hundred years, or a few thousand, what you had was a generic Goddess or God being worshipped over a fair-sized chunk of Middle Eastern or Celtic or Aryan or Norse real estate. Regional differences would still exist, but the larger geographic deity-entity would prevail, and serve as common holy ground for any number of folks.
Today, divinity having become generally unfashionable, it seems that in our spiritual hunger, so long unappeased, we are being fed instead a kind of media syncretism. A poor substitute; but nothing else, to my mind -- save sheer unadulterated nuttiness -- can explain the Goddess clothed in the aspect of Stevie or k. d., and we can all only hope that these ladies' spiritual bodyguards are doing their job in keeping the vampire vibes off them.
Because, you know, it's not a significantly large step from worshipping the Goddess as Stevie Nicks to worshipping Stevie Nicks as a goddess. (Nothing against Stevie, but come on now.) Indeed, we see how it has already happened with Jim; and lest you should think I doth protest too much, well, let me just tell you how it is...
There are covens and other groups of various Craft persuasions, and solitaries from Berkeley to Baltimore, who have elevated Jim Morrison to full-fledged godhood. There have been violent psychic attacks (against me as well as against him), innumerable sÈances and channeling efforts, more magical invocations and spirit rip-offs than you can shake a stang at, and EVEN ACTUAL GRAVEROBBING ATTEMPTS!!! (Thank Goddess for those hidden cameras trained on his grave 24 hours a day, and the omnipresent guards, and the motion sensors, and all the other high-tech protection. Not to mention those who work with me to keep him safe, body and soul alike -- let's just say you wouldn't want to try our defenses...)
And I can't begin to tell you how many pitiable nutcases have written or e-mailed me to excitedly inform me that Jim's just chatted with them via Ouija or Internet (duh! Anybody can say they're Jim Morrison -- there are jokers on the other side just as there are crank callers over here); or that they are Jim (either reincarnated or still alive, I get both); or, more cruelly still, that they have the soul intended for the child that would have been born to Jim and me of the pregnancy we terminated, and now these sad pathologies are writing to me looking for us to be their parents! (I'm thinking of forming a support group for them all, my own little 12-step program for Morrisonoholics, Jimaniacs Anonymous...)
There are Satanists who think he's just too adorable for words and absolutely wasted on the Light; there's even an abomination billing itself as the First Church of the Doors (and oh, wouldn't I just love to nail a few theses to their front, uh, portal! Or preferably to their foreheads...), who have actually run in their loathsome ragzine cartoons of Jim as a vampire, Jim as a Satanic goat being ridden by a naked trollop -- depraved, bestial soul sewage that sickens me beyond belief, and angers me beyond imagination.
Listen up, and listen good. YOU WACKOS ARE NOT JIM. Do you hear me? NOT JIM!!! Neither alive nor in his next life. You have no right in this world or any other to lay perversions like this on him -- or anyone -- and if you keep it up you will be destroyed. You didn't know him. You will never know him. I know very well where Jim is, and I promise you, he won't be back for quite awhile yet. I have a few little matters to discuss with him first -- and an unimpeachable prior claim to his attention, of several incarnations' standing...
But the bottom line is, Jim does not deserve any of this muck, and neither do I, and neither does John or Yoko or Elvis or Priscilla or Kurt or Courtney... Jim gave you nothing but truth and honesty, his heart and mind and soul and pain and vision held out to you through the beautiful medium of his art -- this is how you repay him for that brave and matchless gift? Why not try giving something back to Jim for a change, something like honor and respect and privacy, and a prayer for his soul? My only comfort -- and it is a real and a solid one -- is that those who offend against him so criminally will not only get what they deserve, they'll deserve what they will get.
There. I feel better now. But that is where the karma of obsession can lead you, if you are not vigilant and grounded; as we can see, it's a very long, very rocky road from just happily playing Klingons.
Getting back onto the archetype trail: I think the problem we have with archetypes and other paradigmatic fauna is that media practice has condemned them to promiscuous accessibility, made them too available for syncretic seizure under a sort of Humpty Dumpty Law as interpreted by People magazine. The easier it is to access a particular archetype, the sooner that archetype is shunted aside for the mediacized version of itself -- invariably a vastly inferior version, dumbed-down beyond belief, a baseborn clone offspring of the unholy alliance between slavering media and mawing audience.
One can go on hoping that people will be so turned on and inspired by the clone that they will seek out the original, but one will hope in vain. There is no control here, only the terrible sinking dreading knowledge that the copy will ultimately supplant its original, like some kudzu vine of the spirit choking off the hapless host-stock, and nothing at all can be done about it. There is as yet no weed-killer that can prevail against this sort of rot.
But, you say, what about these archetypes? What of those who may have started life as historical personages but ended up as myths and social matrices -- people like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Herne the Hunter or even Yeshua ben Yusef? Was there maybe even some great and forceful Mesopotamian queen-matriarch, her name something like AsTARte or IshTAR or AshTARoth or ATARgatis, whose long-ago apotheosis gave us that Goddess of so many (and so suspiciously similar) names? What about Medb -- was she just a Bronze-Age Celtic Marilyn? What if any parameters do we have here? What is the minimum decent interval before a person can become a paradigm?
That's a tough one. I write books that retell Arthurian and other, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, Celtic legends, placing them in an outer-space, far-future format. The myths I have so far tinkered with have had their being firmly seated in the realm of pure legend; but who really knows for certain, at this late date, how pure that legend may originally have been? Surely there is a fire-seed of truth at the blazing heart of Arthur's story: some local king, or Romanized warlord, called, maybe, Riothamus, or Macsen, or Ambrosius Aurelianus; so then have I not done to him and his reality exactly the same thing that people are even now doing to Jim and his, or ours?
I don't think so. To begin with, Arthur is long dead, and so is his wife, and so are all his friends; Jim is dead, but I'm still here, and so are the rest of us, not to mention Stevie and k. d. and Courtney and Priscilla and Yoko. This alone seems to be reason enough, or so I would like to think, to any decent right-minded Pagan, to stand respectfully away. Additionally, I venture the opinion that two millennia is a safe and respectful distance, and two decades absolutely is not.
But even if the distance is measured in centuries, if the person in question is a genuine, documented, veridical historical figure, the facts of whose existence can be indisputably corroborated, I say hands off, now and always; and I will abide by that, at least where my own work is concerned, no matter how attractive a subject for fictionalization he or she might be. And, hear me Goddess, never in a million lifetimes as a subject for religious fandom or psychofannish apotheosis.
If, on the other hand, the individuals' origins or bona fides or latter end are so far lost in the mists of time as to render moot his or her life facts and manner of death (no contemporary chronicler ever mentioned Arthur by name, none ever reported how Owein Glyndwr died), then I say, with equal conviction, all's fair. So: It would be okay to mess about with King Arthur, but not with King Henry VIII, and it would really not be okay to mess about with THE King... One must never confuse or conflate quasi-mythology with current events; so if you insist on mythologizing Jim Morrison, come back in some other incarnation two thousand years from now and do it then. Try it in the meantime and I swear I'll slap you silly -- and so will Jim.
What it all comes back to is that tyranny of imagination gone awry, that failure of active thought: when something that should be used to set you free becomes instead a weapon wielded by yourself against yourself. Imagination wrongly or wastefully or inappropriately applied will only imprison you more securely than no imagination at all.
It may all have begun quite honestly and harmlessly enough, with admiration and genuine esteem, invariably for good cause. But it so easily progresses to obsession and thence to revisionism -- remaking the object of the obsession to fit your own needs -- until at the last it becomes out-and-out denial of anything about the obsessional object that does not fit the false lying parameters you have imposed upon it; anything that does not validate your dementoid fantasy of what never happened and your frantic delusional denial of what actually did.
This is not only nuts, it's evil, AND IT WILL HURT YOU, you who practice this very black art, in ways you can't even begin to imagine.
Because you cannot use others' lives or artistry or spiritual achievements as iconic shortcuts to your own enlightenment: The Goddess doesn't like cheats. The unspeakable selfishness, the plagiarism of spirit and art, the uncaringness, the vile nasty karma you are piling up for yourself, the undeserved burden you are placing on the obsessional object you claim to admire and love, the appalling pain you are causing those who had a real relationship with him or her -- all these lead not upwards to enlightenment but down into the dark. One must earn one's own reality for oneself, not borrow someone else's no matter how attractive it may appear. And what is well and honestly earned will never fail to pay off, big-time, in the end -- or in the next life.
Fail to do this, and you are not merely living between two worlds but trespassing in many different ones, never truly at home in any, no world your rightful and deserved domain. It is laziness of a cosmic, and karmic, nature; it is a sin and a wrong and an injury done to a fellow creature; and it is an insult to the gods. Is it evil? You bet. Is it stupid? Sure. Is it inevitable? Only if you allow it to be. Will it bring down the wrath of the gods upon you if you do? Count on it.
In the name of the Goddess, no more.
© 1995 by Patricia Morrison.
This modestly revised piece, which was published for the first and only time to date in a terrific zine called The Red Queen (now, sadly, defunct), was originally written at the behest of Chas Clifton, to be included in Living Between Two Worlds, the fourth of his WITCHCRAFT TODAY anthologies for Llewellyn Books.
Though he, I and others who read it thought it only too accurate and appropriate, and in fact too easy by half on the guilty parties, Llewellyn sniffed that it was "too dark" and "had no relevance to Pagans," and to Chas's chagrin and my annoyance, declined to publish it in the anthology in question.
I confess I found it distinctly puzzling that they should think so -- but then, given the sort of autoingestive, badly written, poorly researched amateur slop they do publish (Chas's excellent efforts very much the exception, and I urge you to check them out), maybe I'm not so surprised after all.
[And they thought this piece was dark before...!!!]