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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

why am I doing this, again?

I wanted to get back to talking about my novel--the thing that this blog is supposed to be about. What do I want to say about it? In these dark times, when I myself question what the heck I'm doing, and why, it might be good to review those questions. Why am I doing this? What is the value?

One avenue of inquiry is: What makes my project different? The log-line for The Mission--the one-sentence description of the story that appears at the top-right corner of the blog's main page--generates a certain frisson of excitement because it suggests that my story is about the (true, secret, unexpected) origin of Christianity. Which it is. But my focus is not on Christianity, particularly, as such. I am not a Christian, nor have I ever been one, and nor will I ever become one. Christianity, to me, is an important world religion, and one of the main tributaries of our modern Western culture--the culture I was raised in. But its claim on exclusive truth is no greater than that of any other off-the-shelf spiritual system.

The reason I became excited about doing this story was that Christianity, I believe, is connected closely with the symbolism of the precession of the equinoxes--the almost imperceptible shifting of the Earth's axis in time which causes the north pole to describe a wide circle in the sky every 25,920 years. It is this gradual shift that causes the zodiac--the band of stars through which the sun and planets appear to travel in their orbits--to creep backwards, so that, little by little, the sun, on the spring equinox, comes to rise in a different zodiacal constellation. The sun rises, each year on March 21, in each constellation for 25,920 ÷ 12 = 2,160 years, on average. Each of these periods of 2,160 years, when the sun rises in one zodiacal constellation, is known as an astrological age. Right now the sun rises each March 21 in the constellation of Pisces, which means that we live in the Age of Pisces.

But we're near the end of the Age of Pisces. Soon (and exactly when depends on how you draw your map of the constellations) we will enter the Age of Aquarius. So the Age of Pisces began something just over 2,000 years ago--close to the time that Christianity had its origin. Jung, in his book Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, makes a detailed case that the unfolding of Christianity over the past 2,000 years, and especially of the attitude of Western people to the figure of Christ himself, correlates closely with the movement of the vernal equinox (which is technically a geometrical point in the sky--the point of intersection of the equator and the ecliptic) through the sign of the fishes. (The fish, of course, is a key symbol of Christianity.) Jung believed that the figure of Christ evolved in tandem with his dark twin, the Antichrist or Satan, who became the repository of the evil that could not form any part of Christ's nature. Christian eschatology refers to a final confrontation between the two at the end of time.

I'm fascinated by Jung's interpretation, and it is an important inspiration for my work. Jung was a Christian, but he wasn't writing as one. He was writing as a psychologist and as a philosopher, an interpreter of the symbols that have appeared in our civilization. He defined symbol as a representation of something that cannot be completely known. It expresses something that is too vast, too vague, or too paradoxical to be presented directly to consciousness. Symbol, of course, is the language of dream and of myth.

So I'm interested in the Age of Pisces, and its key signifier in the world, Christianity. They are symbolic of things deeper and beyond themselves. This emphasis makes my work much different from most historical fiction, especially that dealing with Christ and his period. I'm thinking of things like The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson or Christ the Lord by Anne Rice, which essentially accept the biblical narrative(s) at face value and retell them, or things like Testament by Nino Ricci, which is a euhemerist retelling of the Christian myth. The first category is essentially pious. The second is an attempt to account for the mythologization of historical events by showing how extraordinary but nonetheless natural people give rise to legends about themselves.

Mine is in neither of those classes of work. I'm not a pious Christian (or any other kind), and I don't believe we have Christian mythology, and the Christian religion, because a few extraordinary people did some unusual things 2,000 years ago. No: other, deeper things are at work.

But I've written enough for today.


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