|Joanne Harris & the Doors of Perception|
Photograph by Jennifer Robertson
|"Fava Bean Elder Futhar Rune Set"|
Seriously. "Futhar" runes made from fava beans.
Sold as "perfect for those practicing Italian witchcraft."
My interest in runes spans both the ancient and modern beliefs. I included rune-casting in the “modern pagan” sense because, regardless of its usage (or not) in earlier times, it has been assimilated into modern practice to fit changing times and attitudes. This I think is perfectly acceptable; we should not feel constrained to think backward in terms of spirituality, but to build on whatever wisdom we have inherited.
|Earthquakes are actually caused by the|
Amazing Lava Man. Everybody knows that.
JH – I guess we have the same conflicts as in the US. We in the UK tend to inherit the US’s social problems somewhere along the line, including some of the more extreme manifestations of religious mania. We have not yet gone so far as to teach creationism in our schools, but it’s only a matter of time. Already a number of Catholic schools have refused to allow their female pupils to take a vaccine that protects them against cervical cancer on the grounds that it would “encourage immorality.” The heart sinks at such stupidity. But . . .
|Doctor Faustus making a deal with the Devil|
The God of the Old Testament (and elsewhere) is a very primitive depiction of the divine – as represented by some very primitive people living in a primitive time, who see him as a kind of vengeful warlord with a mentality as barbaric as their own. The God of the New Testament is very different. Two thousand years later, even aspects of the New Testament (the Immaculate Conception, etc.) are being disputed by the church, and many parts of the Old Testament (e.g., stoning your son for drunkenness, not wearing mixed fibers, human sacrifice, etc.) have been dismissed by most as no longer valid in a modern context.
What I’m saying is that, as our knowledge of the universe has expanded, so should our appreciation of the divine. I don’t see science and religion as mutually exclusive. The world is changing constantly. So must our assumptions.
|How much can we trust the Völuspá prophetess?|
Faroe Islands postage stamp by Anker Eli Petersen
|Some selected Norse gods on the Runemarks cover|
KS – Your portrayal of the Order – the new religion that basically takes over after Ragnarök – is pretty grim. You write that the Order’s “temples were built on the ruins of springs and barrows and standing stones that once were sacred to an older faith” and that its members kill animals born with runemarks, take babies born with runemarks away from their parents, empty pagan barrows and reconsecrate them, and hang and burn pagans as people “who were in fact the servants of the enemy, and therefore had no souls to save.” You have written that you don’t hate Christians or “the Catholic Church, organized religion or any other kind of religious group. What I do hate is intolerance, repression, moral superiority, the concepts of original sin, holy war and eternal damnation, plus the various acts that certain individuals are willing to perpetrate in the name of their religion, certain that God is on their side.” Without ever mentioning Christianity in your novels, it’s pretty clear that the Order is a mythologized version of the Church, since so many of your examples parallel the actual (and often violent) history of northern conversion. There are a vast number of ways to turn Norse mythology into modern fiction (cf. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, M.D. Lachlan’s Wolfsangel, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Thor, etc.), but you chose to focus on the (literarily transformed) clash between paganism and Christianity. Why did you choose this particular aspect?
|Today, there's a lot of talk about a war on religion and a war on women.|
Way back in 1612, the ladies of Pendle really had it rough.
However, I still dispute that the Order is a mythologized version of Christianity. For a start, no mention of Christ, or any Christ-figure is ever made. In parenthesis, can I say that I do believe in the historical figure of Jesus, though not in his divinity? To me, he is a marvelous example of a truly wise man whose excellent advice – to be good to each other – has been shanghaied throughout history by people who have twisted his words to fit their twisted agenda. Christianity is not the only patriarchal religion in the world, and – as far as I’m concerned – they are all equally to blame for the spread of intolerance, hypocrisy, religious hatred and holy war.
Rant over. Moving on . . .
|Stuck in the middle with you . . .|
JH – Absolutely. And remember, traditional Muslim dress is not so different to the way in which women in Europe traditionally dressed,or the way modern nuns still veil their heads and shoulders. Remember too that – during the first part of the Middle Ages – a woman wearing men’s clothing was punishable by death; the charge was, officially, heresy. It’s one of the reasons they burnt Joan of Arc, who also casts a long shadow. Throughout history, there have been religious taboos over male and female clothing; the Koran and the Sunnah are filled with rules about what men and women can and can’t wear. I have simply transferred some of this to my story.