Exploring Christian Mystic and Visionary Fiction
by Author Maggie Shaw
Storytelling has been used since the early days of language, to explain cultural truths in ways that both entertain and educate those listening. We still listen to the stories of Jesus, who used parables to explain deep things in simple terms. The parables describe in an easily understood way deep truths like the nature of the Kingdom of God, who our neighbours are, and the importance of forgiveness. Many of the images he used, such as the camel going through the eye of a needle, and going the extra mile, are known even to those with other faiths or none. Christian Mystic and Visionary Fiction continues that great storytelling tradition and brings it into the twenty-first century.
The genre ‘Visionary Fiction’ has a relatively short history, first being used in the 1980s, although the term can be traced back to the psychologist Carl Jung, who spoke about the visionary nature of great art and fiction in his lecture Psychology and Literature given in 1929. He cited epic poems such as Beowulf and The Iliad, which helped him construct the theory of personality archetypes. More recently Visionary Fiction has been further defined by writers such as Flo Keys and Michael Guryan, and the Visionary Fiction Alliance. The genre embraces spiritual and esoteric wisdom, often from ancient sources, and makes it relevant to modern life. Stories are often set in fictional worlds, and may use reincarnation, dreams, visions, paranormal events, psychic abilities and other metaphysical plot devices in their structure. The ‘VisFic’ genre has a greater following in the United States than the UK, with American authors such as Margaret Duarte, Theresa Crater and Gerald R Stanek all making a name for themselves in this field.
Present day Visionary Fiction novels can explore a wide range of mythic and esoteric themes, from New Age, Pagan and Occult to Science Fiction. It provides a great way to learn more about different philosophies and world views through the vehicle of storytelling. However, Christians planning to read stories in the genre should check the description of a book before buying, as some novels may express a world view they may find offensive.
Christian Mystic Fiction has also been around for a long time, though again the name of the genre has only been coined relatively recently. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan published in 1678 is a famous early example, explaining by allegory the trials and temptations of being a follower of Jesus through the story of the hero Christian. The late 15th century morality play The Somonyng of Everyman is another early example of the genre. This allegory explores what Christians must do to attain salvation, examining the deeds of the character Everyman who finds when he faces God that he is essentially alone, with only his good deeds in life to save him.
I first became interested in Christian Mystic Fiction when I came across Charles Williams books: Descent into Hell (1937) and All Hallows Eve (1945). T S Elliot described Williams’ novels as supernatural thrillers because they explore the sacramental intersection of the physical with the spiritual while also examining the ways in which power, even spiritual power, can corrupt as well as sanctify. I loved the way Williams’ books explored the deeper themes of faith and mysticism within a story framework to engage as well as inform.
Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, the group of writers which met regularly at the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford for mutual criticism and support from the 1920s until it died off in 1949. The group’s members included the famous authors J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings, published between 1954-55, is a stirring mythic fantasy which has gained an almost cultic following and easily fits into the Visionary Fiction genre. Lewis’s seven much loved books for children comprising The Chronicles of Narnia published between 1950-1956, fit clearly into the Christian Mystic genre of fiction. Christian motifs abound, for instance, in the description of the death of Aslan for the sins of Edgar in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the False Prophet in The Last Battle.
My own novels combine Visionary Fiction and Christian Mysticism in different measures. The first to be published by Eregendal, The Vision and Beyond (2018) explores a young Christian woman’s search for true identity against the backdrop of the aftermath of a war fought with neutron bombs. It includes a powerful description of how an autistic person tries to understand a strange world which neurotypical people find normal, and condemn those who use war and violence to secure their goals. My two novels Diviner’s Nemesis I – Avenger (2019) and Diviner’s Nemesis II -Retribution (2020) explore the themes of alcoholism, recovery, prescience, redemption and the dangers of fortune telling and the occult, as they follow the clash of two male egos in 1970s London through the experiences of the woman they sacrifice to their rivalry. The Eagle and The Butterfly (2020) uses a traditional allegory format to explore the Christian themes of forgiveness, redemption and the Final Battle by following the quest of the butterfly person Eregendal. This story reimagines many mythic and Christian motifs, including The Tree of Knowledge, death, judgement and resurrection, and includes a representation of the Eucharistic Host as the zana flower. My next book due out later this year, The Last Thursday Ritual in Little Piddlington is a more light-hearted heist caper which follows the exploits of the villagers of little Piddlington in trying to steal the money delivered to their remote Post Office each week, only to find they are trying to steal from themselves.
This brief overview of the books published by Eregendal, shows how contrasting and varied the works of Christian Mystic and Visionary Fiction authors can be. Places to explore these genres include the websites of Visionary Fiction Alliance website and the Association of Christian Writers, as well as book searches through Goodreads and Amazon. The novels you discover will certainly expand your consciousness and your faith, and may even change your life.