What does “The Golden Compass” say about God and religion?
Posted on November 29, 2007 at 10:48 am
The Catholic League says that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass) “bash Christianity and promote atheism.” It has called on its members to boycott the film version of the first of the books. According to AP, “the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting gave the film, which is rated PG-13, a warm review. The film is not blatantly anti-Catholic but a ‘generalized rejection of authoritarianism.'”
Here at Beliefnet, Idol Chatter blogger Donna Freitas says that the books are a “stunning retelling of salvation.” She is co-author of Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman’s Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials. Her exclusive interview with Pullman is fascinating, and should be viewed by anyone who has concerns about the movie’s appropriateness.
I will be posting my review of the film next week. In the meantime, I welcome comments and questions.
17 Replies to “What does “The Golden Compass” say about God and religion?”
I will start by admitting that I have not read the “His Dark Materials” books (though I may eventually—I hear they are very good from a fantasy perspective), though I’ve heard a lot about them, from people who liked them and people who didn’t, so take my opinions for what you think they’re worth. It seems to me that most of the controversy around the movies is whether or not religious parents should let their kids see them. And it seems to me that, if what I’ve heard is right, they would certainly NOT be appropriate for any child if their parents want to raise them religiously, at least if they closely follow the books, because the books outright say that God is not real, that _all_ churches are evil, and that Christianity in particular is nothing more than “a very convincing lie.”
Don’t get my wrong; I’m not saying that “HDM” can’t be spiritual books (though I think I read a quote from Mr. Pullman that he “doesn’t understand what the world ‘spiritual’ means,” or something). But if a parent wants their child to grow up believing God is real, and believing that church is good, and believing that the Bible is true, then it seems ridiculous to think that they should see this movie (at least, if it’s like the book in terms of religious content). And while some say that one should let children see this and make up their own minds, my only response is: are atheist parents morally obligated, then, to bring their kids to see “The Passion of the Christ?” If Pullman had young children, would he bring them to see the “Chronicle of Narnia” movies, so they can make up for their own minds if they’re as propagandistic, sexist, racist, etc. as he has commented they are?
Anyway, that’s just my two cents. Like I said, never read the stories, but from what I hear, I would not take children in my family to see them. Non-religious parents, or religious people of an older and more secure spirituality, of course, can do what they want.
I can’t imagine any believing parent, of whatever faith, would ever let their children go and see a movie like this. Of all the books of the trilogy this is by far the tamest, but it ultimately leads to the “dark angels” along w/a nun turned athiest killing God! So let’s see, get the children hooked w/an inocuous first movie, then by the time #’s 2 & 3 roll along the die is cast and how could you ever say no to letting your children go? Then when your children are fallen away, the books and movies have done their job, just another brick in the wall of a society who has lost it’s way and there is no God. If I as a parent don’t want my children to become alcoholics then I had better not provide them beer even with an explanation that someday you could have problems w/ this stuff if you don’t use it right. Is there a guarantee that they won’t have problems later on if I don’t give them alcohol, no. But why should I as a parent encourage them into a lifestyle by tacitly saying it’s o.k.? Will this movie make them athiests like the author wants them to be?(read his reasons for making the books if you don’t believe me) There is no telling, but I for one am not going to give them any reason to not believe in God as I have a responsibilty to God as a parent to raise them up to believe as he has told me (the whole if anyone causes a child to stumble-not believe, it would be better if he tied a millstone around his neck…) and his opinion is the only one that matters. But that’s just my 2 cents.
I’ve read all three of the books many years ago, and enjoyed them very much. While ‘god’ is killed in the third book – it’s god as an old man with a beard – in my opinion, that’s a view of God that needs to be killed off – I’m finding in my own Christian spiritual growth – the childish views of God (sky-bully, old man with a cosmic fly-swatter, Cosmic Santa, et cet) have fallen away – as they should. None of these are God – however, for many athiests (and believers), these are what they view as being God. (Isn’t it Paul who says something to the effect that as we grow in our walk with Christ, we must put aside childish things?)
I would not take children to this film without seeing it first – based on your child’s level of maturity, you will know if this film will be good for your child to see.
And be careful of people who go around saying that your faith is in danger if you read these books. If your faith cannot withstand a work of fiction – You’ve got bigger problems than you know.
Actually, Joey, if an atheist parent wanted to protect their child from any opposing views, it’d take more than needing to avoid seeing the ‘Passion of the Christ’. They’d have to remove the television from the house entirely. Especially in fall and spring.
Actually, my son was old enough to go on his own, but if I was to not take my child to the ‘Passion’, it’d be due to the blood, not the beliefs.
Why not? I took him to lots of religious movies, and we watched them on television, and etc.
Guess what, he’s still not a Christian.
Of course, those who are in the minority in the culture aren’t able to indulge in avoiding exposure to other views.
Great post, Kevin. I especially agree with your last comment. But also agree that parents might want to read the books or see the film first before taking their children. Certainly I might not take young children, whose view of faith is very simple and basic, to see a film like this.
But teenagers — I don’t think you can stop them from reading or watching except by making the books/movies attractive forbidden fruit. It seems like these books/movies could stimulate a great discussion about faith and spirituality with teenagers, who are usually very cynical anyway, and might benefit from talking to adults who don’t feel threatened by the content of the books.
The description of “His Dark Materials” reminds me of a British mini-series I saw recently called “The Second Coming.” It was also about killing off God in order to end religion and leave us humans “on our own.” Personally, I thought it was idiotic wishful thinking. Even if one could get God to “commit suicide” (which is what happens in “The Second Coming”) religious people aren’t going anywhere.
So there’s no way for atheists to eliminate religion without sending the religious to re-education or concentration camps. And, with due respect to religious folk who are worried about this happening, it’s not going to happen. So, perhaps atheists have their own form of wishful thinking (ie. “Humans will outgrow religion”) to outgrow.
Catholic church banns movie.
well, that’s enough to make me go and see it!
I will no longer sit idly by while my church tells me what I should and shouldn’t do for my kids…this church also protects child predators, says women are not equal and would like me to convert GLBs or they will go to hell, tells me how to cast my vote, and uses my tithings to build an empire that translates this religion into whatever public relations or political issue they want to promote.
Thank goodness for books and even for HOLLYWOOD for bringing other perspectives into our lives and allowing us to grow, to question, to learn tolerance, to think for ourselves…
Boy do I sound angry! Were I more eloquent, I would have written this more like Kevin. Thank you Kevin.
Actually, Karen, I would disagree—when I have kids, I very likely will be moving the TV out of the living room. 🙂
Well, yeah, you can move it to your room.
I wasn’t too worried about it, myself.
This is a movie site. Please take your anti-Catholic opinions elsewhere.
These books are certainly dangerous and I, for one, am grateful that the Catholic Church still has the guts to stand up for what’s right regardless of what some of their Bishops and Priests have shamefully done.
I have read all three books in this set, and I found them to be very spiritual (particularly the last one, “The Amber Spyglass”). I did not think them to be anti-Christian. Hello — FICTION, here. They deal with multiple worlds. It the context of a separate reality, the books point out the potential for a handful of extremists to use and abuse organized religion in order to gain control over others. They deal with the trecherous landscape between self-glorification and true emlightenment. The books neatly open the path for the reader to explore that spirituality really is. Sonething that invites us to ponder the true nature of God doesn’t sound very atheistic to me.
I can’t wait to see the movie!!!
Having read the books, I would sympathize with Christian parents who choose not to see this film with their kids. I think the third book raises issues that would be difficult and disturbing for a young child to deal with. With middle and high school age children, there’s a lot to talk about, and that’s not a bad thing.
My personal reaction to the books was that the first one was amazingly good. The third one felt like perhaps someone had an ax to grind.
We’re looking forward to the movie at our house
A reviewer for Kidsreads.com asked author Philip Pullman about his popular His Dark Materials trilogy of fantasy novels for young adults:
“Right, wrong, good, and evil. These four words are the foundation of most fantasy and adventure stories. But the concepts seem to be absent/muddied in the His Dark Materials series. Is this intentional? What do you want the reader to come away with after finishing the trilogy in regard to good guys vs. bad guys?”
“The concepts aren’t muddied — they’re depicted realistically. What I was trying to do was very much get away from the ‘He’s called the Dark Lord so he must be evil’ idea” (http://www.kidsreads.com/authors/au-pullman-philip.asp).
As the December 7th release date approaches for The Golden Compass, the first of three big-budget Hollywood productions based on Pullman’s trilogy, public warnings from such sources as the Coral Ridge Ministries (http://www.coralridge.org/specialdocs/SheddingLightOnHisDarkMaterialsIntro.pdf?mid=365869) concerning the content of the books and the presumed content of the as-yet-unviewed movies have almost kept pace with the mounting entertainment industry hoopla. The movies are reportedly a dumbed-down version of the books in which many of the more baldly challenging elements of the books have been left out or concealed so as to not outrage or alarm a largely Christian public. The movies are not expected, for example, to specifically mention God or Jehovah, whereas in the books He is a senile old man who lives in a castle in the sky.
Warnings about the movies have centered on the probability that viewing the movies and participating in the Hollywood-piggybacking English classroom discussions of the books will lead many more children and young adults to read the books than have already done so. Objections to the books have focused on the blatant anti-Christian and anti-theistic theme and Mr. Pullman’s supposedly atheistic agenda. What seems to have escaped comment, however, is what to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, at least, ought to be the most objectionable aspect of Pullman’s books. The books do not merely attack the foundations of Judeo-Christian tradition and promote a simple atheistic non-belief in its place; they offer instead an alternate spirituality in its place. Perhaps this spirituality is not widely understood because it is not normally discussed in polite society, but information about its tenets is readily accessible to anyone who will look. The spirituality offered up by Pullman’s trilogy is a contemporary form of the spiritual opposite of Christianity: Satanism.
Philip Pullman describes his trilogy as Milton for young adults. In a twist on William Blake’s oft-quoted judgment that Milton was of the Devil’s party without knowing it, Pullman has turned Paradise Lost on its head and made Satan the good guy as well as the eventual victor in the story. And Philip Pullman says he knows he is of the Devil’s party (“A senile god? who would Adam and Eve it?” by Andrew Billen; The Times (United Kingdom); 01/21/2003; Features, The Andrew Billen interview, pg. 14 – Times2. See also http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nopotter/message/6366 ). Whether Pullman is speaking literally or figuratively when he says he is of the Devil’s party, his books do present a world-view that is consistent with Satanism.
As they say, though, never trust the teller, trust the tale. The plot of the trilogy concerns the adventures of the eleven-year-old Lyra, the main character, “a coarse and greedy little savage,” as the author describes her, who is defiant, swears like a sailor, steals, drinks, smokes, and roams the streets and rooftops in her free time. Her chief attribute, as she sees it, is that she is the world’s greatest liar. She lives in a universe that is parallel to our own, and she is the daughter of Lord Asriel, who was cast out of Heaven when he led a rebellion against God, and who now is headquartered in a fortress by a lake of fire and brimstone. He is the leader of the fallen angels who were cast out of Heaven with him. (Please note that Satan is often described as “the father of lies.”) His daughter Lyra is destined to take the place of Eve and launch a new cosmic alignment of all the parallel universes by committing the original sin of an act of sexual union (represented in the book by no more than a kiss followed by a discreet panning away of the narrative camera) with her boyfriend Will. By this act she and Will are to become self-aware as material beings.
PLOT SUMMARY OF THE TRILOGY
In the first book, Lyra is given a rare device called an alethiometer (“truth meter,” the “golden compass” of the title). The alethiometer is used for divination, and Lyra is particularly adept at interpreting the meanings of its symbols. With it, with her skill as a great liar, and with the help of her newfound friends the gypsies, the witches, and the talking armored bears, Lyra is able to locate and rescue her good friend Roger in the far North, to which he has been kidnapped by the evil theologians of the oppressive Church for sacrifice in scientific experiments into the nature “dust,” which refers to physical particles connected to original sin.
Lord Asriel, however, seizes Roger and sacrifices him in order to release the soul-energy from him and thereby to tear open an entrance into a parallel universe. Lord Asriel enters the parallel universe in search of the source of original sin. Lyra follows him.
In the second book, entitled The Subtle Knife, we meet Lyra’s to-be-boyfriend Will, who lives in the Oxford, England of our own universe. Will kills a man who has come looking for some mysterious letters Will’s father had written to Will’s mother, then promptly climbs through a window into a parallel universe where he encounters Lyra.
The two pay a visit to Will’s world where Lyra meets a physicist, a former nun, Mary Malone, who is investigating dark matter and what she calls “shadows.” Shadows, it seems, are conscious and tend to cluster around human beings. Lyra shows Mary that Lyra can communicate with shadows. Shadows, it seems, are what make the alethiometer and other divinatory processes work, and are the same thing that is called “dust” in Lyra’s world. Lyra further discovers that there are reduced “dust” levels around the skulls of humans from 33,000 years ago, indicating that in the past humans were more like animals in that they were less self-aware and less able to live deliberately.
Lyra and Will learn that there is a special knife, Æsahættr, the “subtle knife” of the title, which they must obtain. The knife, it will be revealed, is the device that can cut open the windows through which one may enter parallel universes, and it is also the only weapon capable of killing God. As the children go to seek the knife, they come upon another young man who has assaulted and beaten the knife’s owner, an old man named Paradisi. Will fights with the other young man and wins possession of the knife, although he loses two fingers in the process. This is the result whenever the knife chooses a new bearer.
Paradisi explains that their actions are being directed by unseen spirits, and he bids farewell to Lyra before committing suicide: “There is no time. You have come here for a purpose, and maybe you don’t know what that purpose is, but the angels do who brought you here. Go. You are brave, and your friend is clever. And you have the knife. Go.”
Meanwhile, Lyra’s friends the witches have learned that Lord Asriel is planning a new war against God. The witch queen goes off to re-join her old lover Lord Asriel, and the clans gather to go join the fight on Lord Asriel’s side and to protect Lyra from the minions of the Church, which knows that Lyra is destined to become the new Eve.
Mary Malone learns to talk to the Shadows through her computer, and she discovers that she must travel to other worlds to find Lyra and to play the role of the serpent in bringing about a new fall from grace.
Will’s father has been wandering in the Arctic regions of two worlds for years, living amongst the Tartars as a Shaman. He is accompanied by two gay fallen angels in his quest to find the bearer of Æsahættr and to tell the bearer to go join Lord Asriel’s forces. As he is pursued by zeppelins containing armed agents of the Church, he casts a magical spell which causes three of the four zeppelins to crash. He finds Will and delivers his important message that Will must go help kill God, and then he is promptly killed by a witch who was a spurned lover, and who then commits suicide. (This appears to be intended as an example of passionate love as seen in Pullman’s world.)
In the third book, The Amber Spyglass, Will learns from the gay angels that angels are made of “dust.” God was actually the first angel. God lied to all the younger angels and claimed to be the creator of all things. When a very wise angel named Sophia figured things out and urged God to be reasonable, God banished her and all subsequent trouble-making angels. God was now senile and was only a figurehead in a heavenly host that was actually ruled by the Regent angel Metatron. Metatron had at one time been a human being. Metatron was no longer happy with the job the Church was doing representing his interests, and wanted to begin to intervene directly in the affairs of men.
The Church learns of Lyra’s whereabouts and sends a troop of soldiers to kill her. They also send a specialist priest, an assassin who always repents of his crimes before he commits them, to follow Mary Malone in the hopes that she will lead him to Lyra in case the soldiers fail.
Will goes to rescue Lyra from her mother, a Church lady whose specialty is torturing witches to wring information from them. She has drugged Lyra and hidden her away in a cave in the Himalayas. As Will uses the subtle knife to cut a window to another world through which to escape, Lyra’s mother casts a magical spell upon him. He thinks he sees his own mother’s face. He is filled with sorrow in the middle of the trance-like state he must employ to use the knife, and the subtle knife therefore shatters. Lord Asriel’s spies save the children from Lyra’s mother and the Church’s soldiers. They take the pieces of the knife to an armored bear friend of Lyra’s to be repaired.
The children then journey to the land of the dead so Lyra can find her friend Roger and Will can find his father. The land of the dead is a sort of Hades only worse that God has cruelly constructed to imprison the dead. Once the boatman carries the dead across the river, they live in a grey valley where nothing ever happens and they are tormented for all eternity by harpies who endlessly point out their faults. The children discover a way to use the subtle knife to exit the land of the dead. All the dead follow them to disintegrate peacefully and meld with the universe of matter.
Mary Malone has gone to another world to await the arrival of Lyra so that she can play the role of the serpent. She goes to live among intelligent creatures called the Mulefa. While there, she continues to study “dust.” She learns that according to Mulefa belief, the Mulefa came into being 33,000 years ago. One day a serpent told a female Mulefa to put her claw through the center of a seedpod and to coat it with oil. When she did so, she was able to see “dust.” She then persuaded her mate to put his claw through a seedpod, too, and when he had done so the Mulefa became conscious beings. Whenever the Mulefa deliberately do something like build a dwelling or create a work of art, more “dust” is made.
Will cuts a window into Lord Asriel’s world and the children emerge into a great battle between the forces of Asriel and those of Metatron. Will and Lyra see some angels carrying a glass casket containing God to safety. The children open the casket and allow the feeble Being to emerge and happily dissolve into nothingness, returning to the universe of matter from which He came.
Lyra’s mother, meanwhile, attempts to seduce Metatron. She lures him to a void between the worlds where she and Asriel drag him into an eternal fall through the abyss.
Will and Lyra emerge into the world of the Mulefa. There Mary plays the serpent by telling them the story of how she had been a nun, but had realized that Christianity was simply a big mistake when she had met a man and learned about physical love. Her story gets Lyra to thinking, and the two children find themselves alone in a glade the next day. The church’s special priest assassin approaches to carry out his mission of preventing the two from an act of love, but he is killed by one of the gay angels who have been watching over Will.
Lyra offers Will a piece of fruit which he eats from her hand. They know love. Dust, which had been streaming out of the world of the Mulefa through the holes cut by the subtle knife, abruptly stops flowing out and begins to fall straight down and fertilize the world again.
Will and Lyra make the sad discovery that each can only live out a full life in his and her own world, and that the windows between the worlds must be closed and the subtle knife broken so as to repair the damage done to the universal order and preserve the integrity of each world. They each vow to always remember each other and to work to build a Republic of Heaven through the pursuit of knowledge and through living good lives.
(For a more complete summary of the plot, see SparkNotes at http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/hisdarkmaterials/ )
SPECIFICALLY NEOPAGAN ELEMENTS IN THE STORY
The founding church of contemporary Satanism, the Church of Satan, represents Satanism to the public as an atheistic religion (http://www.churchofsatan.com/Pages/cosinfopack.pdf ). The Temple of Set, an offshoot of the Church of Satan, sees Satan on the other hand as an “authentic metaphysical presence: a being not evil, but rather independent, assertive, and creative – a true Prince of Darkness after the imagery of Milton, Blake, Baudelaire, and Twain” (http://www.xeper.org/pub/lib/xp_FS_lib.htm ). Various Satanist groups practice forms of Neopaganism that center on Satan rather than on the deities or pantheons which are the focus of other Neopagans. Mainstream religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, center on acceptance or adjustment to or submission to a universal order. Some forms of Satanism center on defiance of a universal order, a defiance that is symbolized by Satan. The Satanist would have the universe adjust to him, not the other way around. Most forms of Satanism and Neopaganism center on the placement of the self at the center of the moral universe as in Philip Pullman’s conception of the Republic of Heaven. As the introductory literature of the Temple of Set puts it, “The Satanic religion proposes to raise the individual to personal godhood, free from enslavement to any other “God” [or gods]” (op. cit.).
All forms of Neopaganism such as Wicca, Goddess Spirituality, and Satanism, share certain spiritual practices and beliefs such as Divination, spell casting and magic. Not content to simply turn Milton’s Christian myth on its head, Pullman has also imbued his tale with Neopagan spirituality, and it is this added “occult” spirituality together with the Satanist moral position expressed by Pullman’s “Republic of Heaven” that demand an understanding of his books as specifically Satanist.
The following are some examples of occult spirituality that Pullman has included in the world-view of his trilogy. The list is by no means exhaustive. Page references are from Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, Dell Laurel Leaf September 2003 paperback edition unless otherwise specified.
I. Daemons – Reviewers keep remarking on the amazing originality of Pullman’s daemons, which are the visible souls in animal form that are attached to the humans in Lyra’s world. What type of animal a person’s daemon is will indicate something about the person’s makeup. A person whose daemon is a snake, for example, would not be someone who should be trusted. A person whose daemon is a dog, for example, is liable to make a good servant. Children’s daemons may change form from minute to minute, being at one moment a bird and the next a marmot, but the daemon will settle into one fixed form as the child matures. Daemons and their humans share thoughts and feelings. When a human dies, the daemon vanishes. People from worlds other than Lyra’s also have daemons, but they are not visible. Will, for example, from our own world, is not aware that he has a daemon until late in the story.
The way in which Pullman uses this idea in his fantasies is quite striking, but the concept appears to be the development of an idea that is found in Satanism. The Church of Satan, for instance, describes itself as “the first above-ground organization in history openly dedicated to the acceptance of Man’s true nature – that of a carnal beast…” (http://www.churchofsatan.com/home.html ).
And by what name do Satanists call the inner beast? “Daemon.” From the Church of Satan’s Youth Communiqué: “You’ll find that your ‘daemonic guide’ is an aspect within you—don’t look for it outside. You just have to contact that part of yourself and listen to it, the instinctual element of your consciousness” (www.churchofsatan.com/Pages/Youthletter.html).
According to a Book Report article “Philip Pullman: His Wonderful Materials,” by Catherine M. Andronik (Nov/Dec 2001, Vol. 20 Issue 3, pg. 40), Mr. Pullman discovered the idea of daemons, the soul-companions of each human in his trilogy, via automatic writing: “Pullman had begun the first book with just Lyra, no daemon. He felt
that something was missing, that Lyra should be talking to someone or something in that first scene in the Great Hall of Jordan College – but she was alone, in hiding. then, ‘it was like automatic writing, the only time this has ever happened to me: I wrote the words “Lyra and her daemon.” I had no idea what it meant, or what a daemon was.'”
Maybe the devil whispered the idea in his ear. Or maybe in researching his novels he ran across the idea in his study of Satanic literature, but then that would indicate that he deliberately set out to write a trilogy that offered Satanism to children as an alternative or perhaps as what he saw as an antidote to “organized religion,” wouldn’t it? Or maybe he ran across the term in reading through Satanic literature purely out of intellectual curiosity, and subsequently forgot about it until it jumped out of his hand in a cryptomnesic fashion. Such things are fairly common occurrences for writers.
II. Divinination – Lyra and others accomplish divination by means of a mechanical device called an alethiometer. Lyra has a special talent for using the alethiometer, as she has quickly learned to project her consciousness into it, and can read the answers without the use of the reference books that interpret the symbols the dials point to, but rather by a sort of intuition. On page 24, she uses the instrument: “In the glow from the streetlight she carefully set the hands of the alethiometer, and relaxed her mind into the shape of a
question. The needle began to sweep around the dial in a series of pauses and swings almost too fast to watch. She had asked: ‘What is he? A friend or an enemy?’ The alethiometer answered: ‘He is a murderer.’ When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once. He could find food, and show her how to reach Oxford, and those were powers that were useful, but he might still have been untrustworthy or cowardly. A murderer was a worthy companion.”
The alethiometer has a personality and volition. Lyra notes that she can sense when it doesn’t want to tell her any more. On page 71 it says “In fact. the answer was so straightforward, and came so abruptly, that Lyra was sure the alethiometer had more to say: she was beginning to sense now that it had moods, like a person, and to know when it wanted to tell her more.”
The apparent reason the alethiometer seems to have moods is that it, together with other methods of divination such as Mary’s computer and the I Ching, according to the book, is a means for fallen angels or “rebel angels” to communicate with human beings.
On page 139, Lyra laments having had the alethiometer stolen from her: “And Will, please, I done something very bad. Because the alethiometer told me I had to stop looking for Dust – at least that’s what I thought it said – and I had to help you. I had to help you find your father. And I could, I could take you to wherever he is, if I had it. But I wouldn’t listen. I just done what I wanted to do, and I shouldn’t….”
Former astrologer Marcia Montenegro, in discussing the occult elements of The Golden Compass, notes that the description of the use of the alethiometer was very similar to her own real-life experience in reading astrological charts:
“The description of Lyra reading the alethiometer – ‘I just make my mind go clear and then it’s sort of like looking down into water’ (Page 174 in the paperback 1995 edition of Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books ) – eerily evoked my experiences of many years reading astrology charts, which almost always took me into an altered state where I ‘connected’ with the chart through its symbols. Lyra is even told that the scholar who invented this object was trying to measure the influence of planets “according to the ideas of astrology” (173). Lyra does indeed go into a type of trance while reading the alethiometer: ‘she found that she could sink more and more readily into the calm state in which the symbol meanings clarified themselves’ and describes it to someone as a ‘different kind of knowing’ (150; also see 126). The word ‘trance’ is even used to describe this state (174, 359)” (http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_GoldenCompass.html ).
Regarding Lyra’s special ability to read the alethiometer, the Church of Satan Youth Communiqué notes that there are differing aptitudes for performing magical practices: “many young Satanists find they have one close, magical friend who they feel they can work with, but usually one of you is actually magically stronger…” (www.churchofsatan.com/Pages/Youthletter.html). A person with a high degree of magical skill is called an “adept” by the Temple of Set (http://www.xeper.org/pub/lib/xp_FS_lib.htm ). Lyra is clearly not only adept at lying, but is also an “adept” when it comes to divination.
On the issue of the divinatory process’ seeming to have a personality and volition, this is a common belief among people who engage in occult practices such as divination. Here, for example, is the testimony of John Blofeld, a translator of the I Ching, a real-life divinatory method accorded great respect along with the imaginary methods, the alethiometer and Mary’s computer, in His Dark Materials:
“Like Jung, I have been struck by the extraordinary sensation aroused by my consultations of the book, the feeling that my question has been dealt with exactly as if by a living being in full possession of even the unspoken facts involved in both the question and its answer. At first this sensation comes near to being terrifying and, even now, I find myself inclined to handle and transport the book rather as if it had feelings capable of being outraged by disrespectful treatment….
“The very first time I did this, I was overawed to a degree that amounted to fright, so strong was the impression of having received an answer to my question from a living, breathing person…. Of course I do not mean to assert that the white pages covered with black printer’s ink do in fact house a living spiritual being…. Yet, if I were asked to assert that the printed pages do not form the dwelling of a spritual being or at least bring us into contact with one by some mysterious process, I think I should be about as hesitant as I am to assert the contrary” ( E.g, John Blofeld, I Ching, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968: pp.25-27.)
The present question is not whether spirits or “Shadows” or fallen angels actually do lie behind divinatory processes, but whether modern practitioners of the occult practices employed in Neopaganism and Satanism believe they do, and whether this belief is a part of the world-view of His Dark Materials. Let the reader decide.
III. Traffic with spirits – Witches, who are favorable characters in the books, traffic with spirits. Ruta Skadi, the queen of the Latvian witches is described on page 43: “Serafina had thought Mrs. Coulter beautiful, for a short-life; but Ruta Skadi was as lovely as Mrs. Coulter, with an extra dimension of the mysterious, the uncanny. She had trafficked with spirits, and it showed. She was vivid and passionate, with large black eyes; it was said that Lord Asriel himself had been her lover.”
Regarding the trafficking with spirits, it is a common practice of Neopagan ceremonies to call upon spirits, as in this example of a Wiccan self-dedication ceremony from http://www.celticcrow.com/ncraft/dedication.html :
After a purification bath and period of silent meditation, the devotee establishes a purified ritual circle, walking the circle clockwise with sea water and incense, reciting:
I consecrate this place of rite,
by salted water, smoke, and firelight.
So mote it be.
The devotee then goes to the center of the circle to the altar space to visualize energy filling the ritual space for a few minutes, then redraws the circle with a “magically-charged” ceremonial dagger, a wand or the right hand. This is done starting either in the North or the East, reciting:
This Circle is cast
as in days of old
to welcome the Old Ones
and make the Old Ways retold.
So mote it be.
A white candle is anointed with oil and lighted, and a further verse recited. Then holding aloft a pentacle, the four Quarters are called to witness the rite, starting with either North or East. The God and Goddess are then called upon to witness the rite with a recitation that concludes with:
By the powers of the Old Ones
and the magick of their ways
I embark on my journey
May they bless all my days.
So mote it be.
The devotee adopts a “craft name” and makes a long prose pledge to the gathered spirit witnesses. This pledge is to come from the heart, but a suggested example includes “I…, within the circle of the wise to symbolize my rebirth, do pledge to honor the God and the Goddess in all areas of my life. I will strive to understand their great mysteries, and the mystery of myself. I will share this knowledge and this path with all who sincerely seek such enlightenment. I will protect and guard the Old Ways from those who would desire to destroy them….”
The devotee introduces himself or herself to the Quarters. Further verses thank the God and Goddess for their witness, release the Quarters, bless the Old Ones, and close the ritual circle.
The Church of Satan refers to spirits, also, in its “Youth Communiqué,” but refers to the “Dark Ones” instead of the “Old Ones”:
“Don’t be disturbed or frightened or think you’re crazy when you feel at one with the Dark Ones you conjure forth, or by the magical results you begin to produce. You’re not crazy for feeling the way you do about the hypocrisy, blindness and incompetence you see all around you. Nor are you crazy to see the results of your magic.”
Another statement from the “Youth Communiqué” highlights the belief that occult practices will confer on the practitioner, as on the witch Ruta Skadi, a livelier personality: “The best way you can represent Satanism, at any age, is by providing a living example of how the diabolical arts have made you a stronger, more focused, joyful person. The results will speak louder than any logical argument you can present.”
A central goal of Neopaganism as influenced by the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung is the integration into the conscious personality of previously repressed impulses. It is thought that access to previously subconscious aspects of the personality will move a person closer to the wellsprings of existence. Satanists believe that practitioners will thereby gain a greater “self-consciousness” (http://www.xeper.org/pub/lib/xp_FS_lib.htm ) and “presence.” The introductory paragraph of the Church of Satan’s “welcome” page cited above describes the spiritual followers of what the Judeo-Christian tradition would term the “good” as “desiccated,” describes the dark force which we call Satan as “the fountainhead of existence,” and asserts that Satanists “exist by flowing naturally with the dread Price of Darkness.” Please consider this when reading Pullman’s characterizations of his witches.
IV. The Subtle Knife – The physical function of the knife Æsahættr in being manipulated by a trance-like state in the mind of the bearer to cut the fabric between parallel worlds in Pullman’s fantasy is virtually identical to the spiritual use of the ceremonial daggers called “athames” used in Neopagan rituals. The below information on the athame was provided by Marcia Montenegro:
(Concerning) the subtle knife as a parallel to the use of the athame in witchcraft
rituals, the athame is seen more as an extension of self when used in rituals,
although it is used with the idea of doing something magical, mainly casting the
=We consider the Athame to be a tool of center, of self, of evocation
and banishing. The Athame is the tool wielded of one’s own will, thoughts,
emotions, and intuition, over all of the Elements and over ALL. We use it to
command, even, the spirits that we evoke, invoke, and banish.==
===The athame is purely ceremonial and is not used to cut anything, being mainly
a tool of direction – casting the circle and evoking the elements. It is also
used for mixing ritual substances such as salt and water, marking them with the
sign of the pentagram, and consecrating your equipment. The athame is the most
personal and powerful instrument in your magick toolkit, and is the one thing
you should not really share. ====
===The athame can be used to cast the magick circle, call the “quarters” or
elements, and is part of many an opening ritual, handfasting (wedding) or
initiation rite. It is associated with the element of Fire and the South. It is
customary in some traditions to have your blade given to you as a gift. Some
Witches or ceremonial workers give their tools a magickal “name”. ==
==ATHAME or RITUAL KNIFE – Usually a black handled knife, The Athame is charged
with the energy of the owner and is used as a pointer to define space (such as
casting a sacred circle) and as a conductor of the owner’s will and energy. An
Athame is usually never used to cut anything physically.===
===In order to leave a circle and keep it intact, Wiccans believe a door must be
cut in the energy of the circle. Using the athame, a doorway is “cut” in the
circle, at which point anything may pass through without harming the circle.====
===In order to leave a circle and keep it intact, Wiccans believe a door must be
cut in the energy of the circle. Using the athame, a doorway is “cut” in the
circle, at which point anything may pass through without harming the circle.====
This site makes an interesting statement about the athame choosing you, very
much like what Pullman says in his book:
===Choosing an Athame is one of the Witches first important acts. It must be a
blade that they ‘resonate’ with; a knife that feels comfortable to handle and
feels ‘right’. In this respect, it can be said that it chooses you as much as
you choose it. ===
The same site also says:
==The purpose of consecrating the Athame is to produce an astral double of it;
to give it its own ‘soul’. For this reason it is given its own ‘name’. ====
As for the athame’s “resonating” with the user and the knife choosing the bearer, please compare this to Pullman’s description of Æsahættr’s connection with Will. On page 159, Will receives the subtle knife from its former bearer. Will has lost two fingers in a fight with a young man who had stolen the knife, but had been unable to make it work: “Now,” said Giacomo Paradisi, “here you are, take the knife, it is yours.”
“I don’t want it,” said Will. “I don’t want anything to do
“You haven’t got the choice,” said the old man. “You are the bearer now.”
“I thought you said you was,” said Lyra.
“My time is over,” he said. “The knife knows when to leave one hand and settle in another, and I know how to tell. You don’t believe me? Look!”
He held up his own left hand. The little finger and the finger next to it were missing, just like Will’s.
“Yes,” he said, “me too. I fought and lost the same fingers, the badge of the wearer.”‘
Many other elements of contemporary occultism such as magic and spell-casting are found in Pullman’s fantasy. The description of the books as “Milton for young adults” would therefore seem to be incomplete. None of this occultism is found in Milton. It is the inclusion of modern-day occult beliefs in Pullman’s inverted version of Milton’s epic coupled with the stated ideal of the trilogy’s “Republic of Heaven” that the self should be placed at the center of the moral universe that creates a truly Satanist world-view within the books.
That this world-view should be so enthusiastically promoted to children by the publishing and entertainment industries is truly a sign of the times. What is especially troubling is that this brazen assault on some of the core values of our civilization has aroused only a whimper of public outcry, and no outcry at all from the critical and educational communities. Far from it.
Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass has earned the following awards:
Winner of the Carnegie Medal (England)
Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize (England)
An ALA Notable Book
An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults
A Horn Book Fanfare Honor Book
A Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon book
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Editors’ Choice – “Top of the List”
A Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection
A Children’s ABBY Honor Book
The final book of the series, The Amber Spyglass, the novel in which God dies, was awarded both the prestigious 2001 Whitbread Prize for best children’s book and the Whitbread Book of the Year prize in January 2002. The Amber Spyglass was the first children’s book ever to receive the Book of the Year award.
In 2005 Pullman was joint winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children’s literature.
Here’s what the critics have said about The Golden Compass:
“Very grand indeed.”
– The New York Times
“Powerful… a fantasy adventure that sparkles with childlike wonder.”
– The Boston Sunday Globe
“Marvelous… the writing is elegant and challenging.”
– The New Yorker
“Superb… all-stops-out thrilling.”
– The Washington Post
And here is an example of how the movie is being used to promote the books in the public schools. This is the text from an e-mailed flyer from a public school English teacher in the United States:
* * * * * * * * * *
(At the online book discussions at Bridge to the Stars.net) we’ll discuss:
Nov. 1 st — DO YOU BELIEVE in parallel universes and alternate realities that we can’t perceive? Then this is the book for you. In chapters 1-6, we’ll find that Lyra is a young girl who seems to be abandoned by her parents- professors, researchers and highpower types, but she loves her alternate life. She is pulled into an alternate universe and befriends characters that challenge all her imagination – gypsies, armored bears, and a boy not from her world. We’ll kick off a competition to design the best personal “daemon.”
Nov. 16 th – WHAT DOES YOUR SOUL look like like? Lyra’s is on the outside and it changes shape? In Chapters 7-12, Lyra’s life is turned upside down. Lord Asriel is not what he seems, and for that matter, neither is the power-hungry Mrs. Coulter. Lyra must be dependent on no one but
herself and reliant upon a few trustworthy friends. Bring a friend, bring an artist, bring your artistic rendition of the daemon.
Nov. 30 th – WHY ARE RELIGION, POWER, and SCIENCE all connected? In the final third (chapters 13-17) of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass Lyra discovers who Lord Asriel is, but the truth is still being uncovered? Did you like the end? Should you come to see the movie? Will read the other books?
Dec. 7th — Matinee Outing and Ice Cream
* * * * * * * * *
In case you’re wondering if since this whole business is so completely outrageous I must have made it up, you can check it out at Snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/compass.asp
So am I the only one who finds this Golden Compass affair to be just a wee bit creepy?
So am I the only one who finds this Golden Compass affair to be just a wee bit creepy?
Not as creepy as your obsessive cut-and-paste job.
For pete’s sake – if you don’t want to see the movie, don’t see it, but lighten the heck up, already. If God is so fragile that a movie can destroy Him, maybe it’s time to put the old nag out to pasture, nu?
Anita and Michael, the Catholic Church has not banned the movie (it actually doesn’t do that to any movie but does label certain movies “Morally Offensive”).
The boycott is the idea of an independent group, the Catholic League, that likens itself to the Anti-Defamation League but rather than to be on the lookout for specifically anti-Jewish content, it remarks on what it believes to be anti-Catholic content.
Anyway, sometimes the CL is right, sometimes it is wrong. Sometimes it is pretty factual, sometimes strident. In this case, the CL’s view differs from the Film and Broadcasting Office of the US Conference of the Catholic Bishops who actually seem to like the film if not the use of the Magesterium as the bad guys.
Whether or not the current movie will draw more kids to the book, as the CL claims, and subvert them or if subsequent movies, if made, will be more anti-Catholic/God/Religion (as the director implies) is unknown.
From my perspective, in being a mostly practicing Catholic, a parent, and having read much of the books, they are pretty anti-religion and anti-Catholic in particular. I would even label them anti-God given some of the statments (particularly the depiction of the Magesterium and ex-nun). Certainly they are a warning to false gods and authoritarianism but they don’t offer anything else other than internal feel good spirituality that seemingly must stem from sex. An aware parent should discuss the content, particularly with adolecents.
In that crazy long post up there, one thing struck me in particular.
“As Will uses the subtle knife to cut a window to another world through which to escape, Lyra’s mother casts a magical spell upon him. He thinks he sees his own mother’s face. He is filled with sorrow in the middle of the trance-like state he must employ to use the knife, and the subtle knife therefore shatters.”
Whereas the actual explanation I remember from the book was that the knife’s sharpness made it so weak that would break if it ever came up against something it couldn’t cut. It’s not that Will’s trance is broken, but that the knife cannot cut through his love for his mother.
This is explicitly stated in the book.
wicca is not satanism i have no idea how many times i have said this to other people.
A lot of people today reinforce their idea that wicca is satanism from “Wicca: Satan’s Little White Lie”.
Well I’ll have you know, the author of that book has also been saved from Buddhism, Jewish, Catholisim, and a number of other non-christian religions, sounds like someone with a strong split personality issue. LOL