Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Seeing the Light


Well, this is the Season of Lights -- a whole bunch of faiths do light at the bottom of the year!

On Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, on the shortest day of the year they kindled a bon fire using a magnifying glass and the power of the very weak red-giant sun.

One of the essential ingredients in good world building is the anthropology and psychology.

Our fictional aliens have to be "accessible" to our human mentality if they are going to be characters. Otherwise you end up with something like C. J. Cherryh's most alien aliens who occassionally do a drive-by spaceship shooting, and can just barely communicate -- but who don't form relationships with individual humans. The most you can expect is a treaty whereby they won't shoot you today.

And we at this blog are all into "relationships" so let's look at the season of Year's Turning -- the winter solstice. Most worlds that have life will probably have an axial tilt and therefore have this metaphore built into their cultures. (OK, there will be worlds whose poles run sideways.)

Last time I talked about abstract thinking -- which includes metaphores, analogies, algebra, along with hypothesizing.

Our favorite books depict relationships between human and alien where the concept "soul mate" comes into play. That is a fated relationship, one where something abstract and intangible draws the two together because they are two halves of a whole.

So what is a soul?

Would aliens have that concept? It's really a very abstract abstraction.

Astrology would be vastly different for the natal chart of someone born in a different solar system. Or between stars -- would such a child even have a natal chart? How could you get a handle on who this person is? How mature the alien soul is?

Well, let's look at it another way. Suppose the alien civilization does have the concept Soul and even the concept Spirit -- and they come from a planet with axial tilt so they have a winter solstice. So they'd have the concept of cyclical seasons, and a winter solstice. How would they get from there to something akin to our concept of Soul?

According to most of our philosophies and religions (at least ones that didn't originate at the equator) -- the "light" Spiritual and Physical, waxes and wanes. The Sun waxes and wanes; the Moon waxes and wanes (and some say only a planet with water and a fairly large moon will develope complex land-dwelling life.)

In astrology there's the axiom, "As Above: So Below" -- that is, everything in this world is a metaphoric image of something else on a different plane of existence.

Understand this world, and you understand the "above".

The soul and spirit are of the "above;" the body of the "below."

And so if the world's light is cyclical, so too would the "light" that illuminates the soul be cyclical.

Thus the magical rite of kindling fire on the shortest day of the year is not to bring the SUN back, to initiate the growing season -- but to bring light back to the soul. "Peace on Earth; Goodwill toward Men." "A Great Miracle Happened There."

In some religions that translates into "seeing the light" -- i.e. coming to believe in the Divine, to see the Divine light.

But I submit that some people somewhere probably look at this magical process of kindling light at the darkest day of the year as the means whereby we ignite our souls to glow outward into the world and give us light to see the world by. (consider those in the southern hemisphere should do this in July for spiritual effect -- what of an alien world where they do it that way?)

"Seeing the Light" would mean to such aliens that you'd turned your spiritual headlights on so you can see to drive through the darkness and avoid obstacles and potholes. That is, you can live a smooth life if you can see where you're going.

Just imagine the range of possible misunderstandings between such lovers who had come "home for the holidays."

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Anonymous1:54 PM EST

    Great entry! I believe humans are spiritual beings and since we're writing stories for humans it's in our best interest to include a spiritual side to our aliens to make them multi-dimensional characters. In 'Star Captains' Daughter,' the human heroine suffers a miscarriage because she's unable to establish a telepathic bond with her unborn, half-alien child. The alien father could have helped her do that, but they were apart at the time. Consequently, the alien father freaks out, accusing the heroine's father of murder because he kept them apart. And then, the alien father proceeds to babble on about how to convince the baby to come from them. According to his religion, his people have eternal souls which pre-exist their corporeal lives. When a woman wants to become a mother, one of these souls volunteers to be born to her. So, from the alien father's point-of-view, the baby arrived in her mother's womb only to discover it wasn't a safe place because her parents were apart. She decided to return to the Divine. The alien father becomes frantic, wanting to perform the appropriate rituals and to make his human wife feel safe and happy so the baby will come back to them. Of course, this only makes a tense situation with the humans all the more explosive. Massive cultural misunderstandings across lightyears are such fun to write, you know. ;)

  2. I hypothesize that naturally evolved vampires, or any other nocturnal species (e.g., intelligent cats?) would celebrate the winter solstice as the period of longest darkness and therefore most blessed for them. They'd regard the summer solstice as a limiting or threatening time and perform rituals (if they have an organized worship system) to bring back the darkness.