Sunday, December 24, 2006

Saturnalia and alien religions

I think it was Linnea Sinclair who talked about religion for aliens on this blog. I hope I'm not repeating the same discussion.

History repeats itself. Victors like the conquered to worship the conquerors' gods. Which makes sense, at least in the world of Greek and Roman myths, because obviously the winners' gods were superior (given that both sides prayed for victory).

I've always been fascinated by the way Christmas was deliberately celebrated at the time of, and gradually in place of, the older Saturnalia.

If we (humans) were conquered by reasonably benign aliens, I wonder whether our new overlords would try to be equally clever and considerate. Would they give us a bigger, longer, more amusing, more colorful event to celebrate in late December? (Assuming December remained December).

When I consider how divided humankind has always been over religion, I wonder whether humanity as a whole would react violently or with secret relief. What do you think?

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, I wish you great happiness, good health, and good friends.

All the best,



  1. Anonymous12:34 PM EST

    Actually, it sounds to me like you're only thinking of a small section of the Earth and its history. The Greeks and Romans were polytheistic. They worshipped many gods. When they conquered, they didn't demand the losers convert, like Islam and Catholicism in the Middle Ages. Rather, as long as they put the Roman gods first (such as paid homage to Caesar as a god) they could worship whoever the heck they wanted. The Christians in Rome only ran into trouble because they insisted only their God was god and refused to pay homage to Caesar. The Jews ran into trouble for similar reasons.

    The Asian religions, as far as I know, never fought over religion or demanded the losers convert. I believe Hindus only became violent when the Muslims came in and started forcing their religion on them and destroying their holy places.

    So, it really depends. From my study of history, the conflicts arise because of a lust for power - not because of faith. Faith in any form is pure. It's the evil side of human nature which corrupts spirituality, I think. Selifishness instead of selfLESS devotion. These are concepts which can certainly be translated into alien worlds and I've done just that many times.

    But, it's Christmas in our home right now. My sweet mother-in-law gave me the Russian doll I wanted and my father-in-law served King Crab at dinner. I've been enjoying sitting back and watching our children play with their new toys. Merry Christmas!

  2. I may have a myopic view, and possibly Androcles and the Lion distorted my view of Roman history.

    My ramblings were not intended to offend anyone.

    Greetings of the Season, and a happy new year.


  3. Anonymous3:20 PM EST

    Oh, dear, did I say offended? Yup, that was me who posted the first comment. I wasn't offended at all. I was merely expanding on what you said, exploring the concepts. For all of us who create alien cultures, it's a good idea to study human cultures as widely as we can.

  4. Dear Kimber An,

    It's so cool of you to comment so fairly and fascinatingly on all our blogs. You cannot imagine (or maybe you can if you have your own blog) how much a blogger appreciates knowing that people are interested in her ramblings, especially when agents and editors drop hints that an author's time would be better spent writing love scenes for the next book.

    You didn't say anything to indicate that you were offended, but a religious holiday is an awkward time to try to write a once-a-week blog that is simultaneously on-topic (about aliens) and that acknowledges what a very special time of year this is for many (myself included), and at the same time attempts to be somewhat original.

    Talking of original and carefully worded, one of my (presumably Canadian) author friends forwarded this Christmas greeting to me:

    "Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress,
    non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion
    of your choice, or the secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious or secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their
    choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

    May you have a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar
    year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped to make Canada the uniquely wonderful place that it is (not to imply that Canada is necessarily greater than any other country but nonetheless including and recognizing the distinctiveness of the Province of Quebec) and without regard to the race,
    creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, political belief, choice of computer platform or sexual preference of the wishee.

    By accepting this greeting you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no
    alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, is
    void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual
    application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and the warranty is
    limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.


    See how careful one has to be?

    All the best,

    Rowena Cherry

  5. Anonymous6:32 PM EST

    Now, that's just scary, Rowena!

    Truthfully, my time in the Blogosphere has not been a waste of time at all. I've learned so much from this blog and others. Do those nagging editers and agents realize what a marvelous marketing tool a blog is???

    Besides, a writer writes. We can't help ourselves. So, we might as well write something useful and encouraging to others.


    And, yes, I do have my own blog, as a matter of fact. Just click on my username!

  6. Oh, good gracious!

    You find the time to blog every day. More power to you. I'll have to go back when my family isn't clamoring for their Christmas night Chicken Nuggets (not burnt, please).

    Do you have a MySpace account? If you do, let's be friends there, too.

    best wishes,

  7. Anonymous11:36 PM EST

    No MySpace account yet. Couldn't see it's usefulness beyond what I already do with my blog. I can blog everyday because I'm careful about what I do put into my schedule. I'm sure you know how that is! Yup, I'll probably be blogging about that soon!

  8. Midwinter celebrations exist everywhere on Earth that the seasons and length of days change (that is, they're not indigenous to tropical climates where the day's length is fairly uniform all year round). THE BATTLE FOR CHRISTMAS is a fascinating book on this subject (author's name is something like Nussenbaum -- it's downstairs, so I can't remember for sure). Although he is writing mainly about Britain and the U.S. from the 17th century on, with particular focus on the 19th century, he begins with a brief discussion of how the European midwinter celebration became Christmas. One interesting point is that in non-tropical parts of the globe, in preindustrial times December was most people's only opportunity to eat fresh meat in large quantities. The animals were slaughtered then so the meat wouldn't spoil, and what wasn't eaten at the big feasts was salted down or otherwise preserved. It was also a lull in the agricultural calendar, so there was plenty of leisure. Lights, bells, etc., seem to be part of the winter solstice all over the world. Remember that delightful Muppet series FRAGGLE ROCK? They had an episode about their winter festival, "The Bells of Fraggle Rock." What we think of as an "old-fashioned Christmas" was actually more-or-less deliberately invented in the 19th century as a family-centered alternative to the REAL traditional Christmas -- which would look to us more like a rowdy cross among Thanksgiving, Halloween, and New Year's Eve. (Those wassailing beggars often got not only loud but downright aggressive.) It's true that the early church purposely picked the time of Saturnalia to commemorate Christ's birth, so that the people continued doing pretty much what they'd always done at that time, but under a different label. (As a Christian, I think it was pretty clever of them to "baptize" the pagan customs that embody timeless yearnings of the human spirit, e.g., for the return of light and warmth.) So even if we became part of an alien interstellar empire, I'm confident Christmas would endure.