God in the Realm of the Supernatural?

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Stories from the realm of faerie have been following me as of late. Over at Unequally Yoked, Leah Libresco shared a new book review for Phillip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brother’s Grimm.

Leah writes, “why does God feel so far from the magical world?” Her answer is intriguing and is saying something more than just comparison:

It sounds quotidian and dull to say you must not be cruel to the three old men because their human nature demands respect (and your own hu­manity demands you not deliberately coarsen it). It is more romantic to say that you must not be cruel to the three old men you meet in the wood because they may cause toads to fall from your mouth. In fairy tales, the natural law is enmeshed with the supernatural, which makes it just eldritch enough to be compelling again.

Fairy stories “enmesh” the mundane with the strange. Morality isn’t abstract, it’s an image of a toad plopping out of your mouth if you are cruel. This is not embellishment for its own sake. Nor was it, I believe, simply a means to entice the listener.

The rich imagery of fairy tales and folk stories allude to an older form of human consciousness that thought in terms of icons and images (notice the feeling you get when you look at these images). The world was “infused” with imagination, something that one of the Inklings, Owen Barfield called the “original participation.”

We lived, thought, and breathed in myth. “Myth” after all shares the same etymological roots as “mouth.”

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Leah is right in her view to claim that God has trouble standing apart from creation in fairy stories, for such an older consciousness has no need to sever the holy with mundane. The great monotheistic religions, the God of “no images” – no idols – comes much later in history, and subsequently, human consciousness.

Later in her review, Leah writes:

The structure of fairy tales is so much a part of our cultural vernacu­lar that many storytellers are afraid to simply repeat the old patterns.

This is true now, but was it always? Perhaps for a literary culture we seek deviation for its own sake, but in the older, oral cultures that passed down these stories to the next generation, permutations of the story were natural to the story-telling. But never too much. Without writing, stories could only be preserved through good, old-fashioned memory. And memory was something that could be sustained through repetition.

Alas, we are still left with the modern world’s disenchantment, so that both God and the realm of faerie are equally untenable. What are we to do?

Barfield tells us that we must “save the appearances,” and enact what he calls a “final participation,” a return to a world enchanted…

“with the deepest thankfulness and piety towards the world as it was originally given to them in original participation, and with a full understanding of the momentous process of history, as it brings about the emergence of the one from the other.”

So what are your thoughts? Can the world be re-enchanted? Have you done it in your own life?

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