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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Playing with a story concept - worth trying? (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Playing with a story concept - worth trying?
rcmann
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Modern witch hunters going after modern witches. Set in the here and now. Different than most of the PC-type stories you see lately because these are the same kind of witches that the Inquisition went after, i.e. minions of Satan. The hunters are religious based, but not strictly catholic. In fact, they accept members of all faiths. The hunters perform as a de facto modern equivalent to the Knights Templar, but on a clandestine basis because they are completely ruthless in their methods. Completely. Ruthless. Some of what they do might make Torquemada (sp?) wince. Their intentions are noble, just like the old Inquisition. But like the old ones, they gloss over any biblical injunctions about mercy. Although their oath forbids deliberately harming non-witches if it can be avoided.

The story is set in midwest America. Just outside a small town where a coven has set up shop. An advance pair of scouts for the hunters has been tracking them, using high tech methods. The modern witches use magic, but they also make extensive use of tech. Just as medieval witches used alchemy, the modern witches use chemistry for drugs and poisons, etc. Both sides make extensive use of electronics.

Also playing with the idea of having magic leave a detectable energy residue in an area, under the law Conservation of Mass/Energy. If magic exists in our modern world, as predicated by the story concept, then it must by definition obey the laws of physics. Even with a supernatural source, the after effects of its use would leave a detectable trace.

Anyone care to help me pick this idea to pieces and tell me what's wrong with it?

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babooher
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My main thought would be to question sending just two scouts. If you're confident to send in live people, then why only 2. I'd think you'd have some close back up at the very least.

What is the financial support for both groups? I can see the evil types stealing or whatever, but what about the do-gooders? How do you pay for this tech? How do you support a group of people who don't actually produce or sell anything?

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Merlion-Emrys
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Well, the thing is, what's wrong with it depends a lot on your point of view.

There are a number of things here I find conceptually disagreeable on various levels, but that's largely taste...or difference of worldview.

Things similar to what you describe pop up relatively frequently in anime but they're less common in the West.

The first big thing that screams out to me is, if magic is real, if there really is a "Satan" and God, then the "good guys" should probably have some form of spiritual power as well.

Also I don't see any reason for magic to have to absolutely obey what we call "the laws of physics" however its also pretty commonplace for magic to leave a detectable after effect.
I don't think followers of "Satan" would call themselves witches. You might want to give some thought as to how their magic works...are their powers entirely granted, or is some of it internal spiritual power? Also, what is there long term goal or agenda?

Money for the good guys wouldn't be too much of an issue if they are under the auspices of the Catholic church.

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redux
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Things that came to mind....

First, I think you need to differentiate between your witches and the Wiccan religion. I say this because witches are real and therefore they're modern day witches.

Second, why are the hunters going after these witches? Do they perceive them as evil? Are they just crazed fanatics? How does their vigilantism not get them in trouble with the law?

[ February 17, 2012, 07:07 PM: Message edited by: redux ]

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rcmann
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The hunters are not affiliated with any particular church. They are an independent organization who regard themselves as the strong right arm of righteousness defending the innocent.

They are supported, like most underground organizations, though the efforts of legitimate front operations that generate income openly and then funnel it to the strike groups.

One of the significant ideas I wanted to push is that the medieval fear of witches was not merely hysteria. There really were evil witches practicing black magic in the service of Satan. The witch finders, although many of them were corrupt, were in fact working against a public menace and risking their own lives by doing so.

Yes, it is controversial. It is supposed to be controversial.

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rcmann
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They do have backup available. The field units are in constant communication with hq, and reinforcements are on stand by at all times.

As far as the hunters having their own power, they do. It's called prayer. And faith.

I had planned to making clear in the story that Wiccans are Wiccans, and witches are witches. Some Wiccans are also witches, but many witches are not Wiccans. The hunters regard Wiccans as misled but harmless, like other inoffensive pagans. Whereas witches, true witches, are those who are dedicated to the service of the Adversary.

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Foste
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Just try it. You can always edit/trunk it later.

No writing is ever wasted.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I was speaking more along the lines of exorcism or protection of some kind. If both God and the Devil are real, if people have a spiritual essence, and the Devil grants people supernatural powers, then it would seem very strange to me for God's servant's faith and prayers not to have actual direct effects on the situation.

I guess in part because it would seem weird for me for God's faithful to fight the servants of the Devil with science...I'd rather see a spirit versus spirit battle personally...also, remember that much of "science" was considered black magic by the church in the middle ages...

I also can't fathom how they'd have a ghost of a chance against magic-wielders, unless their magic has little application in combat.


Although much of that is taste.


I don't really have a problem with the controversiality of it, but I still don't think, for a variety of reasons, that Satanists would call themselves witches, though others of course likely would.

I'm not sure how many fantasy fans could really get behind a story in which all magic and supernatural forces are inherently evil. I would assume you have some sort of twist in mind involving the Devil and/or his followers?

The biggest thing I see is that, the more I think about it the more the idea as you present it would, to my thinking at least, almost have to be marketed as Christian fiction, unless there is some manner of twist to the cosmology. What you seem to be presenting here sounds very much like simply reality as many forms of Christianity believe it to be...that we have souls or spirits but that any form of spiritual...action...comes from the Devil and is evil and that people of faith must use their beliefs and science to overcome it.

Most fantasy fiction involving these elements puts some spin on it, or at least makes it a battle of powers where both sides have spiritual forces at their command.

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Merlion-Emrys
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But Foste is right...it never hurts to try. Mostly it just sounds a little niche to me, and I am curious as to what sort of particular goal the witches have...you might need something specific to build around if you want to go with a more or less standard plot progression.
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redux
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By the way, Templar Knights were not witch hunters. They were more like bankers and tour guides, escorting pilgrims safely to the Holy Land.
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Merlion-Emrys
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Though they did do a lot of Saracen killing in their early days but yeah eventually...bankers and tour guides. Yup. And the originators of Friday the 13th. Maybe.
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babooher
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Why not use science vs magic? Magic could just be one set of rules against the rules of science. It makes sense on a theological level (Satan trying to supplant God's rules with his own) but it could be presented without the direct reference to religion. Faith could be the determining factor into which one rules.
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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Why not use science vs magic?
Well, mostly because most fantasy fans I know would come down on the side of magic...but in the stated premise, the magic users are the bad guys.


quote:
It makes sense on a theological level (Satan trying to supplant God's rules with his own) but it could be presented without the direct reference to religion. Faith could be the determining factor into which one rules.
That is actually an interesting point. My thing is just that, for me, its hard to understand the line that religion draws between spirituality and magic. For me, Harry Potter casting Expelliarmus and God parting the Red Sea are aspects of the same thing...in a world where souls are assumed to exist, we all become, in my worldview, "magical creatures." As I see it, the opposing forces are spirituality, of any brand, against materialism (what people usually call "science.") So, for me personally, magic-wielding Satanists against technology-wielding Christians is just...odd. And why I realize that my views are not necessarily "mainstream" I think they, or something like them, are not uncommon among people who'd be attracted to literature labeled "fantasy."

Most fantasy fans love magic and see it in a positive way, at least in my experience.

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extrinsic
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Witches dedicated to the Adversary.

Mortals hunting the Adversary's faithful witches armed and amored by their respective faiths.

I see a poetic justice plot: good rewarded, evil punished. Nothing problematic about preaching to the choir.

Who does the plot pivot on? Someone straddling the fence? Good pulling one way; evil pulling the other. The main dramatic pivot might be the Decision, which might mean lesser major turns could be refusals of the decision.

What then might be the first incitement? Say the central character is blissfully oblivious. Wake-up call time. Maybe dabbling in the arcane arts underneath the rectory's staircase.

Not to impose, just me projecting a creative vision.

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redux
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I realized I didn't answer your original query - is your story concept worth trying? Yes it is! [Smile]
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rcmann
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Thanks folks. Maybe I can clarify a little.

The hunters are not strictly christian, although they do follow the God of Abraham. Anyone christian, jewish, or muslim is welcome to join them. Much like the Masons. The deciding factor is not specific adherence to a particular doctrine. To be a hunter means to abandon home, family, possessions, and everything else of this world. To be a hunter means to dedicate yourself mind, body, and soul to the cause. You must be willing to die, and you must be willing to kill. There is no half measures, and no one ever leaves the hunters alive. These people (both genders are included) have no one but each other. Their loyalty to their own is absolute. Any member who reveals even a trace of information about them suffers a punishment that would fry your eyeballs if I typed it out. They have members in all levels of society, who operate as fronts, and as collectors of data.

The spiritual vs. science conflict is based on the following postulates:

The universe was created. The universe began in order and harmony. The hunters refer to that creator as God.

There is a diametrically opposing force to God. The hunters call this force Satan ("adversary"). The adversary is responsible for entropy and all that is evil.

God laid down natural law when he made the universe.

Satan works to usurp God's authority whenever possible, and to upset the order and balance of the universe in any way possible. To that end, he provides his minions with chaotic energy that they use to perform acts that would otherwise not be possible under natural law.

The hunters are dedicated to working within the bounds of God's will, as they perceive it to be. They are not concerned with anyone else's interpretation of his will. They consider that since God made the universe and natural law for his own reasons, it would be illogical to expect him to wantonly violate his own laws. Thus, they will not touch magic in any form, as they consider it to be a force for chaos.

[interjection. I was speaking of the Templars in the sense that they acted as guardians of the faithful.]

The MC is a young hunter, just out of training, who was orphaned young. The conflict of the story is his internal struggle to reconcile his belief that the fight they are in is righteous - against the frequently extreme methods and mercilessly approach of the hunters.

I haven't worked out the ending yet though. There are too many possibilities. *sigh*

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babooher
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You might want to look at the gifts that are recognized in the Bible. I'm just wondering how one of your hunters would handle the gift of prophecy as it seems to defy natural law.
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Merlion-Emrys
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Some forms of Judaism attributed some Rabbis with various, to me magical, abilities such as creating golems and teleportation.

Likewise, the Islamic version of Solomon if I'm not mistaken, commanded a variety of spirits.

Most modern Christians I know believe that the "time of gifts" so to speak is past but while the "natural law" thing does hold up to some extent...God has been known to break his own laws, and let others do so (Moses also springs to mind.)

To my thinking, if it becomes a bit of a "chaos versus order" thing, then the good guys could be as bad as the bad guys, and vice versus...order taken to extremes can be quite unpleasant which, I suppose, is part of what you're seemingly going for. In Gnostic Christianity, God is the Demiurge and quite evil, and Satan is a force for spiritual freedom and change.

So is this Satan and his followers truly evil...or merely wild and chaotic, and viewed as evil from a perspective that order and structure=goodness?

Also, how do they go about weeding out real witches from "unoffensive pagans?" That was the trouble of the original witch trials...anyone who did...much of anything...or who was politically or socially opposed to the Church, got labelled a "witch."

Also, it's my understanding that the Inquisition started out against Jews...

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rcmann
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As far as the Inquisition's political goals, that part doesn't enter into it for the hunters. They divide the world into three camps. Those who are on their side, the adversary's minions, and the misled pagans who simply don't know any better.

The gifts of the spirit? That is an excellent point. I could easily work that into my MC's struggle. Would having a gift like prophecy be a violation of natural law? Or would it simply be evidence of a natural law in action that science has not identified yet? Like the recent experimental confirmation that neutrinos travel backward in time, and the theory that it might be possible to send information backward that way.

The MC is also torn because he is quite intelligent, and has been trained in critical thinking. This is necessary if he is to be effective as a warrior against the witches, who are themselves clever and technically proficient. But as someone who thinks for themselves, he is uncomfortable taking anything on faith. yet his whole life is bound up in being a hunter.

The witches are, in fact evil. That part is firm. They throw curses, sacrifice innocent people and use the blood as a sacrament in their rituals, make candles from the fat of children as specified in some of the old writings. Everything that was written in the middle ages about witches is true about them. Why are they evil? For the power and wealth it gains them. Although they don't interact with Satan himself. Rather they summon demons, who pass along their marching orders and distribute rewards in his name.

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MAP
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I may be the dissenting voice here, but it just feels wrong to me to imply that the medieval witch trials that resulted in torturous deaths of real women was justified even in fiction.

Do they have to be witches for this story to work? Can't you have them be something else or make up some cult or half-demon?

Obviously you can do whatever you want, but it does feel a little disrespectful to me. Clearly though I'm in the minority here.

I do think that you should do the research (if you haven't already, I'm not implying that you haven't).

Anyway, it is just my opinion. Good luck with this.

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LDWriter2
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Hmmm, an interesting concept even though not new. I have seen the like before. You have modernized a bit with them taking members from at least three faiths and perhaps using Spiritual Gifts as unknown science but still the basic concept has been used.

Personally I don't see God's acts as the same as this type of magic. Not only are their purposes different but He is the Creator and Master using His power. It would be natural for nature to obey Him. They would be using a spiritual power that comes from the Adversary. In other words there are only two forces someone can use; God's or the Adversary's. God's comes from Prayer-perhaps fasting- and believing that He will act. I don't know if you would get into using the name of Jesus or one of God's names as a weapon but that type of thing does go along with them using their faith.

But if they use science does that mean they use manmade weapons?

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rcmann
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Yes. The hunters receive paramilitary training as part of their indoctrination. They are adept with most small arms, and their organization also includes experts in various types of WMDs. Although they are understandably reluctant to use them except in extremely isolated areas.

I have researched the ancient witch trials. It has been an interest of mine for many years. This is one of the reasons that I specified the hunters are independent of any other political, religious, or financial interest.

In real life, it is obvious that the Inquisition and related purges took place in an effort to strength the church's political and economic domination of Europe. But that doesn't mean that large numbers of people were not completely sincere in their belief in witchcraft.

Once again, the hunters are not a catholic group. They hold no direct connection to any church or faith, and no political interests. They make use of politicians of all flavors - whoever is for sale. Another point that bothers my MC.

The main theme of the story is the fact that while it is possible for people to become evil, it is not possible for any human or group of humans, to become completely good. No matter what their objectives might be. Ultimately, it sometimes comes to to choosing which evil bothers you less.

I know the concept is threadbare. As is the plot. But most plots and themes are threadbare.

EDIT:

I forgot to mention. They would never use the name of God as a weapon. The hunters interpret "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," quite literally. As they do all of the commandments. To them, using God's name as a weapon would be equivalent to attempting to compel Him. The thought would make any of them recoil in horror.

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rcmann
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One thing.

I have no desire to offend anyone in this group. If I have done so, I apologize.

I personally have no objection to reading a story written from a buddhist, or polytheistic, or atheistic worldview. I just wanted to explore a what if scenario.

Even now, there are a lot of places in the world where belief in witchcraft/black magic is quite strong. Some of them are here in the US. The story idea is not utterly devoid of connection to real life.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
They would be using a spiritual power that comes from the Adversary. In other words there are only two forces someone can use; God's or the Adversary's.
While this is a common enough Christian idea, it is one I've never understood, because there is a very obvious third option: our own souls. My Christian upbringing taught that human beings have a soul that lives on after the body and that, indeed, it is the soul that is created in the image of God. So I've never understood why it always has to be God-power or Devil-power when Christianity believes that we ourselves are spiritual beings. There is also the mind to consider-telepathy, telekinesis etc etc.

For me, the big division in this type of worldview is between the physical and the spiritual...so for me, "magic" of any kind is in the realm of the spiritual, as opposed to the realm of the physical/scientific regardless of where you think it comes from or how it is used.


I realize that isn't what you are going for in this story, rcmann...that was more of a general comment. However as has been brought up, all three Abrahamic faiths in one or more of their forms contain the idea of particularly "holy" people with God-given abilities of various sorts.

Also, I would mention that the Satan of Judaism is quite different from the Satan of Christianity...the Jewish one is an adversary more of man than of God. And Islam has Ibliss who is pretty much like the Christian Devil though of rather different origins, so I see some potential issues particularly with Jewish interaction with your organization.


quote:
In real life, it is obvious that the Inquisition and related purges took place in an effort to strength the church's political and economic domination of Europe. But that doesn't mean that large numbers of people were not completely sincere in their belief in witchcraft.
This is very true. However my point has been that, as I understand it and I could be wrong, the Inquisition wasn't initial launched against perceived practice of Witchcraft. It was launched against Jews and perceived "heretics" within the church and it seems like it wasn't until somewhat later that witchcraft got mixed up in it.


As far as the controversy...I can understand the idea that trying to "validate" a tragic event like the Inquisition and the subsequent witch-hunts may seem in poor taste, but given what you've said about your concept I think it can be gotten around. All you need to do is make it clear that during this time, they did basically go nuts and burn a bunch of people unjustly who weren't actually witches. By that means you acknowledge the historical truth and still maintain your speculation...that some of those people actually were witches.

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Robert Nowall
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It's really gonna depend on the characters you put in it...right now it's just the ideas.
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extrinsic
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Overnight reflection leads me to conclude this story concept has a theme related to an individual in society: society and an individal's inner nature are always at odds (Common Themes in Literarture, San Jose State U. Web).

More precisely themed, that dehumanizing people dehumanzies the dehumanizers as well, a la Nazi Germany, the slave trade. Another similar moral- and message-related theme, the ends don't justify the means.

The central character to me seems he or she'd be sympathetic toward the Adversary's disciples for how sorely they're treated by Abraham's Faithful.

Might the protagonist's purpose then be to seek less violent ways to oppose the Adversary?

Since good and evil are at odds and perhaps that's pivotal to the plot, the outcomes are an either-or, good triumphs or evil triumphs. Keeping an outcome in doubt until a bitter end is pivotal for a drama.

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MattLeo
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Well, I won't tell you what your characters should or should not do, what themes the story should or should not have, or what rules the world should or should not obey.

All that's up to you.

What you've done here is sketch out some world building details. It doesn't seem to be out the ordinary with what we'd expect in a fantasy novel. You've got two sides and a built-in conflict between them. You've got rules to how magic works, which is important because when you're dealing with magic the readers have to know what's possible and impossible. Resource-based magic (e.g. mana) with conservation laws is quite common in fantasy with a sci-fi vibe (as opposed to a horror vibe). With sufficient detail any reasonably consistent set of rules will transform magic into a branch of science. In any case you can't have a consistently worked out *system* of magic that does not end up being a fictional science. If your plot requires much detail in the way magic works, that's where you're headed.

Any holes in world-building concepts visible at this level of detail can be easily patched in a novel. Likewise, anything that looks solid can well be blown apart by the demands of the plot. It's not possible to critique such a world fully except in context of the story. If the story fits together the reader will believe the world.

As for any sensibilities the world itself may offend in readers, your scenario is manifestly a political correctness minefield. You don't want to make the witch-hunters Christians (as with hunters in the tradition of *Malleus Malificarum*), but then many would see that as *repudiating* Christianity, not the practices of witch-hunters who called themselves Christians.

Then, of course, if you present witch-hunting per se as a morally acceptable or even *admirable* practice, you're being very offensive to the sensibilities of Wiccans and Neo-pagans, who contrary to stereotype aren't just a pack of disturbed, unwashed cultists on the cultural and economic fringe. A lot of them are solid middle class folks with regular jobs. Some of them clout in the literary and media world, and you've just put your moral seal of approval on their *Holocaust*.

I am not saying whether your scenario *is* offensive; that's none of my business. But if you want to know whether it will be *seen* as offensive, the answer is a resounding "yes". Judging by what you've described, you're poking a stick into a nest of hornets. Attempting to be *subtle* in the way you twist that stick is only going to make the hornets madder.

If that's not what you want, then you've got to find a way to increase the distance your scenario from actual history, in which poor old women were drowned in ponds, young girls were burned at the stake, and honest, and innocent men crushed to death with rocks because of their neighbors bigotry and hysteria.

And you have to be credible in your writing, don't be lazy and just retread old cultural memes. It can be done. *Merchant of Venice* is manifestly an anti-Semitic play, but it's safe to say that most serious Jewish actors want to play Shylock. He isn't just a cardboard cut-out Jewish villain; Shakespeare wrote him so credibly that in the hands of a skillful actor Shylock can actually swing audience perceptions of the play, turning the humorous and triumphant ending into an ironic tragedy.

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rcmann
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I might need to avoid using Satan and just stick with the generic term Adversary. Since all three Abrahamic religions postulate the presence of an evil force. Although, I recognize principle of "God has made all things for himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil."

I need to double check some sources of course. It will be necessary to make sure that the hunter's dogma doesn't contradict any of the three major beliefs. By the same token, the hunters are not really concerned with other people's opinions.

The question of spiritual power based in the human soul is a pithy one. I would say that the hunters regard the human soul as being created in the image of God, but too puny to accomplish anything unassisted.

Part of my desire it to strip away the political and theological window dressing from the basic dichotomy of the universe. Light/dark. Good/Evil. Yin/Yang?

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MattLeo
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Dr. Bob will tell you "satan" *means* "adversary" in Hebrew, or perhaps more accurately "obstruction". If I'm not mistaken, when Balaam saddled up his ass and rode off to curse the Israelites, the angel of the Lord is called in the Bible a "satan".
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rcmann
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"Some of them clout in the literary and media world, and you've just put your moral seal of approval on their *Holocaust*.

I am not saying whether your scenario *is* offensive; that's none of my business. But if you want to know whether it will be *seen* as offensive, the answer is a resounding "yes". Judging by what you've described, you're poking a stick into a nest of hornets. Attempting to be *subtle* in the way you twist that stick is only going to make the hornets madder."

*sigh*

I suppose I should turn it around then, and write about the noble witches struggling to follow their dreams in a hostile world.

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extrinsic
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A recent discussion in my writing community asked if any stereotype is a fair subject for narrative abuse in this socially conscious age of respecting and celebrating cultural diversity.

We actually reached a unanimous consensus. Yes, abuse is appropriate if specfic only to an individual from which other members of the same culture group can distance themselves. No, if encompassing a cultural group.

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וַיִּחַר-אַף אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-הוֹלֵךְ הוּא, וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה בַּדֶּרֶךְ, לְשָׂטָן לוֹ; וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל-אֲתֹנוֹ, וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ.

And G-d's anger was kindled because he (Balaam)went; and the angel of the LORD placed himself in the way for an adversary against him.--Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
--Bamidbar (Numbers) 22:22

Matt Leo (yet again) is correct. In this verse G-d refers to Himself as l'satan, an adversary to the evil intent of Balaam and the princes of Moab against Israel.

Judaism is a strict monotheistic faith. There is only one Creator, thus everything including the human potential for selfishness(i.e. the yetzer hara) which misused can result in wickedness, was created by G-d--and yet the yetzer hara is also an important force for good (e.g. our selfish desire for finding a mate and having children, being successful in a career, etc.).

And G-d saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.
--Beresheis (Genesis) 1:31

Thus, there is no Christian Lucifer/Satan or Muslim Shaitan/Iblis opposed to G-d (the Unopposable) in Judaism. Ha-satan ("the adversary") is merely another angel of G-d who, unlike Man, has no will but that of G-d. Recall in the Book of Job, that he cannot act except as G-d permits:

And the LORD said unto Satan: 'Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thy hand.' So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.
--Jon 1:12

Thus, the Adversary of Hebrew Scripture is merely an employee of G-d with an essential if disliked profession: he is a lawyer (G-d's prosecuting attorney). [Wink]

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

P.S. This is just an fyi that has no relationship I can see with your story for which I wish you the best of luck. Sounds interesting.
P.S.S. Hmm. Perhaps I should give up my current painful and struggling attempts to write stories completely devoid of any Jewish elements and stick with what I know and what motivates me. I'm currently writing a unicorn story, if you can believe. Feh.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I might need to avoid using Satan and just stick with the generic term Adversary. Since all three Abrahamic religions postulate the presence of an evil force.
Judaism, as I understand it, doesn't, not really. There is no figure of supernatural, original evil in Jewish belief. Way way back you have Azazel, the beast of the desert or possibly just the craggy mountainside to which the scapegoats were sent, but as I understand Judaism evil is going against God and human beings are basically the only things that can do that, as angels in Judaism lack free will. The Jewish Satan/Adversary is more like Gods informant who keeps God in the know about our sins, or sort of like a prosecuting attorney. Edit: He beat me too it.

Islam has Ebliss, who is a good deal like the Christian concept of "The Devil", but not exactly...he was a Jinn who refused to bow before Adam in the first days, or something along those lines, and so tries to tempt humans away from God. But I think the idea of a single entity who is the source/originator of all evil is mostly a pretty Christian thing and the source part especially isn't even part of all Christian doctrine. The Devil might be able to tempt you to evil but in the end, evil is a choice.
And in Christianity, especially modern forms, the Devil is less about causing mayhem and destruction and pain and more about corruption...leading people away from God, usually by deception and particularly by nice-seeming deceptions. Of course, in your world it could simply be that that is what many people have come to think due to their ignorance of the fact that not only is the Devil real, he actually does grant people malevolent powers.

But, overall, the concepts you've put forth sound, to me, mostly Christian (and particularly Catholic, to some extent), slightly Muslim and not very Jewish at all, as far as that goes. Obviously, Dr. Bob could provide a good deal more detail about the Jewish end, and Osiris could perhaps tell you a bit more of the Muslim perspective (he knows about that stuff despite being a Blue Skinned Undead Fertility God.) I think it might be easier if your witch-hunters are entirely or primarily Christian as most of the ideas and archetypes you are working with are more or less Christian ones.


quote:
Then, of course, if you present witch-hunting per se as a morally acceptable or even *admirable* practice, you're being very offensive to the sensibilities of Wiccans and Neo-pagans, who contrary to stereotype aren't just a pack of disturbed, unwashed cultists on the cultural and economic fringe. A lot of them are solid middle class folks with regular jobs. Some of them clout in the literary and media world, and you've just put your moral seal of approval on their *Holocaust*.
The thing is though, "Wiccans" and "Neo-pagans" don't worship...or even believe in, Satan. They are not what is being spoken of in this story-idea.

Also, NONE of the people killed during the "burning times" were Wiccans (Wicca has only existed for the last few decades) nor "neo-Pagans." Indeed, quite a lot of them weren't even, I don't think, followers of ancient Celtic/Brythonic polytheistic or animistic belief systems. Quite a lot of them were Christians, who had a birthmark in the wrong place or owned a black cat or knew to make tea out of willow bark as a painkiller or whatever.

That is why, rcmann, I think as long as you acknowledge the terrible things that happened and that a lot of innocent people died, you are in, to me, ethically safe territory. Will some people be offended? Probably. Will many "neo-Pagans" be offended? Almost certainly...my personal experience...and let me again stress MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE with modern people who call themselves "pagans" is that they are extremely easy to offend...even by positive references to their beliefs.

But, standard fantasy fiction is offensive to many Christians. I find Phillip Pullman's works hypocritical and offensive. If you're going to tackle issues, you're going to ruffle feathers.


quote:
Part of my desire it to strip away the political and theological window dressing from the basic dichotomy of the universe. Light/dark. Good/Evil. Yin/Yang?
This is totally my personal opinion. If this is mainly what you want to do, I don't think doing it from a Judeo-Christian perspective is necessarily a great way to do it. Here is why. In Judeo-Christian context, "evil" is all about going against the will of God. While it overlaps with, it is not primarily about the things that pretty much every person can agree on as bad...murder, rape, etc etc. It's about sin and transgressing against God. The trouble with that is this: nobody, not even Judeo-Christians of the same faith can agree on all the particular's of God's will and so it becomes, in my view, difficult to do a simple, straightforward Good VS Evil dichotomy.

Now, that being said, I imagine you have considered that somewhat and that's probably part of why you speak of stripping away the politics and particulars and having a nice, obviously evil enemy. And it may very well work. Certainly, it's a great vehicle for exploring the whole "becoming what you're fighting" type angle, which you've already spoken of in references to the witch hunter's ruthlessness.

That is part of why much fiction (in any format) that uses Judeo-Christian imagery and cosmology often does so in a strongly "fantasized" and non-doctrinal way in which you have on the Good side various priests, exorcists, angels, psychics and the like and the Evil side is demons, deranged occultists and the like. It's also why most such stories often end up focusing on the idea that, in the end, Good and Evil are choices made by thinking beings...we humans, angels, demons and whatever else is out there.

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History
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quote:
But, standard fantasy fiction is offensive to many Christians.
C.S. Lewis' Narnia books being an exception as they are, in essence, a Christian allegory.

Though, on a quick internet search, there are many "Christian fantasy" sites and authors.

Not much for "Jewish fantasy", however.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Merlion-Emrys
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Well, and likewise many Christians are not offended by "standard" fantasy tropes. Of course, there are a lot of people out there who call themselves Christians but follow little in the way of Christian doctrine (I know, I used to be one.)

Some Jewish/Kabbalistic stuff does make appearances in some fantasy and probably in a little more horror but it's funny that, as I've mentioned before, most of the heaviest Judaic content I encounter comes out of Japan...

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LDWriter2
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I don't think there is any reason to turn it around just because someone will get offended. There are so many people every thing will offend someone. And some people are offended so easily these days it's almost like they want to be offended.


However getting back to the discussion. My argument here is not to try convince you to do it my way, it's your story but in the context of what I was saying:

I meant that the use of God's name as weapon I meant against the demons and/or magic sent against one of your people. That is not compelling God to do something, it is compelling the demon to do something or to stop. Catholics do have prayers already that use the name of Jesus to cast demons out as in the Books of Acts. Of course in your world the good guys may never see a demon or the demons might be subject to natural weapons. Not necessarily in a way that would harm the demons but that would disrupt their form enough to keep them from being able to communicate for a while.

And your boy might decide that his boss or the whole leadership is forgetting that their goal is to protect mankind so they kill the innocent and/or they team with certain demons and/or they don't care what type of witches they kill-- the harmless ones you mention along with the evil satan worshipping ones. Or something along those lines.

That's kinda cliche-ish with there types of groups, they are always turn bad or at least the head person over one area turns bad.

But whatever you do don't reject an idea just because one group will be offended. As I said it's too easy to offend these days.

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Merlion-Emrys
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LD is totally right about the name thing. Many forms of Christianity use the name of God and/or Christ in a variety of such situations and as LD says it has nothing to do with the person compelling God, it has to do with demons (which in Christian theology are fallen angels) not being able to cope with even the name.

Also while your group should of course believe whatever you deem appropriate, even the strictest of Christians I know would not consider invoking God's name at a demon to be "in vain." If they do, you may consider them having Jewish-esque practices of never speaking the name or writing it fully in any way.

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LDWriter2
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As to Christianity and the power of our soul and spirit--not being an expert but with some knowledge on that subject I think the answer would be there is no power in the human spirit and soul beyond what deals with ourselves or that can be expressed through the human body. That last would include being able to create inventions, works of art, being able to speak or write with charisma, writing fiction etc.

Any type, form, shape, use of magic comes from the devil. God's spiritual power is His own, it is not magic it is the power of Creation. A whole different level, form and make up of power.

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Merlion-Emrys
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But to many of us, LD, "magic" and "the power of Creation" are the same thing. And often do the same things, such as healing, walking on water, multiplying objects, teleportation, manipulation of the elements etc.
If we are created in the image of God and are as much spirit as we are matter, I've never understood why our abilities should be so constrained.

Also note that in many Christian belief systems, Angels have spiritual abilities and, like us, have free will.

To me there is materialism, and then there is "magic" which in my use encompasses...well actually everything, including the physical, but is opposed only by the idea that the physical is all there is.

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MattLeo
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Dr. Bob -- Why not a *Jewish* unicorn story? So far as I know it's never been done before, but it *fits* with the kind of concerns that a village rabbi might be called to rule on.

One of the rabbinical paradigms I allude to in Norumbega runs like this: a woman is visiting from a far away village, and claims that to be married. How are we to regard that claim? This riddle bears on the procedures for weighing evidence in rabbinical thought, which over the centuries has become highly refined. The answer to the riddle is this: it is safe to take her claim at face value because if she had *fraudulent* motives, she would surely claim to be *un-married*. This assumes of course that a woman in a strange place would *prefer* to be married (even at the cost of committing bigamy) *and that you don't have a unicorn handy to verify her claims*.

quote:
Part of my desire it to strip away the political and theological window dressing from the basic dichotomy of the universe. Light/dark. Good/Evil. Yin/Yang?
Or substance/emptiness. One source I recommend for how to think about this is St. Augustine's *City of God*. In that book he tries to explain how evil can exists when (as the Bible asserts) all creation is *good*. He does this to refute the heretical position of the Manicheans, who believed in the kind of dichotomy you are positing here: *forces* of Good and Evil which have a kind of symmetry in that they are both *things that exist in themselves*.

His solution is worth thinking about even if you aren't interested in refuting Gnosticism. St. Augustine sees evil as a "deprivation of good". What he means by this is what a modern economist would call opportunity costs: evil is the result of making stupid choices. Lets say I get angry with you and punch you in the nose. I do it because I think punching you will make me feel better. Making myself feel better is in itself good, *all else being equal*; evil arises because I have failed to consider unintended consequences and *more advantageous* actions I could have taken. In this case, I have failed to take into account the cost to *you* of having your nose punched, and I have squandered an opportunity to make peace with you, which would be the highest and best use of my time.

This is why morally *credible* writing on the problem of Good and Evil tends to be nuanced. Choosing to be good is not like choosing sides in the Patriots/Giants rivalry. It's making a commitment to a life of unremitting self-examination and restraint.

I'll contribute one more wrinkle to this scenario. Some modern neo-pagans regard witch hunters themselves as practitioners of dark magic. It's not an unreasonable position if you consider the witch hunter's obsession with the occult, and the magical methods and theories of his craft. That would make witch hunters in reality what they falsely accuse others of being.

quote:
The thing is though, "Wiccans" and "Neo-pagans" don't worship...or even believe in, Satan. They are not what is being spoken of in this story-idea.

Also, NONE of the people killed during the "burning times" were Wiccans (Wicca has only existed for the last few decades) nor "neo-Pagans."

Merlion-Emrys is entirely correct here, but when considering how something might be received we have to consider more than historically documented fact. We have expect emotional reactions that are based on extra-historical reasons, some of which are reasonable, others which may not be. The victims witch hunts have been adopted by neo-pagans, either in a morally reasoned rejection of witch-hysteria, or in belief that the victims were in fact pagans like themselves. Such a belief does not need any historical documentation to thrive. In fairness, many folk-traditions have a distinctly magical feel to them and may have been swept up in some instances of witch-hysteria.

I want to make it very clear here that I'm not in favor of censoring ideas that offend some people. In fact, I'm not in favor of censoring actual *bigots*. I think they should be allowed to publish, so we can mock and shame them for being idiots! It's futile to avoid offending *everyone*, but it's worth considering what offense you might *reasonably* give, in order to write more intelligently. I *detest* ignorant writers.

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Merlion-Emrys
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And I'm sorry if I came across harsh, MattLeo...I just recently had a rather negative experience with a "Neo-pagan" so the subject makes me a little bristly.


I too was thinking about the idea of witch hunters resorting to magic themselves...it doesn't seem to fit with rcmann's proposal but I must say that it seems to me, if you have a more or less Judeo-Christian world wherein there is witchcraft, but no compensating "spiritual gifts" from God, it seems like at least some of the witch-hunters would almost inevitably take to dabbling in some magic themselves...fight fire with fire and all that.

Actually...and I know this is getting far afield from your ideas, rcmann but I think it'd be interesting to have that sort of scenario, and the witch hunters turn to Goetic or Hermetic type magic to oppose the "black" magic of the devil-worshipers.

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LDWriter2
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To me there is no contradiction between God saying it's all good and that there is evil. It depends on when He said it and what He meant. When looking at the earth and saying it is good, He is obviously talking about the earth at that moment. The same thing with man. At that moment Man was good. In Christian doctrine(at least) God made the devil and at that moment he was good. Later he let pride twisted him. Later Humans disobeyed- pride again coming into play, along with distrust and a couple of other things- and learned evil. That is assuming they already knew Good so didn't have to learn that.

More about God and magic later, have to go mail a couple of stories and buy some boxes for my wife's crafts.

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MattLeo
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Merlion-Emrys: I did not take offense at what you wrote -- how ironic that would be! I actually thought your point was a good one. I just wanted to point out that reactions aren't necessarily justified.

So should we consider reactions we don't agree with, or even think are stupid? I think so. Sometimes we're wrong and need our horizons broadened. Sometimes offending certain people is a headache we don't need.

But there's one reason to consider unreasonable offense you might not have considered. You might want to sharpen the barb.

I consider myself a satirist. Me metier is gentle irony but from time to time I do mock people. When I intentionally offend somebody I want it to *sting*.

For example for one piece I spent some dreary time on stormfront and other neo-nazi sites researching how a fascist "thinks". Fascists can be wonderfully persuasive, because their world view is totally lacking in anything resembling critical thought. Now I *could* just take it for granted that neo-nazis are evil and wrong, and leave it at that, but that's not offensive enough to be satire. If you want to really offend a Nazi, you take what he says, take out the rhetorical fluff and boil it down to plain language.

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rcmann
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I am trying to think pragmatically. I don't mind offending people. I would mind getting myself blacklisted, even if it was done under the table. And anyone over the age of twenty-five with experience in business is well aware of how often that happens. I'm not experienced with the fiction publishing business, but getting published is tough enough without having the name of someone who pissed off your potential editor's sister-in-law.

I have read some of St. Augustine's arguments. He was a smart guy, no doubt about it. However, again speaking pragmatically it doesn't matter how one defines evil. What matters is the resultant effect of evil behavior. In my opinion of course.

Having been raised Christian, I am no doubt biased in favor of this world view. But I am trying to step outside the blinders of my own indoctrination and see things from a universal human perspective. If I can.

I don't doubt that humans have spiritual power. I do doubt that our power is great enough to accomplish anything without a boost from an outside power source. Otherwise we are, as said above, pretty much stuck with our hands and our brains. Still, we haven't done too badly with those.

I'm learning a lot about comparative religion in this thread. I was honestly under the impression, based on casual conversation with Jewish acquaintances, that their religion acknowledged an evil one.

I may need to make some deeper adjustments. Instead of serving Satan, the witches might simply be power hungry and willing to do anything at all to advance themselves, in including summoning up nasty spirits. I KNOW that part is in Jewish lore. I remember reading about it in the old testament.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I don't doubt that humans have spiritual power. I do doubt that our power is great enough to accomplish anything without a boost from an outside power source. Otherwise we are, as said above, pretty much stuck with our hands and our brains. Still, we haven't done too badly with those.
That is true...indeed, I consider all forms of creativity to be spiritual feats or pursuits. However consider also that there has been serious scientific research into psychic ability. Consider how many mothers have simply known when something bad happened to one of their children. Just because we haven't routinely done a great deal with our potential doesn't mean it can't be developed.

As you say though almost all schools of thought on such things involve the use of additional power sources. Even in some Christian worldviews, God is part of everything, permeating all that is...something along the lines of George Lucas's "Force." Part of the trouble is, most, not all but most branches of Christianity place a great emphasis on the separation of Creation from God, and of man from God and of mankind's unworthiness etc.

In some Eastern religions, such as some forms of Buddhism, gods are just another part of the cycle of existence, another wrung on the ladder, and anyone can develop themselves to almost any state of existence.


quote:
I may need to make some deeper adjustments. Instead of serving Satan, the witches might simply be power hungry and willing to do anything at all to advance themselves, in including summoning up nasty spirits. I KNOW that part is in Jewish lore. I remember reading about it in the old testament.
Dr. Bob can of course provide a much deeper view, but there is talk of "familiar spirits" if I'm not mistaken. As I mentioned earlier, some Islamic and folkloric takes (and possibly even some Jewish mystical views, Dr. Bob please correct me if I am wrong) of King Solomon portray him as, essentially, a sorcerer or mystical adept who commanded a variety of spirits. You might want to look up the Ars Goetia and the Lesser and Greater Keys of Solomon, maybe do some research on Hermetic magic as well. A not uncommon view of magic is that it's simply a universal spiritual energy that can be used for any purpose...good or bad. Much like what we call "science."
If you do make a change of this sort it opens you up for a lot of different options and possibilities.

But one thing is for sure...here is a good place to learn about these possibilities. Dr. Bob knows more about Judaic thought than anyone I've ever known, and nearly as much about the other Abrahamic faiths, and I'm relatively knowledgeable in the areas of Hermetic, Goetic and various other schools of occult thought, as well as a good bit of info on Eastern religions (I know a good deal about Abrahamic faiths as well, but Dr. Bob easily has me beat.) I know various others here are quite knowledgeable as well. Comparative religion is quite a fascinating thing. I consider myself, in some ways, to belong to all of them and none of them...to me, they all contain truths (the only annoying thing is, the Abrahamic faiths have, in most of their forms, as one of their central tenets, the belief that they are the only truths.)

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rcmann
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"A not uncommon view of magic is that it's simply a universal spiritual energy that can be used for any purpose...good or bad. Much like what we call "science."
If you do make a change of this sort it opens you up for a lot of different options and possibilities. "

It would loosen the constraints quite a bit. But it would also water down the conflict. I am torn.

I must respectfully disagree with one thing. Science is nothing more nor less than a system of logical thought. It has no independent existence outside the human mind. Science is merely a disciplines, logical approach to problem solving. Nothing else. Granted some people regard it as a religion, but those are the ones who don't use it on a daily basis.

This is one reason that the hunters embrace science (i.e. reason and logic) above all things. Because there is no danger of spiritual contamination. Which leads to the danger of losing the ability to sympathize.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I must respectfully disagree with one thing. Science is nothing more nor less than a system of logical thought. It has no independent existence outside the human mind. Science is merely a disciplines, logical approach to problem solving. Nothing else. Granted some people regard it as a religion, but those are the ones who don't use it on a daily basis.
I must disagree with the last part. Their are scientists who view science as a religion, or at the very least as the totality of everything (which is basically the same thing.)

However, I understand what you mean and technically you are right. However, like a lot of words, the meaning of the word "science" had undergone change and evolution over time. In current vernacular "science" is often used as a word that means "the opposite of magic" or "the opposite of religion" or "the opposite of spirituality." Or even as the opposite of emotion. It is also a word that is used to mean physical, material things as separate from spiritual, conceptual things. It can also be used to mean "materialism" or to mean "logic" or "rationality" as those words are understood from a materialistic standpoint. Now personally, I disagree that "reason" "logic" or "rationality" are or must be inherently "scientific" or "materialistic" things...spirituality, faith, magic, religion, they can all be quite reasonable, rational and logical. It just isn't "scientific", which is to say, materialistic, logic, reason or rationality.

That's why...though there is nothing wrong with it...the idea of Judeo-Christians using science as their primary tool is, for me, a little...odd, and steeping themselves in "reason" and "logic" even more so, because from many people's perspective (not mine however) belief in God is irrational and unreasonable and extremely unscientific.
You see, although I do believe in right and wrong and in good and evil (though not necessarily the Christian concepts of those things) to me, in modern human culture the perhaps even more important, or at least more pronounced dichotomy and conflict is between materialism (which is to say anti-faith, the belief that the physical is all their is, that there is no soul, no God or Gods, nothing at all but matter in motion) and...everything else, basically. Further, to me, while this does not extend to the natures of people who subscribe to it, this denying of spirit is the greatest evil.

Also, I worded that bit of my last post poorly about "a change of this sort" I only meant the change of removing the specificity of "Satan" from your witches and making them even somewhat broader...that alone gives you a lot more options.

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Hi Matt,
quote:
Dr. Bob -- Why not a *Jewish* unicorn story? So far as I know it's never been done before, but it *fits* with the kind of concerns that a village rabbi might be called to rule on.
There are some who wish to claim Hebrew Scripture mentions unicorns nine times (Numbers 23:22; 24:8 Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10;Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10,and Isaiah 34:7). However, the Hebrew phrase actually refers to כְּתוֹעֲפֹת רְאֵם ל, the "horns (plural) of wild oxen." Thus, like ham sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread, unicorns are simply not Jewish (in my humble opinion). It is possible to imagine them as foolhardily missing the Ark, but that story's been sung [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeU6hJn_YpM], by Irishmen no less.
quote:
One of the rabbinical paradigms I allude to in Norumbega runs like this: a woman is visiting from a far away village, and claims that to be married. How are we to regard that claim? This riddle bears on the procedures for weighing evidence in rabbinical thought, which over the centuries has become highly refined. The answer to the riddle is this: it is safe to take her claim at face value because if she had *fraudulent* motives, she would surely claim to be *un-married*. This assumes of course that a woman in a strange place would *prefer* to be married (even at the cost of committing bigamy) *and that you don't have a unicorn handy to verify her claims*.
Well, the Talmud (Jewish legal commentary on Scripture) has rabbinic discourses regarding the value of a virgin bride; for example, a maid who is sexually assaulted (i.e. taken against her will) is still considered a virgin and her brideprice is not lessened, etc. There is more to "purity" than virginity in the Jewish view, and this is one of the themes (albeit a bit trite) in the fable I am writing; however, I don't consider this solely a "Jewish" perception, merely a humane one.

In regard to your example, a woman who claims to be married yet has no ketubah (wedding document) would only be of rabbinic concern if (1) she desired to marry another [Jewish law would require a "get" letter of divorce from the husband], or (2) she was claiming support from a man she states is her husband. While consummation of a marriage sexually is typical, it is not necessary to be married. Thus, the woman could be married and a virgin and the trial by unicorn could not be considered proof.

No. Virginity and the unicorn legend I find is entrenched in the Christian mythos. Thus, at best, I could imagine merely a debate between a rabbi and priest regarding their religious differences of the import of virginity, and why the unicorn cares. It would be a My Dinner with Andre type story, too academic and likely to bore the hell out of most people.

Justin wrote:
quote:
Dr. Bob can of course provide a much deeper view, but there is talk of "familiar spirits" if I'm not mistaken. As I mentioned earlier, some Islamic and folkloric takes (and possibly even some Jewish mystical views, Dr. Bob please correct me if I am wrong) of King Solomon portray him as, essentially, a sorcerer or mystical adept who commanded a variety of spirits.
Other than the witch of Endor [1 Samuel 28], there is little in Hebrew Scripture regarding the raising of spirits, and those who do are not judged kindly: "Do not suffer a sorceress to live" [Exodus 22:18]. Thus, raising the dead for personal gain is not an approved Jewish practice, Jesus' example with Lazarus not withstanding [John 11]. However, Jewish Midrash and folklore is replete with sorcery, but this sorcery is distinctive: it is power gained or given from a relationship with G-d. Thus the stories of King Solomon's power over demons in general [see the pseudepigraphical The Testament of Solomon, c. 1st-5th century CE], and the King of Demons Ashmedai (Asmodeus) in particular. Then there is the Jewish legend of the most holy and righteous of men having the ability to give a semblance of life to clay and raise golems, the most famous being the Maharal's golem of Prague.

This is the sort of Jewish material I do draw upon for my own stories, along with the mythos of many peoples and literature. I do find it fascinating.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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rcmann
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Technically, Jesus didn't raise the spirit of Lazarus, he actually restored his body to life.

The witch of Endor was one of the specific instances I was thinking of. I seem to recall other mentions of spirits in the old testament, but the precise location won't come up at the moment. That's the frustrating thing about senility. The information is still in there, but the data retrieval system breaks down.

I also wonder about Jewish beliefs in line with the descriptions found on the Dead Sea scrolls, and their similarities to early Christian practices.

There is also the question of the historical accuracy of the New Testament. If we accept as truth the assertion that Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, and Peter were real Jewish men who actually wrote those words... it seems self-evident that at least some portions of Jews believed in demons and Satan. Satan as an individual force for evil is specifically referred to by the writers of the four gospels repeatedly. As well as the writer of the book of Acts, who I thought was... Peter? Not sure.

If the apostles were real people, and they were actually Jews as they claimed, and the words we have today have not been changed, then the idea of a force, or an entity, in direct opposition to God goes back at least 2k years in Jewish thought.

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LDWriter2
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As understand it at the time of Jesus there were at least two major sects of Jews, if you count the people who copied and wrote the Deadsea Scrolls that would be three. So there probably were different teachings about God, satan, angels etc.. There might have all agreed on the basics but knowing human nature I wouldn't be surprised if there were some differences being taught back then.

And we don't know how much the Disciples were influenced by the Teachings of Jesus not included in the Gospels. He mentioned the devil a couple of times and in a more personalized way than just a force or a contrariness to God.

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