So, why polytheism?

Today, chatting with a friend, religion came out and soon after the notion that I’m a polytheist. It was a long time no one asked me directly and I, for one, always think that is so visible and clear that I behave like everyone knows. I’ve never hidden it, anyway.

After some chatters, way more agreeable than what I usually expects in such occasions, he went with the thing. Everyone always says one thing, that is either stupid, unpleasant or something equally problematic. Fortunately, this time I was spared from the most idiotic things (“Do you *really* worship Zeus?!”, “What does that even mean?”, “Oh, don’t tease me, it’s not possible to be polytheist nowadays!”), but it still made me wonder.The incriminated words were these: If I hadn’t learn better, I would’ve asked you what do you gain from believing in a religion when they’re all bullshit.

Is religion a sort of trade? I insert prayer coins in a divine machine that gives me what I want? If that was so, I would probably be the greatest atheist in the world. What I want in a relationship with my Gods is not that they solve my problems in my place. They could not do that and I suspect many of them wouldn’t even want to. Some Gods and Goddesses are more prone to help you (although the idea that every Deity should be concerned with humanity’s problems clashes a bit with my personal perspective), but that that doesn’t mean they’ll wave a magic wand and make everything right.

I’m the only one who can do things, for me, in my life. And among other things, what I do is believing. I don’t believe in blind faith, I’m not able to have that. Nor, I think, polytheism asks us to believe in the Gods just because they exist. Being neo-pagan, being polytheist, is about experiencing the Gods in Their many forms: feeling the warm Sun upon my skin makes me think of the Goddess. The moon sailing through the black, night sea reminds me of the God. Looking at the Land with my polytheistic/animistic glasses makes me think about all the things lingering in the world that we cannot see. The subtle connections. The energy manifesting themselves in a miryad of ways, different every time, every time teaching me something new.

So, what do I gain? Meaning. Not because I need someone to tell what I should do or what my life should be. I don’t need the Goddess to tell me what I have to make of my life. I have no God trying to selling me a role to fulfill. That’s not the meaning I refer to. What I mean is that all my experiences can be framed in my set of beliefs. When I encounter something new, I have a set of tools to analyse what it is. To classify it. To put it into place so that another piece of the puzzle is completed. It is not a cage, because the scheme continously evolves with me. It’s difficult to explain exactly what the idea behind it.

But I know that that is not only a Hill. It’s a fairy mound, where the creature of the Sidhe dance during years-long festivals. Sometimes a human will stumble among them and live some crazy adventures. I know that that springs are expressions of the Goddess, and it’s not merely water.
Nothing is “merely” something. Everything has a reason, a purpose, a meaning.

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What Makes A Sunrise Into A Day?

Thinking about what to write for this week’s post is making me realise how little my mind grasps the idea of transition.
Ten years ago I was a person, five years ago I was another. Two years ago my life was completely different and now, if I had to mark when exactly I changed over my life I wouldn’t know. Yes, there may be events that trigger your experience, but that doesn’t mean waking up one day and being a different person. Sometimes you fall again into your old ways. Sometimes you look at yourself and say: woah! Look at what I am today.

I did that. I looked at myself a while ago and said to myself “wow, now idiots in my life don’t bother me that much. Wow, now I know how to walk away from certain situations. Or how to handle certain problems”. Yes, there are things I learned that helped me, but trying to choose when all this happened would be like watching sunrise or sunset. There’s the gray light of the morning, than a little pink sprays the fields and in a blink the sun is there!

Liminality. For the Celts, it was an important concept: the turn of the season, of the months, even of days. Samhain, Beltaine, midwinter and midsummer, sunrise and sunset. Everything that is in the middle holds magic. It makes me think about Mircea Eliade’s notion of time out of time. The sacred moment when the worlds join, when the myths are reenacted, in which rituals are held.
What I have understood is that this moments hold the possibility of creation. Isn’t it nice to think that during our everyday mundane activities we can pause and aknowledge the world as the sacred place it is? That everyday there are magical moments in which we can stop, pause for a while. A couple of minutes in the morning, midday and sunset can be powerful moments of minfdulness and connection. You can center yourself, relax and be part of the cycles. The cycle of days within the cycle of months, that is itself within the cycle of the year who is part of the endless cycle of life. We are still part of this reality even if there isn’t a big festival to celebrate. Then off with the tasks of the day.

That moment in which the doing and the being unite in the great force that makes the Sun come up in the sky is still a mistery to me. You where down the curve of the horizon and now you’re here, shining. What’s your secret? How come you haven’t hidden under the mountains forever? Where have you mastered the courage, oh my Sun? Maybe even the Sun is afraid it won’t be able to go up as high as it should, or that he can’t do it. That he’s going to fail. Maybe he too feels pressured by the expectancies everyone places on it. In the end, there’s nothing much the Sun could do. He has to rise. Even when it rains, it’s there. Maybe there’s something inevitable about transitions and how much control we can have on them.

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REVIEW: Off To be The Wizard & NPCs

Fantasy is often considered a geek genres. But what happens when fantasy books are also written by nerds for nerds?

Off To Be the Wizard and NPCs are two fantasy books with completely different stories, motifs and narrative style. Both explore the genres from a more geeky perspective and the result is funny and very enjoyable.

The Stories
18616975When Martin arrives in ye olde times by simply changing some parameters in a file he access with his phone, he thinks to be the only modern man in the place. He also thinks it would be easy to pretend to be a wizard, people in the time will be prone to believe him after all. What he doesn’t think is that maybe he wasn’t the only one to develop such grandiose plan; not until he meets Philip at least.
Watch as Martin is trained into the fine art of making magic by changing some strings of code in a computer file, fail miserably with girls and defeat the occasional villain.

22088245When the usual band of adventurers come into Grumph’s tavern, no one pays them real attention. Adventurers are always an annoyance and it’s better to see them leave. Except that they depart in the most definitive of ways, dying. And while the players around the table are busy making other playable character, four friends who watched them die decide to take their place. Better not to risk the wrath of a touchy king with a soft spot to kill everyone who displease him. Better claim to be adventurers, even without training. Dangers, demons and an infinite dungeon await.

Similarities

  • Both have strong narrative, although different ones: Scott Meyer’s book doesn’t have a fast pace and Martin’s training makes up a huge chunk of the book. Only after that we see the conflict arise. It is given all the place it needs, however.
    NPCs theme is becoming an adventurer, and everything that happens helps the characters achieving their new status. There is more conflict, more battles and more there certainly are more things going on.
  • In both the reality and the world where the story takes place are separated and yet intertwined.
  • In both there is a training of some sort, the characters are asked to gain skills. However the protagonists will do so in completely different ways: Martin won’t face the uncertainties of the adventurers, as they are without any real guide in their journey (except, maybe, for Thistle as the leader of the group).

Differences

  • The world building is good in both games, but deeper in Scoot Meyer’s book. It may be the development of the magical system, or the fact that in Drew Hayes doesn’t really go deep into describing the setting. Spell, Sword and Stealth is the classic allegory of D&D, the elements of the game are given as known facts and the medieval-fantasy like setting is another typical element of the genres. I dare say in NPCs we see more of the characters’ conflict, though.
  • Characters. Of course, they’re totally different books! Yes, but they’re approached in a completely different way. In NPCs we see more internal conflict, along with the events, because the four protagonists have to understand something about themselves. Martin, on the other hand, doesn’t face this struggle. It is true that in both books there’s no choice: you have to go out of your world and meet your new life. However, I had expected Martin to be a little more preoccupied by the fact that he’s not going to see his loved ones for the rest of his life.
  • Off to be the wizard is definitely the sassy of the two. Full of witty remarks and jokes on the geek world, it is both an elogy and a light-hearted, ironic view.

Overall opinion
They are both great reads. Not only they make happy the geek and nerd in all of us, but they’re also fantastic modern fantasy books. The magic system in Scott Meyer’s book is well developed and interesting, more so because it has its source in program code.
In NPCs there is what I consider a wonderful narrative strategy: the in-game world affects in some way our reality, which is absolutely great. Braking the fourth wall always wins my favour.
Veterans of the genres will appreciate the books, and newbies as well, although there are some references (in Off To Be The Wizard) and details left unsaid (in NPCs) that may effect the reading experience if you’re not familiar with the geek/neerd stereotype.

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January wrap-up

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During January I managed to stay into my five books a month goal for 2016 (to make 60 at the end of the year), so I’m quite content with myself. Also, I planned to read entirely different books, but I’m happy my plans changed along the way – they always do for some reason! – because I discovered some great authors.
So here there are those last month reading:

Off to be the Wizard (Magic 2.0 #1)by Scott Meyer
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What if the universe is just some line of code, just like every other computer program? What if we find those lines of code while hacking a computer? What if the police wants to know how we replenished our bank account out of nowhere? What if your best escape plan is to become a wizard in medieval England? Off to be the Wizard is a book with a nice world-building, a lot of humor and a fair amount of geekiness.
More in the upcoming review!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
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I love fairy stories, I love Neil Gaiman’s stories and I love the way he tells stories. I proposed this as a read for a small book club with friends and I’m so happy this gave me the chance to read the book. Despite being a modern story, it’s filled with all the wonder of classical fairy tales. Tackling many themes for young readers and adults alike, such as love, life and finally becoming who we are, it is an enchanting read.

How to Train Your Dragon (HTTYD #1) by Cressida Cowell
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First attempt with an audiobook. The experience was enjoyable, but I haven’t liked the book as much as I expected. It is completely my fault: as I saw the movie first, I thought it would’ve been a completetely different story. But that’s what they are: two completely different stories and both are good, in their way. The real thing that I didn’t like was the lack of Astrid (whom I love in the movie!) or any other female protagonist. But we do get a version of Toothless that is a bit more dragon-y and less…agreeable than the one in the movie, so that’s a sort of bargain I guess?

 Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
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What can I say about this book? Better than Authority, but not as good as Annihilation. Overall it was a nice read, althoug VanerMeer’s style is so dense that it is difficult for me to really enjoy a book. Many times I had to put it down and wait. This didn’t get along with the hints that we see in the book about the Area X and everything. But I enjoyed the story of the Director and the Lightkeeper. And the idea is, overall, very intereting and reading the series is definetely “an experience!”, as a friend of mine put it.

NPCs (Spells, Swords and Stealth #1) by Drew Hayes
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Every gamer is familiar with the term. A world with no one except our heroes would be empty: who would serve at the tavern? Who would sell fruits at the markey? Who would give the occasional quests, asking us to empty their basement from rats? Non Player Characters are part of the world like an inanimate objects, as they serve a purpose. It’s not like they have a life of their own, right? Right?
More in the upcoming review!

 
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