Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Paradox of Witches

Something almost paradoxical happened to me last night when I was on the phone with one of my literary consultants. She had remarked about some lunacy or other in recent news revealing the near abandonment of reason in our age - and my friend (who has an Masters in Literature) said to me: "It's as if we're in a time warp".
To which I (who have a PhD in Computer Science) replied, "It's the witches in 'Macbeth': 'fair is foul and foul is fair'." Then we laughed, since she used a tech allusion, and I used a literary reference! I thought it was a curious paradox. But that brought up the topic of witches, which suggested one striking Chesterton quote. And no, it had nothing to do with Harry Potter, or even with Macbeth. But we did allude to fiction in general, and to the larger matter of evil, since she has been eavesdropping on my recent literary development. Oh yes, I think I've tried to drag that into your view recently, haven't I. (BORING, Doctor! Hurry up and get it finished, we want to read it. Oh, yes.)

Anyhow, I am in the final stages of my little writing project, The Three Relics, a fantasy which may someday stimulate curious discussions at like those about Harry Potter at the Blue Boar. But I shall not discuss that now. In fact, as I said in a comment there, I promised my mother not to go into any lengthy discussions about that series - quite simply because, as she said, "you have so much more that you should be writing!" And so, rather than writing ABOUT fiction, I have been writing fiction. That is, when I am not writing software. Hee hee. (I even use the same tools - see if you can figure THAT out, o literati and o tech-savants!)

Note: the allusion for those of you who follow such things was to something I posted quite some time ago, when someone in the e-cosmos wrote about poetry - that hardly anyone seems to care about it! See here for my response.

Ahem. Now, my fiction has witches - er - a single witch, that is a female baddie. And a handful of male baddies. Of course there are good guys too, and good women - and so there are some very exciting parts, as you might expect. (What else than excitement can go on in a bookstore? See Morley's The Haunted Bookshop for details.) But instead of trying to talk about Harry, or even about my own writing, since I have so little time just now, I will give you just a few samples from GKC about witches - for there is one of his quotes (the first I give below, and which I mentioned in my conversation last evening) that is definitely relevant to our own real world, whether or not the witches of fiction would agree...
...certain anti-human antagonisms seem to recur in this tradition of black magic. There may be suspected as running through it everywhere, for instance, a mystical hatred of the idea of childhood. People would understand better the popular fury against the witches, if they remembered that the malice most commonly attributed to them was preventing the birth of children.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:254]

Only witches and wicked sorcerers make men captives by their enchantment; imprison them in beasts or birds or turn them to stone statues. God's miracles always free men from captivity and give them back their bodies.
[GKC "The Surprise" CW11:302]

It is the first paradox about him [Walter de la Mare] that we can find the evidence of his faith in his consciousness of evil. It is the second paradox that we can find the spiritual springs of much of his poetry in his prose. If we turn, for instance, to that very powerful and even terrible short story called Seaton's Aunt, we find we are dealing directly with the diabolic. It does so in a sense quite impossible in all the merely romantic or merely ironic masters of that nonsense that is admittedly illusion. There was no nonsense about Seaton's Aunt. There was no illusion about her concentrated and paralysing malignity; but it was a malignity that had an extension beyond this world. She was a witch; and the realisation that witches can occasionally exist is a part of Realism, and a test for anyone claiming a sense of Reality. For we do not especially want them to exist; but they do.
[GKC The Common Man 210]

Surely we cannot take an open question like the supernatural and shut it with a bang, turning the key of the mad-house on all the mystics of history. To call a man mad because he has seen ghosts is in a literal sense religious persecution. It is denying him his full dignity as a citizen because he cannot be fitted into your theory of the cosmos. It is disfranchising him because of his religion. It is just as intolerant to tell an old woman that she cannot be a witch as to tell her that she must be a witch. In both cases you are setting your own theory of things inexorably against the sincerity or sanity of human testimony. Such dogmatism at least must be quite as impossible to anyone calling himself agnostic as to anyone calling himself a spiritualist. You cannot take the region called the unknown and calmly say that though you know nothing about it, you know that all its gates are locked. You cannot say, " This island is not discovered yet; but I am sure that it has a wall of cliffs all round it and no harbour." ...The idea of enslaving another human soul, without lifting a finger or making a gesture of force, of enslaving a soul simply by willing its slavery, is an idea which all healthy human societies would regard and did regard as hideous and detestable, if true. Throughout all the Christian ages the witches and warlocks claimed this abominable power and boasted of it. They were (somewhat excusably) killed for their boasting. The eighteenth century rationalist movement came, intent, thank God, upon much cleaner things, upon common justice and right reason in the state. Nevertheless it did weaken Christianity, and in weakening Christianity it uplifted and protected the wizard. Mesmer stepped forward, and for the first time safely affirmed this infamous power to exist: for the first time a warlock could threaten spiritual tyranny and not be lynched. Nevertheless, if a mesmerist really had the powers which some mesmerists have claimed, and which most novels give to him, there is (I hope) no doubt at all that any decent mob would drown him like a witch.
[GKC William Blake 73-74, 123-4]


  1. {nerd alert}
    I did not know of your back ground in computer science. I find it interesting that you are using the same tools. That can only mean one thing for someone of Chestertonian wisdom - vi. Vi is a work of timeless power and paradox that confounds many when first encountered, but makes a lifetime of productivity when pursued. LaTex - and embarasment. Emacs - a poor operating system in need of a good editor. I'm sure you made the right choice.
    {/nerd alert}

  2. Yes, LaTeX is good for typesetting, I wish I knew how to code it better because I would like to type-set my own books that I have found to be in public domain and out of print.


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