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Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

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Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Tumnus » Jan 22, 2020 12:24 pm

In my fantasy readers and enthusiasts group, one point that we've discussed about the Chronicles of Narnia is that the books have many references to scripture and Christian beliefs and practices, yet the Narnians themselves seem to mainly talk about the next coming of Aslan or their belief in the 'old stories' as they're called in Prince Caspian, and there never seems to be an organized church that the Narnians go to to reaffirm their belief in Aslan and practice rituals in furtherance of that belief.

The closest examples I can think of to Narnians having an organized set of beliefs and practices are as follows:

-The Beavers reciting the prophecy from 'since time out of mind' foretelling what shall happen when Aslan returns, which seems to be oral tradition for generations which is repeated when hopeful Narnians meet.

-The meeting on the Dancing Lawn and the celebration which takes place there in Prince Caspian, and the decision of the characters to march to Aslan's How for protection.

-The renaming of the island where Aslan saves Eustace from his 'dragonish' state being renamed Dragon Island, apparently setting it aside as a holy place where Aslan came and rescued and guided a soul that needed it.

These are just a few examples of the characters practicing rituals, sacred words, and setting aside sites as sacred, reply to this please if you can think of more. I'm fascinated to see how others conceive of the beliefs and practices of the Narnians.
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Cleander » Jan 22, 2020 12:38 pm

Excellent question and something I've wondered about myself as well. Off the top of my head it seems that even though there is no apparent organized religion in Narnia, the Last Battle makes it pretty clear that Aslan is to the Narnians what Tash is to the people of Calormen, who have an organized religion. Worship or service to him, however, doesn't seem to go much beyond being brave and doing the right thing.
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Col Klink » Jan 22, 2020 8:28 pm

I would describe the scene on Ramandu's Island, in which they sing a song and hold their hands with the palms down, the one Edmund describes as the most exciting part of their adventure, as a religious ritual.
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Courtenay » Jan 23, 2020 10:47 am

I'm thinking of Lewis's own well-known comments about how the Narnia stories came to be written the way they were — this is from his article "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said", originally published in The New York Times of November 18, 1956 (emphasis added by me):

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.


I would say that's the most likely reason why Lewis never shows the Narnians worshipping Aslan or practising anything like what we would think of as organised religion. He was deliberately staying away from "stained-glass and Sunday school associations" in how he portrayed Christian themes in general and Aslan in particular. To me, one of the reasons the books are so effective in getting those themes across is that Aslan ISN'T portrayed as a figure of worship and ritual — in fact, there are almost no very explicit references to who he really is (the clearest is at the end of Dawn Treader, when we learn he is in our world too under "another name"). If he was venerated in Narnia in the way we might expect a divine being to be venerated, that would make it all too bore obvious, and probably most readers' feelings towards Aslan would be "paralysed" just as Lewis describes. And the Chronicles of Narnia would quickly have been relegated to the niche market of "Christian fantasy" instead of being the much-loved worldwide classics that they are.
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Ryadian » Jan 23, 2020 12:29 pm

I think Courtenay's quote probably explains a good part of it, and gives me an article I need to track down and read! ;) But coming at it from a different angle, one of the things I've always found fascinating about Narnia is the idea that it's not a land for men, but a land to be ruled by a man. I've taken that to mean that Narnia is a land populated mostly by talking beasts and creatures that don't typically need/want a great deal of infrastructure or to be dependent on laws or government.

There are human kings and queens to make the laws and resolve the disputes when necessary, but for the most part, Narnians seem to run their own lives. In a way, for a society like Narnia, it feels right that they seem to use more of an oral tradition and seem to have celebrations more often than actual rituals or an organized church. It does make you wonder if things are different in Archenland, though, since their society does seem to be more "civilized" (strictly meaning that they have a stronger emphasis on creating a civilization).

To add to the list, you could argue that the coronation after defeating the White Witch in LWW and the celebrations after winning the Battle of Beruna in PC and saving Anvard in HaHB are a sort religious celebrations - after all, Aslan is actually there for at least part of all three occasions. Also, we don't really know the purpose of the Great Snow Dance in SC (beyond that it seems to be some kind of yearly tradition).
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Tumnus » Jan 23, 2020 1:14 pm

I agree and as a 3rd grader I remember wondering why The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was in my Sunday School classroom's library because at that point it was to me a story of heroism, adventure, and what we do out of love, not a dogmatic text telling us we have to believe and practice thus and so.

My main reason for posting this is to get us trying to think like Narnians and to imagine what it is that sustains the faith of a creature like Trufflehunter who continues to believe a story about the four kings and queens from 1,300 years ago, apparently through the sheer power of faith and hope. Many of the Narnians do seem to tell each other the stories and talk each other into continued belief and hope, but it's just interesting to think that there doesn't seem to be an organized religion or holy book that records the belief and hope. Perhaps there's a message there about seeing through to the heart of the matter rather than getting lost in the trappings, as is discussed by Jill and Eustace when Jill asks if drawing a circle and making incantations will get Aslan to send them to Narnia and Eustace says it won't and that we can only ask him, we cannot assume that our own actions will tell him what to do and how to do it.

Courtenay wrote:I'm thinking of Lewis's own well-known comments about how the Narnia stories came to be written the way they were — this is from his article "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said", originally published in The New York Times of November 18, 1956 (emphasis added by me):

I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.


I would say that's the most likely reason why Lewis never shows the Narnians worshipping Aslan or practising anything like what we would think of as organised religion. He was deliberately staying away from "stained-glass and Sunday school associations" in how he portrayed Christian themes in general and Aslan in particular. To me, one of the reasons the books are so effective in getting those themes across is that Aslan ISN'T portrayed as a figure of worship and ritual — in fact, there are almost no very explicit references to who he really is (the clearest is at the end of Dawn Treader, when we learn he is in our world too under "another name"). If he was venerated in Narnia in the way we might expect a divine being to be venerated, that would make it all too bore obvious, and probably most readers' feelings towards Aslan would be "paralysed" just as Lewis describes. And the Chronicles of Narnia would quickly have been relegated to the niche market of "Christian fantasy" instead of being the much-loved worldwide classics that they are.
"Narnia, Narnia, Narnia,
Awake.

Love. Think. Speak.

Be Walking Trees

Be Talking Beasts

Be Divine Waters"
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Courtenay » Jan 23, 2020 2:10 pm

Ryadian wrote:I think Courtenay's quote probably explains a good part of it, and gives me an article I need to track down and read! ;)



Here's where I found it (I think there are several transcriptions online). :)

Ryadian wrote: But coming at it from a different angle, one of the things I've always found fascinating about Narnia is the idea that it's not a land for men, but a land to be ruled by a man. I've taken that to mean that Narnia is a land populated mostly by talking beasts and creatures that don't typically need/want a great deal of infrastructure or to be dependent on laws or government.

There are human kings and queens to make the laws and resolve the disputes when necessary, but for the most part, Narnians seem to run their own lives. In a way, for a society like Narnia, it feels right that they seem to use more of an oral tradition and seem to have celebrations more often than actual rituals or an organized church.


Tumnus wrote:My main reason for posting this is to get us trying to think like Narnians and to imagine what it is that sustains the faith of a creature like Trufflehunter who continues to believe a story about the four kings and queens from 1,300 years ago, apparently through the sheer power of faith and hope. Many of the Narnians do seem to tell each other the stories and talk each other into continued belief and hope, but it's just interesting to think that there doesn't seem to be an organized religion or holy book that records the belief and hope. Perhaps there's a message there about seeing through to the heart of the matter rather than getting lost in the trappings, as is discussed by Jill and Eustace when Jill asks if drawing a circle and making incantations will get Aslan to send them to Narnia and Eustace says it won't and that we can only ask him, we cannot assume that our own actions will tell him what to do and how to do it.


Good points. I was thinking of quoting that bit from the start of The Silver Chair, actually, as I was reading it just this morning!
"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed." (Prince Caspian)
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Tumnus » Jan 25, 2020 7:03 am

To add to this list, Rillian's instruction that all present kiss the image of Aslan which has appeared on his shield and shake hands, symbolizing that whatever happens Aslan will be with them, is very much a veneration of a sacred object or symbol that one might see in a church on Earth. As we've discussed earlier on this thread, the difference is that Narnians seem to keep up their faith in Aslan because it is a built in part of who they are and the expressions of veneration come out of specific situations like that one in The Silver Chair rather than some authority on high saying you must revere and worship this and that way. There's no mention of anyone making a holiday called Aslan Shield Day and making an annual command to venerate the object and commemorate the event which is what would likely happen in our world, while in Narnia events are passed on through oral tradition and the belief of the characters who do believe seems to be strong enough to be sustained without the external trappings of a church.
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Be Divine Waters"
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Re: Religious Rituals and Practices in Narnia

Postby Reepicheep775 » Jan 29, 2020 5:53 am

The Narnians as a whole seem better, less sinful, than the humans of our world. They aren't perfect, but they seem more innocent. There are some crimes that happen in our world that I don't think would ever happen in Narnia, at least among the good creatures (as opposed to minotaurs, hags, efreets etc.). You could argue that part of that is simply because Lewis is writing for children, but I think he may have been using that constraint as an actual feature of his world.

So, if the Narnians are more innocent, you could argue that they are closer to God (the Emperor Beyond the Sea). Our religious rituals are things that can draw us closer to God, but maybe the Narnians don't have the same distance from Him that we do.

Interestingly, incarnation also works differently in Narnia. In our world the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnated as man once and is said to return again and set things right. In Narnia, Aslan appears as a lion in Narnia multiple times. Even though generations can go by without him appearing, the fact that he has multiple appearances might make him seem nearer to the Narnians because they might know someone who has seen him - or at least know someone who knows someone who has.
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