It has been a long, long held belief of mine – from way back before spirituality was important in my life – that books are a kind of phylactery that keeps their authors alive for hundreds upon hundreds of years after their physical form has turned to dust. The idea was born from someone telling me that people never truly die until there is no on left around to remember them. That really stuck with me and even then my love of literature was so well established that I began to ponder what the implications were for those whose written works have become powerfully embedded in our collective culture, such as Dostoyevsky, Brecht and Shakespeare. These are people whose works have become so beloved by those who read them; entire societies even, that their works are never allowed to fade from the zeitgeist. It doesn’t even take a Pagan or a Heathen to consider that a persons writing is a measure of their soul; really it only takes a poet. That said, essentially a decade on I am seeing these ideas and concepts in a new light, a new light that has been coloured not just by my Paganism and Heathenry but also by a decade more life.
Even in my original thoughts the idea that a person’s soul was being kept in stasis struck me as being extraordinarily necromantic. The book has, in effect, captured that most fundamental essence of the person whose writing is bound within and every time a person reads that book or performs that play or recites that poetry the essence within is being recalled from is rest to present itself for us. Which is something that I honestly regard quite neutrally. To me it seems no different to recalling our ancestors, recent or otherwise, whenever we remember them – at least in terms of our relationship with the dead. In that sense it is no different to a work of art or a statue or an object in the way that they extend how long a person is remembered. These memories, because that’s really what they become, are so much sturdier than the often highly imperfect memory of people, which allows people greater longevity after death.
The idea doesn’t stop there however. This idea that writing is a true expression of a person isn’t restricted to the realms of death and beyond. A book being the receptacle of a person’s essence also is not something that is restricted to the realms of poetry and prose. Every time I pick up Diana L. Paxson’s ‘Taking Up the Runes’ I am being taught and mentored by her through that essence she put into the writing of that book. She draws upon her own experiences and shares them with whoever reads that book and this is true, I feel, for every book – even the books that we don’t like. Really, I don’t know if there is anything at all magical about this in the Pagan and Heathen understanding of the word. Poetically I think that it is magical that books (and those other things I listed) are able to convey the essence or some part of the soul of whoever created them. If there is some kind of magic in it, I do wonder if the same tenets apply to modern methods – YouTube videos for example.