For this installment of Celebrate Pagan Fiction we’re talking with Shauna Aura Knight, whose story Werewolves in the Kitchen is part of Wild Shifters, an anthology released by Jupiter Gardens Press. Shauna has written both fiction and non-fiction, and while she admits to not having spent as much time on her fiction as she’d like to have (ah, what I wouldn’t give for enough hours in the day for all of the things that need doing!), I am certainly glad she’s found the time for it! Thanks, again, for joining us here, Shauna!
What is your pagan tradition/path?
I practice an ecstatic path. I sometimes use the term “shamanic” for the work that I do; the word shaman is problematic because it’s often misused. I use the word shaman in the anthropological sense to refer to my job. In this definition, what I mean is, the shaman, witch, or druid of the tribe was the one who was facilitating rituals, offering spiritual and clergy services. While I have a background in the Reclaiming tradition and I’ve done work with Diana’s Grove, I have worked to go deeper with some of the ecstatic trance techniques that tribal shamans are certainly fluent in—singing, dancing, drumming. In my case, I’m typically serving an urban, non-tribal community.
The types of rituals I facilitate are deep, transformative rituals that are participatory and cathartic. Ecstatic rituals that use intensive trance techniques to help each of us explore our own shadows, as well as work through what holds us back and get at what inspires us, help us to reach for the best in ourselves.
I’m not sure that’s a tradition but it’s the work that I do.
How does your particular paganism or spiritual path influence your writing?
I would say that the more I’ve learned about ecstatic trance techniques and the particular magic and math of sound, the more that has made its way into my writing. Beyond that, I very much believe in the power of our own hero’s journey, our grail quest, the pilgrimage and labyrinthine walk of our lives as we face challenges…I believe in the power of that journey to transform us. I believe that the darkest night can lead us to the very best in ourselves. I believe that each and every one of us can be a hero. That each of us has a deep divine within if we could just tap it, connect to it.
Heck, even some of my villains become heroes after walking that long, difficult road and making their mistakes and then learning from them. I believe that each of us can be the hero, that each of us can change the world, that we can transform to become more than we are.
My spiritual path is all about myth and the power of story. Ancient myths still have a hold over us, and our own stories and myths have power too. Many of my stories—like the rituals I facilitate—contain that moment of transformation, of deep revelation.
And some of my characters are deeply spiritual people, whatever their faith happens to be. Whenever they are in a moment of mystic, divine communion, there’s always a ghost of my own experiences with in that. Those moments have shaken me to my core, and they transform my characters as well. No one is ever quite the same after getting a glimpse of the divine, I think, even if it’s just a feather-tip touch.
Was it a conscious decision on your part to write about Pagan topics or was it a natural outgrowth of ‘writing what you know’?
Write what you know is always a factor. Or perhaps even, write what inspires you. I have Word documents full of hundreds of pages of epic fantasy and urban fantasy and I’ve created an entire religion for that world that is absolutely informed by my own spiritual path. I cannot wait to finish some of those stories! But they are big stories, and they seem to need a little more time to gel. Right now, most of my characters are Pagan or are at least, spiritual but not religious, in my romance and urban fantasy stories.
For the paranormal romance and urban fantasy stories, I admit it’s easiest to work with Pagan characters because when they end up with strange magical powers or dealing with vampires, Faeries, shapeshifters, archangels, and deities, they have at least some idea what’s going on instead of being totally freaked out.
In my story A Winter Knight’s Vigil, I actually was striving for something else—I wanted to write about what I’d call “realistically Pagan” characters. They’re modern Pagans out at a retreat in the woods. They engage in ecstatic ritual work, but there’s no visitations from gods or magical powers other than the cathartic work of their own magic, their own transformation, their own self-reflection. I wanted to offer what actual Pagans are doing out there on a spiritual retreat.
Do you view your fiction as religious fiction, in that it has either a didactic or an inspirational purpose?
I wouldn’t really call it religious fiction. Some of the stories do have a didactic or inspirational purpose, though, it’s always secondary to the characters and their story. All of my current and forthcoming stories have Pagan characters. A Winter Knight’s Vigil features a Pagan coven. I had two several intentions with the story. One is I wanted to show the experience of ecstatic ritual work in a realistic way that readers of any faith would be able to follow. And, if people actually get some experiential shadow work out of reading the story, that’s cool, but it’s not what it was primarily written for.
Another intention I wanted to explore that idea of small group dynamics, and how hard it is to get a small group together and work together without power struggles, gossip, and drama tearing the group apart. What happens when two people start dating within a close-knit community? What happens to a coven?
A final intention is that I wanted to explore some of the romance novel tropes around sex. I won’t spoil the story, but most romance novels—despite being written by women—feature sex where the heroine is able to just easily have an orgasm from whatever the hero is doing to her. And it’s not realistic. So I wanted to offer some really hot, erotic scenes that aren’t necessarily following those tropes. There’s lots of ways to have an orgasm, and the dominant culture puts a value on orgasm from intercourse, which causes shame for a lot of women who can’t do that. I plan to explore that further in future romance stories.
Werewolves in the Kitchen features Pagans living at a spiritual retreat center, though I never specifically go into anything overtly Pagan in that story since the story didn’t really call for it. I’d describe Ellie as an agnostic Pagan, with Jake and Kyle being more animistic.
I do have a couple of longer works that I’m finishing up. One deals with a woman, Angel, who is devoted to Aphrodite and she uses Middle-Eastern frame drumming and other trance techniques to deepen her connection to Aphrodite. Another deals with three brothers under a Faerie curse, and each of them finds their soul mate only to find they must complete several difficult tasks for the Faerie Queen. As it turns out, the three brothers are a Scorpio, a Sagittarius, and a Capricorn, and their One True Love is in many ways their opposite, across the astrological wheel from them; a Taurus, a Gemini, and a Cancer. Part of the magic of the story and woven into the tasks they must overcome is each brother coming to terms with his own flaws, connected to the appropriate astrological sign. I don’t think anyone’s going to become a master astrologer from those three stories, but they might get some interesting insights.
There is an abundance of pagan-friendly stories on the market these days, especially with the gaining popularity and ease of independent publishing. Do you find there is a difference between material written by pagans about pagan or pagan-friendly stories and material written by non-pagans about pagans or pagan-friendly stories?
I do think there is a difference. I’ve read a number of stories—and for that matter, watched a lot of TV shows—that use the words Witch, Wiccan, Druid, Shaman…and these stories very often focus on someone who somehow mysteriously has magical powers, vs. someone who chose a particular spiritual path. Sometimes they’re written by someone who doesn’t understand Paganism, sometimes they are written by Pagans, and what it ultimately does is reinforce two different definitions of those words. Like Witch—does it mean, someone who chose a particular spiritual path, or does it mean someone who is whatever religion but just happens to have a mysterious magical power and the ability to cast hexes or spells. Those are two very different things, but the definitions get conflated, and both Pagans and non-Pagans do it. I think Pagans sometimes write magical powers the way they wish it happened; I know I’m certainly in that camp on occasion with some of my fiction.
Pagan fiction, on the other hand, tends to offer overly-described complicated rituals that perhaps have meaning for people initiated into that particular tradition. Or, tends to have a lot of hand waving or long diatribes about how “Witches aren’t bad, we’re just XYZ,” or go in depth about the burning times or other discrimination. I think these writers have their hearts in the right place, but there are skillful ways to write these things. Some authors do it better than others.
I think that the show Charmed articulates my frustration; they use the word Wiccan, but they are referring to three girls with magical powers, vs. a religion, and so they really misuse the word.
That being said, I think that the mysterious, the magical, and the fantastic will always have an allure and an appeal to fiction writers. My hope is that, over time, more writers will find a resource and ask questions so that they can use more accurate terms. I think that we—Pagans—have to live with the ambiguity of the words Witch, Druid, etc. meaning different things. In our own fiction, we can at least be clear whether we’re referring to someone’s spiritual path, or that they are a witch because they have magical powers. Those are two different things.
Where do you hope to see the future of pagan fiction go?
I hope to see Pagan fiction get better and more professional. A lot of the Pagan fiction that I’ve read needs better editing, stronger stories, stronger writing. Then again, that’s true of a lot of indie-published fiction. Though the advent of digital publishing and self publishing means that Pagans at last have a chance to get fiction published, but self publishing often means that writers put out work that isn’t as high quality as it could be. I’d like to see more Pagan writers striving for excellence.
I’d also like to see Pagan characters that are less…I don’t know how to put it. I dislike the word fluffy, but sometimes that’s what I see cropping up in Pagan fiction. There’s a stereotypical Pagan character I see in Pagan fiction who has long internal monologues or proceeds to lecture people in the story about Paganism and what it is or isn’t. Again, there are smoother ways to communicate that Pagans aren’t our stereotypes.
Who are your favorite pagan fiction authors and/or what are the titles of some of your favorite pagan fiction works?
You know, I don’t really have much of a list. I haven’t had the luxury of much fiction the past years for various reasons.
I used to love reading Mercedes Lackey, and it turns out that she’s Pagan, though I didn’t know that when I read her fiction. My favorite work of hers is her Vanyel trilogy, which is a fantasy series, but I liked her Urban Fantasy featuring the Pagan character Diana Tregarde. I also like the early Anita Blake stories by Laurell K. Hamilton, who came out as Pagan.
I’ve been looking forward to getting exposed to more Pagan fiction authors out there, so I’m really glad to see these spotlights on your blog so I can keep an eye out for Pagan authors I might want to check out.
Lastly, tell us where we can find more about your and your available work?
http://www.shaunaauraknight.com is my main web site and you can find links and excerpts to all my books, fiction and nonfiction, there.
I have a Facebook page and blog geared toward my fiction writing, https://shaunaknightauthorartist.wordpress.com
If you’re interested in my Pagan leadership and community building writing and work, here’s my Facebook and blog for those: