Midweek Mysticism: Why science and mysticism are irresistible in fiction
Avebury: a village in a mystical stone circle
To modern folk, mysticism and science fiction are on different planets, so to speak.
Mystics tend to dismiss the plodding scientific method that nails science to an overbearing materialism and which ignores the greater part of human experience. Science stridently derides the “woolly thinking” of mysticism.
And yet the best of science fiction is very mystical indeed. I was reminded of this by a BBC Radio 4 programme this morning. It was a retrospective of a golden age of children’s television, the 1970s, and specifically a popular serial called Children of the Stones, produced and broadcast by HTV in 1977.
It was typical of the genre. Iain Cuthbertson played the druid central character, and Gareth Thomas the long-suffering astrophysicist father of a questing boy. The story is set in Avebury, an English village surrounded by a circle of standing stones. A full description of the plot can be found on Wikipedia.
Suffice it to say, it’s highly mystical, combining astronomy: black holes and a supernova, with druid sorcery and a succession of time shifts. Amazingly, a DVD of Children of the Stones is still available at Amazon, illustrating the usefulness of “the long tail”. Like other examples of its type it has become a cult, with its own fan websites.
Mystical science fiction dominated the Seventies and early Eighties. The Quatermass series were must-watch television at weekends, and the books of John Wyndham often serialised, including The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids, and The Kraken Wakes.
They had one thing in common, a superficial scientism and bags of mystery, an unbeatable combination. But why do these sit so well together?
Nowadays, the brooding terror of these programmes has been replaced by postmodern, jokey zaniness, as in Dr Who. They lack depth.
Contemporary science programmes, such as the BBC’s sometimes excellent Horizon, are crying out for the magic touch of mysticism. We sense they are not complete as they are. A telescope is much like any other, and banks of computers a total bore. Geeky guys talking quantum stuff tend to be incoherent, the suave voice-overs sleep-inducing.
The fact is, science and mysticism are made for each other. Indeed, I would suggest are each other: explorers after truth. One viewpoint looks from the side at shiny surfaces, the other from the inside at endless possibilities. Put them together and you have entertainment dynamite.
I would go so far as to say that science is only “true” when it glows with mystic light, and mysticism only accessible through a kind of alchemy, the first science.
Strange things happen when the ego (the thinking mind) is bored. It begins to invent colour and zest as entertainment. Long lists of statistics become doorways to other worlds, which become theories about black holes, multi-dimensional universes, dark energy, and time travel.
Science then enters the realm of science fiction, a mass breakout from the world as it is, bleak, boring, untidy, while missing the point that this world is a veil hiding endless spiritual landscapes and, more importantly, the Truth.
Television executives should cease being the dupes of the vast science industry, parroting its press releases, and go back to their creative roots in mysticism and spirituality.
They could start by retrieving the archived tapes of those sci-fi series of the 1970s, noting the deep mysticism at their heart. Nothing since has been half as entertaining as they were.
… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.
Spiritual Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.
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