Novels and fascinating theories
A while ago, I stumbled across M Vera Bührmann’s book, Living in Two Worlds, and found it fascinating. My novel, Things Unseen, grew around the ideas in Dr Bührmann’s book. I wonder how often that happens: an interesting theory in psychology, or archaeology, or another discipline, opens the bud of a romantic novel or wakes the sleeping beast of a horror story.
Dr Bührmann spent a number of years working with African healers amongst the Xhosa people in South Africa, exploring the ways in which the healers look after the health of their community. These healers are often called “witch doctors”, and their powers are sometimes referred to as “magic”. Here’s what Dr Bührmann has to say:
My aim therefore is to show that much of what is called “magic” in the healing systems of the amagqira [the Xhosa word for healers] is not “magical” in the usual sense of the word but is based on sound principles of depth psychology, especially as formulated by Carl Gustav Jung and his followers. The amagqira have not thought out and systematised their methods as is customary in the Western, scientific world. They have, rather, perceived their methods intuitively, and use them in, to us, non-rational ways.
… The “two worlds” I am concerned with are the Western world which is primarily scientific, rational and ego-oriented, and the world of the Black healer and his people, which is primarily intuitive, non-rational or orientated towards the inner world of symbols and images of the collective unconscious.” [Living in Two Worlds, published by Human & Rousseau, 1984, pages 14-15.]
Xhosa traditional healers believe that our ancestors communicate with us via dreams. The word “ancestor” has a special meaning to a Xhosa person. An ancestor is a presence in your mind and in your family, who plays a very definite and beneficial role in guiding your actions and guarding you and your people.
Jungian healers believe that our unconscious communicates with our conscious minds via symbols in dreams.
I’ve billed my novel, Things Unseen, as “a combination of sizzling romance, eerie horror, and tense psychological drama”. It’s a love story. It’s also a story of African and European cultures meeting, competing, and merging to produce something new. It’s the result of careful study of African culture, language and stories. It plays with symbols from both African and European cultures.
In her book, Dr Bührmann describes the similarities between the treatment methods and philosophies of African witchdoctors and Jungian psychologists. My novel weaves a story around this theme.
An interplay between story and theory: I’d guess this is fairly common in science fiction. In fact, the inspiration travels in both directions there. How about other types of fiction – have you seen the sleeping beauty of a story awakened by an interesting theory?