Saturday, May 2, 2015

Paranormal Romance's Deep Roots

Why are so many women and girls flocking to the paranormal romance genre? What is so hot about blood-sucking vampires anyway? They're dead and cold. They drink blood. And who wants a  half-wild, bestial werewolf humping on her leg? Are people nuts? Nope. Is this some crazy modern-day thing? No. Not at all. So, why are women dying to get their hands and thighs around angels, devils,  shapeshifters, and elves?  Because these are not new imaginings but very old ones.

The roots of the paranormal romance go back in time to mythic images of half-men-half-beasts painted on cave walls of our preliterate ancestors.  The vampire is reminiscent of the age-old stories of women and men going down to land of the dead and returning masters of both worlds. Psyche did it to become a goddess, and the Babylonian goddess Inanna took a trip down-under to see her sister, the goddess of death. Persephone and Hades have an epic tale. Ghosts come to the living and speak only after drinking blood in The Odyssey: "I led the sheep to the pit and cut their throats, so the dark blood flowed. Then the ghosts of the dead swarmed out of Erebus" (Book XI 1-50). There is also that little statement from the bible that blood is life and is forbidden to mere mortals: "as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'You are not to eat the blood" (Leviticus 17:14). Angels, also in the bible, came down and laid with as many women as they liked:"The sons of God saw the beautiful women and they took any they wanted" (Genesis 6:2) Satyrs and centaurs were always ready for a romp in the woods in Greek myth. Wolfmen inhabit European fairy tales and Native American myth. Incubi exist in stories from Africa.    

Okay, you say, so the paranormal is just dressed up myth, but why the romance?

Well, in women’s myth there is love (union with the sacred), loss, sorrow (or going down to death), and return.  In ancient rituals of the feminine,  union or sex with a god or wild man (think of Enkidu and Shamhat from The Epic of Gilgamesh) was an important part of ritual. Psychologically, it speaks of the union of the feminine and masculine aspects of the self, or of acceptance of the other, or the union of the estranged wild parts of the person. This act is freeing, it liberates the dark self, the powerful self, the beyond human self, the soul.

Therefore the craving for the paranormal is an expression of those ancient desires many women were killed to suppress. Pagans were killed by Ancient Hebrews. German Druids were hunted by Romans, and their sacred forests were burned. Europeans and Americans had their witch hunts. This yearning is an old one and speaks to a desire for freedom from the ordinary. It cries out for the adventurous and the mythic. It speaks to the oldest parts of us, to the deepest roots of when we began to raise our heads and ponder our not quite animal, not quite godlike state as bipedal and creative humans.

 Now, surrounded by so much technology, so much work, so much stress and suffering, it is no wonder that we turn again to myth in this new form. 

 Candice Raquel Lee