On Monday last I went, with a friend, to see The Martian, that new Ridley Scott / Matt Damon drama that everyone has been raving about. Based on the book by Andy Weir, the movie follows Astronaut Mark Watney’s struggle to survive alone on the surface of our sister planet, having been marooned there during an aborted expedition in our not too distant future.
If you have read the reviews, or if you’ve seen it for yourself, you don’t need me to tell you, it’s a great piece of cinema.
It did all the things I expected of it. It made me feel the loneliness of our hero. It allowed me to share in his triumphs and defeats. And it left me wondering how long I would fare, given similar training and supplies, under those circumstances.
Growing potatoes in manure? Don’t need to be a botanist to know that trick.
Hot-wiring the communications system on a buried mars rover? Ummm…, probably not.
I’m not even sure how he did it, unless someone left the users manual lying around.
As is my pattern after watching a movie of this kind, I have found myself drifting back to particular moments in the film, looking for themes and connections I might have missed before, trying always to see things from perspectives outside that of the storytellers narrative.
Among those moments is the one that has Watney lying in his bunk, conversing with the wooden crucifix which he has been cutting up as fuel for his vapor-farming contraption. It is the one overtly spiritual moment in the movie, and even then, it is hard to tell if Watney’s words are intended to be genuine or ironic.
And it was while pondering that brief scene that I began to wonder, and not for the first time…,
Will we bring our gods to Mars?
Or are there gods waiting for us there, already?
The first question fires my curiosity. The second fills me with a sort of dread.
With the exception of the killer dust-storm, ‘The Martian’ does not exaggerate about the hostility of that world. The atmosphere is unbreathable, and the lack of pressure causes our bodies to erupt after only momentary contact. There is no magnetic field to protect us from solar radiation and the soil there will yield no crop.
While the recent announcement by NASA, that some sort of brine-water occasionally trickles across the surface is an encouraging development, it is still clear that the fourth planet from the sun is every bit as hostile to our presence as the third is nurturing.
Many of us with a polytheistic outlook, tend to view our relationships with gods and land spirits as cooperative in nature. Our interests are similar and often complementary. Both we and they exist as part of the environment which surrounds us, shaped by and shaping the natural world which moves and grows around us.
It is all well and good for those who believe in one universal god to cling to the idea that every speck in the heavens was put there for our benefit. But those of us who deal with the divine on a more personal (and personable) basis have to deal with the reality that it’s not all about us.
So if there are gods on Mars, will they welcome our attention?
Or will they feel our first steps as an unwanted intrusion upon their cold and naked sphere?
And what of our own gods.
Will they follow our descendants into the sterile void so many of us long to explore, or will we finally have ventured beyond their reach?
No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.
On this day, October 12th, in the year 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in the ‘New World’, bringing with him the Christian God.
He also brought the slave trade and a lust for the exploitation of natural resources…,
So that worked out well.
Some five-hundred years later, there is some debate still within the Pagan and Polytheist communities as to whether those other gods, the gods of our ancestors, of Europe and Asia and Africa, ever made the big jump across the Atlantic.
Most of us, I think, believe the answer to that question is “Yes”.
But from time to time I encounter someone who feels that we in the States have usurped their gods, dragging them from the hills and barrows they call home and transplanting them here within our own wishful thinking.
Why would the gods, many of whom were historically understood as creatures of ‘place’, choose to uproot themselves and wander into foreign lands already populated by gods and spirits and followers of their own?
Are the gods truly beings rooted to the natural features that we have named for them? Or are they beings with a will of their own, who will go where they choose if and when the mood takes them?
Did they follow us into the new world?
Did we follow them?
And will they journey with us again, when we eventually fling ourselves into that ultimate void which surrounds our small blue and green sphere?
I hope so.
Because, however foreign the gods of the new world may have seemed to the European explorers of centuries past, they were still beings with an interest in the cycles of planting and growth, of death and renewal. They were and are beings which make their home in and on a living breathing world.
I am not so certain about any spirits which may lurk in the dark spaces between the stars.
And sometimes, when I gaze into the heavens, I wonder what they will make of us.
I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge or lustre or name.
— H.P. Lovecraft, Nemesis