Paganism in The Chronicles of Narnia

A lot of pagans dismiss C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia as nothing more than Christian allegory. This is unfortunate, because even just a quick thumb through the pages reveals a generous helping of pagan aspects as well. Although Lewis’ own religious beliefs can certainly be found throughout the books (most obviously in a direct allegory of Christ’s sacrifice, death and resurrection), he casually mixes in pagan ideas and elements with grace and tolerance. Here are five of my personal favorites:

  1. Bacchus – Bacchus, the Roman wine god, features prominently in the land of Narnia, making occasional visits and causing general trouble wherever he goes.
  2. The River Gods – Great creatures who live in the rivers of Narnia. The most impressive portrayal was in the movie version of Prince Caspian, when a huge river god made entirely of water and foam rose out of the water to fight the Telmarines.
  3. The Trees – The trees of Narnia are often inhabited by dryads but they are powerful in their own right with the ability to move and feel as humans. This is probably my favorite example of Narnia paganism, because it is such a beautiful and literal representation of what many witches believe.
  4. The White Witch – This one is really more of a personal theory. Although a lot of witches do not particularly like the way we are portrayed in Narnia, as hags and evil sorceresses, I do not think the White Witch and her followers are witches at all. The children are always referred to as ‘Sons of Adam’ and ‘Daughters of Eve’ but the Witch is referred to as a ‘Daughter of Lilith’. I won’t get into the details, but in Christian and Jewish mythology, Lilith was the evil first wife of Adam (this is a point of much contention among pagans, but hear me out), who became a demon and eventually the first vampire, preying namely on pregnant women and children. Sound a little bit like the White Witch, Daughter of Lilith??
  5. Centaurs and Astrology – The centaurs in Narnia, majestic half-man/half-horse creatures, are often consulted on the stars as they are said to be great astrologers. In one of the books, a Star is even considered a great wiseman.

For those of you interested in fan fiction, this is probably my absolute favorite pagan-related Narnia fic by the wonderful rthstewart: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6555837/1/The_Maenad_of_the_Maquis

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8 thoughts on “Paganism in The Chronicles of Narnia

  1. I never really thought of Narnia as having a religious agenda by any means, and totally would have boycotted it if I felt that it was just a vessel for Christian propaganda. I loved it as a child because it reaffirmed my fledgling belief in mystical creatures. I could be totally wrong here, but in a book I read about Tolkien and Lewis’ friendship, it was stressed that Lewis was a life-long atheist, only converting to Christianity on his deathbed. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic and so maybe there was a bit of influence there. (In Lord of the Rings you see a lot of Christian beliefs – such as the creation myth of Middle Earth – but then you get a lot of Pagan ritual as well in honoring of different Gods and Goddesses.)

    Aslan’s death is totally a throwback to Christ’s crucifixion, but if Lewis was an atheist when he wrote the books maybe he was just borrowing on the symbolism, and not trying to push a religious agenda. Or maybe he really wasn’t an atheist.. Ack! This is going to drive me nuts lol.

    I totally think your argument here for the Pagan aspect of Narnia just goes to show that Lewis borrowed from many religions to bring a fantasy world to life.

    Great post idea, by the way!

    1. Thank you! Actually, Lewis often struggled with his faith but he was an Anglican for most of his life and the books were written for his niece so they were very much based on stories she would have been familiar with. But the way he mixes elements from other traditions tells me he had perhaps a different outlook on Christianity than a lot of people, especially considering that he came back to his faith in mid-life. Again, thanks for commenting!

  2. Rthstewart here to say thank you. I stumbled on this during my period check of my multiple monikers. I wrote Maenad of the Maquis last year for the Narnia Fic Exchange and just posted something recently in a similar vein, though without Bacchus. I very much enjoy playing in the ‘verse that Lewis created and his mix match of pagan, religious, and mythic influences.

    1. Hey Ruth! I hope you know how much I enjoyed that fic (especially since I requested it!) 😀 It has to be in my top five of Narnia. I will definitely have to check out the new one – you know how bad I am about keeping up on my Narnia reading. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Christianity + paganism does not equal Christianity. The two in their truest sense are totally opposite from one other. This is why God in the Christian Bible does not condone things such as wizards, witches, sorcery, necromancy (communicating with the dead) and the like. He also emphatically states that he is the one and only God who created ALL of heaven and Earth. Thus, there are no other “little gods” (e.g. god of the sea, god of the trees, god of the sun, etc.). Not trying to preach here, just stating the facts.

    1. From a Christian perspective, yes, that’s true. But what many pagans, myself included, find refreshing is that C.S. Lewis was able to create wonderful stories that are understanding and relevant to a variety of faiths without stepping on anyone’s toes. I think that’s why Narnia is so appealing to Christians and pagans alike.

  4. Before I begin, I would like to convey to whomever will read this that I am a Bible-believing Christian that humbly disagrees with the pagan lifestyle (not that anyone would care, of course). I would also like to convey that I will not, in any way, advertise or preach. Instead, I will defend C.S. Lewis, being against the notion that this man was simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    After reading multiple articles on the various pagan symbols in the Chronicles of Narnia, including this one, I have not yet heard a counter for the books that advanced his faith to his readers, like “The Screwtape Letters” which looks through the eyes of Satan and one of his demons as they write letters back and forth concerning their strategies on how to deceive humans. Or what about “Mere Christianity” where Lewis presents an apologetic defense, prompting the possible persuasion of non-believers? I have no further conclusion that such literary works were written by a driven man.

    But what about “The Chronicles of Narnia”? Agreed, there is a degree of occult symbolism in every one of the seven books. Such examples like Mr. Tumnus may prove this, as he is strikingly similar to the character of Pan (I’m quite surprised that this was not mentioned in the article). But the ultimate proof that “The Chronicles of Narnia” was never meant to convey a Christian message is a quote by Lewis himself in an essay by Paul Friskney, stating that a Christian theme was nothing more than a “supposition”, thereby prompting Christians to use the series as a promoter of the faith (page 12). My conclusion, is that C.S. Lewis, regardless of his wide use of pagan characters and his tolerance of them, is nevertheless a true-blue follower of Christ. Again, I wish to point out the expansive arsenal of apologetic works written by Lewis during is days at Oxford University.

    People, even just after committing themselves to life-changing decisions, are apt to constantly revisit their previous lifestyles at some point. For example, many band members of Christian metal and rock groups refuse to remove their tattoos because they are a telling glimpse of what their keeper once was. What was the purpose of “The Chronicles of Narnia” if not to be allegory to the Gospel? While it is certainly not that Lewis desired to advance Pagan ideas, it could be that, even in his new relationship with Christ, Lewis felt the need to finally shed his previous layers of the atheistic worldview in the form of literature designed for children’s consumption. It may be agreeable amongst his Christian peers that this was a mistake, and that the story, even with its light resemblance to the Gospel of the Bible, conveyed a totally different message to his readers. Pagans and Christians alike must remember that all people are flawed, and C.S. Lewis was no exception. No, I am not convinced that this man was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but I am convinced that he was human enough to advance the human agenda, which is flawed and corrupted.

    1. Thanks for the comment – always nice to see some polite dialogue between pagans and Christians. I’d like to point out that I never stated Lewis was not a Christian in this article (in fact, I was careful to say that he was and that he included many Christian allegories in the books as well as pagan.) I believe as you do that Lewis was a Christian man at heart; however, my intention with this article was to draw attention to the fact that he was able to write a story that can appeal to both Christians and pagans. In some ways, the series is a bridge between two very different faiths and I think that’s beautiful. He may not have agreed with pagan beliefs but he clearly had a certain degree of tolerance for ideas that were not in line with his own.

      As for the Pan/Tumnus issue, I did not bring it up here for two reasons: one, it’s the most mentioned pagan aspect of Narnia and I wanted to talk about new things and two, I think it’s sort of irrelevant. Pan is a faun and so is Tumnus so obviously they appear very similar. Many Christians have tried to claim this means that the kindly, humble Tumnus is supposed to be a reference to Satan which is simply ridiculous – the only reason Pan is linked to the devil is because medieval artists chose to base their drawings of Satan on Greek and Roman depictions of Pan. It was an arbitrary choice at the time and I believe it had very little bearing on Lewis’ choice to include a soft-spoken (if slightly weak-minded) faun in his novels.

      Certainly, Lewis was only human but I think the fact that he seamlessly blended Christian and pagan ideas in his writing shows a great deal of respect for people of all kinds, something everyone (pagans, Christians and everyone else) could take a lesson from.

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