I asked Yeatts if she might share a post about the ties between religion or mysticism and Gothic lit, and this is what she had to say:
An intriguing question! I’d say there are virtually no ties between religion/mysticism/spirituality and Gothic lit—at least not the friendly sort. But let’s define some terms. Any decent professor would do the same. These are my own, BTW, cobbled together for this post.
• Religion: an organized body of belief about the ultimate meaning of life, often involving religious professionals (priests or the like). Although a religion may also be a worldview like humanism or atheism that denies the existence of Absolute Being, when I speak of religion here I’m assuming belief in deity.
• Mysticism: a worldview that believes human beings can and do experience union with Absolute Being. A mystic is someone who enjoys or seeks this union. Since mysticism is a life choice with serious spiritual discipline, it doesn’t easily lend itself to gothic lit. (Can you imagine a gothic novel about Saint Francis?)
• Spirituality: personal/individual search for and experience of Absolute Being, including ritual practices. Spirituality is often part of religion.
Gothic lit has its roots in a backlash against the Age of Reason during the 18th-19th- centuries, when irrational, passionate, and supernatural aspects of human life began to explode into popular fiction. Gothic lit has gone in and out of vogue over the years, and today is often divided into horror and romance. Its most obvious elements are endangered females, villainous tyrants, “gothic” architecture/haunted ruins, paranormal phenomena, a sense of dread, and melodrama. Want more? The Internet will satisfy your every need.
I said relations between religion/spirituality and gothic lit aren’t friendly, because their purposes are at odds. A religion seeks to preserve its beliefs and institutional structure, and sometimes grow through missionary activity. Religions don’t take criticism or ridicule kindly, nor do they appreciate literature that extols (to them) sin and evil. Spirituality, while individual and personal, expresses the deepest yearnings of human souls—and human beings don’t like having their deepest experience cheapened and belittled, or questioned, for that matter. Not that gothic lit inevitably does any of these things, but since it’s deeply rooted in anti-establishment (ie., anti-organized-religion) themes, it often does.
Take the paranormal—visions, psychic powers, the occult, vampires, etc. Look them up in any thesaurus and you’ll find them equated with devilry and black arts. It may not be PC, but religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (which make up much of Western religion) tend to consider the paranormal evil. Let us never forget the Burning Times. Yet gothic lit often relies on the occult both for its villains and heroes. To make matters worse, the villains (and heroes) are often clerics who have fallen into unspeakable evil—which religious institutions don’t like to admit happens, and certainly don’t want romanticized where it does. But since an essential part of gothic lit’s appeal is playing off cultural taboos, institutional anathemas are often just good press.
In short, while gothic lit may be full of possibly “spiritual” themes and entities, it’s usually neither religious nor spiritual. Notice I say “usually.” There are always exceptions.
Here’s the problem: good, evil, right, wrong, and sin are finally judgments we make from behind a screen of invisible cultural and personal preconceptions—Christian, Vodun, or Atheist. Human beings can’t help it. Please don’t think I’m saying here that everything is relative and anything goes; check out the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights for my position on that! No, I’m talking about how we pronounce judgment on everything that is Other.
Which brings me to the heart of the matter: gothic lit and spirituality (as opposed to religion) don’t have to be antagonistic. Yes, vampires are evil. But does that mean that spirituality isn’t part of a vampire’s existence? Can’t we as human beings hold ideas in our minds “as if,” without passing a priori judgment?
I didn’t realize that I was writing a gothic mystery when I wrote This Madness of the Heart because I’d bought into cultural stereotypes that disparage “gothic” fiction as something vaguely nasty and predictable. When I wrote Madness, I wrote what I knew, and what I know is spirituality opening up unexpectedly in the midst of everyday reality. I wrote about fear, and violence, and bigotry, and hate, all meeting along borderlands of spiritual reality . . . and discovered I’d stepped into “gothic” space. Mea culpa. I have no excuse. No dewy-eyed fainting damsels, no emotional excesses, no human sacrifices. Just fiction that overlaps action and drama with spiritual vision. Gothic lit.
About the novel:
Bad religion can be deadly. So Miranda Lamden, small-town religion professor, discovers in This Madness of the Heart. The dark hollers of Eastern Kentucky offer fertile soil for shady evangelist Jasper Jarboe, new president of Grace and Glory Bible College, as he beguiles the small mining town of Canaan Wells with his snake-oil charm.
When Miranda isn’t teaching at Obadiah Durham College, she’s investigating paranormal phenomena—or enjoying a turbulent romantic relationship with backwoods artist Jack Crispen. JJ’s inquisition-style gospel has alienated her long since, but when he announces his plan to transform her forest home into an evangelical Mecca, complete with neon cross and 40-foot Jesus, Miranda girds her loins for war. But JJ isn’t finished: he goes on to launch an attack on her friend and fellow professor Djinn Baude with an avalanche of vicious rumors. Not only does he accuse Djinn of demonic communion with the old Voudon witch whose curse killed the college’s founding family, but he also smears her with insinuations of lechery and vice.
With JJ’s urging, hate boils over into violence and tragedy, sweeping Miranda up in its flood. One death follows another as a miasma of evil overwhelms the tiny community, and only Miranda can see clearly enough to halt its spread.
This Madness of the Heart is the first in a new series of Gothic mystery-thrillers featuring Professor Miranda Lamden, whose spiritual gifts have drawn her beyond university walls to explore the mysteries of other world beliefs. Her unique vision brings her into repeated confrontations with evil, where too often she finds herself standing alone between oblivious onlookers and impending disaster.
I had to stop him! Now, before the damage was done!
I never even got to try.
Like a sullen current of arctic air pouring through a cracked door, cold snaked down over us, coiling around my senses, freezing my anger, congealing my blood: an implacable sister to the malevolence in the garden. I ground my teeth to stifle the scream begging to be born. Even so, a small voice spoke from outside my fear, detached and curious.
“This cold is not the same,” the voice observed. “There’s a difference. It’s not threatening so much as warning, ‘Keep off! Stand clear! Don’t interfere!’”
Immobilized by fear, I was incapable of interfering.
At first I thought my teeth were chattering. A split second later I realized the wind had dropped without warning, the riot of sound had ceased, and a clicking sound had filled the darkness. “Tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch,” the sound ran on and on—no more than a field of insects, of snakes, singing in the night.
The light from JJ’s lantern brightened, bloomed, and died, shooting soft rainbows into the night. Cold weighed even more cruelly upon my breast, pressing me against the rough wall at my back, blotting all light from my eyes. Then the clicking stopped, and in the utterly empty dark, I heard the sound of stone rasping on stone, of crumbling brickwork tearing loose from rotten mortar, and the hollow thunk of heavy masonry falling ponderously onto yielding clay.
A soft sigh whispered through the grove. Then there was silence.
Blair Yeatts grew up in the midst of a large, old southern Virginia family, much like the family of her main character. She followed her parents into a career in academia and taught religion at the college level in Kentucky for many years. Her special areas of expertise are psychology and Earth-based religions, in which she has done considerable research.
From childhood, Ms. Yeatts has been a fan of mystery fiction, starting with Nancy Drew and moving through Agatha Christie to twentieth century giants like Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Nevada Barr. She is fulfilling a life’s dream in writing her own mysteries.
Ms. Yeatts shares her home with her photographer husband, two cats, and a dog. She has a lifelong love of wild nature, and prefers to set her stories in rural areas, where threads of old spiritual realities still make themselves felt. Her first three books take place in different parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.
This Madness of the Heart e-book will be free during the tour.
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/624868 (CreateSpace will be up on May 1)
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/blair-yeatts-21325911a?auth