This is a post about Darkover, a fictional world created by author Marion Zimmer Bradley and written about by other authors in Darkover anthologies and collaborations. Darkover is one of my Special Interests (something people with Asperger Syndrome get) and right now it’s one of the intense Special Interests.
Recently I re-read The Alton Gift, a 2007 Darkover book written by Deborah J. Ross based on MZB’s ideas about Darkover. And a passage within the book gave me cause to wonder— do the cristoforos of Darkover know about Christ, or only about St. Christopher, whom they call ‘the bearer of burdens’?
This passage has Lew Alton, a guest at the cristoforo monastery in Nevarsin, talking with the head of the monastery, Fr. Conn. The topic of their conversation is forgiveness. Lew is suffering guilt because of his use of the Alton telepathic Gift, which is the gift of force telepathic rapport. Since the first rule of Darkovan telepathy is ‘enter no one’s mind unwilling’, any use of that Gift would seem to be a violation.
Lew asks in despair ‘Where in this world or the next is there any forgiveness for me?’ This would be a perfect opening, if Fr. Conn were a Christian, to talk about Christ and the cross and Christ’s atoning death. If the cristoforos have a valid priesthood and the Catholic sacraments, the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession/Absolution) would also come into play.
But instead Fr. Conn says ‘each man must discover the path to atonement for himself,’ and suggests that Lew Alton pray, not to God or specifically to Jesus Christ, but to the Bearer of Burdens, Saint Christopher.
Now, in orthodox/traditional Catholicism it is indeed kosher to address saints in prayer— but we are asking for their intercession. In other words, it’s ‘dear Saint Christopher, please pray to God for me that I be relieved of my burden of guilt.’ Not, ‘dear Saint Christopher from your own inherent God-like powers grant me relief from guilt.’ That second would be blasphemy to any Christian.
You may be asking, what difference does it make? Well, the difference is this: without knowledge of Christ, the cristoforos are not a branch of the Christian faith, but a mere cargo cult which happens to have Christian trappings. And given the high emphasis in all the Darkover novels on the Bearer of Burdens as the center of cristoforo faith, the cargo cult becomes unhappily likely. They do not even seem to know that the original ‘burden’ borne by Saint Christopher was the Christ-child!
Since I became a Christian and later joined the Catholic Church, I do like to think of the cristoforos as a legitimate branch of Catholicism. Perhaps, since the rediscovery of Darkover, even one in contact with Rome. There are some hints that the Darkovans seem to think the cristoforos and the Catholics in the Terran Empire are part of the same faith. But why would the cristoforos be so hesitant to speak about Christ?
Persecution might be one answer. If the cristoforos had been taught, generation after generation, to keep their mouths firmly shut when it came to the essential matters of their faith, that the Hastur-cult that the comyn, the telepathic ruling caste, followed would not brook the rivalry of an actively evangelizing cristoforo faith, it might be reasonable that the cristoforos tried to portray their faith as a harmless monastic cult concerned with education and devoted not to a god but to an obscure human saint. The secularist-inclined authors of Darkover might not even think of a situation like this as oppression but as a rational measure to keep the Bad Old Christians from oppressing the Hastur-cultists.
Another answer has nothing to do with the world of Darkover but with the inhibitions of modern-day secular fiction writers— even secular fiction writers who happen to be Christians. There is a taboo against explicitly talking about Jesus Christ, about the atoning work of the Cross, and about personal salvation and accepting Christ. Even Christian writers who write for Christian publishers might not include this explicitly lest it make their work too ‘preachy’.
So it may be that MZB— who was certainly rebelling against many Christian teachings during her Darkover-writing years— did not mention Christ in connection with the cristoforos, but did have an understanding that the cristoforos would have believed in Christ, written down what was remembered from the Gospels, baptized, and perhaps had the Eucharist. She may have simply felt that it ‘wasn’t done’ to explicitly mention these things.
I take a hopeful view on the cristoforos. If they are in fact Christians and not cargo-cultists, they are the entryway for Christians like me into the world of Darkover. They make Darkover a much more comfortable place than those science-fictional worlds in which Christianity, it is plainly stated, no longer exists, or exists only in the persons of crazy fanatics whose belief-system does not seem to include the essentials of Christianity.