Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ice or Steam ?

The other day I was working on virtual Neo-Pagan ritual altars in Second Life. I was scripting some call-and-responses and the next thing I knew, I had created a recursive "Blessed Be!" (the Neo-Pagan equivalent of "Amen!") One virtual altar would say "Blessed Be!" and another would hear it and repeat it. Since there were four altars at the time, my workspace was suddenly filled with an echoing chat-chorus of "Blessed Be!"

The situation reminded me of what I used to think the Christian Heaven was like: filled with all the angels singing "Hallelujah" all the time. Except this was Second Life. With chatting Neo-Pagan altars. I went into the scripting area and halted the scripts one by one, silencing the echoing blessing. Sometimes I wonder how angels might be God's programs. Sometimes I wonder what William Blake would think of the process of silencing virtual altars.
There's something about the months of January and February that makes me think about religion. I'm blaming the lack of sunlight messing with my brain chemistry. Or possibly it takes me longer to recover from December distractions than it does ones in June. In any case, this time around, religion and Second Life have been cutting into my writing.

Okay, true confession time -- It seemed like the last few stories, I'd been writing and re-writing the beginning in a futile attempt to drive to the plot, and I'd gotten kind of tired of the morass. I was thinking, "It's a possibility I'm not selling much because I shouldn't be writing speculative fiction," and once again I'd gotten worked up about Production Production Production and not about writing. In some ways doing something else for a while is not a bad thing. But I'm feeling like getting back to the word count. To get myself back into the swing of writing, I've been thinking about the cosmology of one of my settings, what I call the Quartet World.

Part of the cosmology for this fictional world is that the universe is currently in the third of three stages: steam, water, and ice. Humankind (and the other beings on this world) will return to a union with The Four aspects of Divinity during the second age of steam. Notice that I didn't say this was a Fall from Grace. And of course, having read too much Dion Fortune, my world has a magical system based upon the Tree of Ice, with a Fruit of Steam at the top. I'll have to figure out which culture has the saying, "We are all snowmen in a world of ice."

Probably not the Merfolk, who have a completely different, watery, world view.
My latest creation in Second Life is a candle. When you drop a NoteCard (a plain text file) on the candle, the candle reads its text, sends the text as a chat message, and a flame comes on. You can chat commands to the candle and it will change to one of twelve pre-defined colors; a thirteenth chatted command will extinguish the candle and it will go out with a rising trail of smoke.

I made the candle because I seem to be needing to light candles for people lately. And when I finished, I figured that my virtual candles would make nice gifts for people (especially my gracious hostess who lets me build on her virtual plot of land). Okay, and it's difficult keep real candles lit in our house. And I'm secretly pleased that turning forty-five has not dulled my autodidactism.

Which leads back to the question: what's the difference of lighting a beeswax candle for someone at a physical altar and using a graphical user interface to append a text file of prayers and wishes onto an executable program so that the program echos the text back with an accompanying light show? (Is a flame the tongue of Entropy singing Deity's song?)

The intent for the two candles is the same, (i.e. "I light this flame for X") and I suppose one could argue that the electricity used to run the server where the virtual candle resides counts as the energy of a real flame. And short of raising bees, collecting the wax, and casting the candle, in some ways I have a deeper relationship with my virtual candle -- defining its virtual dimensions and creating the programming to make it function -- than I would with a candle bought at a craft fair. And I could argue that typing out an intention as a way to initiate the virtual flames brings an amount of mindfulness, or at least lexical focus, that is similar to a prayer whispered over a new flame.

So for me, the physical convenience and safety of virtual candles in an electronic world are the biggest difference. After all, a spell or a prayer is a symbolic action taking in a ritual frame of mind. And I'm the sort of person who burns candles for people either because the person has asked for "good thoughts" or else there's nothing else I can do but light a candle.



Yesterday morning, I composed a Haiku in the bathtub. I think that gets me some kind of writer points.

Candle without heat / my virtual beacon shines / Is this steam or ice ?



I go back and forth on re-programming the candle so it will regularly repeat the intention it has been given. I imagine a virtual shrine filled with candles of all colors. Every so often, one of them chats, "For X, who has cancer; and for Y, who is helping them on their journey." Or "For the victims of the Haiti earthquake." Or "For Z, who plays with matches." But then I think, if the candle remembers its intent and I forget, what kind of virtual Demiurge might I be creating?

I think I'll stick with remembering intentions, prayers and wishes on my own.
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