The Duality of Jamie Fraser (or Religion in #Outlander, Part I)

The best stories keep you thinking long after you read them.  They hang around and whisper to you…they nudge and prod you…they force you to consider (or reconsider) what you believe.  These are the stories I read, and the stories I try to write.

So, of course, that make me think about Outlander (feel free to go grab a cup of tea—or some whisky, I won’t judge).

SPOILER

 Ok, now that we have that out of the way…

One of the things that I love about Outlander is the spirituality it encompasses.  I mean, obviously Jamie is Catholic.  The books have an amazing number of prayers, in an impressive array of languages (English! French! Gaelic!)*  And, of course, it makes me feel guilty because I do well to mutter a few prayers in my one language, whereas Jamie seems to have about a million prayers—really long prayers–memorized…but I digress.

Jamie is a highlander, and the superstitions of his time are as much a part of his life as his Catholicism is.  He knows the patron saint for every occasion, just as he knows how to keep a spirit from leaving its grave (salt!).  He takes blood oaths, and he recites the Act of Contrition in French.  He carries a dried mole foot in his sporran to ward of rheumatism, and he prays nearly unceasingly for Claire and their unborn child after he is forced to send them back through the stones.  (If you have not read “The Scottish Prisoner,” yet, why the heck not!!  Seriously.  Also, I am normally not an audio book person, but it was amazing.)

There are entire books and blogs and discussion boards that happily deconstruct the symbolism and superstition in Outlander.  But what really interests me is Jamie’s duality—the way that his Catholicism and the pagan traditions of that time and that place are inextricably woven together.

One bit, in particular, comes to mind.*** It is from Echo in the Bone (so, if you didn’t heed my spoiler warning, consider this your last chance)…

…that particular spring always had the air of being remote from everything.  It lay in the center of a small grove of white ash and hemlock, and was shielded on the east by a jagged out-cropping of lichen-covered rock.  All water has a sense of life about it, and a mountain spring carries a particular sense of quiet joy, rising pure from the heart of the earth.  The White Spring, so called for the big pale boulder that stood guardian over its pool, had something more—a sense of inviolate peace.

The closer I came to it, the surer I was that that was where I’d find Jamie.

‘There’s something there that listens,’ he told Brianna once, quite casually.  ‘Ye see such pools in the Highlands; they’re called saints’ pools—folk say the saint lives by the pool and listens to their prayers.’

‘And what saint lives by the White Spring?’ she’d asked, cynical.  ‘Saint Killian?’

‘Why him?’

‘Patron saint of gout, rheumatism, and whitewashers.’

He’d laughed at that, shaking his head.

‘Whatever it is that lives in such water is older than the notion of saints,’ he’d assured her.  ‘But it listens.’

I walked softly, approaching the spring.  The jays had fallen silent now.

He was there, sitting on a rock by the water, wearing only his shirt.  I saw why the jays had gone about their  business—he was still as the white boulder itself, his eyes closed, hands turned upward on his knees, loosely cupped, inviting grace.

I stopped at once when I saw him.  I had seen him pray here once before—when he’d asked Dougal MacKenzie for help in battle.  I didn’t know who he was talking to just now, but it wasn’t a conversation I wished to intrude on.

It was there that Jamie uttered the prayer that defines his life, his love, and his heart:  Let me be enough.

Despite the many long litanies that Jamie had memorized over the years, in his times of greatest need, his prayers were always simple, direct, and heartfelt.

Let me be enough. 

And for those that have read “The Scottish Prisoner”…

Lord, that she might be safe.  She and the bairn.

When there is nothing else he can rely on (not his strength, or determination, or sheer willpower), Jamie takes his fear and desperation and quietly “offers it up.”

When I read “The Scottish Prisoner,” I thought about how overwhelming it must have been for Jamie.  To simply not know if someone was alive and safe.  No wonder that Jamie considered it his own purgatory on earth.  I imagine the desperation nearly suffocating him, and the only way to keep the panic at bay was to repeat the words and to hold onto them like a lifeline.

Lord, that she might be safe.  She and the bairn.

No answers, no certainly, no closure.  The only possible path to peace is through acceptance.

I always thought in the first two books Jamie is rather like a shield.  He is happy to put himself between Claire and danger.  He doesn’t flinch from taking whatever pain or suffering is directed at her.

But in the later books, Jamie is more like a stone.  Yes, he can still be a barrier, but age and wisdom made him more than that; he is also a foundation…and Claire (as well as the rest of their family) builds her life upon him.

Jamie’s spirituality, his Catholicism, and his deep and abiding faith also influence those around him.  I was amazed by the changes in Claire, of course, but I was also intrigued by the changes in Young Ian (have I mentioned how much I adore him?).  [And, for the record, I am planning to do additional blogs to talk about religion/spirituality as it relates to Claire and Young Ian.]

And, honestly, the books have changed me…they made me want to be a better Catholic.  I have highlighted huge sections of the prayers on my Kindle, and I have tracked down quite a few old prayer books and books on the saints.  I have also picked up a book on Highland superstitions.  It has a lot about plants and blessing to say when you plant and harvest certain wee herbs.  (With my gardening skills, a few prayers certainly wouldn’t be amiss!)

I have found that I find a great deal of peace while puttering around the garden and feeling the wind in my hair and the cool grass underfoot.  And the chickens help, too.  Perhaps it is the sense that you are responsibly for something other than yourself.****

But then Jamie already knew that.  Claire was right, he was too quick by half.

 * I keep promising myself that I will collect all of the prayers** in one place where I can refer back to them.

 ** This would be much easier if the publishers would, someday, offer the full collection of novels (and novellas), in order, as one digital file, so that I could use the search function for this purpose.  Please, please do this someday, book publishing people, because I would throw money at you to be able to have this!

 ***Yes, I know there are tons more.  So let’s talk about them!  Leave a comment with your favorite snippet or scene that shows Jamie’s spirituality.

 ****No, for those wondering, I did not name any of them Laoghaire…or Claire or Jamie, for that matter.  Although, in the interest of full disclosure, they are all named after Scottish clans: Seton, Maxwell, and *ahem*…MacKenzie and Fraser.

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24 thoughts on “The Duality of Jamie Fraser (or Religion in #Outlander, Part I)

  1. Thank you for writing this, Ginger. You have a knack for writing the things I want to, but can’t. I need to finish reading this’d later because, well, you’re making me cry at work. I eagerly look forward to more blog posts on this topic. To me, it is the crux of the Outlander story.

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  2. I have written a lot about Jamie being a half-ghost in my blog. Basically what is seen in him and in the religion of the Scottish Highlands is an anthropological term called syncretism. During the time of Christian expansion, the missionaries in charge took actually the religion that was present in a specific area and apply the doctrines of Catholicism to it (for example, a Celtic goddess most likely became Virgin Mary). That is the reason why Scottish Highlanders in the books believe in fairies, waterhorses, changelings, etc., even though they are not supposed to believe in that at all (if they follow the rules of the Catholic Church).

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  3. It has happened everywhere in the world to every culture. For example, there is a reason why many countries in Mediterranean area of Europe are very Catholic. These countries for centuries have venerated Virgin Mary. In fact, prior to the advent of Christianity, these countries had something in common: a goddess of fertility (which eventually most likely became Virgin Mary). In regards to Outlander, the Gaelic wedding vows in which blood is withdrawn is an old practice not associated with Roman Catholicism. In The Fiery Cross, Jamie does some blood offerings to certain “Places”. Of course, Jamie considers himself a Roman Catholic, but these “blood” offerings would be considered “pagan” in a strict Catholic sense. Furthermore, one of those “Places” where he does his blood offerings is marked by a cross carved on a rock. Jamie Fraser is a great example of “syncretism.”

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  4. I have often contemplated jumping into the blogosphere by exploring the spiritual nature of the people who populate Diana Gabaldon’s books. How they illustrate a particular spiritual truth in any given circumstance; and also where they, being human fall short, no matter what their intentions may be. Unfortunately, I am preparing for a halfway cross country move, but as a Bible study leader, I find it interesting to see spiritual principles illustrated in literature. The Outlander series lends itself. I should be settled well before Droughtlander is over, so I may just do that. You have inspired me.

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  5. I had to mull this over for a while before I could comment. I think your observations are spot on, but I had to think about the moment that moved me the most. The one that always makes me smile when I think about it is Jamie’s “confession” to draw off the sheriff when the children are baptized and he ends by saying to Claire that he did confess to a bit of lying.
    That builds on an earlier, much more in earnest, discussion of marriage making sex holy where it had been a sin. Which is kind of an appropriate thought after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage earlier this week.
    The thing that draws me to Jamie Fraser over and over again is how he shares a couple of characteristics with my father including accepting people for who they are and a faith that includes bits and pieces from whatever he finds good and useful. That Jamie prays in multiple languages just brings this home.
    Don’t forget to add Latin to this list of languages. Remember, Jamie is an educated man for his time and has heard formal Mass and that would be said entirely in Latin.
    I’m rambling so I will stop. Maybe reading everyone else’s comments will help me say what I really mean.

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  6. I will go on to say that Jamie has faith not religion. He follows the trappings of Catholicism, but it is his profound faith that gets him through his trials, not the rituals of the church.

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    • this is great ! Thank you for sharing ! and yes deep spiritualism was all part n parcel of being a highlander. Not only was it part of and entwined in their their daily life but steeped deep into their culture for over a thousand years . Life was somehow simpler in those days and people did not question so much ( not until after the reformation was complete ). and whether one is spiritual , or religious or not you have to admit some of the prayers are very beautiful , showing a precious relationship and faith with God .. I think it is lovely .. I am a Catholic ( of the charismatic variety) and I have been to other churches Pentecostal , Lutheran , Uniting and Anglican ( which is like Catholic) It really doesn’t matter where faith is born or where it grows God is omnipotent – all around in nature, in a church , in a song ,within in people .. Jamie’s faith becomes his moral compass for living and makes his relationship with Claire very sacred .. and that is a really special thing so often lacking nowadays .

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      • I agree so much. Jamie’s utter devotion to Claire, his reverence of her, isn’t often seen and is obviously greatly longed for. Some might scoff and claim that their story is fiction, and of course that’s true, but True Love isn’t fiction. We are just so bombarded with a “fast food version” of love that is empty, temporary, and ultimately in satisfying that when we see the Real Thing we are starving for it.

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      • I often say that I have faith not religion because I don’t follow any organized religious beliefs in particular but I do have faith in a greater power. I have a church family that actually belongs to both the Church of Christ and the American Baptist conferences. (Not Southern Baptist) The great thing about this congregation is how it also takes pieces from other faiths and includes them in our worship service.

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  7. This article is the best article about Outlander/Jamie Fraser I have ever read. This is exactly why I love these books!!! I am a Catholic and was thrilled when I started to find so much of the faith woven into the the story and Jamie’s life. I love when I come across a passage and then a prayer or a reference to a feast day. He and the story become more real for me. Would love to read more about this aspect of Outlander and Jamie! Thanks again for writing it.

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    • Thank you. I hope to write more about this, too.

      I love how DG enriches her characters with references to their faith/beliefs/spirituality (or sometimes the lack thereof).

      The faith in the book has given me much comfort. I have found prayers when words failed me. I found examples of strength when my own was lacking. And I was reminded of the simple, yet profound power of love.

      Strange at what can be found lurking between the pages of a book…so much than just a story. Faith, inspiration, redemption, and fellowship–for the readers mind you, not just the characters.

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  8. I think this was all explained by Frank in the opening of the series in the Sauwen story about pagan rituals being used by the Catholic Church for conversion purposes. The Highlands were both Catholic and Protestant at this point….which was what the Battle of Culloden was all about as I recall my grandparents, who were lowlanders, explaining to me. Restoring the Catholic Stuarts to the throne. John Knox and the reformation came to Scotland around this time or earlier, I believe.

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