Gods of Hollywood vs. Gods of Asgard
I wrote the previous post to survey what all is included in the large umbrella category of “Pop Culture Paganism” and what within it I personally find to be of interest. That does not mean I am giving my stamp of approval on every type of PCP-ism that exists and everything that each PC Pagan says or does. That would silly. Heck, even in more specific traditions/organizations I belong to like ADF, I certainly don’t agree with all of my co-religionists on everything and share all their individual beliefs and practices.
Anyway, Lovemydane brought up an issue that is a major point of contention among the Asatru/Heathen community- the depiction of Thor, Loki, Odin et al. in Marvel comics. I haven’t read any of the Thor comics or seen any of the movies so I can’t comment on them too directly. However, I do enjoy watching Oh My Goddess! an anime series (based on manga) that draws inspiration from Norse mythology. The main character, Belldandy (Japanese rendering of Verdandi) works for a “Goddess Help Line” which is accidently dialed by Keiichi Morisato, a shy college student. Belldandy appears in his dorm room and tells him that she will grant him any wish he makes. Befuddled by this gorgeous woman claiming to be a goddess, he thinks it’s a joke and wishes that she will stay be his side forever. She stays on Earth, realizing that she has created a contract with him that she is bound to fulfill. Later her sisters, Urd and Skuld show up.
Those of you who are familiar with Norse mythology know these three sisters as the Norns, the powerful Goddesses who decide the fates and of humans by measuring and cutting the thread of life- and Wyrd. The cosmology of Oh My Goddess! is very different from Norse cosmology, and bears an obvious influence from Christianity- the universe is divided into Heaven, Earth and Hell, Verdandi, Skuld and Urd and others are under the authority of the Allmighty One (Odin- with some Jehovah influences) whereas in Norse myth, there are 9 worlds, and Odin, while powerful cannot determine Wyrd as the Norns can. Likewise, in Greek mythology Zeus is subject to the power of the Fates/Moirae. Watching this anime is just a form of entertainment, a purely secular activity though I find it interesting and fun to compare with what I know of Norse mythology.
So, what if someone were to watch Oh My Goddess! and decide that they want to worship Belldandy, the character as a goddess. Would that be a problem? Well that depends. If they decided to completely base a religious practice off of the show and manga, it could be a rather unbalanced and shallow practice, because the media are designed to entertain, not to do all the things religions are intended to do. But that would be a problem for that one individual and would not really be anyone else’s business. Now if this person decided that Belldandy was the same as Norse myth Verdandi, and Oh My Goddess! cosmology/laws of the universe trumped Norse mythology, and was more “real”, “valid” and called themselves a Heathen/Asatruar and came into a Heathen forum, or offline in-person blot with all of these ideas, or tried to explain to the public (or just their friends/family) that what they’re doing is actual Heathenry, then yeah. Those would all be major ethical violations of Heathen community norms of piety and hospitality and we would be right to be offended.
On the other hand, there some people who initially come across Norse or Greek mythology references in pop culture and get interested in learning about the originals. It might just remain an intellectual/aesthetic interest for them or it might develop into a religious practice. If they come into a forum and mention that their interest was piqued by Hercules, Xena or Marvel comics, we shouldn’t attack them for it, but we should check to make sure they understand the difference. In works of fiction that draw on history, people will often put in a disclaimer that this is a work of fiction and not historically accurate. However they do not have that responsibility with mythology. (This movie not approved by Homer or Snorri Sturlson!) We can be offended when they get our mythology “wrong” but I think it’s better to just see as a different, alternate mythology.
So if you want to worship a pop culture version of a deity, do you have ethical responsibilities to a community that worships a more traditional form of the deity? (Which you may or may not see as the same being, but they probably don’t) Yes, you do. You have the responsibility to not misrepresent yourself or your religious practice to the general public, the Pagan public and that specific community. As long as you do that, the more traditionally-minded polytheists ought to leave you alone.
For more on the Marvel Thor issue:
Worse than Breasts & Melanin by Kvasir amongst the Gods
Entry filed under: Cosmology, Deities, Ethics, Mythology, Popular Culture. Tags: anime, Asatru, Heathen community, Heathenry, interfaith diplomacy, Marvel comics, Norns, Norse mythology, oh my goddess, pop culture paganism, religious diversity, Skuld, Thor comics, Urd, Verdandi, wyrd.