Posts filed under ‘Popular Culture’
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
So, I’ve been reading blogs written by people of color. Or sometimes even talking to them *in person* whoa! I have a message for my fellow white people- folks of color are really sick of talking about race with us, they are really sick of educating us, and not being listened to and they want us to educated ourselves. So I’ve been trying to do that. But y’all are kinda defensive and difficult to talk to, and I’m starting to understand why my friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow bloggers and activists are so frustrated. Part of the problem is, a lot of well-meaning “I’m so not racist!” white people think they don’t need to be educated. It’s only the people in pointy hoods that have the problem. They learned about MLK in elementary school. They have that one adopted Korean friend. They did “diversity awareness” training at their Fortune 500 company, etc. I realize that I am still in a learning process and I always will be. I could recommend a big reading list to you folks, and maybe some of you would read some of it (and you’re white so, of course you’re literate, right?) but I’m going to start with some videos. Educating yourself can be fun!
Sh*t (non-Jews) say to Jewish people (some Jewish people are considered white, some aren’t)
I admit it, I’ve probably said some of this stuff. In fact, I’m sure I have!
Can you admit it?
Here’s a collection of links, both serious and silly, spiritual and political related to Independence Day, American culture, patriotism etc.
Who Won the American Revolution? Crash Course U.S. History-
Not quite like what they taught you in high school!
46 Facts about the First Ladies– Hannah Lane is my new favorite, along with Eleanor Roosevelt!
Self-Actualization, Spiritual Oneness & the Fourth of July by Crystal Blanton- in a similar spirit to my previous post, Ms. Blanton reflects on freedom and justice as ideals that we must keep striving towards.
America: Land of the Free, Home of the Magickal by Jason Mankey Very interesting look at the development of uniquely American magical/occult traditions and customs.
Millennials Are Proud of #Murica Despite Its Flaws says MTV study. ‘murica is slang for extreme patriotism, used both seriously and sarcastically.
America Sucks Less– this Youtube video is a hilarious send-up of our awesome mediocrity
Excerpt from French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America on patriotism “There is one sort of patriotic attachment which principally arises from that instinctive, disinterested, and undefinable feeling which connects the affections of man with his birthplace. This natural fondness is united with a taste for ancient customs and a reverence for traditions of the past; those who cherish it love their country as they love the mansion of their fathers. They love the tranquility that it affords them; they cling to the peaceful habits that they have contracted within its bosom; they are attached to the reminiscences that it awakens; and they are even pleased by living there in a state of obedience. ”
To end with some more silliness:
For recent glimpse of the Snow Maiden- check out the new Disney film, Frozen. It’s about a pair of royal sisters, Anna and Elsa. The elder sister Elsa is born with the magical ability to freeze things, and after almost killing her sister with frostbite, she is isolated in a tower. But after her parents are killed, she must be released to become queen, and she loses control over her powers and puts the kingdom into an endless winter.
Unfortunately I won’t be able to see it til it’s out of the theaters, otherwise I would review it right here. It looks like a beautifully animated film, with a great feminist message. See, Disney? You can do it! It’s not that hard!
I have to disagree that Frozen is a retelling of the Snow Queen– I’d say that it is loosely inspired by it however. C.S. Lewis draws much more explicitly on the Snow Queen with the White Witch character. She rules a realm of eternal winter (with no Christmas!) and tempts Edmund to hop in her sleigh of warm furs and tasty Turkish delight. That’s what happens in the original the little boy is lured off by the Snow Queen, and his sister goes on a journey to rescue him. And that’s Edmund’s siblings (Lucy, Peter & Susan) have to do.
For the longest time after reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I wondered what the heck Turkish delight was. Well, I did get to try some a while back and I can see why it was so tempting! It is basically gelatin with dried fruit and nuts- rather like gooey fruitcake. Wouldn’t making some of it be a great way to celebrate winter?
Pagans, being more focused on spiritual practice than belief, don’t argue as much about theology as other religions. But there has been a growing clash between “hard” polytheists who believe and experience deities as real, individual beings that they worship & interact with- and eclectic pagans who view gods as archetypes- powerful concepts within their own minds, that they use to connect to the Divine more broadly. Chaos magicians, as I understand regard gods as symbols to center the mind during spellwork. They are more interested in finding what works magically rather devoting themselves to a god, pantheon and cultural tradition. Some even say that “god-forms” or archetypes are more powerful the more spiritual/emotional energy people direct towards them. If this is so, they should be asking Jesus for help. Instead, it has been become more popular to call upon pop culture characters in rituals.
I don’t really believe in magic, so for me the question of whether this is effective is moot. I think we should avoid stating beliefs as facts. The sun is made of helium and hydrogen. That’s a proven fact. Believing Helios, the Greek sun god is a real dude is a belief. So is the belief that Helios is an aspect of the sun god archetype, the same dude as Ra, Balder, Lugh etc. And for the record Lugh & Balder are not actually sun gods in their original mythologies, but they are often seen as such by modern pagans. But as you can see this can lead to a lot of sloppy lumping together of otherwise totally dissimilar beings. So moving along, you think hey, Luke Skywalker is a hero who conquers darkness and evil- wouldn’t he make a great sun god? So then the followers of Ra, Helios & Balder get even more insulted when their gods are equated with a mere movie character. (Would that mean George Lucas is the Creator? Scary thought) But really, should they care? This fight has become really stupid, folks. That’s why I haven’t commented til it cooled down a little.
I think the real problem is when one pagan or polytheist expects another to affirm their beliefs. Monotheistic Unitarians may believe they worship the same god as Catholics, even if they view him differently. But they don’t expect Catholics to approve of their beliefs or practices, and they aren’t even remotely part of the same religion or community. They may work together in interfaith and social justice groups, but they agree to disagree about specifics of their religions. If they don’t, then they avoid each other, with the exception of the occasional awkward Thanksgiving dinner or what have you. So that’s what we need to do. It’s not that hard, people!
In the past 20 years so there have some changes in the culture of Halloween in the United States. Likewise celebration of the holiday has spread to parts of the world where it was previously unknown. I am interested in exploring this and wondering how this may affect its older cousin, Samhain. I do observe both holidays- celebrating Halloween with my community, decorating my house and handing our treats, sometimes attending events related to it. Then after the trick-or-treaters dwindle, I turn off the porchlight, and ritually honor my ancestors- remember the sacrifices they made so I could be here, and others I know or admire who have died in the past year.
First, the trends that began emerging in the 1980’s, when I was a young child and first starting to trick-or-treat. There has been a “culture war” against Halloween by some evangelical Christians who view it as “the Devil’s holiday”. I always found this quite ridiculous, as it was obvious to me it’s a secular holiday. The problem is that the essence of Halloween just doesn’t fit into their worldview- not to mention their lack of sense of humor! They have managed to stop it from being celebrated in some public schools, ruining the fun for the majority of kids. Still public celebration of Halloween persists, very strongly in fact.
Concerns about safety arose- parents were advised not to let their kids trick-or-treat alone, or eat unpackaged treats. This is all common sense. Still it’s too bad that neighbors can’t hand out homemade treats like cookies or apples, which would be healthier than candy. (at least cookies aren’t pure sugar!) I think handing out those things actually would be possible if arranged previously by neighbors who know & trust each other. I may mention that to folks in my block club for next year.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve seen Halloween get more commercialized each year. The advantage is this gives a wider range of costumes and other products than used to be available. But it’s really getting as ostentatious and wasteful as Christmas. Remember most of these costumes & decorations are made of petroleum products. Even with the economy’s current state, Americans are still spending record amounts on their “hauntings”.
I have noticed that concepts for some of these new Halloween decs are inspired by Christmas ones- Halloween trees with ornaments, orange lights hung outside, miniature spooky villages. While I enjoy decorating for holidays there’s a point where it goes too far. I do have fun looking at how some of my neighbors adorn their houses & yards- I was doing this just a few days ago while doorknocking for Obama. At times I chuckle about the lengths to which they go.
Another trend that disturbs me is some of the skimpy costumes I have seen designed for young girls. It goes along with the regular clothes being marketed towards them. I’d think most parents wouldn’t fall for this, but some have poor judgement, or go along with little Ashley’s pleads to dress like Lindsay Lohan and that “all the other girls wear that”. Sheesh, are these people trying to encourage pedophilia?
I also hadn’t realized until I got into college that Halloween was used an excuse to get drunk at parties. Then again to college students and others anything is an excuse to drink. It also seems like the tricks people pull are more destructive than they once were.
I realize that these changes reflect trends in the overall American culture- everything becomes successively more commercialized- literally nothing is sacred. Likewise, sexuality is reaching a saturation point- where even prepubescent kids are getting sexualized.
I also wonder if as some non-Pagans (other than the anti-Halloween evangelicals) become disgusted with these Halloween trends, they might turn to a revival of All Soul’s/Saints Day, or Samhain as a cultural celebration, and honor their own Dead. My Christian fiance enjoyed observing Samhain with me, remembering his grandparents and others that have passed on. It was nice to share that with him.