Friday, May 24, 2013

My Gods Aren't Fictions

So, there's a conversation that is occurring out in the wider pagan/polytheist/occultist blogging world, about performing hero-cultus for or invoking fictional entities. I only have a little to say on the subject, but let me point out some of the posts on the subject first.

This round of the discussion began with a posting on Patheos Pagan's Agora blog, here.

Then Sannion made a metric shit-ton of posts about it. Uh, here's the first one, I think. Then here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, and here. Somewhere in there, he found the time to announce that there will be an episode of Galina Krasskova's podcast dedicated to the subject, on May 29th. Along the way, he wrote a poem I really like, though it is not particularly connected to the discussion.

Speaking of Galina Krasskova, she had this to say on the subject.

A week after the whole thing got going, the Anomalous Thracian weighed in.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had a few words to write on this. Oh, who are we kidding, the good doctor wrote a novel. ;) There are two follow-ups so far there.

Traci at A Sense Of Place on Patheos had something to add.

Dver at A Forest Door wrote three excellent posts on the topic, here, here, and here.

Approaching all of this from a very different direction, Jack Faust at Dionysian Atavism had a few things to say, as well: here, here, here, here, and here.

That's a lot of electrons spilled over this topic, and I haven't even come close to exhausting the posts that have hit the series of tubes over the last week or so. You should be able to find most of them through links found in the above, though. For myself, I have little to say on the topic, actually. Here's what I wrote in PSVL's Aedicula Antinoi blog:

The people who write or otherwise create these pop-cultural entities do not, typically, share the specific values of pagan/polytheist people. Even when they do, they still have their own agendas to pursue, involving matters of commerce and so on, that are imposed on them by the system in which they do their work. These issues distort those characters and stories in ways that are not always beneficial from a religious/spiritual perspective. I think that’s why R.J. Stewart recommends against participating in pop culture when exploring magical techniques, as those techniques can enhance those images in ways that make the various incorporated unhealthy agendas particularly problematic.

So, put me down in the category of those who are not very interested in practicing hero-cultus with fictional creations. It might be possible, it might not, but from my point of view it is seriously undesirable. Those creations contain traps laid by people whose intentions do not necessarily match my own. They might not be traps to people who share those agendas, but how do you know?


  1. Wow, that's a really good point that I hadn't even considered before (since I have no personal interest in worshipping a fictional character, even if it is possible, when we have so many established gods and spirits to choose from). Even if one was inclined to do so, this should give them pause.

    1. I can't really take credit for the insight, as Grant Morrison covered it quite brilliantly in an issue of Invisibles. I say that seeing the possible irony involved.

  2. Hmmm...I suppose I should be paying attention to this given some of the focus I have, but I've been ignoring link posts on FB since it started up. Now you're the first blogger I actually read to take it up. And you posted at a time I seem to be actively avoiding working on something I've been buried in. ~;) I skimmed through a few of these, but yeah, tl;dr.

    I have a strong focus on pop culture, mainly in how imagery and depictions affect women. And how important contemporary story is on many levels. While I can see for work some might do that pop culture imagery is best avoided, for my over all goals I think they need to be cultivated..what few we have of what I am looking for (something which does, after all parallel a lack in the Irish literature ...need to return to that article but...)

    I also run a fan club for a particular character and the actress who played her with some extras not found in many fan clubs which do parallel the not culturally/spiritually specific stuff. I even have an action figure of said character on my gym shrine! Yet the idea of worshiping that character never actually crossed my mind, but some might think I do...I mean, she's on my shrine right? Oh, there are photos nearby too, because the walls of my gym area also my fannish-pop-culture-warrior-women gallery (okay,there are a couple of token guys on there too).

    I think there's simply a difference between seeing a character as a symbol of something, an archetype if you will, and worshiping the character. The action figure is there as a representation of a modern female warrior, the Goddesses are represented by other figures or drawings. Thing is, I don't live in the Iron Age, I do find contemporary image and story important.

    Of course, I half suspect, the more I try to write about these things, that the very real entities I do worship are actually borrowing names of fictional characters created by monks 1500 years or so ago. Or that the names might be real but we can only hope that some of the truths got through. I have some faith that They may well have made sure of it, I have none that the scribes tried to preserve anything.

    I was actually going to write something related to this before this happened, just because. Okay, it was mostly to try to get a tad more attention to something I'm finally trying to really work on after years of avoiding it. Now I suppose the same thing will seem all defensive like. As this probably does. ~;p I suppose it depends on how dedicated I am today to avoid working on what I'm supposed to be working on.

    1. I think that you will find the one from Traci at A Sense Of Place to be of particular interest. I know that her idea is very similar to the way that I have been thinking about the imagery we carry and how spiritual entities use it. Her entry into the discussion is also why I mentioned R.J. Stewart.

    2. I totally agree with the concept, but disagree about the value of it. That is, I don't see why it's such a bad thing to have modern imagery that might be used by other entities to connect with us. Hardly the only thing I disagree with Stewart on and that I agree on the first part is the first thing I remember agreeing with him about. ~;)

      Story has power. And I realize now a missing part of what I'm saying relates to what you said about the agenda of those who create modern story having their own agendas which are not in keeping with Pagan ideals (which, you know, is also true of those scribes..many who may have created the stories rather than recorded, but certainly changed them). That is true writers have their own agenda, but it's also true that they don't hold the complete power over their story. They can't, story is a powerful thing and it gives some control of itself to everyone who is audience to it. Feminists have long identified the concept of coding or filtering, how each of us with different backgrounds code the same story differently. And we ALL have different backgrounds. So we read each story's meaning differently, and no matter how much they may wish it, the creators can only control that so much. The good ones know they don't really want to, the good ones know people will transform the story and take power from it.

      So I just see no problem with Them using those stories to relate to us, either. I just wouldn't confuse it with worshiping a fictional character.

    3. Oh, definitely. There's a strong difference between offering cultus to a character like Batman or whatever, that is to say a character who was created by a real person, and making use of a story to illuminate a heroic figure who actually existed (or who, at least, developed through a process of folk consciousness rather than an identifiable author or authors*).

      *I don't mean to use this test in a definitive sense, but rather only to point toward the difference between a constructed fiction and a story that develops in folk consciousness.

    4. Hmmm...actually, that brings up several interesting thoughts to me (pre-coffee, pre-breakfast thoughts so I'm not sure how much merit they have). One being my constant questioning of whether some of the Irish literature is complete invention of one cleric that then was copied became shared among them and, as we suppose, were shared with the people, where further developed into what we now identify as a folk or at least group consciousness. While much of the Irish literature still leaves me feeling the stories derived from some cultural stories, as I'm forever on the border of nativist and anti-nativist, there are some that just make me think that particular one was just made up out of the blue. Or a story is so altered that someone thought he had a better idea, and maybe an agenda, so that only a name or two survives. It brings up how story copied by hand and retold, changing a bit also can differ from mass produced and read or filmed and viewed (although we certainly have plenty of retellings these days, I may soften on my feelings on that...or not) and so forth as most is today. It also makes me wonder how fanfic might therefore create a sort of folk consciousness as people take someone else's creation and run with it, creating something greater as a group, which then extends further. Which given my feelings about most fanfic is kind of troubling. And also makes me, again, think about the way story works and how we've changed much of that by the "solid" forms we use.

      I probably should just eat something.

    5. I still think that is a potentially fruitful line of inquiry, but I have come to the conclusion that at least some of the recorded stories have close enough parallels in other Indo-European cultures, without being simple retellings, that they must be native expressions. On the other hand, some of them are clearly borrowings from outside Ireland.

      I have been thinking about the fandom-as-folk-culture thing, and what I see is that some of the worst elements of the Imperial culture are reiterated in fandom. This is not what we should be seeing (folk culture should diverge more significantly), so I do think that the focus on commercial properties as a folk culture is the primary culprit. That, however, is only a theory, and one that is at a remove since the identified problem is only a failure to match up with theoretical conditions in the first place.

      Eh, I'm a little tired, so I may not be making sense.

    6. I think that exploring those ideas in the literature is part of the fun. My perspectives are always changing as I learn more.

      I think part of my feeling that fandom has some value as folk culture comes from seeing how identifying with certain characters can have a very powerful role in supporting change. Both within a person and to try to make change. My focus is, of course, to try to get more of the images I believe are positive out there. Archetypes are powerful personal motivators, even if I wouldn't worship one. I do have to say, if I were to travel to the future and find out the fan group I run turned into some War Goddess Cult in the character's name, I'd probably make it my mission to stop it. ~;p