Welcome to the latest in our on-going column, ev0king the Question. Here, we invite regular ev0ke contributors and guests to share their thoughts on a particular question. Sometimes, it will be silly. Sometimes, it will be serious. Sometimes, a little bit of both.
Below, find this month’s question, and answers from Pagans and polytheists from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. Do you have thoughts of your own? If so, please feel free to share them below.
The question: The influence of popular culture on modern Paganism/polytheism. Whether movies or television, novels or roleplaying games, popular culture has had a decades-long impact on contemporary Paganism/polytheism. How do you feel about this influence? Are there positive examples? Negative examples? What do you wish the purveyors of popular culture understood about Paganism/polytheism?
Rebecca Buchanan is a regular contributor to ev0ke, and is a widely published author of Pagan-themed fantasy, mystery, poetry, romance, and science fiction. A complete list of her published works can be found at Eternal Haunted Summer.
I am a fairly regular consumer of popular culture. I grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars, I played Dungeons and Dragons, and I read (and continue to read) heaps of fantasy and science fiction.
That being said, I am ambivalent about the impact of secular, monotheist popular culture on the traditions, beliefs, and practices of the various contemporary Pagan/polytheist paths. On the one hand, an appearance by a particular myth or Deity or practice in a comic book or television series or movie might strike a chord and inspire a fan to take a closer look at the source material. Maybe they’ll like what they find and dive even deeper. I have no idea how many people took a second look at Wicca or Norse Paganism because of films like The Craft and Thor, respectively, but I’m sure that it was more than a few. And that makes me happy.
On the other hand, the creators of most popular culture are secular and monotheist or atheist/agnostic. They don’t believe in what they are writing, and they have no problems changing things around to fit the narrative they are creating (whether films or roleplaying games or comics or whatever). That can be dangerous. And those re-writes have a pernicious tendency to swallow the original lore whole and completely replace it. Just look at the Good Neighbors in contemporary urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and compare Them to the Good Neighbors in the original folk beliefs and practices. Lots and lots and lots of differences, many of them striking, some of them quite dangerous. Yet so many people in Pagan/polytheist circles draw their knowledge of the Good Neighbors from contemporary, secular sources, and are seemingly unaware of the original writings. If you want to know about the Good Neighbors, read Lebor Gabála Érenn not The Dresden Files by Butcher.
I really really really wish that the creators of mainstream popular culture would take the source material seriously. But I don’t see that happening any time soon. So I remain ambivalent — and I strongly encourage Pagans to take what they read in popular culture with a grain of salt. Double check sources, use your common sense. And, if a fan of the Thor films comes to you with questions about the real Thor, answer them sincerely and respectfully; you might be the first step on their path to meeting the real thing.
Taylor Ellwood is a magician, and an author and editor with Immanion Press.
I’ve always been a fan of pop culture. Even before I began practicing magic, the pop culture I enjoyed, fantasy books, played a significant role in inspiring my desire to practice magic. Once I began practicing magic that same pop culture inevitably influenced my understanding of how magic works. Pop culture is the modern mythology of our times. It’s the stories we tell and watch and listen to, in order to make sense of the world and the universe and our place within both as well as our journeys to find ourselves.
What’s really fascinating is how the pop culture of our times is also a reflection of older mythology. Older mythology gets retold through the lens of modern pop culture, breathing new awareness and life into the older mythology and the deities from those older mythologies. This happens because the older stories have a timeless appeal, but also because the gods want us to know them and work with them and they will use whatever medium is available to make that happen.
Pop culture is part of our lives. When I started practicing magic, I did draw on the fantasy books I had read to help me understand my practice of magic. In fact reading some of those books pushed me to experiment with what I was reading in the actual occult books and helped me get into invocation and evocation of spirits much earlier than I might have done otherwise. I have gotten some of my best magical ideas from pop culture and even now, with thirty years of experiences under my belt, I still get inspired by pop culture.
I think any example of pop culture can be positive and negative. Harry Potter for example has certainly raised awareness of magic, which can be both a good and bad thing. Various pop culture systems have their own ideas of how magic works which can be inspiring, but also ridiculous. Ideally, the practitioner exercises some critical awareness and grounds their interest in pop culture via actual occult knowledge and of course hard earned experience.
I think purveyors of pop culture should do their research, which means reading books, but also talking with actual practitioners to learn about specific beliefs, if they are actually drawing on those beliefs. On the other hand if they are coming up with their own magical systems and practice and not specifically drawing upon what’s out there, I think they should be given space to do that. After all they might bring a unique perspective we could benefit from!
Certainly my own magical work has benefitted from pop culture. Even though I no longer overly practice pop culture magic, I still draw on pop culture to inspire my magical work. It continues to influence how I think about, practice and experience magic. We shouldn’t close the door on pop culture, but should see it as an opportunity to expand our awareness and practice of magic.
Want to learn more about my approach to pop culture magic? Check out my book Pop Culture Magick and visit my website http://www.magicalexperiments.com.
Ashley Nicole Hunter is an editor and regular contributor to ev0ke.
When we first begin our lives, we do much of our learning through storytelling and playing. We learn our values, who to trust and who to avoid, what we can aspire to achieve in life … in short, the foundation for our future selves. We like to think that as we get older we outgrow the need for play and stories, but sit down with a dry instruction manual on how to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture and the alternative quickly presents itself as unpalatable.
As we have so much magic and culture to reestablish, and thus, so much work, we would only be harming ourselves to ignore the vital role that play and storytelling can play in these efforts. While not everything in our imagination can come to pass (though some people very much deserve a fireball to the face), we can surely use these tools to establish new methods of worship, styles of prayer, and ways of interacting with spirits.
Irisanya Moon is an author, witch, international teacher, and initiate in the Reclaiming tradition. www.irisanyamoon.com .
I met Aphrodite during a ritual where pop music was part of the devotional. While none of the songs included Her name (from what I remember, it’s been a minute), I felt Her energy infused in the lyrics and the melodies. I felt the sensuous pull of a goddess who aches to be embodied. Who craves touch and beauty and adoration. And as my body moved, I felt Her there.
I saw Venus in the British Museum (insert the problematic nature of those collections). And while She was ‘just’ a statue, I cried. I felt Her presence between the deep blue walls of that round hall. Though there were many people clamoring for the best selfie, I felt I was alone with Her. I was beside a being, not ‘just’ a piece of clay or plaster or marble. This art, though not modern, was the media of its time. And is now too.
We keep the godds alive with story, with images, with songs, with poetry, with ritual. We keep the old stories awake when we tell new versions. When we can’t help but bring our own stories into those myths of all the things humans do — war, love, jealousy, sibling rivalry, misinterpreted communication, etc. (And that’s just the Greeks.)
We see this when godds have been misappropriated and turned into talking points for oppression. Humans are like that, looking for a story to hold onto, one that centers on their experience. Sometimes at the expense of others. Often.
There are tellings I don’t agree with, just as there have been movies and books that DID NOT LOOK OR SOUND THE WAY I WANTED THEM TO. There are translations of myths that are biased and incomplete. There are images that seem to be out of context for the culture in which those godds emerged.
And I imagine we tell stories that align with our own. We create based on what we have been immersed in first. But if we are bold and daring, it could be different. If we are willing to expand beyond what we have thought to be ‘true’ or the ‘final answer,’ we can find more. I believe the godds are far more expansive than a static definition. Far wider than right or wrong.
Personal gnosis is an influencer as much as social media.
I want the godds to be collaborators and not oppressors in this strange experience of life and living. A life of interdependence because that was what was necessary for survival. A life where our liberation is bound together. Again, context is everything. And storytelling is powerful.
I want to move toward a curiosity that leads to other ideas, other images, and other possibilities. I want the stories of the godds to continue to be told, though perhaps with a peek into the culture and history and the potential intention of the storyteller. I don’t want to tell people what to do or how to do it (except when I do), I want to listen to the story they tell and ask why they arrived where they did.
Stories for a godd are not unquestionable or unbreakable. There are stories in my life that I have untold. There are many more I want to rework and place into better context as this life stretches further behind and before me.
I see Aphrodite everywhere now. I see Her in the texture of cloth. I feel Her in the deep breaths you can hear between the lines of a song. She arrives in the places between Her presentations and her superficial retellings. She is more than any story could hold.
My desire is that telling stories of the divine will offer the possibility of revealing divinity as a reflection versus something that is out of reach. Perhaps, we might be godds too.
I wonder what stories will be told of us.