So the debate proceeds apace. Lots of great discussion in the Pagan blogosphere, but before I get to that I’d like to highlight two comments that I found particularly apt.
The first comes from Syna, commenting on Dver’s post Worship Them:
I agree with you in one sense, and in another, I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t want to defend this “fandom” approach to the gods, because, to be honest, I find it vacuous. But art, real art, is not necessarily in the control of the artist. My character’s don’t do what I expect, and not in that “oh, I’m so struck by my muses, lol, I spent all of last night writing Loki/Thor incest fanfic” way. In that “something much bigger than me is going on” sense. And fiction isn’t necessarily escapist: sometimes it, and its effect on you, is scary as hell. I suppose I want to find a way to distinguish between this fluffy, self-indulgent, almost pornographic approach to religion and one that is informed by art, real art, powerful art. Characters do inform my religious practice. I have much better taste than a lot of these people do (I’m talking the Romantic Prometheus, not Batman), but that’s not just it. I think there needs to be room for a theology informed by fiction that models the importance of fiction as a means of revelation, but which does not encourage people to run around playing pretend and thinking that’s a substitute for actual religious practice. Particularly since fiction is how so many of us came to the gods in the first place.
This is a concern of mine as well, for certain obvious reasons.
Honestly, this whole debate is upsetting me in a very big way. Not in the debate or the conflict, but in the fucking fact that we are having this god damn STUPID debate. Fucking, Christians and Hindus and Muslims don’t have to discuss and ARGUE with each other whether Batman and Wonder Woman are worthy of veneration or some EQUALLY stupid shit. THIS is why people don’t take us seriously THIS is why we CONTINUE to get ridiculed and made fun of by academics and the larger religious community, because we KEEP BRINGING UP STUFF LIKE THIS. I want to be a part of this community, I want to look at people and feel a sense of glowing pride and be able to PROUDLY exclaim ‘These are my people’. I want to be PROUD of my fellow Pagans, I want to point at them and smile and applaud their writings and accomplishments, but how do I do that when they are conflating Tony Stark with fucking MLK Jr? God damn, that is disrespectful. I respect that man, I mean, fuck, I have a ritual called Isonomia that I do on MLK Day. Conflating him with someone who doesn’t exist is ridiculous, I mean, what the hell? It is like she got inspired from the South Park Imagination Land saga of episodes. How do you connect with people who make you embarrassed and who disrespect people that you respect and admire to a great deal? How do you do that? I don’t know if you can. I just know that this has made me very unhappy. I hope shit like this doesn’t keep coming up.
It will. It always does.
Aine is concerned that people coming down on comic book character veneration will exclude new theophanies:
I also know I’m a bit odd. I don’t just follow a historical path, though my practice with Antinous isn’t pop culture-y. (Actually, it’s rather ‘tame’, since the gods are historical and my practice is a very clear devotional relationship and it doesn’t seem that will change. Not much there for people to get up in arms about. If I talked strictly about that, my blog would be a lot calmer. Antinous makes me calm. My practice with him brings me joy.) I have my devotional relationship with Antinous and friends. And then I have the new gods I worship. The Four Gods and their related spirits, gods I would sometimes very much like to shut off because they’ve brought more frustration into my life than I ever thought they could, but, hey, they’re gods, this is real to me, and I’m honestly glad I’m stuck with them. I’m glad to have encountered the spirits I have and to be challenged every day.
But the fun stuff is in the comments where he completely flies off the handle and responds to things only he can hear and see. Way to prove your detractors wrong there, bub.
Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com, weighs in with some Notes Toward a Pagan Theology of Fiction:
Here at Patheos, we’ve had quite a few posts recently touching on the topic of fiction and Paganism. Sterling, for instance, writes about how the images from a favorite novel allowed her to form a real-life connection to the spirit of a particular river. (Her experience reminds me of the conversation in this blog, where the author argues that the local gods and spirits of a particular place are forced to use images we are familiar with in order to speak to us – such that, while we may seem to be speaking with a deity from across the world, we may actually be relating to a local deity who has clothed hirself in a way designed to get our attention.) Gus diZerega has offered a two-part series on pop culture and the formation of independently acting thought forms, suggesting the power that the media we consume may have on our behavior as individuals and as a society. Sunweaver recently shared about her use of fictional heroes as a way of exploring human virtues, and Aine Llewellyn responded with some reflections on how fiction and pop culture help to inform his work with contacting local and/or previously unknown spirits.
Seastruck gets right to the point:
I think those arguments originate all in the same place of the human heart – we spent so much time as a sentient race to put distance between the physical and the spiritual, the scientific and the religious, the rational and the subconscious, that even when we approach the world of those who are so ‘Other than us’ we just can’t reconcile ourselves mentally with the idea we are not the biggest player on the field.
But also had these brilliant remarks to share:
How do you tell the difference between what is craft (in writing, painting, sculpting, etc.) and what is art? Art reaches inside some twisty, deep place inside you, subtly or violently, and just touches you. It moves you from a place to another place, emotionally or even physically, even for a minute or a second. It twists your perception of something so you leave it with that precious sense of ‘ah! this is what I didn’t see before! And now? I can’t to un-see it, ever again!’. Maybe that feeling takes root inside you and produces a new root, or maybe it fades away but in the end, for a moment, Art gave you a window on something greater, a seed of change.
Julian Betkowski weighs in with The Need to Understand the Role of Religion:
A lot of work has been done in certain portions of the occult community to position all of magic, all of the Gods, as mere figures of the psyche, as ghosts in the machine, phantoms of archetypes that haunt the unused byways of our neural highway. Again, whatever works for you, but that is not religion. That is apologetics. Apologetics for things that people are too afraid to openly acknowledge they believe in. If you think magic is real, and the Gods are real, then you are a nut job in contemporary American society. So instead, you say that it is all psychological and you are just exploring the hidden places of the human mind. That is perfectly fine, but it is also perfectly cowardly. We cannot have it both ways. The Gods are real, or they are not. There is no in between.
Nykti makes an astute observation:
I suppose there’s something to be said surrounding my anxiety and total fear of going before the gods or even simply interacting with them: at least I have that deep down, visceral feeling that they’re real.
Urbanpooka believes we have no right to disagree with others:
This is not reasonable discussion. Reasonable discussion of another’s pagan practices should not involve telling that person that their practice is a falsehood, or does not exist outside their head, or has no impact in their lives. It is not reasonable because it cannot be proven. Forget the fact that it is horribly, horribly rude, and that even traditional pagans are often deeply offended when non-believers turn such “arguments” on them. When non-believers do that, I’ve heard it wondered aloud “Why are you being so shitty to prove your point?”
The Chaos Witch reminds us that what’s being debated here isn’t really Chaos Magic:
Chaos magic often seems to get boiled down to people worshipping Spock and Batman as a playful paradigm simply to troll everyone else who has a more ‘serious’ approach to religion but I think there is much more to it than that. I was recently informed by a friend that a course on Celtic Shamanism she is enrolled in (yes, I did raise my eyebrows) screened anyone who practiced chaos magic or knew anyone who was a chaos practitioner and she just pretended she didn’t know me (!!) which made me smile. But it did make me wonder. What is the difference between a legitimate adoption of a paradigm for serious worship and totally denigrating the paradigm in which you choose to dip your toes in simply because you are only approaching it by the means of ‘paradigm adoption’ on the first place? Chaos magic seems to be mostly a fad from the 80s and 90s which I am belatedly cottoning onto – I was mostly concerned with Backstreet Boys and graduating Primary School in the 1990s so please forgive me – but I think the notion of attempting to understand how the divine manifests in the mundane in all its forms will always have validity no matter which way you choose to explore it. I think the other problem that some might have with chaos magic is the results-based emphasis which I admit leaves a bad taste in my mouth too. But there is room to move beyond this which is what I attempt to do with chaos witchcraft.
And lastly, here’s a piece from Dangerous Minds on Ken Russell’s biopic about Debussy with some relevant quotes from one of my favorite directors:
Debussy was an ambiguous character and I always let the character of the person or his work dictate the way a film goes. Also, one was a bit critical of artists like Debussy and I thought the time had come to ask questions, and the natural way for me to ask questions was to have a film director [Vladek Sheybal] talking to an actor [Oliver Reed], because an actor always asks questions about the character he’s playing and the director usually had to answer them, or try to, often to keep him happy. And when I found Debussy was friendly with an intellectual named Pierre Louys from whom he derived a lot, it seemed an analogous relationship to that of a film director and an actor. There are some points in the film, I think, where it doesn’t matter if it’s the director talking to the actor or Louys talking to Debussy—passages of intentional ambiguity.
With Debussy I felt it was important to say something about his music and attitudes to it as well as relevant facts of his life. A good example of this is his relationship with his mistress Gaby, and her inability to understand either him or his art. There’s a scene where the actor playing Debussy goes to a party with his girlfriend (playing Gaby) and puts on a record of Danse Sacre et Danse Profane. He wants to listen to it, to be immersed completely; he sees in it images of art nouveau. But everyone else in the room, instead of carrying on talking, or dancing to it, or giving it half an ear, all become silent and listen to the music with a mixture of duty and piety, which is all too often the case. His girlfriend, who just sees him as being perverse, does a strip-tease to it and ridicules both the man and his music. People are very wary of the heightening of experience, and want to knock it down. It’s fear as much as anything that makes her do the strip dance, fear of something she doesn’t understand and so can only get level with by ridiculing. A lot of people still do that, not just with art but with life. I wasn’t totally on Debussy’s side; in a sense he had no right to disrupt the party. But artists are dogmatic and pig-headed, and they over-ride people. Most of the people I’ve dealt with in films have quite dispassionately sacrificed someone in their way who understood them. It’s not nice but that’s how it works. The end of the film, the music from his unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher, with Debussy alone in the castle and his ghostly mistress—whom he drove to attempted suicide—rising up, was an analogy of the lost romantic ideal he had destroyed by his disregard for people. You can be an egomaniac up to a point but in the end it can destroy you, or your work, or both.
Also from Dangerous Minds, want to see your favorite punk icons transformed into superheroes? Click here. Sadly, no Joker.
If anyone is aware of any other conversations going on on this topic, do let me know.