Warning: This post is one of those posts, the ones that will probably piss some of you off.
I promised myself I would try not to jump on too many bandwagons, but, well, screw that, this is important.
Let me tell you a story….
A woman who posts on one of the fora where I lurk had been trying to get pregnant for a year without success. At the end of the year, she remembered a particular ritual from the Kushiel’s Legacy series, wherein D’Angeline women (who can’t get pregnant otherwise) light candles and pray to the goddess Eisheth to “open the gates of their womb”.
She decided to perform the ritual, and the following cycle, she became pregnant, and has had no problems since.
I’m telling you this story because lately it seems as if some people have it in for pop culture Paganism. In case you aren’t up to speed, see here, here, here, here, and here, and a whole lot of posts on tumblr.
The arguments against pop culture Paganism range from the straightforward “these deities, as products of fiction, don’t exist, so why would you worship them over *real* deities?” to ranting about the impact of fandom on Paganism (see Marvel Loki) to asserting that pop culture Pagans are frightened of *real* deities, so they choose to honour figures from pop culture as a substitute for engaging with *real* pantheons.
Let me tell you another story….
Once upon a time, in India, a film came out in the 1970s (1975, actually) called Jai Santoshi-Maa all about a little known goddess known as Santoshi. Before 1975, there was one documented temple to this goddess (that was previously dedicated to a different goddess) and a special vrat (a ritual involving the taking of vows) performed by women on Fridays.
And then the movie became ridiculously popular, and her cult exploded.
Remember, this is India we’re talking about, so we’re talking millions of adherents almost overnight.
Because of a film.
Because of popular fucking culture.
Screenings which, by the way, took on the characteristics of ritual (entering the theater barefoot, as one would enter a temple). This also happened during screenings of the Mahabharata, Western journalists snarked at the rituals people were performing in front of the TV as (paraphrased) “people worshiping their television sets”.
But, okay, I get it, at least there was some sort of cult dedicated to Santoshi prior to the film, whereas the entities most people are talking about have their origins in fiction. Pop culture Pagans invoke Princess Celestia from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or perform rituals based on Wraeththu (Storm Constantine even authored a grimoire for a Wraeththu-based tradition). There’s chaos magic, which I don’t know that much about, that goes into this in depth, but I don’t know that much about it. Suffice it to say that I’ve heard of people working with Cthulhu and co. in rituals, I think this isn’t a very good idea, but if it works for them….
The thing is, I don’t buy the assertion that pop culture Pagans are scared shitless of *real* deities. Most of the pop culture Pagans I know honour historical deities in addition to pop culture figures, or use pop culture imagery in their practice. The woman I spoke of in my story also maintains an altar to Dionysos, the wonderful Grumpy Lokean Elder uses Batman and Joker to represent Heimdall and Loki and their altars.
And GLE knows his shit, okay?
Then there’s the big question: Who cares?
If someone invokes Eisheth for help with a pregnancy, and they get results, how is that not a good thing?
If someone decides to invoke the Four Gods from Fushigi Yugi in their work with the elements, does it really affect anyone but themselves?
If Loki decides to appear to someone as the Bastard from the Chalion series, why the fuck are you questioning His choice of mask?
I also feel inclined to point out that there are plenty of “historical” figures who people readily honour who….turn out to be not all that historical. Take St. Christopher, for example, in the Middle Ages, it was thought that St. Christopher had the head of a dog.
And then the church came out and said “oopsie, we made a booboo, he doesn’t actually exist”.
Not to mention the many saints who are so obviously reworked Pagan deities that you wonder if the clergy really wanted to hide that fact.
The thing is, that if you tell my mother saint so-and-so didn’t exist, she doesn’t really give a shit, because so-and-so helped her find lost things or helped out when she was sick. Regardless of the saint’s historicity (or lack thereof) you’ll still hear stories about these saints helping people out when they really need it.
Seriously, if you tried to narrow down the list of saints to saints with actual verifiable historical data, the entire list would be gutted. They might have a few centuries worth of veneration, but the long and short of it is that at some point, they were the product of someone’s imagination.
I mean seriously, an entire race of people with dog heads?
Okay, Egypt gets a free pass on the animal head thing.
I know pop culture Paganism is this odd thing and it’s raised some hard polytheist hackles somewhat, but seriously, all this “I’m a bigger polytheist than you because I worship REAL deities [when the divinity of at least one of those deities *coughLokicough* depends on who you ask] so NYAH NYAH NYAH!” is just….disappointing….