Disclaimer: Some of these ideas are based on my UPG, and all are colored by my own perceptions. They are meant to be helpful for those who need them, and all are encouraged to be modified to suit your own needs. A living practice is a personalized one. Please use my thoughts as a jumping off point for discussion.
I promised a while ago I would delve into some Pop Culture Paganism with everyone, so please, allow us to begin.
What is pop culture paganism?
Pop culture paganism is when a pop culture entity or idea is incorporated into a religious practice. There may be some debate about this, but I consider people who practice the tenets of the Jedi or Sith to be pop culture pagans, even though you could be any religion and a Jedi or Sith, much like you can be any religion and a Buddhist. (This is to my understanding. Feel free to chime in at the comments section if I am wrong.) Anyone who turns something from Popular Culture into a living practice for themselves, or incorporates it into their religious practice is a Pop Culture Pagan.
Guess what? Do you know the Charge of the Goddess? Do you recite the Wiccan rede? Then YOU TOO are a pop culture pagan, because these did not arise out of the ether, as some pagans believe, passed down from antiquity, but through modern writing and poetry. I learned a version of the Rede when I was a new baby Celtic Wiccan, and I thought I was learning something passed down through the mists of time.
This post is not going to be about using established Pop Culture codes for yourself. That would be more ways to structure your practice. Right now I am going to talk about characters, or Pop Culture Divinity. The divine moves in mysterious ways, that is still true.
Pop Culture Divinity
Pop culture icons, like, for example, Marvel!Loki can provide several different avenues for interaction with the divine energy in the universe. It is an age old idea that we can create an energy through mass consciousness, for example the construct of the Akashic record. I believe we can also create a spirit or entity through mass energy direction, and this idea is also not a new one. The ancient Greeks believed in spirit forms. They believed that there was an idea of a perfect everything floating around to be dropped into the heads of people. There was a perfect chair. A perfect spoon. And, to the detriment of society for all time, they also believed there was a perfect man and a perfect woman. So, to my way of thinking it is not a stretch to believe Marvel!Loki does exist in some form in the spirit realm, and honestly probably with quite a bit of energy behind him.
But here is where things begin to get murky. Is Marvel!Loki now just another aspect of the God Loki? Are you a hard polytheist? Do you believe in aspects (or don’t know what they are?). An aspect is a traditional pagan ideal. In traditional paganism everyone might talk about the God. The Green Man is an aspect of the God. And so is Lugh. And all other faces of the god are an aspect. Zeus. Pan. The list is practically endless. Traditional Wicca based paganism is at it’s heart monotheistic, something a lot of Wiccans don’t even understand because we do not discuss theology much when there are much more interesting things like spells to learn. Wiccans believe that all faces of the gods are part of a singular divine entity.
I am a hard polytheist, which means I believe all gods are individual. I also believe that a singular “divine” energy exists. These two ideas don’t necessarily need to conflict. Aspecting can be part of the idea of hard polytheism. For example, if you call Loki the Trickster, I believe Loki is a powerful enough being that you can indeed call down a part of Himself and only get the Trickster (unless you have a long standing relationship with him). Also, you can call down Loki the Father or Loki the Mother (Loki the parent?) and get someone very loving and caring toward children. Loki the God of In Between. Loki, My Sweetest Friend. Loki, my Beloved. All of these are pieces of Loki who can be called, and if the general idea of the God is called in ritual and it is for something or by someone Loki, Himself has a vested interest in, he may just show up.
Take that into consideration the next time you just ask for “the God” in ritual. Who is taking part in your party?
A character can also become a face of a God/dess. Maybe you really enjoy Sherlock Holmes. You have seen every movie and show, including the old Masterpiece Theater productions. You’ve read all the books. Have posters and bobbleheads. Maybe you see Sherlock in your dreams or staring over your shoulder while you’re in line at the grocery store.
You feel a special love for this character. You have imaginary discussions with him. Maybe you write fanfiction and poetry and create photoshopped images of him for fun. And then one day you feel him hanging around and just keep talking out loud to him, even though you feel a wee tad nuts.
Perhaps this is a mask of Ganesha, or Odin, or whoever, but you don’t know that God. This can be their doorway to your consciousness, especially if you put in a lot of energy thinking about that character. The pop culture pagans I know frequently already have connections with the Divine before they begin their pop culture journey and are constantly in a quandary as to whether or not the spirits they are interacting with are actually an Old God in disguise, or if they are simply a spirit using that character because they have a lot in common, or if they are actually the manifest energy of that character created by mass conscious energy.
Spirit work is entertaining if nothing else.
To talk about my personal journey a bit, some of you know I came to Loki Himself (who is not much like Marvel!Loki) through pop culture. Yes, I was one of those Lokeans who met Him through Marvel, laugh all you want, but I will be eternally grateful. Most recently I have been working with Bruce Banner.
*cue the gigglesnorts*
I believe my Bruce Banner may be the face of a lost representation of Ganesha. I came to this idea through a lot of meditation and consideration of what Bruce means to me. Bruce is The Man who Lives with His Monster. Bruce is intelligent. Quick witted. Kind hearted. Steady. Bruce is constantly balancing Anger and Fear in his life.
My Bruce frequently wears a gentle smile. He’s not angry, but he can access his anger.
In working with Bruce I have:
Become a more steady writer.
Let go of much of my anxiety.
Become much more diligent in my day to day interactions with people and not flying off the handle.
Gotten some rage issues under control.
I’m fairly convinced of the Ganesha connection with my Bruce for several reasons, but one of them is that I’ve always associated Bruce with India in ways that even violate movie/comic book cannon. And there were hints and directions given to me here and there that my Bruce was not actually only the movie character, but a hidden divinity.
The story of Bruce has been almost two years in the making, and I can’t truly condense it down into one blog post. Working with him has been nothing but beneficial for me. I was skeptical at first because Bruce Banner? Come on. But he was cropping up in my meditation more and more, and if Loki could use the face of Marvel!Loki, why couldn’t someone else use the face of Bruce?
Pop culture icons give old Gods who have lost their worship the perfect place to find new devotees. There is a willing pool of people who are already committed to the ideals of a certain character and love them. They collect images and put a lot of mental energy into keeping their connection with the character current. They surround themselves with all the trappings of worship. And whatever the Gods get out of their relationships with us, and us from them, it is all right there for the taking in the form of fandom and fan interest.
Some pagans look down their nose at pop culture paganism, but these people aren’t being realistic. How did we get the Gods at all? We told their stories. We gave them our love. We worshipped and offered our own energy and whatever physical possessions we could. And they stuck around and tried to help us, loved us, and offered what they could into our lives.
I have a living practice, and I believe that pop culture has a place in any daily worship, if it is beneficial and the person wants to include it. Don’t let a little sneering from the old guard, the reconstructionists, stop you. Wicca isn’t real either. Shock? Gerald Gardner was around during my lifetime. Wicca is just a bunch of cobbled together non-sense that helps witches organize basic ideas and gives us structure for our working year and a place to visualize our personal power and magic. Ancient magical practices and stories do exist, but nothing is more valid than anything we decide to do with intention.
I’m going to finish this post with a brief quote from the Introduction of the 1999 edition of The Spiral Dance by Starhawk:
“Witches, on the whole, are interested in discussions of our history. There are new conferences, magazines, articles, and panels at the American Academy of Religion on the subject. But the interest is separate from any sense that the validity of our spiritual choices depends on documenting their origins, their antiquity, or their provenance. This has sometimes been misquotes as “not caring about truth”. In reality, it’s simply saying that the truth of our experience is valid whether it has roots thousands of years old or thirty minutes old, that there is a mythic truth whose proof is shown not through references and footnotes but in the way it engages strong emotions, mobilizes deep life energies, and gives us a sense of history, purpose, and place in the world. What gives the [religious practice] validity is how it works for us now, in the moment, not whether or not someone worshipped this particular image in the past.”