I wrote this article back in 2014, and received quite a bit of hostility for it. As a result, I ended up deleting this article rather than continuing to engage in a fruitless debate. However, here we are in 2016, and the “pop-culture pagan” debate is here again. After reading this eloquent article by Hellenic Polytheist, Dver ( http://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/why-we-worship/ ) I decided to resurrect this one. I’m feeling just a little bit like the scientist nobody wanted to listen to in Dante’s Peak, and that’s not a good thing.
There’s a part of me that still can’t believe that I’m still even bothering to argue theology with people who are worshipping comic book characters and think that they’re Time Lords, Sailor Scouts, or the reincarnation of Inuyasha, It really is surreal, and my brain still hasn’t quite accepted that this is real-life:
This is the last post I’m planning on ever making about this topic before I talk about more constructive things.. But since I’ve had some of these questions/statements leveled at me, here are my final answers:
Tom Hiddleston is a charming red-head, so how do you know he’s not the Avatar of Loki, or Loki chose him as an instrument to spread his worship?
First of all Loki fan-girls, do some actual historical research about Loki. There is no source anywhere in any Edda or Saga that describes what Loki looks like. We know from Snorri in Gylfaginning that Loki is “pleasing and handsome in appearance”, but that’s the only physical description of Loki that we have. The idea of Loki being a redhead is a modern interpretation, born from the fact that many people (though not everyone) consider Loki to be a god associated with fire. In short, the color of Tom Hiddleston’s hair doesn’t prove anything. More importantly, before letting your adoration of an actor convince you that he somehow must be given to us from the gods themselves, maybe you should ask Tom Hiddleston what he thinks instead of treating him like some unreachable, godly force. He’s just a guy after all. Why not send him a letter, telling him that you think he’s the embodiment of the real Norse god Loki and tell him that your altar is filled with pictures of him that you pray to and light candles to every day. Ask him if he agrees that he’s the puppet of an ancient Norse god meant to bring him a hoard of female worshippers. If you can somehow vocalize that question in a way that doesn’t make you sound like creep-zilla, maybe you can actually get a response and hear whether or not he accepts those claims.
Old Norse/Germanic culture is open to everyone to take from as they please, because it doesn’t have any modern stipulations attached to it.
You know, this is going to sound surprising to you media worshippers here in the US, but believe it or not, there are these other countries. They are very far away across the ocean. They are called Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. Believe it or not, there are people there who are the living, direct descendants of the ancestors who actually worshipped the Norse gods and goddesses in a complicated set of rituals and philosophies on par with modern Hinduism. A lot of these people see these myths as their cultural heritage. They grew up with the stories of the Norse gods and goddesses as their fairytales, and they are still a deeply loved aspect of their cultures. A lot of them have actually re-adopted the gods of their ancestors. There are people in Germany and England that feel the same way, and people in America who can also claim those gods as part of their ancestral heritage. Norse/Germanic spirituality actually is the cultural heritage of an indigenous people, just like Hinduism, just like Shinto, just like Ifa, just like the Native Americans. It does belong to someone. Anyone is free to draw inspiration from any of these traditions on their own terms, but just because it’s a tradition that was born from “white people” doesn’t make their traditions a free-for-all for all that doesn’t belong to anyone specific, so you can make it whatever you want it to be.
Gods can use a media character as a mask to introduce themselves to people.
Yes, that’s absolutely true. As long as it’s respectful, I think that some of the work of people like Neil Gaiman, are wonderful modern portrayals of the gods in the media. If someone comes to Heathenry through a love of the Thor movies, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Everyone comes into any new tradition with a certain degree of forgivable ignorance. But when you know that you are claiming to worship a god or goddess from a real tradition, and you don’t want anything to do with the gods as their own culture knew them and would rather just keep worshipping the media figure, then you are worshipping media, not a god or a goddess, because at that point it’s pretty obvious you care less about the god/dess as much as you do about the person who played them, what that character (not god) was like in a show or comic, etc. If you’re willingly ignoring and even belittling and dismissing the real tradition, you’re just a run of the mill Media worshipper, like so many other people in this country. If you don’t want to worship Loki unless he looks like Tom Hiddleston and acts like his character and lives by the rules of the Marvel Universe, you want to worship Tom Hiddleston and his character, not the Norse god Loki who is a part of a greater spiritual heritage. Just own it, and stop trying to insist that what you’re doing is practicing Norse spirituality or paganism. Better yet, why don’t you try to join a Hindu Temple, but tell them you only want to worship Shiva in the form of Shiva the monster from Final Fantasy, and see what they say.
People calling themselves Pagans or Heathens and worshipping media characters isn’t hurting anyone.
Not true. These pagan traditions used to be real, living, breathing, indigenous religions (with the exception of Wicca, which is a melding of many ideas, some based on genuinely older traditions). Since the pagan/heathen awakening, a lot of people have gone through a lot of shit to try and recreate these traditions and present them to the world as valid, spiritual beliefs. People have been physically and verbally harassed, lost their jobs, been shunned or run out by their communities, all so the old religions could be granted the same respect as other, surviving indigenous religions. So, try to imagine, while people are trying to prove themselves as practicing a serious spiritual tradition worthy of respect to a largely hostile majority, someone jumps into the conversation and says, “Yeah, I’m a pagan too who worships Sailor Moon as the archetype of the Moon goddess. I worship Loki too, but only when he looks like Tom Hiddleston. I’m also a Time Lord.” You can’t see how insisting on injecting the worship of cartoon characters and actors into an indigenous tradition can feed into America’s expectation that we aren’t serious traditions with historical significance? You can’t see how your insistence on claiming the title of pagan or heathen and then using that title to worship someone else’s fictional, intellectual property as gods and goddesses could possibly make the work of the reviving indigenous faiths ten times harder? That’s either extremely naïve or extremely arrogant. So if you’re not really interested in practicing Norse/Germanic spirituality and feel more comfortable worshipping comic book characters in the context of the Marvel!Asgard universe, then don’t associate yourself with us. Don’t call yourself pagan or heathen or Ásatrú. Call yourself something else, like Marvelites, or Church of Media instead of trying to force the worship of media characters into our traditions, ignore and diminish our ancestral legacy as unimportant afterthoughts, and demand that we respect you as one of us. Because neopaganism is seen as this big, amorphous, open-minded to a fault thing, people have got it into their heads that as long as they’re worshipping more than one being, they’re automatically pagan. But no “pagan” tradition historically ever worshipped Dr. Who, or the Sailor Scouts, or Marvel Characters. All traditions we call pagan were born out of the cultural, spiritual understanding of humans in close contact with nature and the spirits therein. If you aren’t honoring pagan gods and the cultures they came from, you are not pagan. You’re a person that openly worships our culture’s media even more blatantly than most people do.
You have no reason to be offended if someone wants to use Marvel!Loki as their focus of worship.
Ok, fine. Let’s say you’re worshipping the Norse gods of the Marvel Universe, while at the same time calling yourself a “pop-culture pagan” and associating yourself with Norse spirituality. So what you’re saying is, if I decided that I wanted to worship Grandmother Willow from Disney’s Pocahontas, and I started to call myself a “pop-culture Shaman” and insist upon my inclusion in Native American spiritual practices, Native Americans, who can actually claim that spirituality as a part of their history and culture, have absolutely no reason to be offended by that?
Here’s a lesson about Heathen culture for those of you that are coming from the perspective of generic Neopaganism: Most Heathens do not consider themselves to be Neopagans. That’s why we call ourselves “Heathen” in America to make that differentiation. Most Heathens consider themselves to be practicing the reconstructed, indigenous beliefs of their ancestors. I.e, the religion those of us of Scandinavian or Germanic descent would have been born into had it not been destroyed by Christianity. We take this very seriously as an expression of ancestral reverence and reclaiming what should have been ours by birth. You saying that these traditions belong to nobody so they’re up for anyone they take to use as they please isn’t just ignorant, it’s offensive. You’re ignoring the fact that my (and possibly your) ancestors worshipped these gods and practiced these traditions and were slaughtered ruthlessly for trying to keep their traditions. These gods aren’t just characters in a comic book, they’re a part of a spiritual legacy. So you’re saying that you would rather worship a character that’s based off of a real god, to the exclusion of paying the real god or the real ancestral tradition of its ancestors any respect, but still want to claim association with their traditions to make yourself sound like you’re practicing a legit religion instead of just saying you worship actors and cartoon characters? You’re so right, how could that ever be construed as offensive?
I’m not trying to imply that someone who isn’t of Scandinavian or Germanic ancestry can’t practice Heathenry. In my opinion that’s completely acceptable… but just like any indigenous religion, you had better be prepared to pay the ancestors of that tradition and the culture it came from with seriousness and respect if you do. And if these do happen to be your ancestors, maybe you should pay their legacy a little more respect then you would your favorite comic book.
The gods are just archetypes anyway, so worshipping media characters is the same thing as worshipping old gods and goddesses.
I’m sorry, but the worship of gods born from 2,000+ years of human spiritual experience, and their interactions with the natural world around them, is not the same as people venerating characters that were made maybe 100 years ago or less for the purpose of entertainment. I saw a few people say, “yeah, but look at American Gods! That book led a lot of people to paganism and portrays the gods in the media”. Well, maybe you should re-read that book, because if you recall it was about how the memory of the old gods is dying in America because as a culture we would rather worship media.
You shouldn’t police other people’s practices.
I would never think to police someone else’s beliefs. If you want to worship Tom Hiddleston or Sailor Moon, or Papa Smurf, that’s you’re business. However, if you’re going to insist that you’re a part of my tradition and you’re bringing foreign things into that tradition that I see as detrimental to it or ridiculous, I don’t have to stand back politely and pretend like I don’t have a problem with that. You have a right to say that your practices are legitimate just as much as I have a right to say that they’re unrecognizable as the tradition my ancestors practiced and you’re claiming entrance into because you saw a movie you liked. Either respect the tradition you’re trying to join and the ancestors who created it, or make your own tradition.
You can’t say that people who are worshipping media figures aren’t taking their tradition seriously.
Well, people who are doing that are obviously taking it seriously. And a lot of Trekkies take Star Trek dead seriously. Your seriousness isn’t in question. Whether or not other people choose to take your worship of media characters seriously when you insist on claiming the titles of our traditions is another question entirely.