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Pop Goes The Culture

The thing I find most difficult to talk about in what I do, a lot of the time, is the pop cultural stuff.

Some of that is that 99% of the pop cultural paganism stuff I’ve seen out there has been pop cultural magic and magical practice is not terribly interesting to me in the abstract (and is far from being my personal focus). Which means that I don’t feel I’m capable of having the same conversation as most people in general are having. I know exceptions, but I speak with them privately.

But my reaction to a lot of pop cultural magic is, “Yes? That looks like it works?” because these are the symbol-sets that people are wrangling with here and now and know deeply and that’s a thing that’s rich and tappable and if I say I’m feeling particularly Slytherin today that is something people know what means more readily than if I talk about feeling my Scorpio rising. Or whatever. (I think that’s the closest parallel I can think of, but I’m not sure, because I am pants at speaking astrology anyway. That being my point here, more or less.)

And people knowing WTF that means matters for a lot of things.

Which isn’t knocking pop cultural magic, it’s just… not where a lot of my focus is.

When people start talking about pop cultural religion, mostly what I see is that the conversations get really ugly. So ugly that I’ve seen posts about watching movies and wanting to have theology discussions about themes therein that basically start with “I like movies please don’t hurt me” as a disclaimer. There was a whole huge nasty throwdown about whether or not pop cultural entities were legit recipients for hero veneration on the basis of – this blew my mind – well, ancient heroes were real people with mighty deeds which we know because they have surviving mythologies, and I do wonder what part of the concept of mythologies is entirely unclear here. (The whole thing about the legitimacy of religion being rooted in its factual provability is something that I think hegemonic Christianity has a fucking great lot to answer for and nobody’s ever going to do it. Side rant. Maybe I’ll have it someday.)

For the most part I sidestepped it in an easy way: the pop cultural parts of my religious stuff were background theologies, ideas that were adopted easily and fit seamlessly into other things. I mean, people would recognize stuff like:

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.

—The Creation of Éa”

as Ursula K. Le Guin, and pointing it out as having spiritually relevant content didn’t get grumbling, even from people who are otherwise living in vehement denial of the nature of modern fantastic literature and modern paganism being two trees growing from the same soil.

That part’s the easy part.

The less easy part is having the discussions, the thoughts about things, the illustrations. I wouldn’t expect a pagan conversation to be able to include things like the Velveteen Rabbi’s fictional ritual guests without a whole lot of brawling, because inadequately respectful, inadequately historical, inadequately something. Except that this is how religion works, it integrates, it picks things up, it trades its parts with the outside. But we can’t be having that. Separation of the spheres, of the worlds. Or something. Can’t let anything profane in…

The hard part is when the entities show up.

The impulses I had after my oldest daughter were born, the way I ached for a more just world, something that wouldn’t ruin her like I had been ruined, those were looking for something, or Someone, to organize around. There was a need there. And the shape of it wasn’t something that was met by anything in my extant systems of ancient gods and modern magics.

So it sort of sat there.

And then the pop cultural stuff started to get into something that that could attach to. And I poked at it. I made jokes. I said things like, “… I don’t really venerate any pop cultural entities but if I did it would be…”

He’s a polite fellow, if one’s being decent. He didn’t bother me about it. He hung out and sketched a bit. I can see him if I listen, little quick portraits of the kids in better moments, sorts of things. Not that I’ve done a lot of listening, it’s just the sort of thing he would do.

I found it sort of embarrassing. It’s not Proper, you know, to worry about a pop cultural being, when there are so many other gods and spirits and ancestors and other powers to pay attention to. They’re not real.

I write about the theologies of stories, and still I go there.

I don’t really read fanfic; I read his fanfic when it got recommended to me. I found truths there, about his nature, about the things the world needs. It made me laugh, and I knew things, and I thought about things. Thought about bringing more of that into the world, somehow. The sorts of things one does when one takes a power seriously.

At the same time, I get a kick out of citing Matt Fraction’s comment on how he wrote a Thor comic because, well, that’s interesting. But that’s safe, because it’s not religious there, and even as someone who recognizes a mystical sort of experience I don’t have to be taken seriously there, it’s not mine.

I started a project, designing a tarot deck, and I wound up figuring out which of the Powers I’m dealing with regularly go with which card, and it was complicated and glorious and I rolled around in symbolism for ages, figuring out how all the pieces meshed.

And he pointed out that he was Justice. The Justice I’d been wanting to find, to organize my thoughts around. The layers went deep and complicated and fierce and right, the way things do when they fit together perfectly.

And I said, “… but.”

And he was right. (You don’t want to argue with him when he’s right, he just gives you this look and carries on doing his thing without you. And it feels foolish and there’s nothing to do but try to catch up.)

And eventually it worked around to wanting a shrine. Or making jokes about having one, which is sort of wanting in denial. Wanting to feed that idea, that power, to make it stronger.

Eventually it worked around to ordering an action figure. Not a cheap one. A nice one, well-articulated, with a lovely shield.

And then spending the day on and off searching the internet for artificial lilacs, leading to this conversation:

“Are you looking for flowers for your mother?”
“… are you looking for flowers for something?”
“So you are looking for flowers for someone.”
“… true enough!”
“… Steve Rogers.”
“… who?”
“…Captain America.”
“Why does Captain America need flowers?”
*burying my face in my hands* “Terry Pratchett.”

(I also need to reread Night Watch. But still. For Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard-Boiled Egg!)


An Invocation of Captain America, Nazi Face Puncher
Steve Rogers, PR Disaster, a fit by idiopathic-smile. Don’t get him started on the Boy Scouts.
The Ballad of Captain America’s Disapproving Face, Murder Ballads
Fanvid to Carbon Leaf’s ‘The War Was In Color
“Loyal to the Dream”, by Andrew Rilstone, a reflection on reading a fuckton of Captain America comics

2 comments to Pop Goes The Culture

  • Hi there! I was tooling around looking at your blogs ‘n’ stuff after reading some of your comments on the Aedicula Antinoi–I’m an Antinoan myself, actually one of the current Magistrates of the Ekklesia Antinoou. *cough*

    Anyway, when I saw this post, I had to respond. Because I love Steve Rogers, and this post spoke to something I’ve been wrestling with for a while in silence, about how the Gods are real and I worship them, but fictional characters are also, or can become real.

    Because how can Captain America not be real after 75 years of fictional life? Or Sherlock Holmes, who has lived over a hundred years and incarnated in over a hundred actors? Or Kirk, Spock, and their compatriots on the Enterprise? I’m pretty sure that on a cosmic scale, Steve Rogers is far more Real than Donald Trump, and Mr. Spock is worthy of veneration as an ancestor more than many abuse parents.

    So hello from a fellow lover of Steve Rogers, Captain America, and I also write fanfic about him and I’m on Facebook and we have mutual friends.

    • wyfwolf

      Hah on Trump. Just so.

      My own perspective comes from having written a lot of fiction, and being one of the sort of writers who feels more “I’m following these people around and writing down what they do” than the more… in control forms. (And these days I consider my fiction writing a devotional act to a Creator deity, for that reason. I craft souls, much as They do.) So of course these people are people, and their deeds are deeds, and so on.

      Also, hi there!