If you have been keeping abreast of the turbulence in the pagan blogosphere, you may have seen some turmoil over something called pop culture paganism. A fairly popular figure in the Lokean community is presently in the middle of a good deal of chaos over her involvement in pop culture paganism, actually. (It is a dramatic mess and it rather gives me a headache to watch the contortions people are putting themselves into over this matter. That is all I have to say on this specific case.) There is a significantly loud portion of the pagan community that is insisting that pop culture paganism is not a legitimate thing. It really is rather maddening to have that going on when the rest of us are trying to figure out what it exactly is.
Pop Culture paganism is, in a nutshell, belief systems that operate involving figures from pop culture. As such, one could argue that the church of the Jedi is technically a pop culture pagan church. (Some people, however, would contend that it is a philosophical movement and has more in common with belief systems like Buddhism. I leave that fight to the Jedi community to hash out.) There has been a slow rise over the last two years of people having publicly declared spiritual relationships with figures that are from different media franchises. It ranges from the Marvel version of Loki to the Joker from DC Comics and the Valar from the Middle Earth world of Tolkien or the deity figures of popular games such as Skyrim. Many people are quick to insist that these people are simply engaged in flights of fantasy and are possessed of exceptionally over active imaginations.
There is one problem with this assumption, the people in the pop culture paganism group are clearly interacting with something. Their relationships have a great deal in common with those of the mainstream pagan community. There is some sort of spiritual exchange between the practitioners and the ones they revere. And the ones they revere appear to have some type of effect upon the world that is similar to that which would be seen by ‘true’ spiritual beings. Something is clearly going on here.
Some people declare that the pop culture pagans are going to make the rest of us pagans look crazy. Honestly, I can appreciate that concern. No one is exactly comfortable with the idea of having the world at large looking at you and telling you that you are insane. There’s just way too much negative garbage attached to that judgment. At the same time, we can not push this aside. We can choose to ignore it, but it isn’t going to go away. At one point, the general overculture that we are in tried to ignore paganism into non-existence. You can see how successful they were with that.
Yes, pop culture paganism looks strange to the folks who do not practice it. Honestly, all forms of religious belief are going to look strange to the people who don’t practice said belief system. It doesn’t mean that the system doesn’t work. It may not work for you but it is serving a real set of needs and helping the practitioners accomplish their goals in a fashion that holds true to their spiritual understanding of the world. We should not be worrying about respectability politics. All of this talk about how pop culture paganism makes the rest of us look is respectability politics.
It may be trite, but there is a maxim that I have seen thrown around that I think would be really useful here.
The lion does not concern himself over the opinions of sheep.
There have been so many variations on this expression, I’m not sure if I am using the iteration that G.R.R. Martin used in his books or not. (It would be poetically ironic if it was, though.) Worry about how other people would look at us is only going to hinder us in our efforts to build our own spiritual lives and the cultus of worship of the deities (and beings) we follow. The experiences of the people who practice pop culture paganism has very little real effect on our own worship. Let us focus on what we are doing and leave them in peace to do what they are doing.
Only worry about the matter when there is actual conflict. I suspect, however, the incidents of conflict between the pop culture pagans and everyone else in the community are not going to come from differing views on the meanings of the beings they are involved with. I suspect that the conflicts will arise as they have been thus far, with people attempting to dictate another person’s spiritual path. If you want to point at things as problems, I humbly suggest that this issue should be the one upheld, not if some one is worshiping a god from a novel.
Now, several people have been asking how pop culture paganism works. There are several different theories out there on what is going on. My best guess is that the concept of the character became ‘animated’ after a significant amount of mental, emotional, and spiritual energy was fed into it. Some would say that means the character becomes an egregore. Other people may say it is something different. I don’t know what the correct term would be. I don’t know if this mental and emotional energy is something that must come from the practitioner themselves or is something that can arise after a collection of people have built up that thought form.
It is also possible that there is something entirely different going on. It may be they are in communication with a deep part of their spirit and this is all a case of the anima and the animus of a given person interacting. It may be a case of a spiritual entity wearing the pop culture figure as a mask of sorts to communicate with the practitioner. It is also possible that the figure existed before they were written down and ‘created’. There are so many possible explanations for what is happening it is nigh on infinite.
And, to be honest, it really is not of our concern as long as no one is getting harmed or harming anyone else. The Nine Worlds are too large, too strange, and too inexplicably complex for us to sit down and say we know all of the facts about something. So, yes, pop culture paganism is a thing. And I think it is going to stick around. I’m of the opinion it is an ideological child of mainstream paganism. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Diversity gives us strength and adaptability.