We’ve all encountered them. The new folks that show up at the Pagan gatherings and public events. They’ve watched a movie or two from the Marvel Universe. They’ve been swayed by the hunky depictions of Hemsworth and Cumberbatch. They’ve done a few Encyclopedias Britannica searches on Loki and/or Thor and have unearthed the Norse Pantheon, and the concept of worshipping the Gods. Or maybe they’ve watched “The Craft” and decided that the Witchcraft that they saw there was something “fun” to try. In their moments of scant research, they found that there was this thing called ‘Wicca”. Their further research uncovered a public gathering of folks called “Pagan Pride Day” at a town or city near them – and they’ve arrived. Ahh, the inevitable culture shock.
Mythology is an integral part of our belief systems. Over the years, however, these ancient tales have been transformed and added to in order to make them more palatable to modern audiences. Many Pagans of today had their first experiences with Paganism in their reading of ‘The Mists of Avalon’ or watching the British ‘Robin of Sherwood’. How has the modern interpretation of mythology changed the Pagan community, and is it a change for the good?Morphing the Myth (S.P. Hendrick)
I’ve written a handful of blog posts on this particular panel from the 2016 Pantheacon in San Jose, California. I keep getting drawn back to the topic because it does express an indelible aspect of Paganism: how our pop culture influences our Spiritual practices. You don’t think it does? Well, I’d point to all the starry-eyed Loki fanatics that enter into Paganism with dreams of cuddling up to the Benedict Cumberbatch imagery that they have – as well as the fluffy Marvel depiction of one of the more difficult Trickster Gods to work with. Books, movies, tv shows, music….tons of stuff. All of that feeds into a narrative that so many people seem to be bringing themselves to. New Pagans. Love and Light. Are you shivering yet?
Every Gulf Coast Gathering that I have attended (I’ve been to all of them), I met newbie Pagans. People who are attending their first gathering of Pagans in any form. I’ve seen these folks at Pagan Pride Days. Gods know I ran into TONS of them at the three Pantheacons I attended. Many of the questions that these folks fire off are so basic that it gets a little irritating.
“What’s it like to touch the Gods?” Well shit, I’m not totally sure how to describe it. Its typically different for each person. Your relationship with a God is different from that of another person> Just like your relationship with a person is different than the relationship someone else has with that same person. Relationships, experiences, what have you – all of that is unique to the individual.
“How hard was it to become a Priest?” I’ll let you know if I ever get to that point. Its never been the top of my list of what to accomplish in the first place. That’s the beauty of your own Path. Your footsteps take you where you need to be, even if you don’t realize it until you arrive there. 😊
“Is it easy to score with Pagan chicks?” Well, there’s nothing different from Pagans than any other human being. So, dating, sex, and stuff like that….its no different. You still get rejected for being an ass – like asking questions like that. However, I do emphasis…if a Pagan teacher says you got to give up the booty to learn the information…run, don’t walk, away from that person. Paganism has its share of predators, just like any spiritual or religious system.
“Do I need to wear the cloaks and Renaissance gear?” No, not really. A lot of folks like wearing the stuff because it provides a certain aura for them. I’m a touch different. I go for comfort. Typically, I wear blue jeans and concert t-shirts. But I do have a cloak that I enjoy wearing on chilly evenings. So its not uncommon to find me in ritual with a Styx t-shirt, torn up jeans, tennis shoes, carrying my walking staff, and wearing that cloak. It looks odd to some folks, but its comfortable to me.
…and the questions tend to go on and on and on. At least, until you hold up a hand and confess that you need to get a refill on your tumbler’s iced tea contents. These newbies are excited. They’ve found something that they feel “clicks” in their lives. Their exuberance and enthusiasm can be easily tiring, and eventually can become annoying. Its understandable that many Pagan-folk will back off from these newbies. They are physically and mentally draining. For me, most of that comes from untangling their fever-dreams of Paganism brought about by Marvel comics and movies from the realities that they are going to find. Yeah, I hate being that kill-joy.
In the “Morphing the Myth” panel, there was a lot of discussion on how science fiction and fantasy movies, tv shows, books and comics can (and have) been the gateway into Paganism for many. Many of these newbies come to Paganism on a super-high set of expectations created by graphic artists and amazing special effects. There’s so much to ingest from these depictions. And hey…I’ll trade places with Hemsworth for a single kiss from Natalie Portman. Just sayin’. But what happens when their Hollywood-induced high crashes into the more mundane reality of Paganism?
Well, if you guessed that many of these folks might leave Paganism and run screaming back to their CGI fantasies – you MIGHT be right. The reality is that we don’t rightly know. There are no statistics kept on people who come to Paganism and leave after a single year. There are no matriculation rates for first-year Pagans – to steal a concept from my previous paying job. Thankfully, there is no registration process for becoming a Pagan. So there’s no real way of knowing how many people that come into Paganism remain after the first year, the second year, the fifth year, or even find a home within a particular Spirituality. So, I can’t even fathom a guess at how many step in, take a few steps into the darkened woods of Paganism, and then turn tail, screaming their entire way out of the woods – back to where they came from. But I’m certain that it happens. And for a large variety of reasons, too.
Perhaps, instead of just throwing these new folks to the wolves – so to speak – letting them deal with the violent clash of their bedazzled Hollywood visions of Paganism and the harsher realities of Paganism as a personal Spiritual Path…. (taking a breath – its getting to be a long sentence) …we can steel ourselves to the idea of answering these same questions over and over and over again. All coming from different faces and voices. All hungrily looking for something to fulfill their empty Spiritual stomachs. Yes, they are going to be clingy. Yes, they are going to be annoying with their questions. Yes, they are going to be frightened and confused when the bubble of their Hollywood concepts of Paganism bursts. But. I take a moment to remember one thing. I was there too. Joni, Mary, and John were kind enough to be patient with me. I owe their generosity and love to do the same for others…and impress on those newbies to be just as patient and loving when they reach a similar point that I am at. In the meantime, tell Peter Parker to move out of the way…I want a date with Kirsten (like I stand a chance, but I can dream…right?)
2 thoughts on “Thinking About: Morphing the Myth, Pagan Newbies, and Kirsten Dunst (Sigh)”
I admit to being frustrated by folk who think that attending a course and/or getting a certificate means they’ve ‘made it’ as a Pagan. Nope. Still lots to explore after that! Which can be exciting or daunting, as you know…
The best we can do is guide them as far as they can be, before the training wheels come off (if they ever do). Then enjoy where their path takes them 😊
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Like you said, we’ve all been there and it’s not just Pagan paths that get romanticized and morphed in the works of sci-fi and fantasy. There are plenty of popular movies, television shows and other media that have taken cues from some Christian based mysticism and turned it into something much cooler looking than the reality of it. A lot of the popular Supernatural series with Sam and Dean Winchester taking on Satan with Angels riding shotgun used story lines lifted from popular Christian based stories. It resonates with people though. I enjoyed them. But when you’re still very young and impressionable (which, I must admit I continued to be into my thirties if I’m being honest with myself) you want some of it to be true so bad you go looking for it anyway. It can be hard to separate the mythos from the reality. To some extent, do we really want to dispel it all away though? Sometimes, I think, some of the best magic started out as just an idea from someone’s imagination.