You walk into a room at a family gathering and you find uncle Elmo telling a joke so racist that you wonder if it’s not too late to have yourself adopted out of the family. Your boss is making sexist remarks at the company picnic and you start scanning the skies for the black helicopters which you are sure Human Resources must have dispatched by now. You’ve turned on the news only to hear another story about the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a funeral and you hope that in your next life you’ll perhaps be reincarnated as an otter.
One of the unavoidable truths about human kind is that eventually someone is going to say something that makes you cringe. It’s going to happen, the only requirement being that two or more people are communicating.
You have only to wait.
How long that wait lasts, well.., that’s directly proportional to the number of people in your sample population. The more folks who attend the party, the sooner you’ll feel that special flush of embarrassment that marks your search for the nearest exit.
So, last week, a lot of people within the pagan community (or at least the more vocal parts of the community) spent valuable time and energy debating the rightness or wrongness of worshiping superheroes.
It certainly wasn’t the first “cringe-worthy” moment I’ve experienced while watching paganism grow and change over the years. I have every expectation that more such moments are just waiting for their time to pounce.
Still, if ever there was a time that I didn’t want the rest of the world to be looking…,
Except, here I am talking about it. Why?
Because, however much you may want to leave the room when you catch uncle Elmo doing his normal shtick, if you just let it go unchallenged, you are condoning it with your silence. And I can’t bring myself to do that.
If you are worshiping superheroes, you are doing it wrong.
Now this is the point where someone jumps in and starts crying about how I’m being all mean and dogmatic and trying to trample their beliefs.
The problem with that argument is that I didn’t say jack about belief.
I said, “you are doing it wrong.”
This is not about orthodoxy. This is not about ‘Correct Belief’.
For those outside the polytheistic sphere who may not know this: we pagans don’t really care for orthodoxy. ‘One Right Way’ is more of a monotheist state-of-mind.
Polytheists are typically more about orthopraxy – that is, ‘Correct Action’.
Worshiping superheroes is wrong, not because it is an incorrect belief, but because venerating fictional characters is denigrating to the actual gods and heroes that we DO worship. You know, the REAL ones, the ones that speak to us through the world around us and not from the pages of a comic book or the latest box-office reboot.
There is a difference between fandom and worship. If you don’t see that difference, if you don’t feel it, then once again, I suggest that you are doing it wrong. True worship (or adoration, or veneration, or whichever word you want to use) should run much deeper than any feeling we may muster for a character we know to be unreal. Children may worship the likes of Batman and Iron Man with the same passion they hold for Santa, but not adults. We know that it was our parents who consumed the milk and cookies while setting out our gifts. I do not believe we are able to feel that kind of depth of emotion for something we know to be false.
If you can’t experience that fervor for the gods whom you claim to honor…,
Doing. It. Wrong.
I spent this weekend at the Dallas ComicCon. There were thousands of people (far more than I am typically comfortable with), men, women and children, all come together with a single purpose: to celebrate the fantastic heroes and villains of comics and the silver screen. So many people with a shared purpose should have been able to raise some pretty damned impressive energy! Such an event should have vibrated with unchecked ecstatic power as the multitudes praised and deified their heroes.
It was a fun weekend, make no mistake about that, but it didn’t feel like a religious rite.
Because fandom is not worship.
Worship involves pouring energy outward to achieve a result.
Fandom, on the other hand, is about the self. It’s about satisfying a need that we feel, filling a hole that our modern society has forgotten how to satisfy.
Has no one ever read Campbell’s ‘The Power of Myth’?! Seriously folks.
Superman and Skywalker and Katniss exist because we stopped telling the ancient stories, and when we do tell them, we are told at the outset that we should not believe them. We are a culture left without a mythology that we can believe in and heroes that we can accept as real. So we make stuff up to fill in the gaps left behind.
The superheroes are not a solution to our problems, they’re a symptom.
Their stories are grand.
Their stories are epic.
If we pay attention we may notice that their stories are ultimately about finding the humanity they have lost along the way.
Their story is our story.
The story of the superhero is not that of a god caring for mankind.
The story of the superhero is that of a people trying to find their way.
Do it right. Honor the gods. And remember, “No Capes!”