Tag Archives: Heroes

Our Lady of Themyscira

There are people out there who worship superheroes.

I am not one of them.

But after having watched the new Wonder Woman movie, twice, one could almost…,

Oh, I’ve heard all the rationalizations, the misapplied references to Jungian archetypes, the quotes lifted reverently from Joseph Campbell’s books, the endless suggestions that the gods are merely manifestations of the collective consciousness, and that the superheroes, having achieved iconic status within western culture are every bit as valid a target of our mental energies as any of the “old gods”…,

I’m not buying it.

But if that’s your gig, the writers and marketers are certainly happy to sell it to you.

No, the superheroes are not actual gods, but when handled correctly they do have the power to inspire us, to lift us up from our own troubles, and to free us from the limitations which society and gravity would impose upon us, if only for a little while.

And, for a long time now, Wonder Woman has been my favorite.

Oh sure, I started out pretty firmly in the Superman camp.

I mean, what little boy doesn’t want to discover that he has amazing powers due to his secret alien parentage?

But we grow up a bit, we become angsty, our worldview darkens, and we glom onto the Batman, reveling in his trauma induced war against a bizarre criminal underworld.

Or, anyway, that’s what happened with me.

And I still buy his books, along with those of the Green Lantern and a smattering of other titles.

But it gets expensive pretty quickly.

If you’re one of the popular superheroes, a Superman or a Batman, you’ve probably got a dozen titles with your name or image on the cover, including monthlies, crossovers, and one shots.

Wonder Woman really only has the one title.

They say it has to do with marketing decisions, and the difficulty in writing a female lead who will be interesting and popular among young boys.  And sadly, that’s probably a big part of it.

But it’s not just the woman in the title.

The gods are in there too.

And I think that scares the crap out of them.

I love Wonder Woman because, even before they revamped her origin and made her a child of the gods, she was a gift from the gods.  Sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon queen, she was given life by the Olympian gods, and sent to the world of men as an ambassador of peace.

I have always been perplexed that, in a medium where literally ANYTHING is possible, comic book writers almost never treat the gods as actual gods.  They are invariably aliens with magic seeming technology, livings in some dimension, removed from our own.  Or they are creatures of limited power, created by human thought and belief, languishing in a universe that no longer prostrates itself before them.

The gods are almost never written as actual gods.

Except in Wonder Woman.

For a long time, I thought this must have something to do with the publishing houses not wanting to rankle a largely Christian audience.  But I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard any of my Christian friends complaining about the presence of Hera or Apollo in a Wonder Woman comic.

Mostly they just seem put off by the fact that she doesn’t wear pants.

“She’s dressed like a whore,” one of them told me, a few years back.

Yeah, you try to think the best about a person, and then they make an idiot remark like that.

But for a while there, the artists gave us a Wonder Woman in pants.  And it looked terrible.

Oh how this new movie must be making their heads spin!

So I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new movie, and for the most part it has exceeded my expectations.  But the revelation, in the first few minutes of the movie, that Ares has murdered all of the other gods of Olympus…,

It seems as if the bravery of the comic did not translate so completely to the silver screen.

If the gods are dead, we don’t have to write for them, we don’t have to explain them, we don’t have to be worried that people will be offended by their presence.

Maybe Ares was right, and we don’t deserve them.

But it’s not about what we deserve.

It’s about what we believe.

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Filed under Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Religion, The Gods

Sometimes Spock • Always Nimoy

You could say that I grew up in a Star Trek family.

We were not what most people think of as ‘Trekkies’.  We neither plastered our walls with the posters, nor cluttered our shelves with memorabilia.  There were no uniform shirts or foam ears hiding in our closets, and the car in the driveway was bumper-sticker free.

Still, there were a few books floating around the house, including a technical manual, replete with ship schematics and tricorder designs.  There were a couple assembled model kits on a shelf in my room, the U.S.S. Enterprise (of course) and an old Klingon cruiser, unsightly decals peeling.  And I think that at one point, there may have been a snow-globe in the living room, with a tiny Enterprise inside.  Although, I think it was glitter in there, rather than snow, to give the impression of passing stars.

In any case, we watched the show whenever it was on.  And sometimes, on Sunday mornings, on our way home from church, we’d play Star Trek trivia in the car.  One of us would recite a line of dialogue or name a character, alien or object, and the others had to try to name the episode.

“Yonada,” my mother might say.

And I would answer, “For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky.”

And the game would continue…,

“Tranya…,”

“I need a hint…,”

“It was a drink…,”

“Oh, I know this, the one with the giant ship made out of ping-pong balls…,”

“The Corbomite Maneuver!”

We enjoyed the escapism of the show, the optimism and the whacky alien costumes.  As a family we discussed the not-so hidden social messages contained within many of the better episodes.

The show, and its characters, were a part of our household shorthand.

And, if I had a hero growing up, it was probably Mr. Spock.

I say “if” because I’ve never given the question much thought.

Did, I have a hero, growing up?

Superman was pretty cool, but as a child, I didn’t understand why someone with so much power had to pretend to be someone else.

Batman, at that time, was still the television version, played by Adam West.  He and Robin appeared to be costumed buffoons, surrounded by enemies who were more of the same.  Fun to watch, yes, but definitely not hero material.

There were Frodo and Sam, and Robin Hood, and the Knights of the Round Table, who all lived on the printed page, and in a world just a bit too remote from my own, to truly identify with them.

On the silver screen, I watched Luke and Han, the presumptive cinematic heroes of my generation, fighting an uphill battle against the Galactic Empire.  Yet I never idolized them the way some others seemed to do.

I suppose, Dr. Indiana Jones would qualify as one of my childhood heroes.  I liked that he was an intellectual, an expert on ancient cultures and civilizations, who was also perfectly capable of kicking some Nazi ass.  In those days, it seemed like most characters who used their brains were either nerdy supporting characters, or villains bent on ruling the world.

And in that respect, if in no other, Indy was very much like Mr. Spock.

Classic Mr. Spock

Spock was an intellectual giant who was willing to surround himself with people who did not like him, for the opportunity to learn more.  And he wasn’t a weakling, like most ‘smart’ characters.  His Vulcan heritage gave him a physical strength more than twice that of a normal human, and while he might prefer to use the Vulcan Nerve Pinch to take out an opponent, he wasn’t shy about throwing a punch or whipping out a phasor, when the situation called for violence.

Spock was both human and alien, meaning he was often an outcast in both worlds.  For those of us who, as children, never quite felt we fit in with the other kids, this was a pretty big deal.  Especially considering, when Kirk was away, it was Spock sitting in the big chair, with everyone looking for him to make the hard decisions.

What’s more, Spock was in constant conflict with his emotions, struggling to maintain the Vulcan calm that was all too often mistaken for a complete lack of emotion.

Growing up, as I did, with a father for whom rage often seemed like the default setting, I come by my own anger issues quite naturally.  And Spock was there for me, at an early age, to show me an alternative to letting my own base emotions run free.  I know that I have been a poor student in that regard, and although more than one friend has cursed me over the years for my “damned Vulcan logic,” I am far too often made a slave to my own feelings.

Still, I can’t help but think I am a better person for having tried to follow his example.

Fictional, though he was.

Leonard Nimoy has died, and here I am talking about Spock.

Because that is how I knew him.

Without Nimoy, there would have been no Spock.  Whatever Roddenberry had planned, whatever the writers cranked out, it was Leonard Nimoy who breathed life into the character, and influenced him in ways that have become an inexorable part of what we think of when we say the name.

He may have done too good a job.

“Do I have an identity issue?  Of course I do.  You know, somebody yells “Spock” on the street, and I’m the one who turns his head…,”

—Leonard Nimoy, Dallas ComicCon 2011

There are those fans out there who have trouble distinguishing between the character and the actor, but I’ve never had that problem.  My mother is a living database of every actor and every role they have ever played.  I swear, the woman could put IMDB to shame.

As a result, I grew up watching Nimoy’s performances on more programs than I could easily name.  There were the westerns and Twilight Zone episodes and of course, Mission Impossible.  No, it was always clear to me that Mr. Spock was a work of art, and Nimoy, the artist.

In later years I have seen some examples of his photography and been truly impressed.

And only recently, as you will see, was I introduced to his skill as a poet.

Nimoy and Spock

When I heard that he had died, I was saddened by the loss of a great man, who was sometimes Spock, but always Nimoy.  I spent the rest of the day celebrating his life as best I could, by watching again my favorite episodes of the original series, and then ‘Wrath of Kahn’, and finally, skipping ahead to the last few minutes of ‘Search for Spock’.  Because, like his crew mates, I know that he will never really be dead, as long as we remember.

I had the chance to meet him once, a few years ago.  I could have stood in a line and paid to have him sign a photograph, all for the opportunity to shake his hand.

I didn’t want to, and I’m not sure why, except that the old line “never meet your heroes” kept going through my mind.  And so I made excuses, the line was too long, the price was too high.  As if either of those things could have made a difference.

Instead, I crowded into a room with a few hundred others.  I sat, maybe six rows back from where he stood, and listened to him speak in that familiar voice of his, about his life and his career, and what a deep honor it was to be appreciated by so many.  At the end of the hour, he left us with this, and it means more to me now, than any simple handshake ever could.

I am an incurable romantic.
I believe in hope, dreams and decency.

I believe in love, tenderness and kindness.

I believe in mankind.

I believe in goodness, mercy and charity.
I believe in a universal spirit.
I believe in casting bread upon the waters.

I am awed by the snow-capped mountains,
by the vastness of oceans.

I am moved by a couple of any age, holding hands,
as they walk through city streets.

A living creature in pain, makes me shudder with sorrow.
A seagull’s cry fills me with a sense of mystery.

A river or stream can move me to tears.
A lake, nestling in a valley, can bring me peace.

I wish for all mankind the sweet simple joy,
that we have found together.

I know that it will be.
And we shall celebrate.
We shall taste the wine,
and the fruit.

Celebrate the sunset and the sunrise,
the cold and the warmth,
the sounds and the silences,
the voices of the children.

Celebrate the dreams and hopes,
which have filled the souls
of all decent men and women.

We shall lift our glasses and toast,
with tears of joy.

May you all live long and prosper.

— Leonard Nimoy, Dallas ComicCon 2011

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Filed under Culture, Family, Heroes, Modern Life, Movies, Spiritual Journey, Television

No Capes!

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’.

Wreck-It Ralph doesn't like orthodoxy, or the long lines at Dallas ComicCon.

Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t like orthodoxy, or the long lines at Dallas ComicCon.

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.

Riddle me this: When is Iron Man like a rock band? When he's an Iron-Maiden.

Riddle me this: When is Iron Man like a rock band?
When she’s an Iron-Maiden.

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.

And why?

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.

Tony is trying to raise some energy here.  Hey, Pikachu, think you could give us a jump-start?

Tony is trying to raise some energy here. Hey, Pikachu, think you could give him a jump-start?

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!”

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Filed under Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Movies, Mythology, Religion

Drone on, and on, and on…,

Last week a man stood up in front of the United States Senate and spoke passionately for nearly thirteen hours, and while he spoke, as his voice began to grow hoarse and America turned its attention momentarily toward those hallowed chambers in the District of Columbia, nothing continued to happen.

Nothing has a way of happening in Washington these days.  Nothing happens, depending upon the particulars of the occasion, with either style and decorum or with bluster and bombast, but be assured, nothing is happening.

These last few years, nothing has been the special provence of the U.S. congress, which is why, when a man stands up from the midst of that august body and announces that he will bring the business of Congress to a halt through the power of the filibuster, by the gods that’s the kind of thing that grabs peoples attention!  We never expected to see the Congress move faster, but just imagine what it would take to actually slow it down even further.  Would such a thing even be possible?!

Let me take a step back to explain.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this last week, or just had better things to do, you likely already know that the courageous hero in this story is Senator Rand Paul.  The subject of his glorious stand was the possibility of Drone strikes against American citizens on American soil.

It's simply chilling!  Read with the lights on.

Click to read the whole thing.

In particular, he seems to be somewhat vexed with this letter which he received from Attorney General, Eric Holder.  I’ll let you read the letter if you like, and I’ve taken the liberty of circling the bit which has Senator Paul in such a conniption.

Now over the years I have often heard people complain that the good folks we elect to Congress have a bad habit of not fully reading the bills that they are called to vote on.  In light of recent events, I begin to wonder if that habit is really such a bad thing.

In what delusional paranoid’s nightmare interpretation does…,

“The President could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances of a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.”

Translate into…,

“I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in bowling green, Kentucky, is an abomination.”

—from the transcript of Senator Paul’s opening speech

Ummm…, okay.

It’s frankly no wonder that the administration took a while to respond to that.

How do you frame a rational response to irrational arguments which have almost no resemblance to what you actually said?  Do you use smaller words, maybe?  Perhaps you present your response in crayon drawings done in soothing colors?

Am I being unfair in my critique of the good Senator from the State of Kentucky?  Does my underlying suggestion that he is a paranoid buffoon strike you as offensive?

I’m okay with that, because the Senator offends me.

He has the gall to stand there for hour after hour patting himself on the back for “protecting American lives” when that hypothetical American of his, sitting in a cafe in San Francisco, stands a vastly superior chance of being killed right where he sits, by random gun violence, than by a targeted strike launched from some government drone.  Yet the Honorable Rand Paul will fight tooth and nail against any legislation that might make that fate less likely.

As I write this, more than 2,590 American men, women and children have been killed in gun violence, just since the Newtown massacre on December 14th of last year.

Gun Deaths in America

Who, may I ask, is filibustering for them?

Which starry eyed politician will throw himself into the cogs of government and bring the whole miserable works to a shuddering halt until we have an answer to THAT question?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The frightening thing to me is how many of the people I know honestly think this guy is a hero.  “Oh, he filibustered the Senate until he got an answer!”  “Rand Paul is the only one willing to stand up for the Constitution.”  “Rand Paul will be the best choice for President in 2016.”

One of these three is not like the others.

He’s not a hero.  He’s a freaking Don Quixote wannabe.

I’d actually feel better if Don Quixote was a candidate in the next election.  Sure, he’s a fictional character, but I’m pretty sure you stand a greater chance of being killed by a windmill on American soil than you do a drone attack, and our old friend Alonso really knows how to deal with that kind of threat.

Campaign 2016

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Politics