25 May 2015

Questions on Pop Culture Paganism

A few days ago a call went out for folks who work with either technopaganism or pop culture paganism to talk about what they do for a piece in Vice Motherboard.  Naturally, my hand shot up immediately like Hermione Granger's.  I got in touch with the gal doing the research and here are the questions she sent me and my answers.

**Update 6-15-15** You can read the article here.

Note - She asks some fairly specific questions regarding my past writings on pop culture magick, so you may want to review my previous posts on the topic.  

On 2015-05-22 09:41, Creatrix Tiara wrote:
1. You talk about how geeks' tendency for passionate near-obsessive energy works really well with magickal practices. This brings to mind notions of "celebrity worship" and "fan shrines" and how a lot of language between spirituality and fandom can often be very similar. Could you talk more about the connections you draw between fandom and spirituality?

I think fandom and spirituality can, but don't have to, overlap.  In both fandom and spirituality, people feel a deep personal connection between themselves and the object of their attention that makes their lives better.  It's that sense of connection and personal understanding that really makes both worthwhile - to me at least.  In fandom we get connection both to the people creating the object of our attention and other fans.  Less obviously but perhaps more potently, we get a sense of resonance with the material that lets us feel deeply understood, if in a round about way.

For example, I'm a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That show came out when I was a sophomore in High School and Buffy Summers was exactly my age.  In a sense we grew up together; faced the same challenges of growing up at the same time, if in different ways.  I saw that character struggle with the same kinds of problems that I did and make the same kinds of mistakes I was making, and then got to watch her overcome them and move forwards with her life. At a time in my life where my family and friends had trouble understanding me I got to see a girl on television that I knew would understand me completely and then talk to other people who loved the show and totally got it.

When spirituality and its resultant community is healthy the sense of support and understanding it gives is virtually identical to that of a healthy fandom.

The main difference I see between fandom and spirituality is intent.  The point where a person goes from "this is an awesome thing that I love" to "I'm going to use this thing to improve myself and my life" is where someone passes from fandom into spirituality.  You can absolutely have both (e.g. I love Doctor Who and I use the image of the 10th Doctor as my spirit guide), but you don't have to.

One thing that a lot of people factor into spirituality that they don't factor into fandom is what they get back from the object of their attention.  In many spiritualities there is the belief that the thing you love loves you back. Some might disagree, but I would argue that this is totally possible in a fandom. First, it's not uncommon for the people responsible for creating major fandoms to go to conventions and other public venues and express their appreciation for their fans, and that can mean a lot.  Further, a lot of major fandoms (e.g. Star Wars, Marvel, Doctor Who, Sandman, etc.) have so much energy poured into them that they exist as thoughtforms on the astral plane - functioning in very, very similar ways to other spiritual forces.  They might not be as old, as big, or last as long as some other spiritual forces but they are quite real and potentially potent.

2. Similar to talking about passionate obsession in fandom - is there such as thing as a casual pop culture pagan, the same way there might be casual fans of a pop culture product? Does someone need to be a True Fan to incorporate that fandom into their spiritual practice - or, in the reverse, does someone need to be very spiritual to incorporate pop culture into their spirituality?

Overall, yes I'm sure you can be a casual pop culture pagan (PCP). In practice, I think it really depends on the fandom.  As of right now, 5/25/15, I think just about anyone on the planet could call on Imperator Furiosa and get a solid response because that character is so intensely in the public eye at this moment in time. I think just about anyone could call on the character of Sherlock Holmes because the character is so well known and so ubiquitously part of mainstream culture.

Beyond major characters that are actively in the larger public eye I think it would be more difficult to be a casual PCP.  Working with pop culture icons isn't that different from working with any other metaphysical entity.  If you want to work with established metaphysical entities (like the fay) you're expected to develop a relationship with them over time: giving them offerings, talking to them, working with them regularly, etc. Working with pop culture figures is no different; you'll get better results of you've got an established relationship than you would if you didn't.  That's not to say you can't work with something casually, just that you might not get the same quality of result as you would if you were less casual about it.

3. What got you interested in pop culture paganism? How does it connect with your overall spiritual practice? Do you feel connection, disconnection, something else with other forms of paganism and
spirituality? (Part of my draw towards pop culture and techno paganism is that I never really connected with how people revered nature - but the things people were feeling about nature were the same things I felt about tech and art.)

I've always worked with a mixture of pop culture and more traditional pagan iconography.  When I was first starting out I had trouble feeling a personal connection with the idea of the traditional four elements, so I visualized them as the four members of Metallica and that solved my problem.  I often visualize the deities I work with as modern day characters or people, just because it's easier for my brain to do so than to try to pull an image out of the astral whole cloth.  I don't see anything remarkable about it, it's just the way I've always done things.  When I call powers to aid me in ritual I've got old gods, figures from myth and legend, literature, and modern pop culture characters side by side and they've never had any problem with it, so why would I? I'm a big believer in doing what works for you when you need it to work, whatever that happens to look like, as long as everyone involved is OK with it.

4. Neil Gaiman's American Gods plays with pop culture paganism to some degree, with his notion of modern-day gods. Do you see pop culture and technopaganism being explored in the mainstream elsewhere? On the one hand, when the mainstream _does_ acknowledge witchcraft, it's often in
a Hippy Nature Woo sense, but on the other hand I'm thinking that sci-fi and cyberpunk would eventually lead towards technopaganism as a given.

I hadn't really thought about that before.  I could certainly see how the current flow of pop culture, particularly online pop culture, could make technopaganism and pop culture paganism more appealing and more natural for a lot of people.  In the comic books The Wicked and The Divine (
http://www.wicdiv.com/ - I highly recommend these), you see modern day deities using our current cult of celebrity to gain the powers and worship they want. In reality, our contemporary cult of celebrity is quite similar to how folk saints have been created in the past (seriously, just visit Elvis' grave and tell me folks aren't using his name in magick).  Similarly, you could easily look at things like memes as modern versions of spells or bardic magick. Look at the power of the trending topic to shift world wide perceptions in a matter of hours and tell me that isn't a form of contagion magick gone, quite literally, viral.  Do I think our current culture is on a crash course to technopaganism - no, but I think all it would take would be the tiniest push from a person in the right position.

5. I've noticed pop culture paganism really jumping in popularity with young people on Tumblr who are active in fandom (and possibly social justice). How in your view has Internet culture and social media boosted or interacted with pop culture paganism?

I think internet culture has been huge in spreading pop culture paganism, particularly amongst the under 30 crowd.  One of the gifts of the information age is that people are exposed to a lot of different viewpoints on every possible issue.  For those of us that have grown up steeped in internet culture, it is very easy for us to understand that, for most issues, there is more than one "right way" of doing things.  This means we don't cling to tradition the way that older generations tend to, making us more open to new ideas - like pop culture paganism.

For those of us who grew up stewing in pop culture, using those ideas in magick seems only natural.  With the proliferation of smartphones and other internet connected devices, many people spend all day connected to the stream of pop culture - why wouldn't we want to harness that and use it to our advantage?  Working with pop culture today is no different to us than connecting to the stories and legends of the past was to people in their day; what we now identify as myth was their pop culture at the time.

6. You talk about how you're not entirely comfortable with the idea of worshipping pop cultural figures as deities since they haven't been around a long time. However, it can be argued that some of these figures are reworkings of age-old archetypes; some even are often deliberately designed on known mythological figures. One could also argue that since pop culture is man-made, it's not as spiritually pure - but a lot of myths could also be said to be man-made even if divinely inspired. Could you talk more about your thoughts on this?

The way I see it, pop culture figures are essentially thoughtforms on the astral plane.  The more energy we in the mundane world pour into them, the bigger and stronger they get in the astral.  I see many of the metaphysical entities worked with in modern magick (spirits, fay, loa, saints, deity, etc.) as also being astral entities that are, at least partially, shaped by the energy fed into them by people on the mundane plane.  The entities that I call deities are generally very, very old and very, very strong - to the point that they can function entirely independently of the energies fed to them from people.  I see pop culture figures as being lesser than deity in that they are still almost entirely dependent on the incoming energies from people for their existence.  As such, while I might respect and even venerate a pop culture figure, I wouldn't worship it.  To me worship requires a sense of subordination to the thing being worshiped that I just don't feel for pop culture figures.

I don't really subscribe to idea of spiritual "purity." Sounds like snobbery to me. As I've said before, I belong to the "use what works" school of thought.

7. You have a page discussing "which Doctor" - as in, which iteration of a character would you incorporate into your practice. I know that even in general fandom there can be a lot of debate and discussion about certain characters and settings, and when the original author does something that contradicts fanon, hell can break loose! How much does authorial intent play into pop culture paganism? Could there be any connections between differing fandom interpretations and differing
interpretations of holy text?

Now you have me thinking of differing "ships" in fandoms being akin to different sects of a religion with "god" (aka the author) standing on top of a mountain shouting, "What the f**k are you doing? I didn't write any of this!" The image is almost frighteningly apt.

When it comes down to it, pop culture is essentially a majority rule.  Whatever it is that the most people agree upon and embrace is what becomes pop culture.  For that reason, authorial intent isn't as important as it would be for something like literary interpretation.  The meaning of art is in the eye of the beholder and the creation of pop culture is in the hands of the masses.  It's the ultimate in egalitarianism.

My Pop Culture Magick Index

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