Oh, My Pop Culture Occultism: Esoteric Traditions in Foucault’s Pendulum

umbertoeco

Umberto Eco, via WAMC

Earlier this week, I talked about the political implications of Umberto Eco’s 1988 novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, particularly with respect to the conspiracy-minded thinking that it dissects. But there’s also a significant spiritual dimension to the novel, as its focus on esoterica and the occult represent a real history of discontent with mainstream religion that stretches back nearly a thousand years.

The book generally side-eyes occultists, both past and present, and doubts their claims to supernatural powers. But it is very clear that such figures and groups really existed, and many of them authentically aspired to the powers they claim to have obtained, and their claims were very widely believed. New Age philosophies and other countercultures linked to the esotericism generally have a reputation for being peaceful and loving, but it’s one which has not been earned.

Eco by no means condemns the occult in general terms, but he does call attention to the potential for such beliefs to generate abuse and hatred. The large-scale rejection of Christianity by the alt-right in the United States, and the ongoing links between various neo-pagan subcultures and neo-Nazism, show the need for continued study.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Prophecy and Providence in the Potterverse

Like most of you, I grew up devouring Harry Potter, but I’m not sure how many of you had problems understanding just how the big prophecy worked. I know I did. Basically, Voldemort’s stooge overhears a seer prophesy that a true adversary to Voldemort will rise, and that “neither can live while the other survives.” Much ink is spilled, both in fandom and in the canon, over just what this prophecy means. Does it mean that Harry is fated to kill Voldemort (or Voldemort, Harry) or does Harry’s free will operate outside the confines of this prophecy? If the prophecy is true, it means Harry really is the Chosen One, chosen by fate to confront Voldemort. But that could mean that Harry doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. In the final book, Harry doesn’t seem like he does have a choice; the universe seems like it’s manipulated him to the point where he feels utterly compelled to fulfill the prophecy. The conflict is between fate, or providence, and free will. If we look at real-world ideas about providence and free will, we can get a better idea of how these might work.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Star Wars and Reincarnation

MadameAce: After the release of The Force Awakens, many of us were left wondering just who the hell Rey is. She’s powerful in the Force and certainly an important enough person in their universe to warrant being the star of three movies. So what’s the deal? Is she Obi-Wan’s granddaughter? Luke’s child? Or something else altogether? A less common theory says that she’s Anakin Skywalker reincarnated. The theory posits that due to Anakin’s crimes, he was sent back to the world as Rey to live on a desert planet. There are a number of things wrong with that—being a girl is not actually a punishment, for one thing—but while I disagree with the original poster regarding why Anakin may or may not have been reincarnated, could reincarnation even be possible within the Star Wars universe?

Well, yes. Regardless of whether or not this theory is true, it can easily fit into the narrative, and Lady Geek Girl and I are about to explain why.

(image via overmental)

Lady Geek Girl: Star Wars borrows heavily from Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, which does incorporate reincarnation, though many people in the Western world misunderstand what reincarnation is actually about. According to Buddhist teachings, people are stuck in an endless cycle of suffering, death, and rebirth called saṃsāra. This cycle is not a good thing, because it means being stuck in a cycle of suffering. However, one can break out of this cycle by achieving enlightenment. One can only do this by following the Middle Way, aka Buddhism. Through meditation, one can achieve insight about the truth of life and extinguish desire, which allows one to escape suffering and end the cycle of rebirth. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment and break that cycle. But just because Star Wars borrows from Buddhism, that doesn’t mean it follows it strictly. While there is no direct evidence that reincarnation exists in the Star Wars universe, it could certainly be a possibility.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Chirrut Îmwe and Faith Expression

I love Star Wars. Other than Harry Potter, it is probably one of the things that has most influenced my young nerdy life. As a young religious girl I loved the idea of the Force and the Jedi and how their faith in the Force gave them power. Then, like many people, I was dismayed over how the Force and the Jedi were portrayed in the prequels. Maybe it was because of my own issues with my faith, but I very much disliked how overly regimented the Jedi were shown to be and how it seemed to take some of the mystery out of the Force. With the most recent movies, like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, all of the things that I loved about the Force and the Jedi in the original movies were back, and I have to say that Chirrut Îmwe is one of the absolute best examples of someone of faith that I have seen in a long time. And more specifically, it was great seeing a beautiful faith expression that was more reflective of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Orthodoxy: Why a Russian Orthodox Viktuuri Wedding Would Make History

The figure skating anime Yuri!!! On Ice skated into all of our hearts last year, and I was not immune to its charms. The relationship between professional skater Yuuri and his coach Viktor (thus the ship name “Viktuuri”, alternately spelled “Victuuri” or “Victuri”) was inspirational, heart-warming, and so very, very gay. And as its opening song states, it “made history”: it managed to tell a story in which a relationship between two men was unremarkable, just another part of life for these characters, while eschewing the fetishization and stereotypes typical of yaoi, like the dominant, masculine seme and more feminine, submissive uke. Unlike the vast majority of sports anime, it did not queerbait while never canonizing any queer relationships, instead celebrating how a blossoming romance could become an integral part of Yuuri’s self-expression through his sport. In addition, it’s significant that Viktor, one half of this victorious couple, is from Russia, a country known for virulent homophobia which has even passed laws against “gay propaganda”. While we don’t know if the creators of the anime purposefully set out to show up Russia, the fact that their Russian character is openly queer is still a statement.

I’m here to propose another way Yuri!!! On Ice can make history. By the end of the first season (spoiler alert), Viktor and Yuuri are engaged and have moved to St. Petersburg to both continue their skating careers at Viktor’s home rink. A wedding in the next season (or an OVA) is obviously imminent. If that wedding takes place in a Russian Orthodox church, it would be another statement of protest, since the Orthodox Church currently does not allow same-sex marriage—not to mention that this would be one of the few instances of representation that Orthodox Christians (like me!) would get in media! Also, Orthodox weddings are beautiful and meaningful, and deserve more coverage in fictional media beyond just My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Note that I am Greek Orthodox, not Russian Orthodox, so I’m not familiar with all the Russian Orthodox traditions and would be happy to hear more from any Russian readers in the comments!)

Let me tell you all about it below the jump!

yuri-on-ice-bluray-dvd-vol-1-yuuri-viktor

Our resident history-makers

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: House of Sim

screenshot by beggar1015

screenshot by beggar1015

The Sims is one of the most popular god-simulation games on the planet. I’ve been playing it since the original Sims game, when babies were made by passionately kissing a bunch of times in a row and children never grew up. Nowadays, Sims 4 is making progressive strides in the world of inclusive gaming. The creators want everyone to feel like they can see themselves represented in their Sims and tell more diverse stories than ever. Most recently, a patch removed the rigid gender binary in the Create-a-Sim workshop. Now you can customize your Sim’s gender, their ability to be pregnant or make others pregnant, and if they prefer masculine or feminine clothing. It’s not total gender customizability, but it’s a new and significant move in the name of inclusivity and representation. We can customize our Sim’s age, education, occupation, and where they live. Sims now come in all colors of the rainbow (literally). Sexual orientation is determined by the player’s will. There are Vampire-Sims, Zombie-Sims, Fairy-Sims, Witch-Sims, Plant-Sims, Werewolf-Sims, Mermaid-Sims, and Alien-sims. So why haven’t the creators touched religion yet? Well, there may be a few reasons, and none of them are great.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Westboro: Fantastic Beasts and Magic as Metaphor Instead of Genuine Representation… Again

I enjoyed 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, though like Lady Geek Girl, I felt it had a lot of logical issues and problems with racial representation. The film didn’t have much in the way of religious or LGBTQ+ representation either… but it did have metaphors for them. Which—do we even have to say it anymore?—is not enough.

We’ve called out the Harry Potter series before for using magic and various conditions in the wizarding world as a metaphor for different kinds of oppression in the real world, such as lycanthropy as a metaphor for AIDs and discrimination against non-purebloods as a metaphor for racism. The problem with these metaphors is that readers might not make the connection to the real-world problem, so in order for them to really have impact, there should be examples of the real-world issue too. For instance, the series could have featured more prominent characters of color who experienced racism in the Muggle world in addition to discussions of blood “purity”. Instead we got a cast of all white protagonists, with characters of color getting very little development.

J. K. Rowling makes no secret of her support for social justice causes (just look at her Twitter feed!). In fact, she’s totally fine with headcanoning Hermione as Black and applauded the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a Black woman, as Hermione in the Cursed Child play, and racebending Hermione helps to relieve some issues about her Muggleborn blood status acting as a stand-in for discrimination rather than discussing any real-life discrimination. But real-life discrimination is still not discussed in canon. You would think that maybe Rowling would have listened graciously to some of these criticisms about hiding real-world issues behind metaphors that not everyone is going to get, and would have worked harder to avoid them in her next work. What is that next work? Fantastic Beasts. Did she listen? Nope. Instead the movie gave us a new metaphor to grapple with: obscurials as coded LGBTQ+ children repressed by overzealous religious families, in this case represented by the Second Salemers. And it isn’t pretty.

Spoilers for many aspects of Fantastic Beasts below the jump!

fantasticbeastsposter Continue reading