Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Power of Taboo

I do not play Dungeons & Dragons nearly as much as I would like to. Despite this, I often like to go through various game manuals as fodder for the imagination. Once I was skimming through an expansion manual and discovered an interesting character class: the wu jen. This name is a Wade-Giles rendering of 巫人, which translates most literally to “shaman person”, although other interpretations are certainly possible. Unfortunately I never got a chance to play this character, and even more unfortunately, the manual in question is entitled Oriental Adventures.

Yeah... I wish I was making this up, but I'm not.

Yeah… I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.

The wu jen is one of the magic-user type classes available in this setting, but what makes her unique? Her power is tied to taboos. The specific taboos the wu jen must follow are chosen by the player, starting with one at 1st level and then adding additional ones at various levels as the character advances. If a wu jen breaks any of these taboos, she forfeits her ability to cast spells for the rest of the day. I had never come across anything like this in gameplay before, and was extremely intrigued. Although this was years ago, I still think about it from time to time, and I have recently starting contemplating this more deeply. How do our backgrounds and worldviews influence whether we perceive taboos as restrictive or as empowering, and what does the use of taboo in speculative fiction mean for people who follow religious taboos in real life?

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Representation Roll Call #3: In Honor of Yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision.


From where I’m sitting, yesterday was a pretty good day. You might have been up all night with us watching the live feed from the Texas Senate house on SB5. “Emotional roller coaster” is probably a good way to describe that experience. If you slept in that morning, like I did, then you woke up to hear that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act had been ruled unconstitutional. I’m not sure that this is exactly what victory looks like, but it’s certainly a step forward.

And with that in mind, I’d like to shout out some of the more compelling explorations of gay characters in comic books. Technically this is a Representation Roll Call, but it’s going to be slightly different format-wise. Since we’re on the subject of marriage, I’ll start with the wedding of Kyle Jinadu and Jean-Paul Baubier, whom you probably know as Northstar.

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