Welcome to Night Vale constantly amazes me with how unique it is, especially when it comes to religion. It manages to take real religious ideas and weave something entirely new and different from the thing that originally inspired them. The Smiling God, the beagle puppy, and the angels are inspired by Abrahamic religions, but while it’s clear that Huntokar and the other gods are definitely at least inspired by real deities, the creators of Night Vale have managed to create their own unique pantheon.
Several episodes ago, we learned that the god Huntokar, who has been mentioned in passing throughout the show, is the god of Night Vale and has been protecting the people of Night Vale since the very beginning. However, we came to discover that her protection also nearly doomed Night Vale by causing the multiple versions of the town in different universes to collapse in on themselves. In this episode, Huntokar mentions that she is one of four old gods that include the Glow Cloud (ALL HAIL), the Woman from Italy, and the Distant Prince.
Writers tend to take two different routes when it comes to adding deities to their stories. They either use gods of real religions, or they invent their own. Creating your own deities has the major advantage that you aren’t taking the risk of portraying another religion’s deities in a potentially harmful way. However, we cannot escape the fact that we are affected by what we know about religions and their deities and inevitably the audience may realize that these “fake gods” are inspired by real ones. It’s fine to be inspired by real deities, but it’s important to still develop them in such a way as to make them their own unique god, otherwise the portrayal could still end up seeming problematic. And that is exactly what the creators of Welcome to Night Vale were able to do. Their deities are clearly inspired by different real gods, but are written in such a way that they become their own unique god and are not simply a copy of another deity.
Spoilers for Welcome to Night Vale for up to Episode 113.
When deciding what to write about this week, I was torn between a comic and this movie… and then the universe sent me a sign: a gif of one of the Hex Girls, free of context or even any tags, on my Tumblr dash. I’m not one to turn down the universe, so here we are. This is one of the few Scooby-Doomoviesclose to my heart that I haven’t reviewed for this column yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable watch.
It’s almost Halloween! Every Halloween I look for witchy movies, but sadly, the vast majority of them portray witches as evil and very very few of them even attempt to portray Paganism, Wicca, or witchcraft correctly. So recently, I attempted to look up Pagan and Wiccan-friendly movies and one movie kept popping up everywhere: The Last Keepers. I was pleased to find that it was on Netflix and sat down to give it a watch. It didn’t have the strongest story, but I can certainly see why it is a well-reviewed movie within the Pagan, Wicca, and witchcraft communities—though it is still not without its issues.
A few days ago the staff of Tumblr (you still have a Tumblr, right? We do.) promoted a post announcing “emoji spells” were “having a moment”. I couldn’t help but think about how unique this idea is, and at the same time, really isn’t. Emoji spells are a series of emojis put together with a similar intent to that of casting traditional spells. They’re popular with technopagans and operate under principles similar to traditional spellcraft, combining specific intentions with sending the spell out into the world multiple times. Instead of saying the words aloud thrice, likes and reblogs (or other forms of sharing specific to a digital platform) charge and cast the spell. Witches have used sigils, or symbols, that are experimental and unique to a specific spell. They turn an intention into a magic image, so emojis are the perfect vehicle for digital witchcraft. The more the emojis are shared, the greater charge they get and the more powerful they become, just as many voices are more powerful than one.
The reason emoji spells get so many reblogs and likes isn’t because there are an overwhelming number of Wiccans and magic-users on Tumblr (although there is a thriving community). It’s because people hope they work, it takes next to no effort to pass on today’s version of the chain letter, and if they don’t work, no one actually thinks any harm will come of it. That’s the key: we aren’t really sure if digital manifestations of religion really count in the same way “real-world” religious rituals and practice do. Even in the Wiccan, witchcraft, and pagan communities, practitioners of techno magic are looked down on. One way to start this conversation is to look at geek culture, and the way geeks have been encountering some of the most important fundamental elements of religion since the dawn of the internet.
It’s that time of year again when witches, witchcraft, magic, and old-school pagan gods take certain stage on our television screens. Problem is, they don’t exactly have great PR, and every Halloween—and any other time of the year, for that matter—Wiccan and Pagan beliefs are pretty much dragged through the mud and shown to be “evil”. I have written about this poor portrayal before, but today I want to address how Christianity approaches modern Wicca and Paganism, and how that is reflected in pop culture.
Christianity has never exactly had a great relationship with magic practitioners and pagans. For centuries those who were accused of practicing witchcraft were often killed for “devil worship”, and the same is true for Pagans. Though the church did not necessarily deny the existence of pagan gods, they did claim that these gods were really demons that deceived people into worshiping them; because of this, worship of these gods was also considered devil worship and punishable by death. But this is a really old view of witchcraft and paganism, right? There is no way this belief still holds sway in today’s modern context, right? Sadly, that’s not the case.
Many of you have probably heard old jokes about how some fandom is someone’s religion, or that it’s “bigger than Jesus”. But then I got to thinking: what are the big differences between participating in a fandom and being a member of a religion? Personally, I grew up during the rise of the Harry Potter fandom and hold a couple of degrees in theology. The biggest and most obvious difference between fandom and religion is that (most) religions demand that one believe in the divine. Fandoms, on the other hand, don’t even need to bother with such metaphysical questions of the universe (if they don’t want to). But other than God, just how much is being in a fandom like being a member of a religion?
A few weeks ago, Lady Geek Girl wrote a nice article describing the precarious position of witches in current pop culture media. Witches only finally started to reach some level of acceptance (still a work in progress, that’s for sure) largely thanks to the enormous expansion of the religion of Wicca in the past fifty years or so. This led to a curious occurrence: witches weren’t just in fairytales and fantasy books anymore; they were bookstore clerks and nurses and teachers too. It opened the doors for the possibility for modern people to reclaim and identify with the word “witch”. We can see other seemingly outdated or maligned words being used by contemporary folk, from druid to heathen to shaman (though words like sorceress and wizard seem to be lagging in popularity), but I would argue none to quite the degree of “witch”. So while I believe that Wicca was a large—I would say the primary, in fact—reason for the modern reclaiming of this word, I think it is inappropriate to treat “Wiccan” as a monolithic synonym for “witch”. There are simply too many witches out there who are not Wiccan. Continue reading →
Let’s face it: most religions, both in real life and pop culture, seem to be made up of a hierarchy of men leading other men.But mostreligions actually have many important influential and powerful female figures, yet upsettingly, they are often ignored, forgotten, or even rewritten in order to maintainsexist notions about women.
Now you might be thinking, how is geek culture in particular going to incorporate female religious figures? Exactly the same way geek culture interprets male religious figures. Sometimes literal angels or gods are featured in movies or TV shows. Sometimes characters symbolically or allegorically represent one of these figures. There is no reason that female religious figures can’t receive the same treatment as the male ones.
So here are, in no particular order, my top five female religious figures that need to be incorporated more into our pop culture.
Before Gail Simone wrote Alysia Yeoh as the first trans character in mainstream DC Comics, Neil Gaiman briefly introduced another trans character in the Sandman story A Game of You. Trans woman Wanda Mann is arguably one of the first trans characters in comic books, and, while I utterly love her character, the wayshe is portrayed is definitely extremely problematic. However, this is not meant to be a post discussing Wanda’s overall portrayal as a trans character. Instead, what I want to focus on is the exchange between Wanda and the witch Thessaly, and how their interactions relate tothe current issues that trans people face within the Wicca and Pagan communities.
Ace isn’t the only one putting off a game review. Despite wanting to do a review of the polarizing Remember Me, I keep finding myself distracted by Starbound. I blame Steam. So in lieu of fresh meat, I’ve delved further into the meta of a game series that I’ve already beaten time and time again. And with me, if any series is going to get analyzed, it’s going to be Dragon Age. Usually I look more into issues with the fandom versus the events in the game, but this time it’s all lore. Before I get into it, let me get everyone on the same page.
For those unfamiliar with Wicca and Neopaganism, the idea of the triple goddess may be the furthest thing from your minds when discussing a narrative. I’m no expert myself, but I’d like to think that I know a thing or two. As counterpart to the Horned God in some practices of Wicca and Neopaganism—a representation of masculine energy—the triple goddess represents the three stages of womanhood: the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. These three stages are in turn represented by phases of the moon. The Maiden, a growing woman who has much to learn about the world, is represented in the waxing phase (going from new to full for those like me who never remember the difference). The Mother, having reached fulfillment in all aspects of her life, is represented by the full moon. And the elder Crone, facing death with all her wisdom, is represented by the waning moon as her light fades into the blackness of night. All three parts of this trinity are of equal importance, and that’s what makes a closer inspection of these characters, as well as the events they put into motion, so interesting.
Although there’s an interesting reflection of modern interpretations of religion going on within the setting—Pagan themes are woven through an in-game religion that is based largely off Christianity—that’s not what we’re going to be talking about. We’re going to be talking about mages; specifically, three female mages. You see where this is going, right?