The Pop Culture Lens and ‘Post Chaos’
A couple of years ago I delivered a lecture at a local pagan convention which was basically equivalent to me playing around in Powerpoint form with ideas about how deity manifests itself in popular culture. I covered very broad territory which included celebrity worship, iconography, the celebrity star system and oracles and modern technology. It was a fun presentation that included Michael Jackson, Harry Potter and Madonna (and more) and was basically a giant investigative pegboard with a lot of strings drawn between pegs with nothing majorly profound being unveiled, merely a series of links and hypotheses that I thought others might get a kick out of. This was before I was very well read on anything to do with chaos magic and when I did start reading more CM stuff it seemed a little quaint and obvious to me compared to some links that recent texts perhaps have not been able to negotiate successfully (none that I have found, anyway).
It was glorious stuff really, that I presented in a braver time when I didn’t much care for what academic holes could be poked into ideas which were pretty loony in and of themselves – which was part of the fun of it. There were some elderly Wiccan authority figures in the audience who I no doubt horrified if in fact they understood at all what on earth I was going on about. I’m sure it struck me off their poaching list (as pagan gatherings often seem to be ‘open season’ cattle markets where elderly Wiccans cast their beady eyes over young blood – even if they are already happily ensconced in a coven). The lecture was very positively received regardless, by Wiccans and fluffy new agers alike, but some of those ideas have been cropping up a fair bit in pagan bloggish debate recently so I feel inclined to poke around in this realm once more. Just a little bit.
I made light of Loki devotees in a recent post mostly because I noticed their marked increase since a certain Joss Whedon film came out, and of course there was Thor before that. I am not a DC/Marvel universe comic book reader myself, but I still find the ideas inherent within modern hero worship and how it can be framed in contemporary paganism quite interesting.
Chaos magic often seems to get boiled down to people worshipping Spock and Batman as a playful paradigm simply to troll everyone else who has a more ‘serious’ approach to religion but I think there is much more to it than that. I was recently informed by a friend that a course on Celtic Shamanism she is enrolled in (yes, I did raise my eyebrows) screened anyone who practiced chaos magic or knew anyone who was a chaos practitioner and she just pretended she didn’t know me (!!) which made me smile. But it did make me wonder. What is the difference between a legitimate adoption of a paradigm for serious worship and totally denigrating the paradigm in which you choose to dip your toes in simply because you are only approaching it by the means of ‘paradigm adoption’ on the first place? Chaos magic seems to be mostly a fad from the 80s and 90s which I am belatedly cottoning onto – I was mostly concerned with Backstreet Boys and graduating Primary School in the 1990s so please forgive me – but I think the notion of attempting to understand how the divine manifests in the mundane in all its forms will always have validity no matter which way you choose to explore it. I think the other problem that some might have with chaos magic is the results-based emphasis which I admit leaves a bad taste in my mouth too. But there is room to move beyond this which is what I attempt to do with chaos witchcraft.
Perhaps it is not a matter of what magic can do for you, but what you can do for magic. And when you truly look at the sincerity of the energy that is in invested in ‘fandom’ you can find a devotion that goes far beyond simple attention, something that Jason Miller mentions in his Strategic Sorcery blog series on ‘Post Chaos Magic’. Where is the line between adoration and worship? If you are not the fan kneeling on the relevant altar, you cannot decide what the difference in energy might be.
People are getting really heated about the idea of the Gods in popular culture and pop culture paganism in general (that is a link to the Tumblr tag – don’t say I didn’t warn you about that rabbit hole) and to be honest I think this might link into some of the current that runs underneath the paganism vs. polytheism debate. This is where pagan fundamentalism begins to rear its ugly head – when people stop being curious, stop attempting to understand and start getting offended, outraged and start making broad strokes of definition that negate any mutual dialogue.
I can see why people might find it offensive that their faith will get diluted into a series of interchangeable symbols in soft eclectic blasphemy. The ‘hard x-theists’ might do well to carefully examine their emotional reaction to evidence of such blasphemy when they find it and probe where the strong emotion comes from and why it is there. And the reverse needs to go to pop culture pagans who are outraged that their own faith is being belittled as mere fandom.