(Pagan) Pop-Culture Round-Up

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 23, 2010 — 23 Comments

Tracking Pagan themes in movies and television is a bit like waiting for the bus, nothing comes for a long time, then suddenly it seems like every show on TV has a Witch or Pagan in it. This past week was kind of like that, with three network television shows featuring (or about to feature) Witches or Pagan gods. Let’s take them order, shall we?

First, the medical drama House, in this week’s episode “Knight Fall,” featured a renfaire knight with a mysterious ailment (naturally) and a predilection for Witchcraft. The Llewellyn Worldwide blog talks about how they provided some of the props.

“A few months back, members of Llewellyn’s Publicity staff were contacted by the producers of the Fox television program House with a request to use Llewellyn titles as props in an upcoming episode. The episode of House, “Knight Fall,” featuring two titles by Llewellyn’s very own Raven Digitalis aired this week! If you look closely in the images below you’ll notice the distinct covers of Goth Craft and Shadow Magick Compendium in these screen shots from the episode.”

Was the Witchcraft/occult stuff treated respectfully? Not really. It is House after all, and all non-scientific belief is up for mockery and debunking on that show. Plus, the “knight” who’s into Witchcraft (and has a copy of the “Necronomicon”, natch) is revealed to be a bit of a naive hypocritical twit, so I’m not sure why Llewellyn thinks this was good exposure for Raven, but no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Then we come to the show Supernatural, and the episode “Hammer of the Gods”. This one didn’t feature modern Pagans, but did feature a whole lot of Pagan gods, and you may not like how they were portrayed.

“It’s not surprising, then, that when “Hammer of the Gods” brings in a pantheon of pagan wonders, from Odin to Baldur to Baron Samedi to Kali herself, the gods don’t do much in the way of being ineffable, and they have a thing for eating human meat … There are gods among us, specifically those who aren’t involved with the Apocalypse to be, and they’re getting scared. Their solution: kidnap the Winchesters, and try and bargain their way out of Doomsday. It’s sort of like Neil Gaiman by way of Tobe Hooper.”

Not only are the Pagan gods largely portrayed as amoral one-dimensional human flesh-eaters, but are totally ineffective against Lucifer when he shows up to take them down.

“For all the build up, the gods are surprisingly easy for Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) to dispatch when he arrives. It is a typical Supernatural bloody mess of a fight but it is a little disappointing that for all their talk they are not able to put up much of a struggle. The exception is Kali (Battlestar Galactica‘s Rekha Sharma; also currently seen on V) who attempts to use supernatural power to fight him off. Balder’s death makes the least sense since he seems to just walk up to Lucifer, only to have the fallen angel’s fist go right through his chest. And even with Kali showing off her power during the fight, she is still relegated to escaping with the Winchesters in their car. She needs a car to get away, really?”

Now I suppose the case could be made for the whole belief=power trope I’ve seen many writers use. More folks believe in Satan than Odin after all, so he could, using this justification, just waltz through some gods, but there are around a billion people who believe in Kali and Ganesha, and they’re largely ineffective too? The underlying message here is that pagan gods thrived on human sacrifice, and that’s where their power in the world comes from, while the Christian mythos is free of such limitations and constraints. This view of divinity in Supernatural has been explored before, only this time it’s being applied across the board to non-Christian forms of divinity. So Supernatural is, underneath the b-movie horror trappings,  triumphalist in orientation.

Finally, we come to the forensics/cop dramedy Bones, and an episode, “The Witch in the Wardrobe”, that will air on May 6th. A special installment written by author Kathy Reichs, who created the characters the series is based on, it will be based in Salem and feature Witches both old and new.

“A cabin burns down in the woods revealing two bodies, one of a modern-day witch and one from the days of the Salem Witch Trials, leading Booth and Brennan into the world of Wicca to find a killer. Meanwhile, when Hodgins’ reckless driving gets him and Angela arrested and thrown in jail, Sweets and intern Clark Edison (guest star Eugene Byrn) step into unfamiliar territory to help out the team.”

Now, I’m somewhat hopeful in this case, since Reichs has sympathetically tackled Wicca before in her novels. But I also know that Salem + Witches + television doesn’t always equal something that will reflect well on the larger Pagan community. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Also, in a quick non-pop-culture note, I’d like to thank Terry Mattingly (of Get Religion fame) for mentioning The Wild Hunt in his most recent column about the state of religious journalism today. Check it out, as it says some interesting things about the future of religious news.

Jason Pitzl-Waters