Archives For film

Last night, I went and saw “The Monuments Men,” a dramatization of the very real efforts to save Europe’s art and cultural history from Nazi looting and destruction.  As a fine art lover this is a historical event (an ongoing one) that has me riveted, so I am right in the target market for this film. However, while I love to see Bill Murray and George Clooney mugging for the camera as much as anyone, I left feeling disappointed and manipulated (and I wasn’t alone). It was so propagandistic that it could have been made in the 1950s, and you wouldn’t have had to change much. Meanwhile, the art itself takes a back seat (often literally, there are many scenes of crated art being pushed onto trucks), so the characters have to airily expound about the importance of art without, you know, showing people why it’s so important.

I bring this up because I believe most thinking Christians going to see “Son Of God,” currently in theaters, would feel much as I felt leaving that film. Because when you already believe in something, you become immune from many of the tricks of art used to get people to identify with a character or cause. You recognize it as a tool of evangelization, and you leave disappointed that you weren’t surprised, challenged, or shown some new way of seeing something you know intimately. As one secular critic put it, it’s a film about Jesus that makes you almost long for the over-the-top horror-show that was “Passion of the Christ.”

“Gibson’s barking mad Passion of the Christ at least had vigor, vision, madness — something to say, even if that thing was just “more wounds!” and “Jews!” Son of God is a narrative shambles, more thudding than thunderous, shot with no spirit or distinction, always feeling like a sprawling TV miniseries cut up to fit into theatrical running time. That’s no surprise, considering this is a distillation of The Bible, the basic-cable event from 2013. At the opening we see flashbacks, with voiceover, to the stories of Noah, Moses, and Abraham — surely the first time that the New Testament has kicked off with a ‘previously on . . .’”

Truly good religious films are difficult, because they are usually made by believers. Believers want to be accurate, they want to be true to the text, they want their protagonists (largely) unsullied and the villains clearly evil. That’s great when you’re making films about comic book characters, but it’s terrible when you want to strike for something deeper. Films about religion, by their very nature, promise to strike at something deeper. So when a film like this, quote, “treats the audience like first-timers, all but having a pastor step on screen to explain the meaning of every re-created parable — and the smugness of a parent serving broccoli” you know you’re making a disposable product (albeit one that will no doubt make a lot of money thanks to the millions of Christians in the United States).

All this said, I didn’t come here to pile on about the badness of “Son Of God,” but to serve a warning: A Pagan equivalent will no doubt be just as bad. Such a film, let’s call it “Horns Of Pan,” would no doubt fall into the same trap. Now, Pagans and polytheists have seen a growing number of fantasy films and television series that allude to gods, the occult, or religion in the ancient world, and there are more coming (at least if you believe Neil Gaiman). Eventually, enough points will converge, and a “real” Pagan film will roll into production. Will it be Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing”? Or perhaps an adaptation of one of the many Pagan-themed novels that have done moderately well? I can’t say, but I feel fairly confident in my ability to predict its reception outside our interconnected communities (unless something truly remarkable happens).

Two of my favorite films about religion weren’t made for true believers: Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” and Robin Hardy/Anthony Shaffer’s “The Wicker Man” (though I love both for very different reasons). If either of these much-lauded classics had to run a gauntlet of pleasing a religious community, they would have either never been made, or would have turned out so different as to be unrecognizable. They certainly wouldn’t be picked up by new generations of film-lovers and held up for their artistry or ability to move us. So, as much as I love my religious community, I fear the day I have to watch and review a film of “ours” that’s “made it” to wide distribution.

For every good religious film, and I’ll leave you to make your own list, there are countless pious messes. When film stops being an artistic medium guided by visionaries, and instead starts serving a cause, you end up with movie goers attending out of duty, to prove some point instead of holding up excellence (or even entertainment).

“Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church is one of many religious leaders urging churchgoers to become moviegoers. ‘In fact, I told my church, ‘If you have to choose between church and movie, go see the movie this weekend,” he told CBS News’ John Blackstone. ‘Let’s send a message to Hollywood,” he said. ‘Not every movie has to be a Bible movie, but when they do come out, let’s support that, for sure.’”

That isn’t art. That’s activists mobilizing their purchasing power to enshrine a cultural product that doesn’t deserve it, and ten years from now, no one will be singing this work’s praises. No matter how rich the producers of “Son Of God” get off of Christian dollars, it won’t make much of a difference in the world of film, or in the world of Christianity. So I urge Pagans to be careful what they wish for, and what they work for. Let Pagan filmmakers craft their own visions, and if their work rises up to the mainstream on merit, then celebrate it. But let’s not fall into the “Son Of God” trap, because nobody wants to see “Horns Of Pan,” no matter how great the special effects are. I don’t want “Pagan” films, I want good films, great films.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Still from 1973's "The Wicker Man".

Still from 1973′s “The Wicker Man”.

  • With the new “final cut” of the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man debuting in British theaters, a number of outlets are running new reviews, and the Guardian runs down how the film was made. Quote: “Christopher Lee was the obvious choice for Lord Summerisle. He had a patrician air, and this wonderful voice for incantations to the gods. Casting Howie was much harder. Michael York turned it down, David Hemmings had other fish to fry. Edward Woodward had always played counter-establishment parts on TV, but actors are always pleased to be cast against their image. He understood the script perfectly and grew into the uptightness of the role beautifully – the consummate actor.” Here are a selection of recent reviews: The Guardian, The Scotsman,  WhatCulture!, The Hollywood Reporter, The Arts Desk, and Salon.com.
  • At The Atlantic, Benson Daitz writes about how he oversaw a Santeria-style exorcism for prison inmate, and why that was the right decision. Quote: “Ron placed a large brown grocery bag on the floor, from which he produced a beautiful king conch shell. We all walked into the exam room, and standing in front of Jose’s staring face, Ron lifted the conch shell above his head and smashed it into a hundred pieces on the floor. Then he picked up a sharp piece of shell, gripped Jose’s left wrist, and cut an X into his forearm, blood oozing out from the pattern. Then, with another piece of shell, he cut a matching X into his own left forearm. Jose did not flinch. Facing Jose, Ron bound their cut arms together, palm-to-palm, with a red bandana. They spent the night in the clinic like that, tied together.”
  • At Aeon Magazine, Nigel Warburton argues that conversation, not isolation, is essential to breakthroughs and innovations in philosophy. Quote: “Western philosophy has its origins in conversation, in face-to-face discussions about reality, our place in the cosmos, and how we should live. It began with a sense of mystery, wonder, and confusion, and the powerful desire to get beyond mere appearances to find truth or, if not that, at least some kind of wisdom or balance [...] Besides, why would a thinker cast seeds on barren soil? Surely it is better to sow then where they’re likely to grow, to share your ideas in the way most suited to the audience, to adapt what you say to whoever is in front of you.”
  • Guardian religion editor Andrew Brown poses the question: How do religions die? Quote: “Perhaps it is easier to think in terms of gods dying, rather than religions. And if we were to classify religions as involving different forms of worship, then you could certainly think that the extinction of worship towards a particular deity would count as the extinction of that religion. Certainly we can be sure that the religion of the Aztecs is dead with their gods, along with hundreds of thousands of others we can no longer reconstruct, and all the pre-literate ones whose existence we remain quite unaware of. Robert Bellah has a nice passage on this ‘Perhaps the end of Mesopotamian Civilization was marked, not by the last cuneiform document to be produced, but by the last prayer to be uttered to Marduk or Assur, but of that we have no record.’” Considering how many Pagans are devoted to reviving and reconstructing belief systems thought lost, this seems like a provocative question.
  • At the Religion in American History blog, John L. Crow takes a look at African-American esoteric religion. Quote: “One of the most significant African American religious tradition to fully incorporate a large variety of esoteric components, including portions from the Moorish Temple, is Dr. Malachi Zador (Dwight) York’s United Nuwaubian Nation. Operating for over 40 years, the Nuwaubian’s have an active presence in America, Canada, and the U.K. They have established temples and bookstores in a variety of cities, recruited tens of thousands of members, and yet, to date, there is only one monograph about them, The Nuwaubian Nation: Black Spirituality and State Control (Ashgate 2010) by Susan Palmer, and one significant essay in the JAAR, by Julius H. Bailey in 2006. Most other references in academic literature to the Nuwaubians are in passing, and usually only related to its incorporation of UFO and aliens in its religious teachings. Yet, UFOs only scratches the surface of how involved with esotericism the Nuwaubians are.” Fascinating stuff.
John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

  • The occult comic character John Constintine, who was once dramatized on screen by Keanu Reeves, is in development for a television series at NBC. Quote: “NBC has ordered a script from Warner Bros. TV that’s based upon the DC Comics anti-hero John Constantine, an enigmatic and irreverent con man-turned-reluctant supernatural detective who is thrust into the role of defending citizens against dark forces.” I would like to take this opportunity to implore the writers to mine the early Jamie Delano years for material, instead of the crasser, and in my mind inferior (though more popular), Garth Ennis years.
  • Shoma Chaudhury writes about the role of women in India, and how they are trapped between the image of “slut” and Goddess. Quote: “The hopeful story about India is located elsewhere. The success of these women has a deeper foundation. Crucially, unlike almost every other democracy in the world – unlike either the US or UK – equal rights for women were enshrined in the very conception of the nation. Unlike First World countries, where women had to fight elemental battles for something as basic as suffrage rights, the Indian Constitution recognised equal rights for women from the very moment of India’s birth. No matter how imperfect the practice therefore, what we have as moral ammunition, are sublime articles of faith. It would’ve been wondrous if these articles of faith had worked as a miracle cure. But pitted against centuries-old social attitudes, they function rather as slow oxygen in the system. This oxygenation, however, should not be underestimated.” I think a crucial point here is that goddess worship, and legal rights, aren’t enough. That cultural attitudes must also change in order for women to be truly empowered.
  • Two accused “witches” in Zimbabwe are claiming in court that they are actresses hired by a local “prophet” to drum up business. It seems like it was a big con-job, one that authorities initially fell for. Quote: “A police source said: ‘His plan was to see people flocking to his so-called shrine – so spiritually powerful witches couldn’t fly over it. It was all a grand set-up.’ Police and prosecutors will face uncomfortable questions over how they took the women’s story at face value – even going to the extent of presenting them in court as witches.” Where-ever there’s a moral panic, there will be someone wanting to profit from it.
  • The Weekly Standard looks at the enduring popularity of supernatural fiction. Quote: “Nothing human is alien to supernatural fiction. Transgressive by definition, it ventures into the dark corners within all of us, probing our sexuality, religious beliefs, and family relationships, uncovering shameful yearnings and anxieties, questioning the meaning of life and death, even speculating about the nature of the cosmos. It’s no surprise that almost every canonical writer one can think of has occasionally, or more than occasionally, dabbled in ghostly fiction: Charles Dickens, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Bowen, John Cheever, even Russell Kirk, to name just a few outstanding examples. The genre’s best stories are, after all, more than divertissements. They are works of art that make us think about who and what we are.”
  • Druid Ci Cyfarth poses the question: What can a Pagan learn from the Five Pillars of Islam?  Quote: “In this article and the next, I’ll be looking at my understanding of each of the Five Pillars of Islam, considering what the practices of modern Pagans might have in common with Islam, and thinking about how Islam might inspire us to explore new elements of our paths we may not have considered.” Here’s part two of the two-part series.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

conference-logo-transparent-background1The Conference on Current Pagan Studies has announced that author (and Wild Hunt columnist) Crystal Blanton will be one of the keynote speakers at their 2014 conference this coming February. At her official Facebook page, Blanton asked followers which of three topics they would prefer she address with her keynote; the effect of racism within the Pagan community, the different forms of axiology within ethnic cultures and how that applies to the assessment of value within the Pagan community, or understanding cultural sensitivity and the need for collective healing for healthy racial integration within Paganism. Each of these topics would fit in well with 2014′s theme of “Relationships With The World.” Quote: “What is our relationship as contemporary pagans with the rest of the world at this point in history? What is the nature of our relationship with ourselves? With others? With the Divine? Who do we reach out to? Who do we support? What kind of communities are we building? As we ask for acceptance, who are we accepting? Who do we reject? Who do we love? Who do we make the enemy?” The deadline for paper proposals is September 15th.

booktitleProlific indie esoteric filmmaker Antero Alli has a new movie coming out called The Book of Jane that explores mythic themes and the idea of fate. Quote: “Alice, a Professor of Comparative Religion, is writing a book exalting the ancient values of pre-Hellenic goddess mythologies and Feminine deity worship. One day she meets Jane, an enigmatic older woman who roams the university campus, sleeps under a bridge, and rattles Alice with her disturbing insights. At home, Alice is the muse to her partner Colette, an artist who is painting a series of goddess portraits. When Colette hears about Jane, she encourages a reluctant Alice to invite her over for dinner. “The Book of Jane” is a story of three women bound together by fate to advance the values of an ancient culture into contempory life — at a deep cost no one expected.” Making an appearance as the goddess Morrigan is artist, teacher, and spiritual worker Morpheus Ravenna. You can watch a clip featuring her embedded below, or simply click here.

pcThe Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation have announced that they will be holding a one-day Witchcraft conference in honor of Patricia Crowther on April 6th, 2014, in Nottingham. Quote: “We are continuing our series of ‘A Day For . . ‘ events and this year we will be honouring the achievements and contribution to the Witchcraft and Pagan community of Patricia Crowther. Patricia is one of the few remaining contemporaries of Gerald Gardner and has to be considered one of the true Elders of the Craft. She was initially reluctant to allow us to hold a day in her honour but we have persuaded her that the Craft and pagan communities deserve their chance to pay her their respects and celebrate her so we are very pleased to announce that all being well she will be our guest of honour on the day. We will also present talks by Vivianne & Chris Crowley, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Philip Heselton and Patricia’s good friend and astronomy expert, John Harper.” You can purchase advance tickets now. You can also download and share a flyer if you wish. If I were in the UK, I would love to attend this, so don’t miss out!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Initial guests and bands have been announced for FaerieCon West in Seattle, including German Pagan-folk band Faun, and authors John Matthews (see our recent interview with him), Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi. The event takes place February 21-23rd (the weekend after PantheaCon), and has moved to the Seattle Doubletree Hilton. For those on the East Coast, FaerieCon East in Baltimore is coming up November 8th – 10th, and also features a lot of wonderful guests. Full disclosure: I work for the company that produces these events, but I think their quality stands up even if you account for my conflict of interest.
  • An IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign has been launched for a new online magazine called Limina. Quote: “Limina is an online magazine of women writing about faith. The word Limina means ‘she who is standing on the threshold.’ We hope to explore matters of faith, culture, politics, and arts from that position. We are diverse and inclusive, representing many religions, spiritualities, and faith traditions, as well as atheists and agnostics. We take our voices seriously, we take our position seriously, and we honor the work of those who came before us and made what we do possible. But we can be irreverent at times. We’re here to engage readers, and to make them think, and occasionally, to prod them into action.” I’ve spoken with one of the organizers, and she says they are planning to include several Pagan voices. I’ve embedded their pitch-video below.

  • Funds are currently being raised to create an Avalon. Quote: “Thanks for taking the time to visit our JustGiving page.  We’re fundraising to create a sacred grove in Avalon, in a small but beautiful privately-owned field right on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor.  It’ll be formed of a circle of twenty-four trees, mostly Apple, with Rowan marking the four entrances and Oak standing as guardians around the space.  Aromatic herbs on the ground and evergreen plants  all around will give atmosphere and privacy.  It’s still a mystery what will go in the centre – perhaps a small pool, perhaps a fire dish: it’ll become clear as the project unfolds.” One of the co-organizers of this project is author Sorita d’Este.
  • Alane Brown, Witch, and composer for the musical group Crow Women, is currently in the midst of a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Peru. She’s been keeping a wonderful blog of insights and experiences that I think many of you might enjoy. I think her post about celebrating the Winter Solstice is particularly good.
  • Aidan Kelly has written a remembrance of Allan Lowe / Demian Moonbloode, a NROOGD Elder who played a key role in the formation of the Covenant of the Goddess. Quote: “He was very involved in the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess, designing the original masthead for the COG newsletter and serving as a local and national officer during its first years. He went on to found Silver Star [...] one of our more radical and liberal covens, and it became the ancestor of about 90 percent of the NROOGD covens that have existed since then.” What is remembered, lives.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ‘em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973′s “The Wicker Man” and 2012′s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. [...] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.’” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.’” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.’” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days [...] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

Publicity still from "Britain's Wicca Man".

Publicity still from “Britain’s Wicca Man”.

The hour-long documentary “Britain’s Wicca Man” has had a long, strange, trip to getting aired. A look at the life of Gerald Gardner, hosted by scholar Ronald Hutton, the program was commissioned by Channel 4 in Britain and initially scheduled to be aired sometime in 2012. That didn’t happen, and eventually a truncated 27-minute version popped up on Australian television earlier this Summer. Now, it seems the long journey is over, and the full documentary was finally aired this weekend in the UK under the new title of “A Very British Witchcraft.” Quote: “The extraordinary story of Britain’s fastest-growing religious group – the modern pagan witchcraft of Wicca – and of its creator, an eccentric Englishman called Gerald Gardner. Historian and leading expert in Pagan studies Professor Ronald Hutton explores Gardner’s story and experiences first-hand Wicca’s growing influence throughout Britain today.” Considering how rare it is for these short-form documentaries to get a DVD release in the United States, we will most likely have to wait until someone has taken the law into their own hands and posted it to Youtube, or made it available for download via BitTorrent in order to see it (not that I’m advocating piracy, simply communicating the realities of modern distribution). In any case, I look forward to seeing the whole work.

The-ConjuringBack in July I looked at the problematic thematic underpinnings of horror film “The Conjuring,” and why this “true story” could spark trouble. Since then, the film has gone on to gross more than a 100 million dollars, and the film’s insistence that they were conveying dramatized facts has already sparked some troubling results. Quote: “The author of the books that inspired the new movie “The Conjuring” is asking for help after a local gravestone was damaged in the village of Harrisville [...] Local residents are upset by the vandalism. ‘I mean it’s upsetting that anyone would vandalize a grave, because I think it’s very disrespectful,’ Sara Indish, Burrilliville.” Salem Witch Christian Day, who spoke out previously about the historical revisionism of the film, noted that the “film is having an impact and it isn’t a good one.” Talks of a sequel and possibly even a movie franchise are already underway, also based on the demon-hunting exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and thus, even more opportunities to muddy the waters between fact and fantasy. I can only imagine that the emergence of “real” (Christian) exorcists as reality show stars will only fuel this trend. In any case, I hope this pop-exorcism fever breaks, and breaks soon.

The Weird Sisters from Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' After Henry Fuseli (1741-1825); mezzotint by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

The Weird Sisters by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

Earlier this month I posted an item about Witches & Wicked Bodies, an exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which had just opened (highlights of the show can be found, here). Now, the reviews are pouring in, all considering the portrayal of the witch, and the practice of witchcraft. Laura Cumming at The Guardian wonders if “these male artists ever met a woman who looked anything like such visions in reality? Not one of these figures is the classic old hag of medieval literature, the reclusive village spinster forced to endure the ducking stool or the stake because she was thought too weird in her ways, too sharp in her observations, too active with the herbs, or simply because she muttered to herself.” Meanwhile, Arifa Akbar at The Independent notices the strong sexual element running through the show. Quote: “These images of lewd sexual disinhibition and obscene corporeality (the women are invariably naked, open-legged, farting and with masculine features such as beards or penises) all arise from ancient fears that have surrounded women’s sexual desire, as well as the even graver fear of its ability to emasculate men.” Finally, Rebecca McQuillan at the Herald Scotland notes the recurring fear and animus towards older women in the figure of the witch. Quote: “The bile directed at ageing women in the 21st century contains unpleasant echoes of the sinister misogyny of the witch trial era. And that is deeply disconcerting.” 

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

“There is no escape from the cycle.” – Richard Ravish, With Love from Salem

Like another recent documentary involving modern Pagans that I enjoyed, Alex Mar’s “American Mystic,” Karagan Griffith’s “With Love from Salem” is not an introduction or history lesson, but is instead a portrait of a belief system, a culture, in action. It follows Richard and Amy Ravish, Wiccan clergy who led rituals on Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts for more than 20 years.  While ostensibly about their Samhain ritual and procession on its 20th anniversary, what emerged to me on my viewing was surprisingly personal, an intimate look at the lives of two elders whose duty to Salem has become deeply intertwined with their faith, their friendships, and how they interact with community.

The mere mention of Salem, Massachusetts can be divisive within modern Pagan circles, with some Witches and Wiccans decrying the tourist-drawing Mardi Gras-like atmosphere around Halloween, and the Witches who have embraced that spirit of spooky fun as well. Yet, purposefully flamboyant Salem Witches like Laurie Cabot were instrumental in advancing tolerance and rights for Wicca and religious forms of modern Witchcraft. It was Cabot who founded the Temple of Nine Wells, “as a focus for worship and to facilitate a multi-traditional practice of the religion of Witchcraft in order to best serve the spiritual needs of the growing Wiccan community in Salem, Massachusetts.” A mission that was taken up by Amy and Richard as administrators of the temple. According to Amy “Gypsy” Ravish in the film, the ritual and procession at Samhain not only reminds people of the differences between Salem’s Halloween festivities and the religious observance of Samhain, it also gives an opportunity to those Pagan tourists who “can’t walk down the streets of their town, and say that they are Witches.” The tourism acts as a normalizing element, protective coloring for individuals across the country who see Salem as a pilgrimage.

Richard and Amy Ravish

Richard and Amy Ravish

“The commitment , passion and love for the Craft was and still is what moved Gypsy and Richard all these years.”Karagan Griffith, director of “With Love from Salem”

“With Love from Salem” subtly shows you how Salem has woven its way into the modern Wiccan mind, but it’s as much a meditation on aging in the Craft as it is about honoring those killed on Gallows Hill. Richard Ravish passed away in 2012, and as such much of the talk about aging, ancestors, and the spirit of Samhain take on a deeper resonance. It shows Wicca as a faith that endures through the Winter of their lives, and one that continues to resonate for new generations of Witches. The handheld camera work by Griffith gives an impression of home movies, which actually adds to the intimacy, rather than detracts. It’s like watching footage of the elders in your own group or community, talking about their work, their devotion. It gives us outsiders a chance to be a fly on the wall as these two elders plan a community ritual.

Ultimately, “With Love from Salem” is a time capsule, a document of a couple who quietly served a community since the 1970s, a fixed point where seekers and the curious could experience Witchcraft in a “land of ghosts.” It is about mortality and remembrance, not just for the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, but for our own elders as they age and pass on. As Richard Ravish says towards the end of the film, “there is no escape from the cycle,” there is only our acceptance, and our honoring of its gifts. Director Karagan Griffith has done an admirable job of documenting one couple’s journey within that cycle.

For updates on this film, see their official Facebook page.  You may also want to read my interview with director Karagan Griffith.

Yesterday I highlighted a scathing review at Salon.com of new horror-thriller “The Conjuring.” Critic Andrew O’Hehir found the Salem witch-trials subplot to be tasteless revisionism, despite admiring the film’s creepy construction.

The-Conjuring

“Here’s the real ‘true story’ behind “The Conjuring”: Any time people get worked up about a menace they believe in but can’t actually see – demons, Commies, jihadis, hordes of hoodie-wearing thugs — they’re likely to take it out on the weakest and most vulnerable people in society [....] along with the overall tone of hard-right family-values messaging, “The Conjuring” wants to walk back one of America’s earliest historical crimes, the Salem witch trials of 1692, and make it look like there must have been something to it after all. Those terrified colonial women, brainwashed, persecuted and murdered by the religious authorities of their day – see, they actually were witches, who slaughtered children and pledged their love to Satan and everything! That’s not poetic license. It’s reprehensible and inexcusable bulls***.”

It’s just a dumb subplot in a scary film, right? Historically shoddy movies are far from a new invention, so why bother even critiquing it? But the catch, the problem, centers on the hook of this being a “true” story, and the media subtext that is gently emerging concerning “witches” and “dark” powers. For example, The Blaze interviews Andrea Perron, one of the daughters who lived in the house when Ed and Lorraine Warren came to bust some ghosts back in the 1970s, and she says the scariest part was left out of the film.

“I’m really glad that they didn’t include all of the stories, because I think that people would find it unbelievable [...] One of them is the night that my mother laid beside my father in bed and all the spirits gathered as a coven of witches. They had burning torches.” 

A coven of demonic ghost witches? You’re right, it does seem somewhat unbelievable. However, this tidbit was enough to get fringe Christian froth-er Bryan Fischer to share a little story about witches on his radio program.

“Covens, and there are covens, these are clusters of witches that meet, they’ll start meeting at midnight, they’ll break up at 2-o-clock, 3-o-clock in the morning, and they will send demonic spirits out on assignments against their chosen targets. One night, 2-o-clock in the morning, I’m awakened by something grabbing my ankle. It never happened to me before, never happened to me since, but something grabbed my ankle and was trying to pull me out of the bed. I realized immediately what it was, I knew I needed to say the name Jesus, I tried, his name got stuck in my throat! They tried to keep me from saying the name Jesus, when I was finally able to say the name of Jesus it broke, went away, and it was lifted.”

Fischer reinforces this idea as not only true, but something that happens today with living witches. As for the prime sources of this true story, Ed and Lorraine Warren, they have a, shall we say, complex relationship with the notion of witchcraft. Here’s a quote from Lorraine Warren in the book “The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren.”

“Wicca – or witchcraft – is 4,000 years old, often called the ‘Old Religion’ because it predates both Judaism and Christianity. People who practice Wicca are known as white witches, and worship Mother Earth. They manipulate natural forces for positive results – healing, good luck, lasting love, and bountiful harvests. After that, however, you digress into gray witchcraft, black witchcraft, and Satanism. This is where problems develop because witchcraft goes both ways and can be used to bring about positive or negative ends.”

After that brief disclaimer-of-sorts about “white” Witchcraft, the Warrens proceed to expound at length about the dangers of witchcraft, and how it opens you to Satanic possession.

“Nowadays, lone individuals performing rites gleaned form a drugstore paperback may not be prepared for the ghastly reality often bound, by what Ed calls cosmic law, to confront them.”

So we’re back to the idea of witchcraft as doorway to Satanic/demonic powers. That positive “white” Witchcraft is simply the bright side to a two-faced coin. A spectrum from good-to-evil that we’re tied to, no matter our own theologies or beliefs.

The promotional hype for this film has been built around Lorraine Warren’s input, and this story being true. Outreach to Christian media has been ongoing and thorough, with Warren’s demure gloves being taken off somewhat for this niche audience.

If I could only explain to people how not to get involved in certain things where the occult is concerned. I [wish] I could explain that to them [...] the only way to protect yourself is through your faith. … If I could only get over that hill for people to understand that if they had faith and they witness all of these [demonic encounters] that they could call on God and ask for his protection. That’s really my goal.”

As for the filmmakers, Chad and Carey Hayes, they are fine invoking spiritual warfare rhetoric to sell tickets.

“The Hayes brothers describe themselves as “Christians” without wanting to go into further labels or detail, and they’re convinced of the reality of demonic forces and spiritual warfare. ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,’ Chad Hayes said, easily quoting from the New Testament Book of Ephesians. [...]  ‘We’re 100 percent aware of the reality that there is darkness and there is light,’ Carey Hayes said. ‘We’ve seen it. We’ve witnessed it.’ ‘We’ve seen things,’ Chad chimed in, ‘that I wish we never saw.’”

The truth is that the film, in constructing its (by all accounts compelling) ghost story, tapped into source material that has deeply problematic attitudes about the idea of witchcraft. Attitudes that fuel a specific Christian view of spiritual reality, and casts the occult as part of a dualistic sinister world that can only lead to horror if one “dabbles” for too long. Witch-hunting revisionism, mixed with Christian spiritual warfare, leads to nowhere good if left unexamined. I hope that with this new influx of attention, more people take a critical eye at the Warrens’ work, and that the memes of destructive witchcraft, of non-Christian spiritual forces being demonic, are deflated in the process.

A scary film, in isolation, is nothing to worry about. A scary film that taps into deep wells of fear and misinformation to sell tickets? As Christian Day says, “this film has the potential to have a real legacy,” but will it be a legacy we don’t wish to see propagated?

On Monday morning the film production and distribution company StudioCanal announced, via director Robin Hardy, that they have acquired an existing film print of 1973 cult film “The Wicker Man,” long missing, and are restoring the film, converting it to Blu-Ray format, and overseeing a short theatrical run in the Fall. For devotees of the film, which includes myself, this is exciting news. Up until now, the only versions of the film you could easily get were the mangled “Theatrical Version” (aka the “short” version) which is what usually pops up on streaming services and DVD, and “The Extended Version” (aka the director’s cut/the “long” version) which was included in the two-disc edition released in 2006 (and earlier VHS releases). The problem with the previously released extended version was that it melded film-quality material from the short version with NTSC tape of the additional footage, creating rather glaring differences in video (and audio) quality. Better than nothing, surely, but hardly optimal.

Robin Hardy

Robin Hardy

“I’m very pleased to announce that StudioCanal has been able to find an actual print of The Wicker Man, which is based on my original cut, working with Abraxas, the American distributors, all those years ago […] this version has never been restored before, has never been shown in UK theaters before, has never been released on Blu-Ray before. This version of The Wicker Man will be known, optimistically, as the ‘Final Cut.’”Robin Hardy, director of “The Wicker Man”

So what does this all mean? It most likely means some version of the extended “director’s” cut, but with top-notch audio/video quality (for a definitive run-down of the various “Wicker Man” versions out there, see this site). What it most likely doesn’t mean is a return of material from the original filming that never made it into any version of the film. So not the completists dream, the Platonic ideal of “The Wicker Man,” but still, exciting news. This “Final Cut,” according to SFX Magazine, “will be released in selected cinemas on 27 September, and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on 14 October.”

Still from "The Wicker Man."

Still from “The Wicker Man.”

For modern Pagans, “The Wicker Man” can be a divisive film. Many Pagans, especially those who saw it in American theaters in 1979 when it was re-released in it’s “middle” cut version and became a cult sensation, love the way Summerisle was portrayed: a village of happy, fun-loving, musical, Pagans. A depiction that cut deep into the psyche of many Pagans longing for a society and culture that reflected their ideals. However, there has always been a vocal minority of Pagans who detest the film due to the small fact that the fun-loving Pagans perform a human sacrifice at the end, thus undercutting all the smiley-faced folk songs and revels. While I was not quite old enough to see “The Wicker Man” in the cinema, I was part of a coven that provided my first viewing of the film, and I’ll admit I fell in instant love. A Pagan thriller-musical-procedural that invited deeper questions about belief.

 

1979 re-release era poster.

1979 re-release era poster.

I have long felt that there are no “heroes” or “villains” in the piece, but two world views in crisis clashing with tragic results. The sting is in undercutting our expectations for both the Christian policeman “hero” and the, in theory, villainous Pagan village. Over the course of the film we find that the hero is a stuffy, priggish, and deeply flawed man who has a hard time separating his duties as a Christian from his duties as a police officer (indeed he sees them as one and the same, which in turn helps lead him to his doom). Likewise, the Pagan villagers, who would be portrayed as creepy and devious in a true b-movie picture, are shown to be rather wholesome and moral, at least within the context of their worldview (something truly unexpected for a thriller feature from the early 1970s). You find yourself quickly rooting for them, and against the traditional hero. Robin Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer were smart enough to give an ending that, in a sense, gives everyone what they “want” within a religious context.

Sergeant Neil Howie: No matter what you do, you can’t change the fact that I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ. I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ! Lord Summerisle: That is good, for believing what you do, we confer upon you a rare gift, these days – a martyr’s death. You will not only have life eternal, but you will sit with the saints among the elect. Come. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker man.”

The Wicker Man is the first truly excellent film to be made in a post Pagan revival world. It plays with the same sources and mythic themes that the actual Pagan community used in reconstructing their own faiths, and as such strikes at something honest almost by accident. It struck at a moment when the idea of a “Pagan Community” was still forming and in flux. This was before “Drawing Down the Moon,” before “The Spiral Dance,” and well before the Internet. If you view it in this context, you can understand why “The Wicker Man” was so beloved for its portrayal of a Pagan village, because it gave a vision of “us” as a community. Something that was, and largely still is, rare on the big screen (I’d argue the 1980s television series “Robin of Sherwood” is important for similar reasons). So despite the sacrifice at the end, it has been deeply embraced, and continues to be heralded. Even today, a new generation are sharing images and animated gifs of the film on Tumblr, celebrating the Pagan imagery.

One hopes this “final cut” will finally enable a mass audience to see the film as it was meant to be seen, and in high quality, taking its place in a pantheon of provocative 1970s films that explore the tensions between the dominant Christian paradigm, and a religious/cultural “other.” I have no doubt that come October, there will be many, many gatherings and parties to re-introduce this film, and one can only hope it will come to a movie theater near me in September. I don’t know about you, but I plan to keep my appointment with “The Wicker Man.”

Our last stop on this cinematic journey was 1937 with the release of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Up to that point, the Hollywood witch had already evolved from a turn-of-the-century “clown witch” to a stereotypical cartoon “hags in rags” and finally into an animated femme fatale.

Throughout that early period, the witch was contained within the framework of fantasy.  Even those few outliers created a wall of separation between reality and the witch. MacBeth (1916) is just a retelling of a Shakespearian drama.  In the Witch of Salem (1913), the “witch” is a victim of hysteria. In film studies speak, the witch never threatens to enter into the viewer’s world.

The next period stretches from 1939 to 1950. It ends just as television begins its golden age. In 1947, the number of home televisions was in the 1,000s. By 1960, that number was well into the millions. That change presents yet another major technologically-based shift in entertainment consumption and production. (Mitchell Stephens,“History of Television,”)

The Wizard of Oz (1939) Courtesy of doctormacro.com

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Courtesy of doctormacro.com

The period begins with MGM’s release of The Wizard of Oz (1939) – another retelling of L. Frank Baum’s first Oz story. Both Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West are significant to this study.  However, the Wicked Witch is by far a more powerful cultural icon and quite possibly the most famous of all Hollywood witches. She is even ranked #4 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Best Film Villains.” Since her birth in 1939, the Wicked Witch of the West has impacted, if not defined, what it means to be a “witch.”

MGMs’s Wicked Witch is an evolutionary step from the “hags and rags” cartoon motif.  She has all the common elements including a broom, angular chin and nose, black clothing, a crystal ball, long fingernails, and a pointed hat.  However, she’s much more intense and frightening. She was constructed as a bitter turn-of-the-century spinster who hates dogs and young girls.  Her clothing is reminiscent of that era.

What about her green skin? Up to this point, there has never been a witch with green skin.  Actress Margaret Hamilton recalls:

Black next to your skin seemed to give rise to a thin line of white on the edge of the black, which did not look like edging but rather like a separation. But with Oz the problem was solved… that was why they chose green makeup for my face, neck and hands. (Aljena Harmetz,  The Making of the Wizard of Oz )

The green-skinned witch was born.  Why green?  The color references other monstrous figures such as Frankenstein and suggests sickness, envy and even the undead.

In the original story, Baum described Oz’s other witch as an oddly-dressed old woman wearing white. But MGM changed Glinda into a younger angelic creature with a fairy-like appearance. She descends gracefully from the heavens in bubble that surrounds her like a golden halo.  Always appearing in soft focus, her face is perfectly framed in blond curls. Glinda sparkles as symbol of purity in pink, silver and tulle.

Billie Burke as Glinda Courtesy of doctormacro.com

Billie Burke as Glinda
Courtesy of doctormacro.com

The film version of The Wizard of Oz (1939) is only a loose adaptation of Baum’s original story. The visual appearances and narrative roles of both witches were altered in order to increase drama and remain within the Breen Code. The film’s witches are the polar extremes of good and evil.

Interestingly MGM interjected a bit of religion into the story in order to develop character. Auntie Em calls herself a “good Christian woman” when defying Mrs. Gulch. This statement an example of an old Hollywood technique that was prevalent during the Production Code days. If something is defined as being Christian, anything counter to that must then be bad.  As such, Mrs. Gulch (a.k.a. the Wicked Witch) was set-up as evil right from the beginning.

When the film was released, The Wizard of Oz received only mixed reviews. Regardless, the Wicked Witch left an immediate and indelible imprint on American entertainment. In 1942, Sky Princess, a a stop-motion, Puppatoon short contained the next in a long-line of green face witches. In Comin’ Round the Mountain (1951) actress Margaret Hamilton makes the first of many reappearances as a witch. Since 1939 there have been countless films, television programs, books and even Broadway shows that have, in some way, drawn from that one single movie.

Aside from The Wizard of Oz and The Sky Princess, there were only five other “witch” movies released from 1939-1950.  Three of these films are shorts containing a typical Halloween style “hag in rags.” One of these is a Mighty Mouse cartoon called Witch Cat (1948).  The second is another animated short called The Bookworm (1939).  The third is a live-action film called Third Dimensional Murder (1941) which showcased early 3-D technology. These latter two films are the first to directly associate the witch with classic monsters such as Frankenstein or Dracula.

In 1948, Orson Wells remade the classic play MacBeth with an interesting new twist. This film marks the first time a witch is equated with a real religious practice outside the bounds of Christian iconography. In his book This Is Orson Welles, Welles wrote:

The main point of the production is the struggle between the old and new religions. I saw the witches as representatives of a Druidical pagan religion suppressed by Christianity – itself a new arrival… the witches are the priestesses.  (Welles, pg 214-215)

poster20-20i20married20a20witch_01This takes us to the final film of this segment: I Married a Witch (1942). In this film, the witch steps out of the fairy tale or Shakespearian play to become a part of the mortal world. Its two evil witches, a father and daughter, take on the appearance of normal humans. The only typical witch icon used within the film is the flying broom. The daughter, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) is a coy, sexy femme fatale and her father is the male version of the clown witch.  He’s both the comic relief and antagonist.

I Married a Witch is unique because it was made specifically for female viewers. It’s a variation on a theme prevalent during the World War II era. As Jeanine Basinger states, “..the woman’s film juxtaposes in unrealistic ways two contradictory concepts:  the Way Women Ought to Be and the Other Way.”  These films gave women the opportunity to temporarily step out of societal expectations and explore the “other way.”  However, they always end with marriage and the acceptance of traditional roles. (Jeanine Basinger, A Women’s View)

In I Married a Witch, the “other way” is “witchcraft” and the “Ought to Be” is love and marriage. In the end, Jennifer proclaims “Love is stronger than Witchcraft” and, as a result, is lead from a sinful immortal existence to a traditional life of family and marriage.  In the final scene, she is shown quietly knitting with her long tresses piled neatly on her head. The father, who never accepts the proper role of the “good father,” is forever trapped in a liquor bottle.

The Hollywood witch is slowly transforming into a symbolic representation of femininity, but only the sexual, the independent, the free, the powerful and the creative side. The only way that she is allowed to live is through the acceptance of goodness through marriage, tradition and children. Even Glinda’s power is limited to the care of the munchkins and a child. Although the witch still appeared as a cartoon anecdote, she developed this new side – one that will continue to evolve as society changes.

In the next period, we enter the days of television.  Let the battle for viewers begin…

 

 

 

In 2011 Starhawk raised over $75,000 dollars through Kickstarter to help fund a pitch-reel in order get a feature film based on her post-apocalyptic 1993 book, “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” made. While several Pagan-initiated crowdfunding campaigns have rivaled that impressive achievement, none have surpassed it. This is most likely due to Starhawk’s unique place in our community as one of a small handful of Pagans who have broken through to a wider audience. During the campaign, Starhawk talked about how she feels like the time is now for a film adaptation of her work.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I so strongly believe that the world needs a positive vision of the future right now. I can’t think of any movie that projects a positive vision of a future here on earth. How can we create it if we can’t envision it? A friend confessed to me the other day that she and everyone she knows thinks it’s already too late, that we’re past the point of no return. I don’t believe that. I believe that the earth is resilient and creative—and we are agents of that creative force called to reinvent our way of life right now. If we can give people some hope, some direction and some inspiration, it seems worth all the risks and the work!” 

Now that it’s 2013, Starhawk gives an update on the progress of the project, and shares a video designed to convey the story of  “The Fifth Sacred Thing.”

“What it’s not: It’s not a trailer for the movie, in the sense that a trailer is a selection of scenes to build interest for a movie that’s already been made.  We haven’t made it yet—and when we do we still intend to make a live-action, feature film with real actors, not an animation.  But until we get the financing to shoot the film, we can’t put together scenes that don’t yet exist.  So we’ve exercised our creativity to show you a bit of our underlying concept, together with the art and music we have been able to create thanks to the amazing support we’ve already received.  So think of it more as a video calling card, something we can use to introduce the project to investors and potential collaborators.”

The video narration is by actress Olympia Dukakis, who has also agreed to star in the film. A closed captioned version of the video can be found, here.

Considering the pace of pitching and making a movie in Hollywood, they don’t call it “development hell” for nothing, it may be several more years before a film is actually made. Then again, if the production team is able to find backers, and a studio (small or large) expresses interest, things could ramp up rather quickly. The Fifth Sacred Thing website will most likely have ongoing updates.

I think a “Fifth Sacred Thing” film could be a welcome antidote to the bulk of post-apocalyptic films that either depict wastelands, unending horrors, or fascist media-controlled enclaves where teenagers are forced to fight for our amusement. A film that posits a humanity able to change, grow, and build something new together in the face of collapse instead of endlessly tear each other apart seems like an antidote that our culture might be ready for. Here’s hoping!