Archives For Pan’s Labyrinth

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.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

  • Is the Chico Goddess Temple doomed? According to the Chico News and Review, noise complaints for an illegal festival held four years ago has led to a much larger struggle to survive and gain the permits needed to stay open. Owner Robert Seals thinks that hostility to Goddess religion might underlay the resistance he’s encountered in obtaining the permits he needs. Quote: “This is nothing new, worship of the Goddess, but it goes up against a lot of fundamental religions.” You can learn more about this struggle, and the upcoming appeal hearing, here.

That’s it for now! Happy Friday the 13th! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

“Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has started to look like a legitimate successor to Ovid. Del Toro is not so much a creator of myths as a collector of them, a transhistorical myth nerd whose pantheon of influences ranges from Hesiod to Harryhausen (with liberal helpings of steam punk and Catholic iconography).”Dana Stevens, Slate.com

The thing that startled me the most about “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” was that the emotional climax of the film, at least for me, didn’t involve any of the main characters. Instead, the longest and most lingering sadness comes after a confrontation with a forest elemental. I won’t give anything away, but this scene, and several smaller scenes like it throughout “Hellboy”, underscore a theme director Guillermo del Toro has been exploring through much of his work. Most notably in the Academy Award-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth”. The conflict between a world filled with enchantment, and one that denies the imagination, that eradicates the sacredness of our world.


Hellboy vs. the forest elemental.

While the representation of soulless clockwork progress is represented by Spanish fascists in “Pan’s Labyrinth”, in “The Golden Army” humanity itself is suspect. As the Christianity Today review ponders: “Is the human race worth saving?”

“In the original Hellboy, the villains were adversaries like demons, Nazis, gods of chaos, assassins and necromancers—characters understood to be evil more or less by nature or by definition … Hellboy II shifts from this kind of mythic good-vs-evil storytelling to something more like classical mythology, with variously flawed characters on all sides.”

The character of Hellboy, wanting nothing more than to be “out” and loved by the people he secretly protects, is stunned when he isn’t greeted as a hero and is instead treated as a spectacle at best, and a danger at worst. The movie asks, in a variety of ways, should he really be on humanity’s side? Does humanity, with its various sins against a dying world of faerie, and an increasingly poisoned Earth, even deserve saving? The film never directly answers that question, though you can be fairly certain that Del Toro himself would prefer a humanity that didn’t seem so eager to do away with the strange and fantastical.


Guillermo del Toro supports HETFET!

Of course “Hellboy” is also a big summer action film, and there are plenty of explosions, fights, comedic moments, and one-liners to please those who want nothing more than two hours of entertainment. However, unlike the stupid and nihilistic “Wanted”, or the enjoyable but uneven “Incredible Hulk”, Del Toro wraps his entry into Summer blockbuster season with layers of insight and deeper meaning for those looking for something more. What other summer blockbuster can successfully pen love-letters to James Whale and Hayao Miyazaki while including a Barry Manilow sing-along?

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” isn’t “Pan’s Labyrinth”, but it is an enjoyable Summer film that reaches further than any genre film is expected to. Do yourself a favor and experience the amazing visuals on a big screen, you’ll be glad you did. Wild Hunt approved and recommended!

Life has been good for director Guillermo del Toro lately. His 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth” was widely acclaimed by critics (winning three Academy Awards), and he was recently tapped to direct the two Hobbit films (under the watchful eye of Peter Jackson). In between these two momentous events comes the July release of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”, which continues to mine the rich themes of myth, faith, choice, and the imagination.

“I think it’s the primal motor of human endeavor,” said del Toro about his fascination with exploring mythology and fantasy in his films. “All human endeavor: spiritual, physical, social. I think myth makes humans what we are, it is the essence of being human, the capacity to invent. No raccoon worships the god of the trash can and we do. There are plenty of people that worship in search of a spiritual meaning. Anyone that says, ‘Okay, we are this or that many chromosomes away from being an ape,’ they should consider imagination as one thing that is a huge chasm between us.”


The old, horned, king of the otherworld.

In this follow-up to the 2004 cult-hit, del Toro seems to be expanding on his fascination with the fairy-inhabited “otherworld” from “Pan’s Labyrinth”. This time with the threat of an all-out war between fairy-folk and humanity. Hellboy creator, and film co-writer, Mike Mignola, compares fae/human tensions in the movie to the history of American Indian struggles.

“The focus is more on the folklore and fairy tale aspect of Hellboy. It’s not Nazis, machines and mad scientists but the old gods and characters who have been kind of shoved out of our world. I kind of equate it to the whole American Indian situation. The Indians were shoved onto reservations. You had your old, wise Indians who said, “You know, this is the way it is. We can’t fight anymore. We just have to accept our fate.” You then have your Geronimo character saying, “Or we could just kill the White Man.” That’s kind of the situation we have in the film. We have our elf characters resigning to the way things are and then there’s one saying, “Or we could take the world back.” The main difference is – what if the Indians had a nuclear warhead? The elves have their equivalent of the weapon that is too terrible to use. What if this guy decided to use it?”

Building on that theme, a viral marketing web site called HETFET, Humans for the Ethical Treatment of Fairies, Elves, and Trolls, has emerged.


HETFET logo.

“We know that every minute of every day, all across the world, terrible crimes are taking place all around us. But the victims of these crimes can’t ask for help because humanity turns a deaf ear to the segment of society that we once called “mythical creatures.” Not anymore. At HETFET, it is our unwavering belief that these misunderstood beings deserve the same rights as those given to animals or people. No more, no less; just the right to coexist and be left alone.”

Needless to say, the Pagan overtones of the site, complete with a real petition to save old-growth forests, are palpable. With the otherworldly action, a film preview sporting massive pre-historic Venus figurines, and a trip through a “Troll market” (not to mention a horned god/king!), this Hellboy film is shaping up to be a real treat for the Pagan film-goer. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it in July.

If you are looking for more religious commentary on the passing of Jerry Falwell, I urge you to check out the On Faith blog panelists, where you can hear opinions ranging from fawning to critical (no response from Starhawk yet). Also adding their two cents are the Get Religion blog, and the religious mega-site Beliefnet.

Yesterday marked the release of the DVD for the stunning Academy Award-winning adult fairy-tale Pan’s Labyrinth. You can read my review of the film, here. The DVD comes in two editions, a single-disc version, and a double-disc deluxe version featuring making-of features and other extras. Guess which one is on my birthday wish list!

Finally, the New York Times has a published a story on Wiccans by Neela Banerjee. The article points out that despite growing acceptance and rights for modern Pagans, many still keep their faith hidden at work and from family for fear of their jobs, children, and alienation from family.

“David Steinmetz, professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, said, ‘Wiccans have so many things stacked against them, from what the Bible says about the practice of magic to the history in this country of witch trials, that the image of them adds up to something so contrary to the consensus about genuine religion that still shapes American society.’ … Members of other religions, including Jews and Catholics, have sometimes been forced to mask their faith in the past because of religious bias, Professor Steinmetz said. But it is rare, he added, for people to keep their religion from parents and grandparents, as many Wiccans do.”

So while modern Paganism has come a long way, there is still much to be done to combat the misconceptions and attitudes we face.

Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, takes a look at the broad religious appeal of the film “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

“Pan’s Labyrinth,” which won three Oscars, is not explicit about its images, prompting Christians, pagans and others to claim the movie as a parable about their own beliefs. The film subtly criticizes the Catholic Church’s complicity in fascist Spain. However, the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops as well as Christianity Today gave the film glowing reviews for its Christian themes.

Some see the film as a sign that we are moving into a “spiritual but not religious” future. The article quotes evangelical author Robert Johnston, who claims that the film promotes a “practical theology” that stems from “lived experience” instead of a fixed doctrine (like Christianity). Kuruvila also speaks with Starhawk about the film, the Pagan author and activist seems strangely fixated on the “dangers” of Ofelia’s “subjective” reality.

“The darkness and violence of Ofelia’s fairy tale echoes her real-world existence. But it also reveals the dangers of a completely subjective, self-defined spirituality, says Starhawk, a nationally influential pagan and author who lives in San Francisco. “Opening up to the other world without the training or guidance, you can get lost and sidetracked,” says Starhawk, noting that other faiths also warn against carelessly dabbling in spiritual practices. “You can get lost in the nightmare instead of being able to find the dream.” A hallucination can easily be mistaken for a spiritual vision, she says. “Nobody ever sat her down and said (to Ofelia) here’s how you travel in the afterworld, fix your mind on the destination,” says Starhawk. ‘Everything in her culture would have told her this was dangerous, possibly satanic and scary.'”

I’m curious as to why Starhawk felt that was the message to send when giving the Pagan response to this film. Christians are talking about how groundbreaking it is, and how it is a sign of our changing religious culture (organically, it should be noted, in comparison with the manufactured “message” of “The Da Vinci Code”), and Starhawk discusses how Ofelia should have gotten proper training and warns against the dangers of a “self-defined” religion?

I believe “Pan’s Labyrinth” presents a unique opportunity to discuss Pagan/polytheist theology in contrast to the dominant monotheisms. Unlike “The Da Vinci Code”, this film isn’t bogged down with questions about Christian heresy and Gnosticism and can be referenced without having to talk about our views on Mary Magdalen’s marital status. If this film continues to seep into public conversations about faith and religion, Pagan commentators should be ready to move beyond disclaimers regarding Ofelia’s actions and instead talk about what elements in the film accurately portray Pagan ideas and beliefs.

The Academy Awards

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 26, 2007 — 1 Comment

Last night was the 79th annual Academy Awards. While others were grousing about their Oscar burn-out (which tells me they are paying too much attention to the Hollywood promotional machine), I found this years awards to be delightfully entertaining. This could partially be attributed to the fact that one of the films I was rooting for, Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” swept up three awards early in the show (art direction, makeup, and cinematography).


Guillermo del Toro (center) with fellow Mexican film directors.

Sadly “Pan’s Labyrinth” didn’t pick up the coveted award for best foreign film, but I think winning three Academy Awards isn’t too shabby. It was also nice to see that Helen Mirren picked up the best actress award. While Mirren was very good in “The Queen”, she’ll always be Morgana from John Boorman’s “Excalibur” to me.


Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth and Morgana.

Also of note for my readers is the fact that the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” won two Academy Awards, one for best documentary feature, and one for best original song (written and performed by Melissa Etheridge). Oh, and Martin Scorsese finally got his Oscar. For a full list of last nights winners click, here.

In related news, Nicolas Cage and his horrid remake of “The Wicker Man” got shut out at this years Razzies (“Basic Instinct 2″ dominated most categories). I personally think Cage was robbed, when you see a highlight reel like this, how could you not think it the worst movie you saw this year?

This weekend the very best, and worst, in film will be celebrated. On Sunday, the 79th Academy Awards (The Oscars) will be handed out to those films thought to be the very best of the past year, and the day before that you’ll see the Golden Raspberries (The Razzies) handed out to the very, very worst. Films with pagan themes hold the strange honor of holding several nominations in both.

In the category of the very best is Guillermo del Toro’s masterful “Pan’s Labyrinth”. This dark fairytale, set during the rise of Franco in Spain, has garnered six Oscar nominations. Achievement in Art Direction, Achievement in Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, Achievement in Makeup, Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score), and Original Screenplay.


Guillermo del Toro with Doug Jones as ‘the faun’.

Del Toro’s film has earned high praise from critics (including Stephen King), and won the “Golden Tomato” award from Rotten Tomatoes for being the best-reviewed foreign film of 2006. This film was widely anticipated by many in the Pagan community, and few (I think) were disappointed with the final product. You can read my review of the film, here.

“It’s a matter of creating a fairy tale that is in favor of disobedience – obedience disguised as blind patriotism is often invoked for the worst causes. It’s at a time when we are supposed to be better people by not questioning anything and in reality we are better people by doing it.”Guillermo Del Toro, Oscar Watch

On the opposite side of the scale is perhaps one of the most ill-advised remakes in movie history, “The Wicker Man”. Based loosely off the amazing 1973 film about a police officer running afoul of a island of Pagans off the Scottish coast, and starring Christopher Lee and directed by Robin Hardy, this remake by Nicolas Cage* and Neil LaBute takes everything that was good about the original and turns it into a bizarre misogynist screed involving killer bees.


Nicolas Cage and Neil LaBute discussing their bizarre hatred of women.

Thus, one of the most beloved pagan-themed films is remade into one of the worst pagan-themed films of all time. As a consequence it has racked up an impressive five nominations in the Razzies. Worst Picture, Actor, Screenplay, Remake and Screen Couple. I never formally reviewed the film on this blog, but I did eventually see it on DVD, and it truly is one of the worst films I ever had to sit through (the director’s commentary is the only truly scary thing about it). Here is what HecklerSpray had to say about the film in their Razzies betting odds.

“You tend to get an idea that a film remake is bad when the director of the original angrily instructs his lawyers to remove his name from all promotional material for the remake, and that’s just what happened with The Wicker Man. In years to come, The Wicker Man will be used as a blueprint for what not to do when you’re remaking a classic film. You don’t swap a creepy pagan island for a town full of feminists. You don’t replace Edward Woodward’s righteous fundamental Christian virgin policeman for Nicolas Cage being a bit scared of bees. And you absolutely don’t tack on a ridiculous ending starring the angry boy from Spider-Man just for the hell of it. The Wicker Man is so profoundly awful it almost verges on sacrilege but – incredibly – The Razzies say it wasn’t the worst film from the last year. Current Razzies Worst Movie betting odds – 6/1″

I hope both films sweep their nominated categories.

*Perhaps not so coincidently, Nicolas Cage ruined another of my favorite films with his “Wings of Desire” remake “City of Angels”. Maybe he should stick to playing roles like “Ghost Rider”.

When a film gains as much critical acclaim as Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth has you go in with high hopes. Was the film worth the hype, or will I leave disappointed? I felt a little nervous, since I have been such a strong supporter of the film on my blog, what if I convinced people to go to a film that was flat and lacking in the magic promised? It turns out I shouldn’t have worried. Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterful film, filled with magic, wonder, and quite a bit of darkness and horror as well.


Ivana Baquero as Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth

This film is a fairytale for grown-ups, a phrase that gets thrown around quite a bit whenever a film incorporates elements of magical realism. But in this case, the title is apt, and sets the bar quite high for future films in this genre.

Set in the countryside of fascist Spain shortly before the end of WWII, it concerns a young girl, Ofelia, who is drawn into a magical world where she is given three tasks to perform by a mysterious faun. Ignored by her aloof step-father (a Captain in Franco’s army) and ailing pregnant mother, Ofelia yearns to leave the ever-growing pains and horrors of our world and join the magical world promised by the faun. As Ofelia completes her tasks, her mundane life grows ever more grim and horrific, and we are left to wonder how much of her interactions with the faun and his pet “faeries” are real, or simply a fantasy used by a young girl to deal with the pain and alienation she experiences.

Del Toro, to his credit, never makes explicit if the fantastical elements are “real” or not. Often filmmakers feel the need to reinforce the “reality” of magic in such films by exposing a non-believer (usually the villain) to some sort of supernatural comeuppance. Instead, the director shows that to Ofelia, the faun and her tasks are every bit as real as the tasks taken on by Captain Vidal in his obsessive hunt for anti-fascist rebels or by the servant Mercedes in her quest to aid them. While some may say that the film gives us the option of choosing to believe Ofelia’s version of the story or the “real” world’s, I think Guillermo del Toro is instead saying that both are equally “true” and valid.

To give away more would (in my opinion) give away the film, but I do want to address a criticism I have heard concerning this film. Some have complained of the one-dimensional nature of Captain Vidal, that he is “too evil” to be believable. That the film takes no time to humanize him. But I think his part is important for showing that humans can twist themselves’ beyond redemption, that to deny your humanity (and the humanity of others) for too long twists you into something monstrous. A lesson that the Captain learns far too late to earn him any pity. To treat the character in any other manner would have diluted that lesson and destroyed the fairytale essence of the picture.

Pan’s Labyrinth may be the best “fantasy” film I have ever seen. A movie that reminds us that some of the best fairy-stories are the ones that have scared and shocked us (and that some of the best horror stories take time to delight us along the way). You should go out and see this film while you still have the chance to see it on the big screen. Oh, and one final note, this isn’t for the kids. There are plenty of gruesome scenes here not appropriate for younger viewers. So make this one a date for just you and your significant other.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

A group of Pagans and other well-wishers gather in the UC Berkeley campus to celebrate the one month anniversary of three tree-sitters living in an oak tree.

“About 50 well-wishers turned out Saturday afternoon to commemorate three tree sitters’ monthlong perch in an oak tree just outside Memorial Stadium on the UC Berkeley campus. Part of a group called Save the Oaks, they say they will stay in the tree until the university agrees to abandon its plan to cut down 38 oaks to make way for a new athletic training facility…They chanted “Om,” someone began drumming and then it began: an ancient pagan ritual known as the spiral dance.”

Their legal request for an injunction is scheduled to be heard on Thursday.

Anna Kaplan of Recordnet profiles Rick Nafzinger, a convert to Hinduism, and leader of a local interfaith Goddess-worshipping group.

“Nafzinger leads the Circle of the Feminine Divine, a Stockton group that takes an interfaith approach to revering the feminine side of deities ranging from the Virgin Mary to the Hindu Goddess Radharani to the Wiccan Earth Goddess…Nafzinger is currently the chairman of the Interfaith Council of San Joaquin County, where he uses his experience with these different faiths to bring people in the community together.”

The article also states that he has “ordinations” in Wicca, Christianity, and Hinduism, but doesn’t mention exactly what traditions or groups he received these ordinations from. A little more checking on his credentials would have been nice.

The Italian police and the Vatican have created a new special forces unit to deal with the problem of Satanism in Italy!

“A specialist Italian police squad has been set up to combat a growing tide of Satanism sweeping the country. Vatican officials have become worried at the number of churches being desecrated by Satanists and there have been several grim murders linked to devil worship. As a result, church officials have given Italian police help to set up a special unit to deal with the phenomenon, named the Squadra Anti Sette (SAS) Anti Sect Squad…. officers… will go undercover to infiltrate the sects, the SAS units will work with psychologists. They will have help from Vatican experts on Satanism and a special freephone hotline has been set up to report occult activities.”

A Vatican official claims there are “8,000 Satanic sects across the country with more than 600,000 members”. I would love to see the hard data for that figure. It looks like Satanic panic is alive and well in Italy. Though, I can’t help but think this would make a great television show. Imagine a “Law and Order” but with priests instead of lawyers.

Guillermo del Toro, writer and director of “Pan’s Labyrnith” is still awesome.

“I love writers and artists who are concerned with the pagan as a form of knowing the subconscious…I’ve circled this theme all my life, with ‘Cronos’ with ‘Devil’s Backbone.’ And I felt that it was finally a time to be brave and try it, you know?”

Conservative Catholic Susan Beckworth continues her hunt for heretics within the Church and names the “Enneagram” and “Centering Prayer” as pagan/Satanic things of Witchcraft!

“Centering Prayer is neither Catholic nor prayer, yet it is offered at most retreat centers. Nowadays, most retreat centers can scarcely be called Catholic and are notorious for adopting New Age and other non-Catholic techniques and philosophies. The New Age practices offered at retreat centers are insidious, but remember, Satan thrives in subtlety…Tarot card reading and use of the Enneagram are witchcraft and purely demonic; yet most people do not even know that all of these “New Age” practices are entirely forbidden by God in the First Commandment.”

Clearly Catholics must burn the witches remain ever vigilant against these Satanic temptations.

Finally, speaking of Catholics and Satanic temptations, an Italian scholar is fed-up with the re-purposing of Mary Magdalene for “new age” groups and has written a stern book decrying the heretical notions.

“Mario Arturo Iannaccone, an Italian scholar whose previous works have touched on themes of Gnosticism and alleged Biblical conspiracies, reports that in modern times Mary Magdalene – depicted in the Gospel as a repentant sinner and follower of Christ – has emerged in a new light as the representative of ‘the sacred feminine and a spirituality of the goddess.’ This radically altered view of the Christian saint…has been promoted by pagan influences including Wicca and New Age spirituality, the book says.”

No doubt Iannaccone hopes that his book will inspire Catholics to burn the witches remain ever vigilant against such heretical notions of Mary Magdalene.

That is all I have for now, have a good day!

I’m sure you will all get sick of me rattling on about “Pan’s Labyrinth” soon (if not already), but this recent interview with writer/director Guillermo Del Toro bears mentioning. In it Del Toro talks about main character Ofelia’s view of the world.

“[Ofelia’s view of the world is] completely pagan. She reflects nothing more and nothing less than the way I viewed the world as a kid. I was brought up Catholic but my personal cosmology was completely pagan…I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Mexico and Spain have a certain view of life that is similar in the sense that they have death, brutality, the nature – you know, you live with them and you embrace them in a different way than First World countries would. With syncretism in Latin America, you can embrace a religion by mixing it with your own gods. And then, there’s a lot of Celtic culture in the north of Spain, and there are a lot of beautiful pagan legends in Galicia, and in Asturias and in all those places. They combine them with the Catholic religion very cleanly.”

I dare say that this may be the best movie to incorporate a Pagan world view since the original Wicker Man. Don’t miss this one!

Previous posts on the subject:
12.27.2006 – Pan’s Labyrinth Topping Year-End Lists
11.02.2006 – Pan’s Labyrinth Trailer
10.16.2006 – Entering Pan’s Labyrinth
5.28.2006 – Entering The Labyrinth