Accepting Monsters Into Our Hearts

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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.