The Pagans are Coming!

How’s that whole Enlightenment thing going? Not so well, it seems: click here for Saturday’s New York Times story on the rise of paganism. Predictable, uncritical pap for the most part, although I noted this section with, well, I don’t know what:

…of course, the popular culture of the Harry Potter books, the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the current zombie vogue have defanged Pagan religion for a mass teenage audience.

Frankly. I’m not at all convinced that the ‘mass teenage audience’ had hitherto given much thought to paganism one way or the other, but it’s strange to see a writer for the New York Times signing up for the idea-more usually associated with some of the nuttier notches on the Bible Belt-that Harry Potter has been acting as some kind of propagandist for paganism. And while we’re on this topic, I’m not at all sure that the ‘current zombie vogue’ (which has lurched and stumbled far, very far, from its roots in voodoo mythology) has anything to do with the supernatural whatsoever, unless you count the rather good fight in a church, which (if I recall correctly) took place in one of the Resident Evil movies.

To be fair, however, I should concede that Buffy did feature at least two explicitly Wiccan characters, and there is indeed some evidence that the show may indeed have encouraged some people in a covenwards direction. That said, I suspect that Buffy’s Wiccans reflected a trend as much as they made it, but that wider trend is a discussion for another time.

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6 Responses to The Pagans are Coming!

  1. John says:

    If Wiccans all looked like Alyson Hannigan, I’d have joined up myself.

  2. Roger Hallman says:

    This seems like another case of life imitating The Onion. I don’t think that the article is online anymore, but they published an article titled, “Harry Potter Credited for Rise in Satanism in Children”, or something to that effect. It very quickly found its way to Christian email networks and is a known case of The Onion being taken as legitimate news.

  3. Jane S says:

    Harry Potter does not promote paganism. Anyone who has actually read the books (or just seen the movies) knows that. The very few religious references in the book are subtly Christian (e.g., Harry’s post-death encounter with Dumbledore in the King’s Cross station, the inscriptions on the Potters’ and Dumbledores’ grave markers). In the context of the books, magic is a special innate ability, almost like a technological talent, that some people have–there’s no invocation of spirits or tapping into a supernatural power. They promote values on which reasonable believers and non-believers should agree: standing up for right even when there’s a cost, protecting the innocent from evil-doers, fulfilling one’s duty even when it’s onerous.

    Sheesh, these books have been around for more than 10 years, and millions of people have read them. Why should anyone have to explain this?

  4. Dunno if mass media promotes paganism per se, but there’s a definite long-term trend towards personalized spirituality. Also, I wonder about the definition know a few folks who call themeslve pagan (I live in hyper-environmentalist Boulder, CO). But they don’t really believe in it in a supernatural sense. It’s more that they get inspired and recharged by nature, use ritual to intensify that experience and have a sense of personal responsibility for their own happiness.

    Similarly, I personally don’t believe in karma as a supernatural force, but I believe that the using the karmic idea as a guide to daily activity makes me a happier person overall.

  5. Narr says:

    I would argue that all, or nearly all, popular culture traffic in supernaturalism–vampires, zombies, demon-possession etc etc ad nauseum, and definitely including H. Potter–is de facto pro-religious propaganda, and is often intended as such by its producers. The constant bombardment of this stuff acts to provide people with a world view of irrationality and fearfulness, which leads them to seek comfort and protection in religious belief.

  6. Agreed about Harry Potter, Jane S. I don’t know if Rowling intended on being subtle due more to her own beliefs, the want to appeal to a greater audience (though the more directly religious Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia are very popular as well), or just the simple reality that Europe tends to be more secular as it is, but the references are there.

    I’d venture to guess that even the concept of sacrificial protection, which is the main driver of the series, has some roots in Christian theology, even if not directly related.

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