If we’re going to talk about Pop Culture in Paganism, I think we should discuss the flip side, Paganism in Pop Culture. Given my own interests, I’m going to stick with the Gaelic Gods and heroes in movies, TV and related media. Novels would make it such a huge undertaking that I can’t even begin to think about it other than a couple of mentions. Really, I’m going to just skim the surface here, because there’s a lot out there already. And all of it goes from sucking to really, really sucking.
Some are optimistic about Pop Culture depictions of the literature, Gorm Sionnach finds hope that greater positive interest might be gained by more modern exposure to the stories. On the Norse side of things, where there has been as Gorm Sionnach also noted much more exposure, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried expresses a positive opinion of the Marvel Thor comics, as well as discusses the continued popularity of Norse mythology in Pop Culture. Certainly the series Vikings has met with much positive reactions among Heathens, although I have seen snipes in various groups along with the praise. And there is no denying that the many decades of Tolkien’s popularity has been a “gate-way drug” for many into Heathen ways.
Of course, one of the things I think I personally like about Tolkien’s work is that he based his based his stories on the lore and cultures, yet the “names have been changed to protect the ancient.” That sort of fictionalization I’m a bit more comfortable with. Do with it as you will, but skip the actual names.
Over the past few years there has been much talk of movies based on Cú Chulainn and the Táin Bó Cúailnge. One attempt, Hound by Breakthru Films, appears to have been “on hold” for about three years. It’s unclear what the future is. Michael Fassbender was talking plans for a movie as well, last year, apparently with his 30something self playing the boy Cú Chulainn. Depicting Cú Chulainn as an adult is likely going to be only part of the problem. I, of course, am just so looking forward to more misogyny thrown at Medb. (you really did catch the sarcasm there, right? At this point I don’t want to be too subtle). And that is, of course, as far as even scholars get to so I don’t expect any film writer to do much better. (for an academic look that doesn’t do this, see my review of Dominiguez’s book and then see the book. I also discuss this a bit in ‘“By Force in the Battlefield”: Finding the Irish Female Hero’ publication pending)
There have been, of course, several novelizations of the story, I’m just not going to try to round them all up. Morgan Llewellyn’s perhaps the most famous. There is also a new graphic novel by Will Sliney, Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn also with an oddly adult looking, but thankfully beardless, CC. Of course, Medb is a pencil with boobs in a painted on bodiced dress…so period. Considering the rich descriptions given in the Táin itself, you’d think an artist would actually have some fun using those descriptions. I don’t get it, this is just standard comic book art, at its most sexist at that.
This is not to say there aren’t modern pop culture depictions I haven’t enjoyed. I quite love the power and atmosphere that Horslips created in their album The Tain even if some points could be picked apart. This album just hits me in the feels real hard. However, I fear that when compared to such musical attempts that these movies will be more in line with the truly horrid The Tain album by The Decemberists complete with Andy Smetanka’s equally horrid video...although at least CC looks like the boy not an adult man.Of course, my love for one and dislike of the other may also just show that I’m old. Well, okay, so there was one I liked.
There is also another movie, The Curse of Macha, which is supposed to come out sometime this year. It seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the story it’s titled for, perhaps fortunately. I have also heard that a Finn Mac Cumhail movie and/or graphic novel is being made. It remains to be seen what any of these projects will become.
I suppose when it comes to a big reason why I doubt that a lot of Pop Culture exposure is going to have a positive resonation for Gaelic Paganism has to do with what’s happened so far. We can, of course, look to the more “mainstream” Pagan, with it’s Wiccan and Witchy focus, and the fun they’ve had with newbees coming in with their heads filled with The Craft and Charmed during the ’90s (and probably still). But I can look closer to home.
While Gorm Sionnach is hopeful to see more of the Morrígan in the upcoming American Gods series, I am hoping that She is not going to be expanded. Of course, American Gods is one of the few novels featuring Gods which I rather love (and here’s the first place I get to mention Linda Hamilton, as she mentioned it as one of her favorite novels of all time during the panel discussion at Chicago Comiccon 2010, making us co-fangirls!), as I think it raises some interesting questions, and I didn’t utterly hate his depiction of Her although I’m glad it was brief just in case. That means I have issues with the HBO series because of a tendency to hate movies based on novels I love. But, no, She’s rather been used and abused too much in pop culture, in my opinion.
“Morrigan” either as title or name and always mispronounced (although in the same way most Pagans also do) is actually real popular in pop culture. I’ve already ranted on, a good bit, about DC Comics Wonder Woman depiction in what is, sadly, my most popular post. In comics the title, along with some of the other Túatha Dé Danann have appeared in Marvel…apparently a bit more positively.
|Morrigan Aensland in Darkstalkers|
If you Google “Morrigan” the first links and images you will get do not relate to the Goddess at all, but to the green-haired, bat-winged succubus from the video game Darkstalkers. She was born in Scotland 300 years ago. I’m not sure anyone is at this point confusing her with the Goddess. But that may be coming.
|In Dragon Age|
It has happened with another popular game character with the name, a mortal shape-shifting witch in the game Dragon Age. Doesn’t seem too confusing, does it? A few days ago, while gathering material for this post I came across a very popular page for the Goddess, which along with a great deal of general Pagan fluff and misinformation about Her, had an entry about “Morrigan” the “daughter of Flemeth” and so forth. Presented, and shared I saw, as if it was information about the Goddess. Yes, no confusion there. Mind you, not that much more inaccurate that many other Pagan writings about Her but…
|In Xena and Hercules|
On TV we have had a “Morrigan” show up in Xena and Hercules. And here we again can look at another example. I think we might want to ask how much many Hellenic Reconstructionists loved these shows liberties with their Gods on a regular basis. Which means I suppose I shouldn’t bitch too much about the inventiveness they took with the pan-Celtic mishmash they added later. Yes, all in campy fun. But the truth is, I still meet up with people who confuse the shows’ “mythology” withe actual Greek mythology, which has long been available. Again, not real hopeful that confusion isn’t an issue.
More recently there was Sanctuary‘s depiction of three enslaved sisters used against King Arthur, that typical and mistaken conflation with Morgan. Also, Scottish rather than Irish, so perhaps Darkstalkers comprised some of their research too.
|In Lost Girl|
Also on the SyFy channels is a show I really would like to have liked. Lost Girl, after all, has one of the few bisexual main characters found in the mainstream media. Of course, she’s a succubus, which brings it’s own issues for me. There is also the matter that (here we are again) Linda Hamilton appeared this past season and is scheduled to appear again. As a Valkyrie, apparently. I really want to love anything she’s in. And I did watch the episode and she was great in it and looked awesome….love leather jackets, so… But the general liberties taken with a plethora of folk legends and lore are annoying even before coming to the fact that “the Morrigan” is the title given to the leader of the Dark Fae, one of the two groups trying to get Bo, the lead character, to take sides. *sigh* Really?
Of course, I’m just a downer on this stuff, even when it’s just the culture and not the Gods or legendary heroes. I have issues with anachronisms and out right inventions made out to be history or lore. I have already blasted the way the Picts are, well, depicted in Centurion. I could do the same with other movies, such as King Arthur. I adore Brave, but largely despite it being placed in Scotland….it could have been placed in any place or time.
While more knowledge about the Gaelic cultures in our mainstream might be nice, I think that any story using our beloved literature or history will be muddied with what sells. While I know some are bothered by Pagans who use Pop Culture icons in their practice due to it being commercial property, I am far more worried about our culture and lore being made into commercial property. Of course, in either case what will be will be. More people will still know “Morrigan Aensland” than will know the Daughters of Ernmas and some will confuse Them with the daughter of “Flemeth.” Perhaps at some point someone will do a really good rendition of one of our stories. But I fear, I remain pessimistic on that.
Text copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert
Art from linked pages owned by the licensed owner and used here for critique purposes