Real Pagan Geek: Pagans, Geeks, and Pop Culture
Pagan themes have been a ready source of inspiration for popular culture for decades, providing mythic heroes, sinister occultists, and enduring symbols in every genre of entertainment. But rarely has any inspiration been so widely used and so widely misunderstood. Join us for thoughts, criticism, and commentary on the intersection of Paganism and popular culture.
Why You Should Read LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD
Yesterday, the first issue of Marvel's LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD arrived in your local Comics and Games Emporium. I haven't yet acquired my copy, because a frost giants are currently attacking my neighborhood and my roommate is too busy binging on Star Trek: Enterprise to dig his car out so we can exit the driveway, but I want to encourage you to pick up this comic.* If you have any interest in Marvel comics, or the Marvel movies – or, to tread into dangerous waters, in the ongoing folkloric evolution of Norse mythology through popular culture – you should give it a read.
The first two categories should be obvious: Loki is a major character in the Marvel Universe, and arguably the second most popular character in the movies after Tony Stark. AGENT OF ASGARD appears to be the culmination of several years of intense character development for Loki as well as a re-alignment of the character to better match Tom Hiddleston's portrayal in the films. But my third reason may require more explanation.
In short: if you think Marvel's treatment of Thor, Loki, and the entire Norse pantheon doesn't have an impact on the way people approach those beings in religious practice, I think you're willfully ignoring reality. How could it not? The number of people who know of Thor through Chris Hemsworth dwarfs those who have read the myth of Thor and Loki's visit to Útgarð. Some of those people will come into Heathen religions because of that first contact. The conservative nature of Heathenry ensures that anyone who first discovers the Norse gods through pop culture will immediately learn the differences between modern media and ancient sources, but it can't help but have an impact.
Let me use myself as an example. I was born into Wicca, and was eclectic through my childhood and adolescence. I had attachments to a few gods – Zeus and Horus, especially. But I was also born into Marvel Comics, and bought every issue of THE MIGHTY THOR from the time I was about 10 years old until the comic was canceled in 2004. Thor – the comics Thor – was a companion in my life, and it's no coincidence that I stopped reading comics for a few years after the Asgardians left the scene.
I had two powerful mystical experiences in my college years that led me to Heathenry. One of them was a vision of Thor sitting next to me in a Catholic church. I was overwhelmed and frightened by the midnight mass service I had stupidly decided to attend without making any real preparations or grounding, and in that moment of overload, I saw Thor, and he helped me get myself back in order.** In that vision – one of the most profound events in my life – the Thor I saw clearly took after the Thor I had grown up reading about in Marvel Comics: blue tunic, red cape, square hammer, and so on.***
That moment, almost a decade ago now, was when I realized that I was a Heathen, and I have been ever since. It led me deep into the mythology, and it led me to my current career in academia. It may, if wyrd allows it, lead me across the ocean to the places where the myths were born.
I consider myself very committed to Asatru. And I know for a fact that I never would have developed that commitment without Marvel Comics.
If it's true for me – someone who was exposed to other Pagan religions early on, mind you, someone who would probably have found out about Asatru one way or the other naturally – how many more are there who are coming into it blind except for the movies? Whether or not you like it, Marvel's Thor influences the mythological Thor. This stuff matters. And that's part of why I think it's worth exploring, at least a bit.
And, for Loki in particular, I think the past few years have been amazing for the Marvel character. Kieron Gillen's work on Loki over the last four years has taken a somewhat one-dimensional "god of evil" and turned him into a wonderfully complicated character – an anti-hero in the best sense of the term. Loki has changed from Thor's default villain to a nuanced protagonist who tends to spend as much time saving the world from himself as from anything else – which is, I think, an entirely valid approach to the mythological god. If that approach holds up in Al Ewing's new series, we will be in store for some highly entertaining stories – and stories that may cause you to think a little differently about the gods of the mythology, too.
Next up: A brief primer on Kieron Gillen's time on Loki and a look at LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD. (Which I will have by that point, because the snow can't last forever. Can it?)
*He did eventually get up and clean off his car. He even dug out a space in front of the house so we didn't both have to park in the driveway. I love you, Kelly.
**As I've said elsewhere, I don't hold to any firm definitions about gods, and it's entirely possible – even probable – that this "vision" was a coping mechanism, head-game, or hallucination. Which is fine. It was still a meaningful experience.
*** He had red hair and a beard, though, and his clothes were a more historically accurate than any character design Marvel's ever come up with.
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