Our earlier post on the “Jewish Question” took a snarky potshot at a former Lokiswife who recently declared herself married to Force Awakens antagonist Kylo Ren. Lady Acaciah Ren has cast no aspersions on my beliefs: neither has she asked my opinion on hers. I had no business sticking my nose in her spiritual or emotional affairs and I hope the Rens will accept my mea culpa in the spirit which it is given. (Cue our new motto: “All Gods, Occasional Apologies.”)
Admittedly this relationship appears at first glance the height of delusional silliness. Kylo Ren was created not to illuminate cosmic truths but to sell merchandise: marrying him is like eloping with Ronald McDonald. But New Orleans Voodoo has always been inextricably linked to the city’s tourism and entertainment industries — and as I noted in The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook, many have found spiritual meaning amidst the French Quarter’s keychains and spoon dolls. Perhaps we would benefit from taking Lady Acaciah at her word and exploring her claim further.
Most Neopagans and Polytheists look to historical writings for some foundation. We have tantalizing fragments of pre-Christian religious material like the Orphic Hymns. But most sacred scrolls and holy tablets crumbled to dust long ago, while even more sacred material was never put to print. As a result, we have called into service works that were never “sacred texts” as we understand the term. Many Classical Neopagans draw inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a poem written not to honor the Gods but to entertain his wealthy Roman patrons. Heathens and Asatru have declared the works of a 12th/13th century Icelandic Christian historian, Snorri Sturluson, to be “Lore.”
Age has given these sources a patina of respectability lacking in other equally influential but more contemporary material. Snorri Sturluson has been joined by two Jewish kids from New York’s Lower East Side. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee envisioned Thor as a comic book superhero and Loki as his scheming archnemesis. Later films transformed the god of thralls and foot soldiers into the heir to Asgard’s throne: the father of monsters and slayer of Balder was recast as Thor’s adoptive brother and a charming anti-hero. Whilst Serious Heathens rolled their eyes and gnashed their teeth, many less Serious sorts declared their love for Himself (as played by Tom Hiddleston) throughout Tumblr. And to add insult to insult, still others proclaimed themselves followers of a creed from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
If we believe the Gods are archetypes floating about in humanity’s collective unconscious, is there any reason we should favor Olympus over Tatooine, the Morrigan over Darth Vader, ashe over The Force? The Star Wars Universe has been mapped out extensively and its stories brought to life in cinema, animation and Lego stop-motion: it has inspired reams of fan fiction written with neither hope nor desire for financial recompense. For every Hellenic Polytheist who knows Dionysos is the son of Zeus and Semélé, there are several hundred thousand fans who know Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa.
And never mind Jungian archetypes: consider W.E. Butler’s concept of the Egregore. How much attention has been paid to the Star Wars Universe? How many fans have visualized its occupants in loving, exquisite detail and made its vast spaces the subject of extended daydreams? Princess Leia’s slave bikini still fuels more sigils in a week than TOPY and the IOT combined will ever create. Any competent ceremonial magician can create a thoughtform. Might 100 million people intensely focused on a myth eventually give it a life of its own?
Far better writers than Lucas have created fictitious worlds: only J.R.R. Tolkien has had a remotely comparable spiritual impact. L. Frank Baum’s Oz titles, Frank Herbert’s Dune and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea cycles, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, C. S. Lewis’s Narnia and Perelandra books — all have attained some level of popularity but none have inspired religions. We are left to wonder why Star Wars strikes such a resonant chord with so many spiritual seekers. Why does it engender a devotion not even Hayden Christensen and Jar Jar Binks can kill?
George Lucas’s admiration of Joseph Campbell is well-documented. Did his first Star Wars films create a bridge to a hitherto-undocumented section of humanity’s Oversoul — a bridge that others used for their own ends even after Lucas went astray? Or did he (and they) encounter something more than their own mental hard-wiring? Shamans and visionaries have long journeyed to sky kingdoms and underworlds: they believed what they encountered there was every bit as real as what they experienced in their waking lives. William Blake put to print his experiences of Heaven and Hell: perhaps George Lucas did the same with his visions of Coruscant and Hoth.
Throughout times and cultures artistic inspiration has been held sacred. The best art is equal parts creation and revelation: the artist becomes a conduit for Something Greater, a bridge between the sacred and the mundane whose fiction and artifice illuminates illuminates Truth. If we believe the engagement between humanity and the Gods is an ongoing concern, is it so hard to imagine They continue to communicate through contemporary media?
Clearly Lady Acaciah Ren has had an experience which is very important to her and which has great meaning for her: I have no reason to believe her marriage to Kylo Ren is doing injury to her or to anyone else. And I have detected a hint of desperation in those who have laughed most loudly at her. Are they disturbed because her behavior is ludicrous — or because her imaginary friend might cause people to laugh at their imaginary friends?
Assuming, of course, that we are talking about an imaginary friend.
Is Lady Ren’s betrothed the Kylo Ren of The Force Awakens? Having never met the couple, it is impossible for me to say. I could comment about spirits wearing masks to achieve their desired ends; I could mock their romance as fan fiction on bath salts; I could speculate on whether she is engaging in an Andy Kaufman-worthy troll. But those would be dismissals, not explanations.I would be appropriating her personal experience and redefining it in the light of my own beliefs for my own purposes. I would be no different than the skeptics who reduce mysticism to chemical imbalances or the preachers who reduce all other Gods to demons. And, like them, I would elide thorny and troubling mysteries.
Do the Gods still send Their messages through wandering blind poets and inscribe Their holy texts on cuneiform tablets — or do They look to our artists and our media? What new stories are They telling, what new quests are They undertaking, what triumphs and tragedies are They sharing with us in our cathedrals, or in darker places? We have taken on the name “Polytheist” and declared the Gods are Many. Are we ready to look for those Gods in academic texts and anime; to seek the Divine in cathedrals and cinemas; to recognize the Conquering Hero on charging stallion and in Tie Fighters? Or will we settle for comfortable, ancient Gods who are as constant and unchanging as statues and every bit as alive.