As I’m sure you already know if you’ve known me, I’m quite outspoken about my religion. I’m not Christian, Muslim, Jewish (religiously – I do have quite a bit of Hebrew blood in my veins), etc., and I want to state that plainly before I even start this blog post because I don’t want anyone to feel offended by what I hope will soon become a recurring theme on Repro Goddess – Paganism in the Media.
I use Paganism as a broad term, because it tends to encompass certain aspects of Heathenism as well. Yep, I’m a Heathen – and no, that doesn’t make me Godless (quite the opposite, actually), and it doesn’t make me a bad person or remove some kind of invisible moral compass. I’m a Heathen, I’ve always been a Heathen and I’ll likely be until the day they put me in a big sunglasses case like Spock and shoot me off into space.
I’m part of a small sect of Ragnarök-bent Odin Worshippers called Wodenshund. I’m a polytheist, likely not the only one you’ve ever met, and I try to be as open about it as I can be. I fully believe that the awful things said about Heathens and Pagans (including, but not limited to, the liberal use of Satanic language associated with us as well as calling us immoral, depraved and dangerous) can be subsided to a degree by educating anyone who has a question to ask. I think you’ll find that most of us are an open book, and are ready and willing to explain anything you may be confused about.
Because I am a Heathen, whenever Paganism is shown as being human, normal or at least not demonized by the media it tends to lift my mood and sometimes even make me a wee bit emotional. I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you today, those found in the most unlikely of all places – Disney. There aren’t many this time, because I rambled on already!
#3 – Ancestor Veneration in Mulan (1998)
I have a lot of problems with Mulan, from the somewhat racist music in much of the early film to the odd use of sidekick characters like Mushu that make the plot drag on in places. But there’s something special about this film and it’s the casual use of Ancestor Worship or Veneration.
Mulan is adapted from an ancient story and poem about a girl who joins the Chinese army in place of her father. Through her courage, conviction and determination she ultimately becomes the hero that saves China from the Mongolian army – for some reason depicted as giant demon people. Go fig.
At several points in the film Fa Mulan and her relatives visit the family ancestral shrine to pray and reflect. It’s a subject that Disney has come under unnecessary fire for from conservative Christian groups and concerned parents, considering that it’s a normal practice for many people around the world. One such time is during the film’s main song, Reflection.
What struck me as beautiful about their portrayal of this kind of ritual is how easy it was. Until the introduction of Mushu, we see ancestors that strive bring strength, luck, hope, honor and courage to the family who care for them.
#2 Worship of and Guidance from the Natural World in Pocahontas (1995)
Another film I have issues with, including the heroism depicted in somewhat historically brutal John Smith (played well by the horrid yet still talented Mel Gibson), but the bad is outweighed by the good in a film that treated Americas indigenous people like they were, well… people.
The film opens to the New World, a thriving world, without the need for heroic progress from the settlers to come. The people seem happy, healthy, their way of life firmly rooted to the earth. Pocahontas is a thrill seeker who doesn’t want to settle for an arranged marriage that would end her dreams of adventure. She uses natural laws combined with her everyday life to explain problems to the viewer and the people around her. She is also seen to frequently consult a special tree, Grandmother Willow. for guidance.
As the film progresses and Pocahontas meets John Smith, their courtship is filled with explanation. Pocahontas tries to explain simple things to John Smith – what Corn is, for example, and she becomes angry when he suggests that the settlers would make her life better because her ways are savage:
Pocahontas: “Our houses are fine!”
John Smith: “You think that, only because you don’t know any better.”
But Pocahontas also explains the bigger picture to Smith in dialogue and in the film’s feature song, Colors of the Wind. About how she and her people are connected to everything and everyone else and that she draws strength from this. She tries to tell Smith that by using the land and it’s resources up, what he’s really doing is missing out on everything that land has to offer.
From Colors of the Wind: “The Rainstorm and the River are my brothers. The Heron and the Otter are my friends, and we are all connected to each other in a circle, in a hoop that never ends.”
Pocahontas is depicted as proud, brave and headstrong and most of all – she’s un-apologetically depicted as Pagan. Yet another film Disney has been criticized for due to it not having strong Christian themes.
#1 – Blatant Hellenism in Hercules (1997)
Now comes my favorite, by far, show of Paganism in a Disney film – 1997’s inaccurate yet adorable Hercules. The film displays what can only be described as blatant Hellenism – a fact which made it a favorite target of religious groups in the late 1990s. Now, obviously they took crazy liberties with the story (Megera’s part in it, the order of events, the portrayal of key Gods as being either good or evil and the ending, which is decidedly more horrific in the myth), but overall it’s the most fun of the three films in my opinion.
In Hercules, the son of Olympian Gods Zeus and Hera (depicted rather angelically, considering how murderously awful they were in antiquity), is stolen away to Earth by Pain and Panic – the henchmen of oddly Satan-ized Hades who, in actual mythology, isn’t much more than a gatekeeper to the underworld. Unless you count that time he stole Demeter’s daughter Persephone and made the world freeze and die for six months out of every year, but moving on!
Hercules, being an Ancient Greek, travels to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia to pray to the magnificent statue of Zeus only to have the statue possessed by the God and come to life. It is then that Hercules discovers that he is actually the son of Zeus and that, to become a full-fledged God and be able to return to Olympus, he must prove himself a hero. Unfortunately Herc, the next huge slice of the film cover some of the infamous Labours of Hercules which included slaying of the Hydra, the Nemean Lion and capture of the Erymanthian Boar.
Many references to Ancient Greek Hellenism are made in the film, including the possession of inanimate objects (depictions, statues), the liberal use of the Muses as full fledged deity, Pegasus and his relationship with Hercules, the story of Zeus triumph over The Titans (in opening song The Gospel Truth I), depictions of Mount Olympus as a heavenly place and reverence for The Gods, and to top it off the destiny of a hero arranged in the stars. But the part I love the best, the part that gets me every time, is in the song Go the Distance. About two-thirds of the way in, Hercules sings:
I will beat the odds
I can go the distance
I will face the world
Fearless, proud and strong
I will please the Gods
I can go the distance
Til I find my hero’s welcome right where I belong!
This was a source of much complaint and the song was changed, not in the film, but much like Aladdin was made PC on the soundtrack album for some years afterward.
So, there you have it. My short, short (and probably not my last) list of Paganism in Disney, I hope you enjoyed it and weren’t too offended. 😉