Hyper-Real Spirituality: Pop Culture Magic

 An article by our very own Frater Isla. Originally published October 31, 2013 via theblogofbaphomet.com

Most folk’ll tell you the use of pop culture iconography in ritual began in the 80′s with Chaos Magick and the IOT. A few folk’ll tell you it started earlier with people like William S. Burroughs, who was known to use a cardboard stand-up of Mick Jagger for “rites of performance.” But I think it can be traced back to the beginning if you consider that at one time, even the Sumerian gods were pop sensations.

The Sacred Heart of Elvis, an object of devotion for the First Church of Jesus Christ, Elvis

Those in the chaos current have always accepted the use of pop culture as being magically relevant. Just examine the successful integration of the Cthulhu Mythos by Anton LaVey, Phil Hine, and many others into the magical landscape over the last fifty years. Borrowing from any archetypal pool is considered okay, as long as it gets results. Devotion to an entity isn’t necessary for it to be useful as a magical tool.

Recently, though, a trend has popped up that I’ve found myself right in the middle of: serious religious devotion given to fictional characters drawn from pop culture. I’m a member of the Sons of the Batman, a magical group that honors the Caped Crusader. Although it may appear to be a joke or an intellectual exercise, it’s definitely not, and we take the worship of Batman very seriously.
And we are by no means the only ones.

Probably the most successful religious group inspired by a fictional source (outside of Scientology) would have to be the Church of Jediism. The Jedis have even gained tax-exemption in the US as a recognized non-profit religious organization. Their religion draws from the fictional universe of Star Wars, but they do not recognize its stories as any sort of scriptural reference. Instead, they see it as a point of philosophical inspiration, from which they’ve drawn the “16 teachings” and “21 Maxims.” They definitely believe in the Force, though.

Jediism gained attention during the 2001 New Zealand census, after an e-mail campaign inspired more than 53,000 to list “Jedi” as their religion. In the England and Wales census that year, over 390,000 claimed the same. The figure dropped to 176,000 last year, still outnumbering all the other “alternative” religions (including Atheism, numbering 29,000).

In 2004, Matrixism announced its arrival. It considered the Matrix films and related media to be a “sacred text,” which are said to be inspired metaphors of an idea articulated by `Abdu’l-Bahá’, son of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í faith. According to its website, there are over two thousand adherents to the “Path of the One.”

There’s also a Church of Elvis, a Church of all Worlds (based on the fictional religion from Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land), and even the first rumblings of a cult dedicated to My Little Pony. I’m sure with more digging, one could find many more examples.

Jediism and Matrixism were studied by Dr. Adam Possamai, along with other pop-inspired religions that he termed, “hyper-real spiritualities.” Possamai believes that these groups are the product of what he calls a “McDonaldised Occult culture,” in which the beliefs that were once kept secret by groups like the Golden Dawn or the OTO are now easily found on the internet and bookshelves everywhere, making open comparison an easy task. Compound this with a desire to synthesize a consumerist culture with the search for a spiritual path, and you’ll have some seekers finding a parallel between the religious teachings of more traditional sources and the themes found in fiction.

My own entrance to these ranks came about when I had the epiphany that my own beliefs were influenced not by Christ, Mohammed, Krishna, or Pan, but by the stories of the Batman. Without knowing it, by immersing myself within the Batman myth since the age of three, I was allowing it to mold my thinking as my ego and sense of morality formed. By acknowledging and actively reinforcing this belief structure, I began to experience a real clarity in my personal spiritual practices and the strange sense that I had possibly stumbled onto a kind of magical lynchpin. After years of experimenting with the deities of a variety of cultures, the myth that seemed to inspire me the most was the one I had so happily consumed since childhood, never imagining it to be divine in any way.

The switch from viewing these pop culture icons as mere tools to use in the practice of results magic to objects of spiritual devotion seems to coincide with a general trend. It appears that the prevailing themes of cynicism and irony which defined the attitude of occultism in the 90′s has been replaced with a hunger for sincerity. Unlike their predecessors, the modern youth culture is unabashed by its reliance on consumerism and seems willing to integrate it into their spiritual life.

It’s possible that rather than just being an interesting blip in religious evolution, devotion to the icons of pop culture may very well be the next serious movement in magic.
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Tithing Ritual

The following is an adaptation of the Discordian Tithing Ritual developed by the Church of Moo.

To be performed every payday, or whenever it seems unnecessary.

1. Obtain five crisp, new one dollar bills.  European Sons can use a single five Euro bill or five Euro coins.

2. Affix the following veve to each bill, using a rubber stamp or by drawing it.
3. Select five people with listed addresses at random out of your telephone book.  If you happen to already have candidates for membership in mind, use them.

4. Mail one bill to each person, enclosing it with this letter:

 5. Take every opportunity to state the activation code.  If you don't immediately receive a response, don't repeat it.  People are more likely to dismiss odd statements from strangers when not pressed.  If you find yourself in an awkward situation because of it, just laugh and say, "You know.  From Batman," and blow it off.

By practicing this ritual, you will be helping to spread the word of the Batman.  If the recipient does not hold onto the bill, and spends it instead, at least it will put the veve into circulation.

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You Heard Him


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The Streets of Gotham Run Deepest Through Your Heart


image from: zombiebacons.tumblr.com
image from: zombiebacons.tumblr.com
   "We impose meaning on the chaos of our lives.  We create form, morality, order.  It's a choice we have to make every second of every minute of every day."  -Batman:  Absolution (DeMatteis, Ashmore)

My dedication to the Batman is renewed every morning I lace up my Chucks with the golden bat symbol I drew on them.  "Guard my soul, guard my path" - It's ridiculous word play on the role of my feet and the soles of my shoes, but it's an easy ritual to remind me each day of my promise to the Batman:  to walk the path of justice.  

Before you ask, no, I'm not a real life super hero, nor do I aspire to be one.  While the thought of beating up rapists and taking down corrupt politicians is exciting, my fear of heights and lack of combat skills and affluence greatly diminishes my ability to take on such a role.  So how can one aspire to be like the bat when you have absolutely nothing in common with Gotham's Guardian?

Simple.  Protect everyone you can, starting with yourself.

The banishing ritual of the bat is a good place to start.  It was a bit more involved than the original banishing ritual I had set for myself, but it proved to pack a mightier punch.  After working this ritual for a week, I noticed the Gotham skyline would sneak its way into my peripheral at various times during the day, reminding me that it was still there, guarding and protecting me.  

Daily rituals/altars to each member of the bat family came next.  Adding a tangible element with things such as custom votive candles and Heroclix worked wonders for solidifying my practice.  Though I didn't grow up in a Catholic home, nor do I align any of my beliefs within the religion, I've always had a strange attraction to Catholic rituals and regalia; the vast iconography and intricate shrines of the devout have always held my fascination.  Taking just a moment of my time each day to remember them greatly improved our relationship.  The bat family was becoming my family.  It became easier to converse with them and ask for guidance and help through these simple rituals.

Three years later and I'm still at it.

Catwoman and I go way back, but I've since developed a particularly special bond with Alfred.  Damien is still distant, but we have an understanding.  For me it's not overt fandom, it's how I live my life.  Honestly, I wasn't a huge comic book reader before I joined up with Sons of the Batman, but I'd always loved the essence of Batman.  I was familiar enough to appreciate and believe in the same ideals.  I never even owned a Batman shirt up to this point!  When I finally got around to acquiring one, it had the same life-altering effects as trying on a graduation gown or a wedding dress for the first time.  The loud, yellow bat logo blazing out from my chest became my declaration to the world of my new found path.

I feel I'm still pretty new to the ideas of chaos magick and voodoo, among other things, having only really been digging into them and devoting time/effort for about five years now.  I was having a hard time identifying with any of the "traditional" heathen gods and goddesses often worshiped by other followers of these paths; it wasn't until Batman came along that I was able to find my calling.

I am a Son of the Batman.
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Tenet #2: Holographic Universe (It's a Collector's Item)


The Holographic Principle model was developed when quantum physicist Gerard 't Hooft began to tackle inherent problems within the field of Black Hole Thermodynamics.  Namely, the idea that when an object is sucked into a black hole, it disappears.  From my understanding, this contradicted a fundamental principle of quantum mechanics: that information can't disappear.  Physicists like 't Hooft and Leonard Susskind found that when an object entered the singularity, the event horizon (the outer edge) of the black hole expanded.  What was happening was the information within the object was being spread out over the surface of the black hole in what 't Hooft would call a 'holographic' way. (To be honest, this may be a terribly inaccurate way of explaining this, considering Black Hole Thermodynamics and the function of entropy is way over my head. For a more informed source, read http://ref-sciam.livejournal.com/1190.html)

To better understand the concept, it will be helpful to start with what a hologram is.  If we shoot a laser beam at an image and then shoot another beam into the reflected light, we will get an interference pattern where the two beams cross.  We then put that interference pattern onto film, where it shows up as a meaningless pattern of swirls, but if a laser is shined through the film, then the original image will appear in three dimensions.  In other words, two-dimensional information (the swirls on the film) can be used to project a three-dimensional image (the hologram).

A similar function can be found at work in the black hole.  The object's information is on the two-dimensional outer surface, and the three-dimensional object itself is within the singularity.  According to physicists who subscribe to the Holographic Principle, this relationship between information and object can be found in any system within the bounds of a specified volume of space.

One more thing you need to know if you want to make sense of this post is that holograms are a type of fractal.  A fractal is a mathematical set that is self-similar  In other words, when it is expressed as an image, zooming into the picture will display the same image as zooming out.  Here is a slightly goofy visual aid that might make the idea easier to grasp:

When a hologram is cut in two, each piece will still show the original image.  You can continue cutting the pieces forever, and each one will be a copy of the original.  However, the image loses resolution with each cut, leading  to fuzzier and fuzzier facsimiles.

Though the concept of the fractal proper is only a few decades old, we find a similar idea expressed in the Hermetic axiom: "As Above, So Below," which originally shows up in the Hindu Vedas, but is more popularly remembered from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: "That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing."  The microcosm (the part) is exactly the same as the macrocosm (the whole).  An apt description of a fractal.

We also find the idea in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, which can be used as a map of not only the universe, but the human body, and even the soul (among other things. See Israel Regardie's The Middle Pillar for it use as a psychological model).  The tree is made up of ten stations, or 'Sephiroth', and it is said that each sephirah contains another tree, with each of its sephirah containing another tree, and so on.

The Batman myth has this same theme running through it.  It is often stated that Gotham City is the Batman.

Batman 1 [Vol.] (Snyder, Capullo)   I chose this example because I like the panel layout, but there are a slew of them from every period to pick from.

Grant Morrison depicts the holographic relationship explicitly, with the Batman as a projection of Gotham:

Batman 679 (Morrison, Daniel)
We can look at Gotham City as a kind of Tree of Life, a pattern that is projecting the Batman holographically.  If we were to 'cut up' the Batman hologram, we get 'blurry images' like the 90's Dark Knight, the 60's Caped Crusader, or the 70's master detective.

The Bat-Family and Rougue's Gallery have a holographic relationship with the Batman as well.  In Hunting the Dark Knight, Dr. Will Brooker writes, "Batman's regular opponents... invert and caricature aspects of his persona in diverse and inventive ways, reflecting them in distorting mirrors and showing them as grotesque or ridiculous."  Each villain is a negative version of an aspect of the Batman, himself.  The Family, in turn, can be seen as positive versions of these aspects.  Together, they all become a matrix by which the Batman can be manifested. 

With the Bat myth and the Holographic Principle, we may have a model that can explain how magical thinking and seemingly arbitrary divinatory systems are able to produce actual results, as any seemingly random occurrence must be a part of the fractal pattern of the universe.  It would also go a long way to explain how a series of stories pushed out against a deadline and created purely for the entertainment of children and illiterates could become a model of the universe.
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Sippin' on dat Haterade (or: Why Pagans can be Worse than Fundamentalists)


"The mythic hero is also an amalgamation of a number of archetypal images, and as such is a part of our species' psychic inheritance, a universal constant that transcends culture and time."
                                                         -Don LoCicero Superheroes and Gods

"[We live in a society] without the kind of gods that used to exist, or the legends that used to travel back and forth with tribes.  The tribes each told the same stories in their own way.  I gave those stories the power of the old concepts with characters from our own day."
                                                    -Jack Kirby (from Les Daniels' DC Comics)

Well.  It took three years, but the internet has finally caught up with us.  And with the internet, comes the yucky egocentric and long-winded 'opinion' (read as 'fact') blahblahblogs vomiting up their eternal wisdom. 


My original reaction to the different comments quoted in this post was a wavy-brained gaiety.  The trolls were all shoving to get in front.  ('I hate people who worship fictional beings like Dionysus, Krishna, or Jesus.  Everyone knows Allah is the one, true god!').

Instead, I'm giving you, fair reader, an easy argument in case you're ever backed into a corner by one of these overly serious, self-aggrandizing goof-asses.  I'm also taking the time to participate in the wonderful world of internets, where I can attack someone I don't know over a 50 word comment they made without ever having to worry about running into them in a remote back alley.

"Julian Betkowski weighs in with The Need to Understand the Role of Religion:
A lot of work has been done in certain portions of the occult community to position all of magic, all of the Gods, as mere figures of the psyche, as ghosts in the machine, phantoms of archetypes that haunt the unused byways of our neural highway. Again, whatever works for you, but that is not religion. That is apologetics. Apologetics for things that people are too afraid to openly acknowledge they believe in. If you think magic is real, and the Gods are real, then you are a nut job in contemporary American society. So instead, you say that it is all psychological and you are just exploring the hidden places of the human mind. That is perfectly fine, but it is also perfectly cowardly. We cannot have it both ways. The Gods are real, or they are not. There is no in between."

To say that this interpretation of Jung's Collective Unconscious is the only one is grossly assumptive.  I would have to point out that Jung didn't see the archetypes as 'mere figures of the psyche', but as the vitals of consciousness.  And this is not the only paradigm that would allow for the worship of fictional characters, either.

I'll say it right now: The Batman is a very real being and we have a very real relationship.

There. No apologies.  Happy, pappy?
I've already written about the fallacy of Aristotlean Either\Or logic, and how dumb it is to believe in a single, infallible TRUTH.  The statement, 'We cannot have it both ways. The Gods are real, or they are not. There is no in between,' is meaningless.  Fucking prove it, dork.

"Urbanpooka believes we have no right to disagree with others: [ok, dickhead]
This is not reasonable discussion. Reasonable discussion of another’s pagan practices should not involve telling that person that their practice is a falsehood, or does not exist outside their head, or has no impact in their lives. It is not reasonable because it cannot be proven. Forget the fact that it is horribly, horribly rude, and that even traditional pagans are often deeply offended when non-believers turn such “arguments” on them. When non-believers do that, I’ve heard it wondered aloud “Why are you being so shitty to prove your point?”
 Thank you, Urbanpooka.

"And the second comes from fathergia and was left here:
Honestly, this whole debate is upsetting me in a very big way. Not in the debate or the conflict, but in the fucking fact that we are having this god damn STUPID debate. Fucking, Christians and Hindus and Muslims don’t have to discuss and ARGUE with each other whether Batman and Wonder Woman are worthy of veneration or some EQUALLY stupid shit. THIS is why people don’t take us seriously THIS is why we CONTINUE to get ridiculed and made fun of by academics and the larger religious community, because we KEEP BRINGING UP STUFF LIKE THIS. I want to be a part of this community, I want to look at people and feel a sense of glowing pride and be able to PROUDLY exclaim ‘These are my people’. I want to be PROUD of my fellow Pagans, I want to point at them and smile and applaud their writings and accomplishments, but how do I do that when they are conflating Tony Stark with fucking MLK Jr? God damn, that is disrespectful. I respect that man, I mean, fuck, I have a ritual called Isonomia that I do on MLK Day. Conflating him with someone who doesn’t exist is ridiculous, I mean, what the hell? It is like she got inspired from the South Park Imagination Land saga of episodes. How do you connect with people who make you embarrassed and who disrespect people that you respect and admire to a great deal? How do you do that? I don’t know if you can. I just know that this has made me very unhappy. I hope shit like this doesn’t keep coming up."
Jesus Christ.  Where to begin?  Sounds like someone has lots invested in not looking stupid.  Considering the out of proportion rage and the theme of avoiding embarrassment, I would assume that fathergia is a 14 year old boy in the midwest who's sick and tired of getting beat up after school.  Of course, I'll have to do the one thing no one else in this debate seems able to do, and admit that I COULD BE WRONG.  


One thing I noticed here was the proliferation of people designating which gods are 'real'.  From what I can tell, the only signifier of 'realness' is antiquity.  So cross your fingers, Sons.  If we can keep the Batman popular for another thousand years, he may get another opportunity to apply for the deity position.

What I hope I've made clear:
    1. Yelling at people you think are wrong is dumb.
    2. Magic is about results.  If it works, then obviously it's doing something right.
    3. Batman is fictional.  So are all the other Gods.  Everywhere.

P.S.  Here is the post that I believe started to 'controversy'.  I may be wrong, since I've never looked at any of these blogs before.  That being said, props to Sunweaver for a great read.
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