There’s been a whole lot of Norse themed popular culture in the last few years: fiction books, graphic novels, artwork, statuary, not to mention a big dollop in the interlocked MCU and the preceding and ongoing comics and graphic novels. Roleplayers, cosplayers, geeks, authors, bloggers and the general public are now aware of our mythology, Norse stories, characters, events and words such as Ragnarok, Mjolnir and Bifrost. Pop culture has cheerfully plonked on the plastic horned helmet and leaned hard into the Early Middle Ages.
For those following a reconstructed faith, it may present a quandary: do we feel insulted and defend our genuine faith vigorously, or laugh heartily when a non-heathen friend gets us a birthday card with a cartoon MCU Thor on the front, complete with distinctive armour, hair artfully swishing and probably some dramatic lightning in there somewhere? We may feel awkward or defensive around pop culture depictions, such as the current mini series of Loki on Disney. Or a bit strange to see our goddesses with exaggerated figures, dressed in skimpy sexualised clothing, complete with oversized eyelashes and modern make up. As inclusive heathens, we could feel two ways simultaneously – that our faith is a sacred source of personal strength and comfort, and that we also enjoy and are entertained by the MCU depictions of Thor, Odin, Loki, Heimdall, Sif and Frigga? (With the understanding that that interpretation may have the same names and locations but different fictional storylines). These are our divine figures, individuals whose stories, knowledge and decisions we look to for guidance when facing our own. Gods to whom we pray, sacrifice and dedicate our time, resources or learning. And also the Funko pop figurine that sits on our bookshelf.
Perhaps, like Loki reminds us, there’s an alternative to the binary of either serious sacred faith or irreverent and enjoyable pop culture. Could we integrate the two together and ask ourselves: would we feel comfortable in using pop culture as the basis for theological reflection? Can we deepen our faith connection by looking to start in popular culture? Certainly the current Loki mini series has given me much to think about in terms of coming to new realisations, perspectives and understanding. Fiction books such as ‘The Witch’s Heart’, by Genevieve Gornichec, ‘Truth and Other Lies’ by Lyra Wolf, Cat Rector’s upcoming ‘The Goddess of Nothing at All’, ‘Gatewatch’ by Joshua Gillingham or ‘Children’ by Bjorn Larssen bring fresh perspectives for a modern inclusive heathen to ponder, turn over and integrate into faith practice.
For me, theological reflection begins in some surprising places. I don’t go into reading a new Norse inspired work with that as a sole intention, but sometimes that’s the outcome – as a lightning strike of kairos inspiration, or a slow ember burn chronos gradual awareness of understanding. It’s not to say that meaningful reflection and connection can’t come from the sagas, Eddas and myth cycle, but it is to say that we as inclusive heathens are living now, and are familiar with the culture around us. Pop culture interpretation gives us another starting point, an unfamiliar perspective on the deeply familiar. Through that lens, we can gain new appreciation for our faith, a deepening in potentially unexpected ways, a forming of new connections and the creation of possibilities.