Experimental Magic: The Evolution of Magic

Experiment with your magical practice by learning how to apply art, pop culture, neuroscience, psychology, and other disciplines to your magical work, as well as exploring fundamental underlying principles of what makes magic work. You'll never look at magic in the same way!

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How Pop Culture promotes interest in Mythology

I'm currently replaying the God of War series. Each time I play this series, what fascinates me about it is how Greek mythology is portrayed in the game series, and how that very process of representation consequently creates new interest in the original mythology. And this isn't just limited to God of War. I've noticed this same phenomenon with the Percy Jackson series, Marvel's version of Thor, and other modern variants of older mythology, which simultaneously create new mythology and also revitalize older mythology by getting people interested in the source material.

While there may be some knee jerk reactions to this concept from purists, I think that its worthwhile to examine and understand how pop culture can revitalize interest in older mythologies, and how this may even be intentional on the part of the deities associated with those older mythologies. The reason it may be intentional is that said deities recognize that one way to get attention, belief, and eventually worship involves utilizing the medium of modern culture in order to get in front of the various people who might be receptive to those deities. And in this age of multi-media, the opportunity to get in front of such an audience is unparalleled for there are more people living now than have ever lived in previous eras of history.

While its true that modern culture isn't faithfully replicating the mythology of the older cultures, but instead is choosing to tell new stories, it nonetheless is significant that new stories are being told. Those new stories add new life to the characters they depict, and typically act as a gateway to the original mythology because people become interested in learning more about those characters and consequently do research into the original mythology.

New characters that were never part of the original mythology are also created. Kratos, Percy Jackson, etc., aren't originally from Greek mythology. They were created in the modern culture as a means of telling new stories. Purists will argue that because such characters come from modern culture the stories they are in can't be part of the original mythology, and they have a point. Nonetheless, I'd argue that what those characters do is provide a culturally accessible medium to people who aren't familiar with the original mythology. The value of such characters is that while they may not be part of the original mythology and may not represent the original mythology what they do provide is a different perspective that nonetheless opens people up to the original mythology.

At the same time, purists might argue that the Zeus in God of War or Percy Jackson or the Thor in Marvel comics isn't really the Zeus or Thor of the original mythology. I both agree and disagree with that stance. I agree with the stance in the sense that modern representations of Zeus or Thor aren't the same as the mythological representations and may not be accurate because of how contemporary culture is applied to those characters. On the other hand, I think that such deities could choose to influence people creating new mythology, with a desire to use that new mythology for the purposes of creating more interest in the original mythology and more importantly in those particular deities.

I also think this understanding can be applied to historical figures, who while not deities, nonetheless may still have a presence in the consciousness of humanity, because of the fame or notoriety associated with them. In modern culture certain such people are consistently referenced in a variety of ways, which may serve as a connected to the personification of the original person. The personification isn't the original person, so much as an amalgamation of that person and the beliefs, thoughts, etc., that people have about the person. It's a thought form which becomes an egregore through the continued interactions people have with it, and eventually develops a mythology of its own because of the various stories told about the historical figure.

Mythology is an inherent part of the experience people have with the spiritual world, but I don't think we should only value the stories of previous cultures as mythology. Nor do I think we should write off modern culture perspectives on older mythology without considering the idea that the Gods and spirits of previous cultures might actually find it useful to insert themselves into modern culture as a way of reaching out and interacting with people and in that process causing renewed interest in the original mythology and the gods and spirits.

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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magic Systems, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments.


  • leonard wilson
    leonard wilson Wednesday, 05 November 2014

    Great observation , i to enjoy the God of war series , later find myself brushing up on mythology , i just never made the connection . Thank you .
    Have you noticed in the animation series , they refer to Thor as thunder'er and not the God of thunder?

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Wednesday, 05 November 2014

    I've noticed in general that when people are exposed to mythological characters through modern media, they get curious so it actually becomes a gateway for those people to learn about mythology.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Wednesday, 05 November 2014

    New versions of mythology for the modern world are perfectly fine, as long as they don't insult the beings being portrayed. My generation of heathens was influenced by Tolkien. Lord of the Rings served as the first introduction of the concept of runes to popular culture, and that brought a lot of people to heathenry-- including me! When I first read a book on rune magic in the 80s, I knew what runes were because of Tolkien. We can see how influenced we are by Lord of the Rings by the fact that we use the term wight and the plural spellings elves and dwarves, all of which were introduced to modern English by Tolkien. Looking down on people coming to heathenry the exact same way by being introduced to our concepts and beings through the Marvel movies is inexplicable as anything but prejudice, because the impulse to exclude Marvel fans is usually couched in terms of "those people" being girls and / or gays.

    I'm not saying that every single thing ever written or produced about heathen mythology is good, of course. I've read and seen plenty of truly bad renditions of our mythology, of course. There are books and movies that insult the gods or aren't true to what they are supposed to represent, like that movie where Thor was the villain, blech, or which just contain too many stupid errors to be able to produce the "willing suspension of disbelief" effect that's vital to enjoying a novel, like that dumb Gospel of Loki book that started out by mangling the meaning of translated words so badly my eyes rolled up so far in my head I couldn't see to read. OK, that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. Even though those are awful examples of fiction, that doesn't mean that someone who reads them and then is drawn to heathenry is somehow a lesser heathen than one who came to heathenry 'my way.'

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Wednesday, 05 November 2014

    I'd agree that not everything produced is accurate to the original mythology and that in some cases it can be quite a different stretch, but if it gets people interested in learning more then they likely quickly discover the errors in the derivative work.

  • Mariah Sheehy
    Mariah Sheehy Wednesday, 05 November 2014

    A lot of us have our pop culture gateways to paganism! For some it remains part of their path, others move beyond it. For myself, I read a lot of mythology, but depictions of gods and magic in fantasy novels have definitely had an influence on my spirituality. Sometimes I look at stories as being an author's "UPG" about a particular god or hero. And even though they are not pagan, Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman are definitely "prophets" to a lot of modern Pagans!

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Wednesday, 05 November 2014

    Good point about the UPG of authors.

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