Thursday, February 25, 2010

Celts, Pagans, and Superheroes, Oh My!

A few entries ago, I told you about my idea for the Celtic League of Superheroes, a team of costumed crime-fighters originating in the Celtic countries and saving the world from various nasties found in Celtic mythology and folklore. It seems I'm not the only one to think of such a thing, because now Pendant Audio. is producing its own original Celtic-themed superhero show, “Genesis Avalon” that has a good many similarities to my Celtic League concept. What's more, in the director's commentary for the first episode, the show's creator, Kathryn Pryde, says she has the first three seasons of the show, 36 episodes, plotted and scripted. After two years, I'm still floundering around with the first draft of my main character's origin story.

I didn't listen to the first few episodes of "Genesis Avalon," first of all, because I didn't want them to influence my development of the Celtic League of Superheroes concept. I reconsidered my decision because I decided I needed to see how others are developing similar material. After all, if you're developing a product, you have to know what the competition is up to. The second reason I chose not to listen to the show, however, was that I feared it would devolve into what was essentially a commercial for neo-paganism and its contemporary incarnations such as Wicca—something that, as an author, a practicing Catholic, and a person of Celtic ancestry, I did not want to happen with my Celtic League concept.

Let me make two things perfectly clear. First, I love Pendant Audio. I listen regularly to many of their shows, especially the "fanfic" type shows based on DC Comics characters, and wouldn't have known about Genesis Avalon at all if I didn't. They are an extremely talented group of people who do a lot of hard work of very high quality solely because they love it.

Second, I realize that there have been elements of mythology, mysticism, magic, and mumbo-jumbo in superhero comics probably ever since Billy Batson learned to say "Shazam!" and become Captain Marvel. That, in and of itself, does not bother me. What bothers me, both as a Celt and a Catholic, is that certain modern neo-pagan occultists have appropriated names and terms from Celtic mythology and folklore (including the word "Celt" itself) to fabricate a modern religion for themselves and to promote that religion and its ideology—a religion and ideology that are directly and deliberately opposed to my Catholic faith.

My original nickname or handle when I first ventured out onto the internet via AOL was MrCelt ("Mr. Celt"). My user profile listed Catholicism as one of my interests. I was told by some grossly misinformed person in a chatroom, "You can't be a Celt and be a Christian." I am wearing a Celtic cross around my neck that says otherwise. Irish, Scottish, and Welsh converts to Christianity brought the gospel to much of the rest of Europe, thank you very much, founding churches, monasteries, and schools that are in existence to this day. I daresay that millions of Celtic Christians in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales today, both Catholic and Protestant, would also disagree with that statement. I resent the fact that the mythology and culture of my ancestral countries is being used to promote an agenda contrary to my faith, which once brought there, took deep root in those ancestral countries.

It's not hard for me to wonder if there's an agenda behind "Genesis Avalon." The pilot episode begins with a prayer to “The Goddess” (to which goddess I’m not sure) and, six episodes in, there have already been numerous direct references to Wicca, and rituals of “The Craft.” The story begins when a young woman finds a mysterious amulet that enables her to become the superhero Avalon, endowed with the powers of the ancient Celtic gods. She invokes these powers by speaking the names of the gods aloud. That in itself wouldn't bother me so much if the protagonist and other characters didn't toss the name of Jesus around as if it were a garden variety interjection, a curse, or an insult. I realize that in real life and in fiction, people can and do say the name of Jesus in vain. Regrettably I've done it myself on more than a few occasions. However, in a work of fiction, when characters speak the names of pagan gods and receive or invoke great power, and then utter the name of Christ with little or no result, you can't help wondering if this betrays the author's bias.

I realize much of what I've just said may sound like so much sour grapes because an author has successfully developed a concept similar to mine, while so far I've failed miserably to develop my own work. The folks behind "Genesis Avalon" may not have any agenda beyond the desire to tell a good story. Judged purely as an action adventure or a work of audio drama, the show isn't bad, and it may be possible to take all the New Age, neo-pagan woo-woo with several grains of salt.

Looking critically at my own work, I worried that it too could be construed as promoting a particular theological agenda, which would be the opposite of what I intended and believed, and that's perhaps one reason that the writing has gone so slowly. I wanted to borrow bits, pieces, and motifs from Celtic mythology and tell cool stories of costumed superheroes slugging it out with evil druids on the streets of Dublin (and other places), not to advocate for a false or fabricated religion. I fretted over this problem with my blog buddy D. G. D. Davidson at Sci-Fi Catholic, and he told me not to worry because, as he astutely pointed out, Christians have been borrowing from pagan mythology to tell stories for centuries.

Will the Celtic League of Superheroes ever be anything more than a vague idea in my head? Should I listen to "Genesis Avalon" or avoid it? I don't know the answers to either one of those questions. But I'll let you know when I find the answers.


PaperSmyth said...

Wow. There are serious questions to ponder there.

"Looking critically at my own work, I worried that it too could be construed as promoting a particular theological agenda, which would be the opposite of what I intended and believed..."

You are not the only one to think that, I assure you. This has slowed down a good many people.

Hang in there.

The Mistress of the Book of Destiny said...

(And now, the rest of the story!)
All that said, Genesis Avalon is meant to just be a story. No one thinks of Wonder Woman being a propaganda piece for neo-Olympian worship (which does exist) or Thor for neo-Norse worship. Genesis Avalon is purely written as fiction, for fun. And I'm sure that there would probably be some people who look at your story's idea and think that it's a mouthpiece for neo-paganism too, doesn't mean it is.

I'd say go ahead and give it a shot. If it's not your cuppa, then it's not your cuppa. And that's cool. Not every story is for everyone. We're just glad you gave it a listen. And who knows, you might come to like it. I think that there is enough difference between your cool idea about the Celtic League and GA that you wouldn't have to worry about ideas influencing you.

~Kristen Bays

The Mistress of the Book of Destiny said...

Hi. I'm Kristen Bays, an AP at Pendant (You probably know me best as the new Wonder Woman or writer on Catwoman) and the roommate of Kat Pryde, writer for Genesis Avalon. I'm also helping her develop episodes 37 to 50 of Genesis Avalon. We just now found your post, so I know that this was posted over 2 months ago, and I'm sorry if you feel you're past this or anything. The only reason why Kat herself isn't making this response back is because she is at work at the moment and can't, but she and I have spoken about your blog post and feel you raise some very valid questions.

First: I just read over your idea for the Celtic League of Superheroes and I must say it looks really cool. I would love to see more stuff like this.

Second: Thanks so much for being a fan of Pendant! We love having people talk about us in good ways! Even if what you have heard of Genesis Avalon is not necessarily your cup of tea, you were still very nice and did not flame us. We appreciate that deeply.

Third: As someone who has read every issue of Genesis Avalon, including the outlines for season 4, I can say that there is no pagan agenda. If there was, believe me I would have called Kat out on it. I identify as a follower of the teachings of Christ, am fairly non-denominational, and have studied several world religions. In fact, when I first read parts of Genesis Avalon, I said to Kat "You realize people are going to wrongly think you're making Frank Peretti books, but for Wiccans, right?"

I think that's just part and partial to any individual writing about a religion or using symbolism from any given religion, someone is always going to assume you have a propaganda. Kat, I know, did not intend this. Mentions to 'the craft' you mention, are actually in story references to the martial art of being a Genesis Avalon, that is someone who, within that world, calls upon the powers of the traditional Celtic gods. The "prayer to the goddess" is an actual goddess that Jaina draws power from who you wont find out who it is exactly out of the Celtic pantheon until the end of the 3rd season, as the story is about her finding her way as Genesis Avalon and discovering her true power and the goddess mentioned is her patron goddess, not the all encompassing Wicca "Goddess". It's an in story prayer, not a true wiccan rite.

I do see where you are annoyed by the fact that Jaina and other characters do use the traditional, Judeo-Christian blasphemous swears. It's not so much that using those names has no power, but that Jaina doesn't have a magical amulet or relic that invokes Yaweh or Jesus' power. Now, as I type that, that sounds like a really cool thing, actually! Like... some other superhero in the Genesis Avalon universe that is powered by God instead of the Celts or the Egyptians (Oh no spoilers!) who calls on the powers of God and Jesus to perform great miracles and the ramifications that would have in the general populous. That would be a really cool story, too. I'm digressing!

In truth, there are other heroes in the Genesis Avalon universe (That probably wont make it into the Radio show as they encompass their own story arcs) that are based on Judeo-Christian religion, and for them, invoking the name of God or Jesus is a powerful thing. That's the series Kat plans on writing after Genesis Avalon, and I've heard a lot of the plot for it and it sounds REALLY cool. Biblical Warfare. Angels in full armor with the power of God behind them. Very awesome stuff, in the literal definition of awesome. :D
(To be continued, I talk too much!)