This blog is part of the Scáth na Feannóige/Shadow of the Hooded Crow project exploring fénnidecht as a practice to follow the War Goddessses, Badb, Macha and the Morrígan whose name is Anann. This is a less formal place for me to discuss various issues of interest to someone on a modern version of the Outlaw warrior path such as physical training, history, Old Irish literature, pop culture inspirations, werewolves, ecstatic trance (okay, I find that one tough to write about but I may try), gender issues the wilderness....


Thursday, June 13, 2013

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt.3 Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture

If we're going to talk about Pop Culture in Paganism, I think we should discuss the flip side, Paganism in Pop Culture. Given my own interests, I'm going to stick with the Gaelic Gods and heroes in movies, TV and related media. Novels would make  it such a huge undertaking that I can't even begin to think about it other than a couple of mentions. Really, I'm going to just skim the surface here, because there's a lot out there already. And all of it goes from sucking to really, really sucking.

Some are optimistic about Pop Culture depictions of the literature, Gorm Sionnach finds hope that greater positive interest might be gained by more modern exposure to the stories. On the Norse side of things, where there has been as Gorm Sionnach also noted much more exposure, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried expresses a positive opinion of the Marvel Thor comics, as well as discusses the continued popularity of Norse mythology in Pop Culture. Certainly the series Vikings has met with much positive reactions among Heathens, although I have seen snipes in various groups along with the praise. And there is no denying that the many decades of Tolkien's popularity has been a "gate-way drug" for many into Heathen ways.

Of course, one of the things I think I personally like about Tolkien's work is that he based his based his stories on the lore and cultures, yet the "names have been changed to protect the ancient." That sort of fictionalization I'm a bit more comfortable with. Do with it as you will, but skip the actual names.

Over the past few years there has been much talk of movies based on Cú Chulainn and the Táin Bó Cúailnge. One attempt, Hound by Breakthru Films, appears to have been "on hold" for about three years. It's unclear what the future is. Michael Fassbender was talking plans for a movie as well, last year, apparently with his 30something self playing the boy Cú Chulainn.  Depicting Cú Chulainn as an adult is likely going to be only part of the problem. I, of course, am just so looking forward to more misogyny thrown at Medb. (you really did catch the sarcasm there, right? At this point I don't want to be too subtle).  And that is, of course, as far as even scholars get to so I don't expect any film writer to do much better. (for an academic look that doesn't do this, see my review of Dominiguez's book and then see the book. I also discuss this a bit in '“By Force in the Battlefield”: Finding the Irish Female Hero' publication pending)

There have been, of course, several novelizations of the story, I'm just not going to try to round them all up. Morgan Llewellyn's perhaps the most famous. There is also a new graphic novel by Will Sliney, Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn also with an oddly adult looking, but thankfully beardless, CC. Of course, Medb is a pencil with boobs in a painted on bodiced dress...so period.  Considering the rich descriptions given in the Táin itself, you'd think an artist would actually have some fun using those descriptions. I don't get it, this is just standard comic book art, at its most sexist at that.


This is not to say there aren't modern pop culture depictions I haven't enjoyed. I quite love the power and atmosphere that Horslips created in their album The Tain even if some points could be picked apart. This album just hits me in the feels real hard. However, I fear that when compared to such musical attempts that these movies will be more in line with the truly horrid The Tain album by The Decemberists complete with Andy Smetanka's equally horrid video...although at least CC looks like the boy not an adult man.Of course, my love for one and dislike of the other may also just show that I'm old. Well, okay, so there was one I liked.

There is also another movie, The Curse of Macha, which is supposed to come out sometime this year. It seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the story it's titled for, perhaps fortunately. I have also heard that a Finn Mac Cumhail movie and/or graphic novel is being made. It remains to be seen what any of these projects will become.

I suppose when it comes to a big reason why I doubt that a lot of Pop Culture exposure is going to have a positive resonation for Gaelic Paganism has to do with what's happened so far. We can, of course, look to the more "mainstream" Pagan, with it's Wiccan and Witchy focus, and the fun they've had with newbees coming in with their heads filled with The Craft and Charmed during the '90s (and probably still). But I can look closer to home.

While Gorm Sionnach is hopeful to see more of the Morrígan in the upcoming American Gods series, I am hoping that She is not going to be expanded. Of course, American Gods is one of the few novels featuring Gods which I rather love (and here's the first place I get to mention Linda Hamilton, as she mentioned it as one of her favorite novels of all time during the panel discussion at Chicago Comiccon 2010, making us co-fangirls!), as I think it raises some interesting questions, and I didn't utterly hate his depiction of Her although I'm glad it was brief just in case. That means I have issues with the HBO series because of a tendency to hate movies based on novels I love. But, no, She's rather been used and abused too much in pop culture, in my opinion.

"Morrigan" either as title or name and always mispronounced (although in the same way most Pagans also do) is actually real popular in pop culture. I've already ranted on, a good bit, about DC Comics Wonder Woman depiction in what is, sadly, my most popular post. In comics the title, along with some of the other Túatha Dé Danann have appeared in Marvel...apparently a bit more positively.

Morrigan Aensland in Darkstalkers
If you Google "Morrigan" the first links and images you will get do not relate to the Goddess at all, but to the green-haired, bat-winged succubus from the video game Darkstalkers. She was born in Scotland 300 years ago. I'm not sure anyone is at this point confusing her with the Goddess. But that may be coming.

In Dragon Age
It has happened with another popular game character with the name, a mortal shape-shifting witch in the game Dragon Age. Doesn't seem too confusing, does it?  A few days ago, while gathering material for this post I came across a very popular page for the Goddess, which along with a great deal of general Pagan fluff and misinformation about Her, had an entry about "Morrigan" the "daughter of Flemeth" and so forth. Presented, and shared I saw, as if it was information about the Goddess. Yes, no confusion there. Mind you, not that much more inaccurate that many other Pagan writings about Her but...

In Xena and Hercules
On TV we have had a "Morrigan" show up in Xena and Hercules. And here we again can look at another example. I think we might want to ask how much many Hellenic Reconstructionists loved these shows liberties with their Gods on a regular basis. Which means I suppose I shouldn't bitch too much about the inventiveness they took with the pan-Celtic mishmash they added later.  Yes, all in campy fun. But the truth is, I still meet up with people who confuse the shows' "mythology" withe actual Greek mythology, which has long been available. Again, not real hopeful that confusion isn't an issue.
In Sanctuary

More recently there was Sanctuary's depiction of three enslaved sisters used against King Arthur, that typical and mistaken conflation with Morgan. Also, Scottish rather than Irish, so perhaps Darkstalkers comprised some of their research too.


In Lost Girl
Also on the SyFy channels is a show I really would like to have liked. Lost Girl, after all, has one of the few bisexual main characters found in the mainstream media. Of course, she's a succubus, which brings it's own issues for me.  There is also the matter that (here we are again) Linda Hamilton appeared this past season and is scheduled to appear again. As a Valkyrie, apparently.  I really want to love anything she's in. And I did watch the episode and she was great in it and looked awesome....love leather jackets, so...  But the general liberties taken with a plethora of folk legends and lore are annoying even before coming to the fact that "the Morrigan" is the title given to the leader of the Dark Fae, one of the two groups trying to get Bo, the lead character, to take sides. *sigh* Really? 

Of course, I'm just a downer on this stuff, even when it's just the culture and not the Gods or legendary heroes. I have issues with anachronisms and out right inventions made out to be history or lore. I have already blasted the way the Picts are, well, depicted in CenturionI could do the same with other movies, such as King Arthur. I adore Brave, but largely despite it being placed in Scotland....it could have been placed in any place or time.

While more knowledge about the Gaelic cultures in our mainstream might be nice, I think that any story using our beloved literature or history will be muddied with what sells. While I know some are bothered by Pagans who use Pop Culture icons in their practice due to it being commercial property, I am far more worried about our culture and lore being made into commercial property.  Of course, in either case what will be will be. More people will still know "Morrigan Aensland" than will know the Daughters of Ernmas and some will confuse Them with the daughter of "Flemeth."  Perhaps at some point someone will do a really good rendition of one of our stories. But I fear, I remain pessimistic on that.

If you have missed them the first two installments were Part 1: Deities and Icons and Part 2: Warrior Cults and Charm Schools.
I also have added Part 4: Training

 Text copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert 
Art from linked pages owned by the licensed owner and used here for critique purposes

Monday, June 3, 2013

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 2 Warrior Cults and Charm Schools

As I noted in An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons I had been planning before the blogosphere explosion to write a bit about how the Sarah Connor Charm School and Flying With the Hooded Crow relate for me. About why I am doing both, where they meet and where they don't. To do so was actually probably sparked when I was told that someone had proclaimed the Charm School as a Gaelic Heathen warrior group. As it was at a time I was trying to get more attention out about my Hooded Crow project, I think it was especially annoying. Of course, it would come as a big surprise to all those Christian women I work with in the Charm School, and probably Pagans of other cultural involvements.

So having reiterated that the SCCS is not a Pagan group, I shall now admit that it actually started out as a Pagan joke. And now may be responsible for this Pagan project. In fact, I'm starting to reconsider what I said that They never used Sarah Connor's image, because I think They did quite a bit to kick me in the ass....even if none have ever copied her appearance. Because right when I needed it, there it was.

It was probably this one
Never having seen The Terminator, I didn't pay much attention when a friend, a mentor on the warrior path, and his roommate were talking about the second movie about to come out. I seem to remember them focused on Arnie and machines. *yawn* Later that day, I was a bit surprised when I visited other friends (at the time) who were not, AFAIK, Arnie fans anymore than I was, to find that they were all excited about Terminator 2 as well. Then they showed me her photo in a magazine (remember those things? ah, yes, tell me the machines aren't taking over, after all). Linda Hamilton, dressed in black and with all that muscle.

You know how you don't know you were looking for something until you find it? Yeah, one of those moments. Or rather it built, I sought out the first movie, got to the new one the first chance I got. The first moment when Sarah is on the screen doing chin ups was probably when it really hit. This was something I was looking for, I just hadn't known it.

There are people who probably do great without story and imagery to motivate and drive them. I'm not one of those people. I am very driven by story and image, I need to put things in my head to work towards.  While I had found enough to get me into martial arts and physical training to be on this path I found myself on, much was rather anachronistic and much was unformed in many ways. Especially as a woman on the path, with a male mentor who had a world of images and stories through the ages he could go on but which tended to make those like me feel marginalized.

Yes, there were other strong women fictional roles before then, including Ripley of the Alien franchise. But Sarah was different, because there was a multitude of layers about here which were meaningful for me. Okay, maybe I wasn't that paranoid about machines and I never had a kid, the latter being a strong connect for some of my friends, but pretty much everything else. Despite a fantastical story line, she was very real, very everyday. Just one of us.

The key thing was her character arch, which might be one of the best ever created in movies. Yeah, I might be bias. She was just like most of us have been at some point, directionless, working a dead end job we hated and felt inept at, not exactly winning at love. She wasn't a warrior, she didn't start out with knowledge of how to fight, she wasn't granted super powers. In the first movie she is totally a Final Girl, with two notable exceptions. One is that she survived having sex, but then she does have to have this kid as it's sort of the point. But the main one is that when the monster is finally dead, rather than sighing with relief and trying to return to a "normal life" despite the trauma, she heads south of the border pregnant, with a gun and a dog and looking for training. When she appears again she's crazy, trained, physically strong. To the point that she, herself, may be more machine, but you can see her arch continue as her relationship with her son begins to heal in T2.

The combination of physical strength, fight training and preparedness were things I realized where intricate to making a civilian warrior. A bit of craziness might not hurt either. Because this was where I felt directionless at the time this movie came out. Obviously, I wasn't going to be transported back to the Iron Age. I also had health issues which made being a professional warrior of any type, law enforcement, military or firefighter (which  had at one time wished to do), impossible. Um, okay, I also have an issue with authority which might have gotten in the way. It helped to see the survivalist presented. And a woman at that.

Of course, there was the muscle. I was struggling with fitness, in part due to health issues (some of which got worse in the year or so before the movie came out) as well as being a scrawny hard-gainer. I was studying a martial art, which included some fitness (although probably shouldn't...I have several issues with that now), was lifting, running. I was having problems with figuring out what to do and how to do it. I had long ditched the standard fitness advice to women, for it was (and is) about diminishing, getting smaller and weaker, not about strength. Therefore I was reading bodybuilding magazines and books, but that often left me frustrated, because of being a hard-gainer (but I did learn the term "hard-gainer").  Sarah offered  more realistic physique than the bodybuilders did. Oh, still very different than I could and Linda Hamilton was not a hard-gainer, having obtained that look in a very short time. But still more real. At some point along the line I did decide to figure it out by become a personal trainer...which is it's own twisted tale.

This was the practical side, which I don't feel I was at all grounded in before. And which is vital to the warrior path. Which also needs to be grounded in the present day, even if the reasons we do it are in the future (and, no, probably not Skynet or Revenants, so it's best to be ready for anything). 

So I was pretty obsessed, using this story and imagery to motivate me as I continued with my growing physical training and with continuing research on Gaelic culture and religion. And now, back to how the Charm School started as a Pagan joke.

The same people who first showed me Linda/Sarah's photo were working on a parody Pagan newsletter not long after the movie came out (or maybe even had started before, time slides). It was going to satirize various excesses of the Pagan community. I was at first trying to come up with something mocking some other folks I knew, but, well, sometimes it's more fun to joke about yourself. And so, "Sarah Connor Charm School" and an "ad campaign" for this "warrior training program" bloomed. The parody 'zine never happened, but the Sarah Connor Charm School remained a running joke.  Which spread among many of my other friends from various circles.

As I got online, I kept referencing the joke with real life friends who already were in on it and it grew to those I "met" online. Indeed, many women had been inspired by the character in similar ways.  We made up a batch of T-shirts, we discussed fitness, martial arts and self-defense, a bit of prepping..I started a LiveJournal page for it.

Meanwhile, I kept worshiping the War Goddesses, yet felt forbidden to speak Their names or talk or write much about Them, which often became uncomfortable (especially as others were not so forbidden and, well, some of the information spread was...well....). I worked within or Outside a variety of groups, started a warrior group within an organization which has fortunately written me out their history from what I understand and so will remain nameless here, tried to start up some other things which got too distracting and off my path.....  I returned to the wilderness, with the internet my primary way of keeping involved in things Celtic Reconstructionist. I kept trying to build what that was, continuing my own studies and training.

In the mid-oughts, there was a big strive to get CR well defined and a group of people I was friendly with got together on that. Including the two people who first showed me "Sarah's" photo. It was over all a stressful time in my life, my Mum died during it being at the center of my own chaos and hell. Within this group of people, there was a lot of ego clashing and underhanded ploys for control which I unfortunately got too caught up in. It was just a real clusterfuck. Then something happened among these people that was sort of "off-topic" but a major ethical and spiritual deal breaker for me, regarding oaths I had taken....and then was abused and mocked for taking a stand on. I was already sick of the ego plays, power grabs and fighting. I said "fuck it" and walked away.

Oh, some CR-types stuck with me as friends and were as disgusted as I was, of course, but I wasn't all that active in "the movement" any longer. I even stopped at all using the term CR, although I, of course, continued to use that methodology. I kept doing my own thing, "labeled" for the syncretic tendencies of being Scottish focused and married to a Heathen, kept working with Badb, Macha and the Morrígan......but for online connections and networking I threw myself more into The Sarah Connor Charm School. It was, after all, a hell of a lot more fun than what I'd been dealing with. At a time when my life was continuing to be less fun. My Dad and several dogs and horses all died during this time period, too (all for natural causes related to age).

I started a website which I eventually got a domain for, started a Facebook page, met more and more people, especially women, who were inspired by her. Many who were not Pagan, who I probably wouldn't have worked with on such things if I had done something Pagan focused...but also Pagans who are dedicated to other Gods or are not dedicated to particular Gods or are more ....well, there's a lot of variety.  And we talked more about fitness and training and prepping...and we developed the Honorary Degree thing where we celebrate real strong women and girls (and now boys with the John Connor Award and heroic animals with Max's First Line of Defense Heroes). I even took my ideas developed for a Pagan warrior group and removed the religious and cultural material, replacing it with basic charm school type liberal arts and with Sarah related languages (as she had trained in Central and/or South America) for the curriculum. The physical, prepping and even arts stuff was already in there. (and for all those mighty, mostly male, Pagan "wariors" who complained my ideas were too tough...we now have someone systematically using it, thank you very much!).

And, of course, I got to go meet Linda Hamilton and give a token of all of our appreciation.

I also cracked down on some training I hadn't gotten to yet, having a job where I could afford it and perhaps more time and energy due to less drama. You can, of course, read about some of that here, here and here. And wrote stuff *wavesingeneraldirectionatblog*  I had already included research in pop culture female action heroes, physical feminism and related topics in my studies long ago, but I got a deep focus on that during this time.

And then it happened. Writing I had put on a back burner, or really the freezer, and didn't know what to do with I took out, heated up and started working on. Making several changes, including writing about the War Goddesses. Suddenly, it was vital that I write and talk about Them. A lot. I then put that on the back burner, but only that far, because I felt the need to work on an extensive but shorter piece. Which, when finished I suddenly found a place to submit it to. Then more possible places and more things are out in editors' hands. And all to one degree or another related to the War Goddesses. And then I realized I needed to make the "online shrine" and change the name of this blog to match.  And, of course, a FaceBook page for it and two related groups Clann na Morrígna and Ban-gaiscedach na Morrígna (I fear LJ is becoming a thing of the past, but I have an older group there just called Hooded Crow which you need to message me to join and really isn't used as much). And two related At some point I'll probably put a page outlining the training program up, but if someone is already doing the cultural-religious stuff, then that's already posted.

And in doing so, I have become more involved in doing things within the Pagan/Polytheist communities, but choosing where I hang out and who I do them with. Sometimes, now that I've been away from certain prejudices, with some association with folks I wouldn't once have. Finding common ground where They want me to.

I think that stepping way from the drama and focusing on the Sarah Connor Charm School stuff helped clear away a lot of bullshit. It also led me to meet and learn from some really wonderful women who I might not have had the time and energy to get to know. It's helped me move along my own path more than the work I had been doing trying to build a general CR focused "movement" which did often leave me with little energy for the warrior stuff.

So, this is exactly how these two things tie together for me. Of course, they are, I'm not big on separating parts of my life all that much.  I figure Hooded Crow will always be smaller than the Charm School, given that the focus on CR methodology and one group of Goddesses combines for a less interest. Even though it's less gender specific (SCCS has a lot of male supporters, but the "school" itself is for women...it should be realized, as I have said before, men have a lot more stories than we do already).  Right now it's mostly just my thing, anyway, while the Charm School has become a lot of women's thing.

And if you missed it please see  An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons part 3 is on it's way (EDIT is now up Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture), I'll be less focused on Sarah Connor (although Linda Hamilton will get a mention) and instead discuss Gaelic Gods and Heroes in pop culture, especially the Morrígan (although in general that should be "sort of").  (EDIT: also now have An Morrígan and SC: Pt. 4: Training)


copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert