|Photo by tyrantel. licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I've been thinking about the occult and its penetration into mainstream pop culture (and even what the term occult means in the polytheistic, modern world). I remember back to the 80s when Dungeons and Dragons was considered by many to be a gateway to the occult. It's funny how I regularly play D&D and other adventure games where demons are fairly common, yet I still won't mess with a Ouija board. I'm not sure I can reconcile those two viewpoints. I guess I still believe the occult may be real on some level and don't want to mess with it, while at the same time I know a plastic demon figure in a board game isn't going to haunt my house or something. Disclaimer: I also knock on wood with a frightening consistency.
The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies that were made in the last decade probably represent the breakthrough of "fantasy" into mainstream pop culture. Now orcs, trolls, witches, demons and wizards are no longer just a part of shadowy tales from Salem, or the writings of Aleister Crowley. In truth these archetypes had been adopted and neutered by geek culture since Dungeons and Dragons emerged in 1979--it just took the mainstream a few decades to catch up. So how does fantasy enchant and frighten when its iconography has been "neutered"? What I've ended up doing with my fantasy writing is to attempt to make every fantasy creature or character a fully realized "person" who happens to have a fantastic form. Reliance on these aging archetypes without doing so is just boring in my humble opinion. It's a road that readers have been down before--many, many times.
I have a persistent thought that there must be new myths and archetypes waiting to be created. These myths should help us interpret our modern lives like the old archetypes helped people in centuries past. But in this age of instant communication maybe the myths and archetypes will have a shorter shelf life. The way we fall in and out of love with celebrities suggests to me that people are looking to these people to serve as their archetypes rather than myths. What they don't realize is that this turns their celebrities into myths in the process. And then fans become disillusioned when it becomes evident that their heroes are really just "normal" people with a lot of wealth.
I think people are hungry for new myths. Even the myths of religion seem to be failing in this modern age of reason and science. But science alone can't do anything but measure and predict. It typically doesn't provide a framework to map our emotional and spiritual lives. No, I'm still convinced that we need new myths. I have an instinct that if the new myths are done "right" then they will be controversial since they will be challenging established "conventional wisdom". My hope is that they will be constructive rather than destructive.