“You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up

I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea that “magic” is a word that intelligent people can use in a meaningful (albeit nuanced) way.  But then I come across listicles like John Beckett’s recent “12 Movies to Inspire Your Magic” and I go back to square one.

I swear, I tried not to write this post.  I put in on the back burner.  I slept on it.  But Beckett’s post keeps popping up in my FB feed (probably because his listicle-loving editor, Jason Mankey, keeps promoting it).  So here goes ….

Beckett begins with the caveat that “no one is going to mistake any of the movies on this list for great works of Pagan theology or how-to videos on witchcraft,” but he goes on to say that, “if you need some magical motivation,” these movies will “remind you that magic is real.”

Really?! Ok, so let’s see what’s on the list …

Excalibur

The Craft

Practical Magic

Conan the Barbarian

The Mummy trilogy

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

The Pirates of the Carribbean trilogy.

Beckett adds The Mists of Avalon and Elektra in the runner-up category the Harry Potter movies and The Wicker Man (the 1973 version, of course) in the “for the hell of it” category.

Now, can somebody please explain to me, what the fuck do any of these movies have to do with “real magic”?

It’s time to grow up Pagans. You’re not fucking Merlin or Gandalf. You’re not a reincarnated Egyptian princess or Celtic priestess. And your teen witch spells are not going to change your eye color, or make you levitate, or get you that long-desired revenge on those high school mean girls. There is no such thing as practical magic (if by “practical magic” you mean causing physical change at a distance through intention or will power without corresponding physical action).

I really want to know, what exactly about these movies is supposed to remind anyone that “magic is real.”  The glowing swords or the walking dead?  There’s nothing real about any of these movies (except maybe The Wicker Man, because it doesn’t have any magic in it).

Don’t get me wrong.  I like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and all the rest.  I even liked The Craft.  But I don’t confuse anything in any of those movies with anything related to Paganism–except that a lot of Pagans like to dress up like characters in those movies. But that’s cosplay. That’s not magic.

I mean, it’s fun to watch fantasy movies.  And it’s fun to create lists of movies we like.  But to suggest that those movies relate in any way to real Paganism is just irresponsible.  Especially when you consider how many Pagans already have a problem separating fact from fantasy.

Lists like Beckett’s “12 Movies to Inspire Your Magic” are irresponsible because they perpetuate the confusion of fiction and reality among those Pagans who already take Paganism as an excuse to believe any nonsense they want.  And they’re also irresponsible because associating Paganism with these movies perpetuates the perception of Pagans as jokes by the rest of the world.

(Oh, I know, you don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.  And you’ll show them with your magic curse mind powers.  How’s that been working out for you?)

There are Pagans who are doing real magic, the magic of re-enchanting the world, of shifting people’s consciousness away from a paradigm of patriarchy and alienation toward a paradigm of interconnectedness and justice.  You want to watch a movie about that kind of magic?  Go see Detroit or I Am Not Your Negro in the theater and then meet up with some people to talk about it afterward.  Or get a DVD of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry or Girl Rising and host a screening for friends or neighbors.  See real magic happen as consciousness is raised and people are woken.  Watch Whose Streets? or Do Not Resist and then invite a friend to go with you to a Black Lives Matter or Showing up for Racial Justice street demonstration.  Or watch Tomorrow or Disruption and then join almost 10,000 Pagans who have pledged to work for a healthy planet through concrete action.

You want to stand on the Bridge of Khazad Dum like Gandalf?  Then get in the streets and face down a police line.  Or volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Or climb a fucking tree.  Because what you will encounter in any one of those places is far more real than any Balrog.

By all means, watch fantasy movies.  (I do.)  Enjoy them.  (I do.)  You can even have religious experiences watching movies.  (I have.)  But please stop referring to those movies and Paganism in the same breath.

18 thoughts on ““You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up

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  1. (APPLAUSE!!)

    Thank you for writing this column. I’m so happy i’m not alone in this sentiment.

    We spent so long working to convince the general public that we were regular folks with an unconventional religion, not kooky make believe creatures, and won court cases and set important legal precedents to prove that public fears of us having spooky powers or being meddling evildoers or lost in delusional fantasies were.unfounded..and we were really making progress..

    ..then along came Harry Potter, and everyone wanted to hide in perpetual childhood again. Drives me nuts..i’ve often felt that Harry Potter was the worst thing that happened to Paganism..and the adoption of fantasy-as-identity has stunted our real growth toward being an adult religion taken seriously..

    Thanks for your rant, and allowing me to rant.

  2. From a comment on this post in the Atheopagan Facebook group:

    John H.’s core belief is that Paganism offers a channel with the potential for transforming the world…if its practitioners don’t distract themselves with nonsense. I don’t like his tone here; I think it’s unnecessary. But I think his core point is a correct one.

    It is true that he is concerning himself here with “what other Pagans do”, and that is generally viewed as inappropriate in the Pagan community. I’m not sure that it should be, though; much as we value individual autonomy, the community as a whole risks never having mainstream credibility if it continues to play let’s-pretend. And mainstream credibility is necessary if we are to be influential as a mass movement.

    I think Pagan values are radically enough different and better than those of the currrent mainstream that getting some traction could, indeed, transform the world. In Atheopaganism, I hope to create a way that reality-grounded people can practice a powerful, meaningful religion rooted in those values. So I share John’s “agenda” in terms of wanting Paganism to spread and gain influence. It’s true that that agenda *does* conflict with the Pagan community’s habitual “live and let live” orientation. I tend to split the difference and invest my effort in building what we’re doing here as Atheopagans rather than opining on the broader Pagan community, but I appreciate John’s willingness to take on the elephant in the room.

  3. This!!! I tried the coven thing, and I just couldn’t. There were too many (albeit young and immature) souls participating in this thing we call Paganism with the idea that their dragon of choice would eventually swoop down and carry them into the void, not even metaphorically. I’m all for fantasy movies myself, one of my favorite franchises is The Lord of the Rings! But, come on!!! Paganism is not about your Dungeons and Dragons game. It’s not about your role play. I have nothing against these things separate from Paganism, however you are so incredibly right that too many people, mostly youngins’, mix the two ideas into one philosophy that just doesn’t work. When I tell people that I’m Pagan, I get “the look”, and I know why. It’s because of this.

    Thanks for being so woke about this!!! 🙂

  4. Yikes…tell us how you really feel…I agree but think your approach is a little rough. People do make bad connections but hardly tops in the “an it harm none” category in this incredibly harm filled existance. Again I agree but I guess I choose to refrain from the angry approach and go in the direction of your good solutions and leading by example, interaction, connection, association with light in perfect love and perfect trust. May not sell any box office receipts or dvds but spreads the will of the gods every moment with brightness and good vibration. No not fighting Balrogs but darkness in others souls for sure each and every day with brightness and light. Kinda like Gandolph maybe, don’t you think?

  5. Because stories of a giant man in the sky sending down balls of fire, turning people into salt, or parting an ocean are more realistic? Good on ya mate, but until you tell Christians to grow up: Sit down, son.

    1. That’s an interesting point Lucifer. I have consistently criticized supernaturalism wherever I found it, starting with the Christian religion of my birth. In fact, I came to Paganism largely in reaction to that supernaturalism and because I believed Paganism to be a naturalistic religion.

      Of course, there is a range of belief within any religion, but I have, in general, found Christians to be more reserved in their belief in the supernaturalism than Pagans. Statistically speaking, I think Pagans are more likely to believe they have magic powers than Christians. A lot of Christians have a kind of “the time of miracles is past” attitude.

  6. I am not an atheist, but a solitary Wiccan (i know, the cotton candy of Paganism), but Ive always enjoyed the clean, hard, uncompromising sanity of your views. To me, since I believe in deity, “magic ” is merely a prayer performed in a ritual, with no more power or supernatural influence that any other expression of gratitude or need. My primary focus has always been ethical, compassionate behavior. It’s hard to find other Pagans who do not see life as a never-ending Con. Please keep reminding all of us how to be adult Pagans.

  7. What do you mean Wicker Man doesn’t have any magic in it?! That’s the whole point of the movie! Their precious little island is filled with people doing rituals. They perform sacrifices to preserve their way of life. Of all these movies, Wicker Man has the MOST magic in it.

  8. I’ll admit, I liked that list. And I know damn flocking well that I can’t levitate. (Only downwards. For brief periods of time. From tall buildings.) To me, they fall into the same category as fairytales, and they have the same connection to “real” magic – symbolism. Stories to lift you up, and to remind you of what is important. (You don’t even have to be a Pagan to enjoy those movies for those reasons.) Go look at the magic portrayed in these movies. And then go out and use your own version of magic to make the world a better place.

    (And yes, on the other hand, the psycho-Pagans who claim that they have battled demons and have been having headaches everytime they hear church bells ever since their powerful wizard ex-boyfriend put a spell on them for breaking up with him and who believe that they secretly do have Elf blood are scary. And sometimes funny. But mostly scary. And they have as much to do with my Paganism as Mormons have with everyday Christians.)

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