On Fandom and Gods

I read “What Polytheists Can Learn from Fandom” today. First off, the piece had some good takeaways:

  • An emphasis on building coalitions through a lattice of local, semi-local, national, and international events and loose affiliations of people is important for the future of polytheism.
  • We can do things that respect the diversity of religions and traditions within polytheism while creating some cohesion.

The message in that post is very welcome. These are the things that I hope will push conversations forward and lead to harmony and unity within our communities, and I recommend reading the post.

However, I am very cautious about framing coalition-building as we can learn from Fandom. We could learn from any decentralized network that is still able to get things done and be there for its community members, and there are a few compelling reasons why Fandom is not a good choice. Fandom is a very particular subculture, and there are many people for whom that model is not a good fit even though Fandom itself is fine.

  • Fandom has strong ties to consumerism and materialism.
    • If you have read what I said about the basics of ritual (and shrine minimalism), I encourage people to purchase goods from our own artisans, but also to avoid purchasing too much. Everything in moderation. You have to take care of everything physical you give to the Gods.
      • This is not a message I see in Fandom.
    • Our movement needs to care about the environment, exploitation, and materials.
      • Example: I have mixed feelings about Instagram culture and the emphasis on commodity items and material goods when people share what they’re doing. I vastly prefer it when I see things that focus on the Gods and not the materials used to venerate them.
      • Example: I mentioned on Twitter a while back that I’d like to see prayer bead makers move away from crystals because those are mined in unethical ways, and wood, bone, and stone beads work just as well. There are woods and plants related to specific Gods, too.
  • There have been many conversations on Twitter about people treating the Gods as if they are a fandom when they’re literally an integral part/cause of the universe.
    • If we want to encourage solid, stable devotional practices, we have to choose models that encourage a healthy mindset: Religion is not a hobby.
    • I think it’s awesome that people are making blogs &c. devoted to adoring specific Gods. This bullet point is not about that practice at all. As long as it’s not being used as a replacement for cultus itself, it’s great!
    • There is some crossover between the mythology/mythlit fandoms and polytheists. This can lead to good synergies, waaaay out there hot takes, and/or interpersonal conflict — I’ve seen all three. Cultivating a sense of mindfulness in such situations matters.
  • Treating the Gods like Fandom can intimidate newbies who may feel like they don’t belong because they are not devotees. Many just want to honor the existence of Gods and learn how to do basic worship, not become theologians, mystics, devotees, esoterica initiates, or diviners.

With that said, I’m going to outline why I think the way I do.

TL;DR: I used to be a geek/nerd, but don’t identify as that anymore because Comic-Con shocked my system and I just could not even. In fact, Comic-Con is probably the #2 reason I became a minimalist. (The #1 reason was something that happened in grad school that I won’t go into.) Welcome to my baggage room.

As a child, I grew up in a household that consumed B-movies, Star TrekStar Wars, and other things that would be considered “geekery” today. I got heavily into Battlestar Galactica when the remake came out because it was intellectually stimulating, and I loved how it commented on contemporary issues through the lens of science fiction. In 2005, when I started at Smith College, though, the Smith Science Fiction and Fantasy Society was intimidating. I wasn’t sure if I qualified as a geek, so I didn’t start attending meetings or events until the spring semester (2006) because I knew some SSFFSians and they assured me that I belonged. I got into LARP and gaming that spring.

Keith mentions ConBust, so I’ll just throw this out there: I was involved in the planning my sophomore and senior years, but not my junior year — my junior year, I was studying abroad in the UK during the spring. I participated in and ran LARP and tabletop role-playing games, mostly 2nd ed. World of Darkness. A group of us would gather in the SSFFS library to watch old episodes of Doctor Who, and I set aside feelings of not belonging, at least for a while. While studying abroad, I went to a small Doctor Who con because it was the UK and why not, and I realized that I didn’t belong there because as interesting as I found the show, I had not dived into it with the enthusiasm of the people who were there.

The year I stopped identifying as a geek was 2013. I was 26. It was the year I went to New York City Comic-Con, which a coworker told me about. It was … overwhelming. Merch covered every surface where it was possible to vend things, a busy orgy of consumerism, and the overcrowded, long-waiting-line-and-no-guarantees-of-getting-in panels were more like icing on the cake that just told people to buy things.

I went back home from that and looked at the things I’d acquired over the years — vaguely geeky shirts from Threadless and ThinkGeek, some plastic franchise merch from things I was into, and the like. It was a weird feeling in my chest, a sense of pollution and a desire to just purge it all. I reflected again on the feelings of disquiet I had had around geeks in college, how I had never felt like I had fit in. I realized that the actual issue was commercialism, consumerism, and materialism — the desire to acquire, the push for physical items as status indicators, and the like.

That year, I donated most of it. On Twitter, I started to notice the number of times I saw people share their object collections, how they contextualized the photographs, the way that much of it seemed like a performance. I realized that I didn’t read for escapism, but because I love seeing the worlds that creators make and the decisions each creator works through to give life, breath, and voice to the characters in their stories — an extension of how much I love talking with other people and learning more about them, how they got where they are, and how they think. My values were very different from most of the other geeks and nerds I knew. Why was something (Fandom, or a fandom) that gives so many people joy and a sense of belonging making me feel like I was suffocating? What if I wasn’t actually a geek or nerd at all?

It’s impossible to separate my plunge into minimalism from the materialism shock of ComicCon.

On Google+, because I was afraid of the reaction and nobody used Google+, I shared my thoughts about why I would no longer use the terms geek or nerd. Most of the time since, I have successfully avoided the term. It’s really difficult to find other adjective words sometimes, though, for geeky and nerdy, and I thus slip sometimes. (I am a bookworm, though.)

For a few years after, I gamed, at least until I started to feel a push to do my own creative projects again, like new greenery in a meadow after winter. (I had still been doing creative things, but most were gaming-related. I’m one of the people behind the massive DIY Purified port for the Chronicles of Darkness, as an example. Purified are so weird because they’re basically a supernatural type based on Western Esotericism and the elixir of life, and that’s probably why I liked them so much.) My move back towards my a priori creative work was about the time I dialed in my religious practice and started doing regular offerings after my lightless grad school years and the first few years of work, when doing it regularly was a struggle. Minimalism-wise, I was purging things I had had since high school. They went to Goodwill or were sold via used item stores (online or physical). I felt like I could breathe again, finally.

I still go to ConBust, but the guests are (mostly) the same from year to year, there’s an alum contingent, and it’s a great way to catch up with people I know. My mom occasionally buys me geeky shirts, and I wear those, but I no longer seek out franchise shirts on my own. I’d rather support small creators I like on Patreon in exchange for intellectual work than physical goods. Many of them are SFF lit mags and podcasts. I love Strange Horizons and Alice Isn’t Dead and so many other things.

And, of course, ultimately — the flow of my life was heading towards more religious activity and study. I followed that — it’s why this blog has polytheism, minimalism, and everything in between in the tagline.

Now, while I buy books, I try to limit myself to things that I know I will use. With items of any kind, I always ask myself if I’m interested in them for status signaling or because they actually have an important role to play in my physical, emotional, intellectual, and/or spiritual life. When I slip, I know it — the acquisition becomes a source of stress and not of happiness or fulfillment, and I feel it starkly in my gut even if I can put on a smile and hide any visible signs of my inner conflict.

All of that is very long, but it’s important context. Thank you for reading.

❤️

10 thoughts on “On Fandom and Gods

  1. Totally agree on the need for this:

    An emphasis on building coalitions through a lattice of local, semi-local, national, and international events and loose affiliations of people is important for the future of polytheism.
    • We can do things that respect the diversity of religions and traditions within polytheism while creating some cohesion.

    Can I also put in a plea (not directly related to this post) for people not to erase the existence of Wiccan polytheists, and relational polytheists? I am not talking about so-called soft polytheism which I would describe as either polymorphism or archetypalism. I am talking about people who actually have relationships with deities. And I am glad you mentioned diversity as that’s really important. Offering techniques for being a better polytheist, good; telling people they are doing polytheism wrong, bad. Assuming that Wiccans can’t be polytheists— makes me rage.

    Agree about the minimalism too, although I’m not very good at it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You know, I don’t actually know much about the difference between devotional, relational, &c. polytheists because it’s all just polytheism, and I sometimes wonder if I missed an Internet argument in which lines were drawn. As long as people believe Gods are individuals and not archetypes (or whatever else?), it’s polytheism regardless of what the religion is called.

      I do hear you on the Wiccan thing, though. I was raised going to Circle and the ritual practice was more public-facing, but Wicca-derived. The religious attitudes about Gods of attendees and officiants were wide-ranging. There was definitely a strong emphasis on duotheism in the books I was learning from as a preteen/teen in the 90s/00s, and I bet that many people assume things are still like that (or that the popular books of the time were a representative sample) when they don’t actually know. I know that I had rejected the idea in favor of polytheism by the time I was 16 because I explicitly did so in a journal entry I wrote in late 2003 (and was apparently attempting to theorize about what the relationship among the Gods actually was and what about it might make people think differently).

      Minimalism is for everyone. Don’t be fooled by the extreme lifestyle digital nomads with the 30-item bags. ^___^

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes there was an internet argument in which lines were drawn. It was about a decade after the hard versus soft polytheism debate. It’s about how you relate to the gods: servant/client or ally.

        I’ve been a polytheist (alternating with atheism) since before I joined Wicca so I just assumed all those duotheist books were wrong. That’s why I write my books from a polytheist perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, okay. So the devotional polytheism term is for “servant/client” and the relational one is for “ally”? Does it actually reflect a theological difference or is this just splitting semantic hairs about how people prefer to do cultus? If they’re reflective of a theological difference, I don’t fit into either one because neither of those captures enough nuance.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. (I will add as an aside that I’m aware that people behave as if there was a fight about the term, and I notice and know of different terminology usage communities. However, most of the time, people refer to whatever happened offhand as if everyone already knows about it. Usually, I use devotional as a semi-synonym of bhakti or as a shorthand way to describe the practice of giving offerings to the Gods in a structured or semi-structured way.)

        Like

      4. Yes you have it the right way round. Well that was just a summary — considerable amounts of ink were spilled on the topic. I wrote quite a lot about relational polytheism and so did Niki Whiting and Aine Llewellyn (Niki and Aine coined the term relational). The best writing on devotional polytheism was from John Beckett. There was a lot of theological nuance in the sense of the role of the gods, our relationships with them, and a certain amount about the nature of the gods too, especially from Alison Leigh Lilly.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing and commenting!

    Absolutely. We definitely don’t want to become Fandom in learning from it. The gist of the article was more about the earlier points you mentioned. I agree wholeheartedly that any successful, decentralized, diverse network can be a good source of inspiration. I wrote about those ideas through the lens of Fandom only because it’s where I learned about those things. I don’t really have much experience with others.

    Also, totally with you on the “why does this object exist?” side of merchandise to fans. One of the other reasons I liked learning from literary fandom was that they tended to be more “merch-light”, focusing their spending on directly supporting authors and artists and on experiences and building personal connections. Not Funkopops. I still don’t get Funkopops.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, that’s why I summarized it first — I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t rejecting your arguments wholecloth.

      Maybe I’ve just not met the right people in literary fandom because I’m on the Internet too much, lol. I don’t actually have a clue what a Funkopop is and should probably be happy about that. ^___^;;;

      Liked by 1 person

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