Sunday, June 20, 2010
Thoughts on the Wicker Man
Muin Mound has various traditions that are part of becoming a folk. Along with staying up until just after sunrise, we made Muin Mound pins to wear at ritual, underwent a long guided meditation, participated in a ritual, were formally welcomed during the main worship service, and watched the Wicker Man.
Now, I'd never seen the Wicker Man before. It's not the sort of film my parents would have had around the house. It also has the reputation as a horror film and, for all my recent posts about ghosts and zombies, I don't often watch such things. When I found out what becoming a folk entailed, I decided to put off watching it until my vigil.
Why is the Wicker Man part of our vigil tradition? Well, it's a hugely popular movie in the Neo-Pagan community. Everyone seems to rave about it. Groups are even organizing Rocky Horror-like parties where people watch the movie and sing along to the beautiful songs. I suppose we watch it because it's become such a huge part of our Pagan culture and to become so involved in said culture is to experience its art*.
So what did I think of it?
Let me just get it out right now and say that I didn't enjoy the end. If you've never seen the movie, look away right now. Did the uninitiated leave? Ok, good. Now, the movie is called The Wicker Man because, at the end, the investigator, who also happens to be a virgin Christian, is sacrificed to the Gods by being burned alive (along with various animals) to ensure the fertility of the land. The residents of the all-Pagan island of Summer Isle, known for their apples, had a poor harvest the year before and wanted to give a really large sacrifice to aid them. Now, I always knew this was going to happen because of the movie's reputation and my background knowledge. Julius Caesar wrote about the Gauls use of wicker men but, other than that literary blurb, no other evidence for the practice exists. We know that the Celts did sacrifice people and animals, but the wicker man method was either incredibly rare, a one-time event, or a rumor that Caesar noted/created.
The film, over all, did not meet my definition of a horror film. It simply did not "horrify" me until the very end. I'm sure it's more horrible to Christians who are easily offended by nudity, sex, and polytheism. I spent most of the film giggling at the protagonist's discomfort (or growling at his rudeness) and wishing that I lived on an island of Pagans.
And this brings me to why I didn't like the end. As stated, I know our ancestors sacrificed animals and people to the Gods. I don't feel that we have to do that any more. Our society has evolved and, while I know some people still maintain such practices, I feel that we are in an age that requires less killing and destruction. We ravage our environment enough. We kill too many factory farmed animals. We have too many hungry humans in the world to justify killing animals to use up other important resources like grain and water. Human sacrifice is now murder and animal sacrifice is now arguably unsustainable. A better sacrifice to the Gods in this day and age would be to give up something you worked hard on, or, better yet, an environmentally damaging practice that is convenient to you (I could do more of this). There's also giving up time for community service. There are many types of sacrifice and all are appropriate, in my opinion. If you really feel that the Gods desire blood, put a razor to your own fingers. If you must offer an animal, buy an animal to feed an unfortunate family in the name of your Gods.
Some people giggle at the sacrifice of the Christian at the end. Me... I was uncomfortable with it. In the modern sense, it was a murder. The Pagans of Summer Isle claim that he was a willing sacrifice because he came to the island by his own free will, but that isn't so. They tricked him and then sabotaged his means of escape. I worry that many Pagans love the film because of their own bitterness towards Christianity. As much as the religion makes me uncomfortable, I know too many good Christian people.
Now, I know that most Pagans wouldn't dream of doing an actual wicker man. Most are level-headed enough to know that such practices are best left to ancient history. Hopefully most are aware that The Wicker Man is fictitious and that modern groups just don't do that (knock on wood).** After watching it with some of my grove mates, we had a brief conversation about how it was fictitious. I think the key to Pagans watching and enjoying the movie is that it must be followed by discussion because it can be educational and inspirational. When showing it to new Pagans or the highly impressionable, it should be prefaced in some way so as to cushion the blow.
Ending aside, I actually really liked the movie. A level-headed person should know that it's all fiction and that it's not an accurate portrayal of modern Pagans (Are any movies?). The music was beautiful. I was familiar with a majority of it. Damh the Bard does an excellent cover of "Gently Johnny," and Mediaeval Baebes produced a playfully melodic "Maypole Song." Also present was the traditional "Sumer is a Cummin In" that I so loved from MVPN's Beltaine rituals.
Mediaeval Baebes' "Summer Isle (The Maypole Song)."
In the end, and after a night to think about it, I really did enjoy "The Wicker Man." The ending made me uncomfortable, but that is the point of horror films, I suppose. Even though the movie wasn't much of a horror film otherwise, it gave me something to reflect upon. "The Wicker Man" can be a useful educational tool, is fun to watch as a fictional piece***, and has a lovely soundtrack. I think I would like to add it to my DVD collection.
*I say this is Pagan art because I've read that the crew consulted with Pagans for ideas and traditions.
** My brain would explode if someone showed up for a Beltaine rite with an animal to put in a wicker man. "But I thought that's what you guys did!" Oh that would be so weird...
*** ...as opposed to a basis for practice or belief.