Neopagans Object to Depiction of Fake Norse Gods in ‘Thor’
Almost unanimously hailed by critics and audiences for being the uncommonly awesome superhero movie it is, Marvel Studios’ Thor has rubbed some viewers the wrong way. Specifically, some of the approximately one million human beings who still actually worship the Æsir, or the Norse pantheon, are dismayed by the film’s inaccurate or disrespectful depiction of their deities. But opinion is divided among practitioners of Ásatrú, as Iceland’s recognized High Priest of Paganism has given Kenneth Branagh’s film the thumbs-up.The amusing controversy over the sensitivity of Thor to ancient cultures of Europe’s dark ages follows another more hilarious outcry from last year, when the odious American Christian group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens objected to the casting of Idris Elba — a British actor of African descent — as Heimdal, the sentry of Asgard. The racist CCC and its associated Boycott-Thor website condemned Marvel Comics and its founder Stan Lee (who they identified as “Stan ‘Lee’ Leiber”) as well as former Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada by name as “radical left-wingers who insert their ideologies and agendas into their comic books and movies.”
A follower of Ásatrú (or Germanic Neopaganism, as it is also known), writer Eric Scott of religious discourse magazine Killing the Buddha made the sincere and deeply personal observation whilst inspecting Thor merchandise in a Walmart.
I held that foam hammer in my hand for a long time, which I’m sure only confirmed my weirdness to the nightgaunts of the third shift. With my other hand, I rubbed the Mjolnir necklace I have worn every day since my initiation into my family’s coven. I did not know what to think of it.
The truth is, I looked at the toys in my hands and I saw the result of millions of dollars of development and thousands of hours of manpower, put into something bearing the name of a god, my god, and it had nothing to do with me. Their Thor was a god forgotten by all except the few quiet geeks who read his adventures in Journey into Mystery and The Mighty Thor for forty years. It wasn’t that they meant to upset or unsettle me; they simply realized that people like me were too few to matter. It’s impossible to think of a story about Jesus like this, not written to pander to or irritate Christians, but simply not considering them at all.
But not Thor. The Aesir were dead gods, their stories ready to be stirred and stolen and sold, without any remorse or complaint.
I drove back home along a wet highway glistening with streetlights, one hand on the wheel, one on the sigil around my neck.
The toy hammer was gone the next week, when I returned for a bottle of Burnished Inca Gold. Mjolnir, spirited away, a gift to a child who likely knew nothing about the Aesir, or the Jotun, or Asatru, a child in whose hands now rests the power to command the lightning and the storm.
After seeing Chris Hemsworth, Idris Elba, Jamie Alexander and the rest of Kenneth Branagh’s cast kick ass in Thor, it is very, very easy to wish Odin and the Norse pantheon were real. In the film, Thor spins his hammer Meow-Meow so furiously over his head that he creates a tornado effect that lifts enormous objects off the ground, and that is awesome. As Heimdal, Idris Elba stands on the edge of an otherworldly realm and surveys literally everything in the Universe, and that is awesome. If practicing Ásatrú has anything at all to do with things like that, surely it is the best religion ever.
It’s because of this that some neopagans disagree with Scott’s dire reading of the situation, and suggest that the Thor film, despite its alleged lack of reverence to the wholly invented nature of said gods, will in fact attract new converts to Ásatrú. Citing 1990s cult classic The Craft as a pied piper for Wicca, Star Foster of pagan blog Pantheon wrote the following in defense of Marvel’s film.
I think we should look at this film as if we are a spiritually and culturally hungry person. As if we are a 16 year old young woman considering a military career and in need of a warrior ethic. As if we are a homemaker taking her kids to an action-flick who is suddenly overwhelmed by Frigga. As if we are a man with a newborn who stumbled across Asatru looking up info on the film and is looking for a spiritual tradition for his family. Because those are the people who will be coming to us with questions. We shouldn’t dismiss them for referencing Thor like so many seekers were dismissed for coming to Wicca by way of The Craft. Maybe Thor will lead folks to their path, and maybe there will be folks who need to be gently dissuaded, but they all deserve positive, straightforward and enlightening answers.
Thor is an opportunity. People will seek out Pagans due to this film, silly as that may sound. When they come we should greet them with answers and hospitality, especially if we weren’t received that way. Thor can mark a change not only for seekers, but for how our communities interact with them.
Foster’s pragmatic and hopeful outlook is endorsed by no less than Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, who’s identified by this Icelandic news source as the country’s high priest of paganism. From what we can sort out from Google’s dubious translation, Hilmarsson believes that the Thor film is but one more in a long list of creative works based on the Norse myths, a list that includes great operas by Richard Wagner. While Hilmarsson is just as entitled as the next man to make the ridiculous claim that he’s high priest of paganism, his neo-lordship’s point is well taken.