One of the tags I use here is ‘sacred pop culture’ because I believe the Divine shows itself in all forms, all ways, including pop culture. This is, in part, because I am a panentheist- I believe that The Something is in every part of creation, out to the edges of the Universe and beyond. I also believe this because pop culture is the carrier of symbols, and symbols are both timeless and unique to their period; through time they hold the thread of the Divine.
The most important message of Life, the sacred truths, are being written to suit each culture and each epoch. Because what so much of America consumes is pop culture, these messages and truths are bound to find their way out. Truth will use any doorway. (I have written a few posts on the topic: Bieber + the Sufis, P!nk as Crone, and death mantras from R.E.M.)
And this brings me to the Grammys and the almost otherworldly performance by Beyoncé.
Some days before the Grammys, Beyoncé announced her pregnancy (twins) via Instagram. And there was a lot of racist, sexist BS flying around about it, but amongst that ridiculousness, was a lovely explanation for the meaning of her photos: she was channelling one of the goddesses of the Yoruba religion- Oshun. Oshun is the goddess of sweet waters, fertility, and love. Beyoncé was embodying a symbol, embodying the Divine for herself. And that is sacred pop culture.
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I learned about Yoruba in seminary. A Voodoo priest in NYC taught us about the creation myth, special stories and characters, important dates and rituals, and other important facts about Yoruba. (He also said his most frequent ritual customers were white, Christian couples trying to conceive. He had a 95% success rate. Don’t tell me magicians and witches aren’t real.)
One of the interesting pieces of the Yoruba religion is the belief that the Divine was broken into 1001 pieces. Those pieces were scattered to the winds and became gods and goddesses, called orishas, like Oshun. This story is similar to the story of Isis and Osiris in Egypt. Osiris was cut into many pieces and dumped into the Nile (and several other places). Isis spent her life finding the pieces of Osiris and re-joining them. The theme of breaking divine things and re-joining broken pieces is an important aspect of spiritual history, especially Black spiritual history.
And here is Beyoncé dressing herself, expressing herself, as a goddess, and in particular, a black goddess. Her headdress was aligned with depictions of Oshun, but also whispered of the Catholic iconography of the Black Madonna. And she was attended by many other women- perhaps symbolizing other orishas or goddesses. In one part of the performance, they swayed in unison, connected to Beyoncé, not unlike the idea of drops of water reconnecting to form an ocean. I hope, if anything, those attendants symbolized the return of the orishas to work as one, no longer cut and scattered. What a symbol, what an ignited call to action, what a miracle that would be.
Beyoncé used the symbols of black culture, as a black woman and artist, to share a vision with black people. She wears the symbols, but she also became the symbol for this culture, this epoch, this time. And it was holy.
[If you own rights to this image, please let me know.]
Carl Jung defined some of the long-standing cultural symbols, calling them ‘archetypes.’ These were stories, patterns, energies that showed themselves in cultures through time. Think of the ‘Mother’ archetype, the the ‘Innocent’ archetype, or the ‘Hero’ archetype. Jung believed these symbols came from a kind of psycho-spiritual database, called the ‘collective unconscious.’ The collective unconscious holds symbols over time and layers them with meaning. The orisha can be seen as a set of archetypes in the black culture.
Joseph Campbell, an American anthropologist and mythologist, studied myths across time, and developed the theory of The Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is a story of facing and overcoming difficulty that is repeated across time and cultures, and often includes archetypes.
Both Jung and Campbell recognized that archetypes are called forth from the collective unconscious when they were needed for the journey of becoming something new. Whether it is becoming a new person, a new role, or a new culture- when the archetypes and symbols are needed, they arrive.
And I see this in many places. Writers I admire are channeling the truths of the past. Marybeth Bonfiglio reads to me as the new Lao Tzu. Perhaps not as concise, but still as fruitful, still as packed and powerful, still as clear about the true connection of humanity to nature, about the truth of humanity as nature. Marybeth Bonfiglio is exactly what happens when the Tao Te Ching explodes into it’s 1001 beautiful pieces.
Christian Fabien, when he writes his poetic prose on Facebook, is Sage Vyasa telling Arjuna what the field of the fight looks like and what to fight when war is the system you live in. I see pieces of a modern Bhagavad Gita– questioning moral action and inaction, investigating dualism and non-dualism, combining long-held symbols in new ways that provide insight, and showing the way forward to those who will listen (I don’t think he’s much into gurus, though).
John Pavlovitz, writing new letters to Ephesia, Galatia, Collosus, and Phillipia- to all the cities in his internet reach. His Christianity actually returns to the better angel of Jesus’ nature. In the way archetypes do, he strips away layers that have not served humanity and returns to the life-giving essence of the teachings. In fact, he is applying the truth that stands across time in Christianity- not the modern interpretation that upholds oppressions. (Matthew Fox creates in a similar vein for Catholicism, but with a Campbell-esque re-invention of the catholic.)
Of course, I admire the raw writing and clear thinking of these people. But my admiration is for more than their skill in thought and word- they are the doorways through which truth finds its expression. The truths that matter find their way forward- and that is the purpose of sacred pop culture. (These writers are, in fact, my Bible.)
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White House counselor and Nazi, Steve Bannon, believes we are in something called The Fourth Turning- a time in history that will bring great destruction, great clarification, and great re-building of entire cultures. I agree that we are in a special time in history, perhaps even a ‘turning’ (I hope!), but it is not the turning he imagines or hopes for.
The turning we are in is one of hope. Society always moves forward- even if through violence (you remember, the last time we fought the Nazis, we went to war). We are not turning into some throwback of white supremacy and willful ignorance, we are turning forward– into a wider, more accepting, more equal way. Yes, things will be destroyed (that is the way of Kali), but what is destroyed will be what is no longer useful.
How do I know this? Because of the archetypes who are showing up to this fight. Bannon and Trump are imposters of leadership, stupid, bloated symbols of a toxicity that is fighting to live, despite its nearness to death. What do we see rising to fight it? Beautiful black goddesses, uniting the divine energies- pulling the orishas back together, coming out of hiding as the Black Madonna and shining the truth. Every act of resistance in art (even Katy Perry). The writers of modern truth I have mentioned here. The visual artists who discomfort the comfortable.
In pure numbers, there are more of us than there are of them. (Excuse my dualism.) The majority is choosing to create this new way; we are the culture makers.With every choice, we create the new and the good*. We are the visionaries and we are cutting away what no longer works, and paving a path that embraces more, more, more.
Oshun is rising full and ready- and she is reaching millions by cable TV.
The single water drops are pulling together like magnets, ready to crash.
The pieces of the divine are connecting into power.
The Earth has her protectors and those who speak for her that you might finally listen.
Papyrus and slow horses no longer limit the reach of prophets; websites provide instant connection.
We are awake and fighting. And the gods are with us, ready in their modern armor.
*I love it when I learn more and have to add stuff. In this article, Hannah Arendt makes clear that creating the ‘better’ is worse than creating the ‘good.’ ‘New’ must be careful to not fall into the land of ‘better’ and instead strive towards ‘good.’ Yes.