Hollywood’s Pagan Worship
In every culture, and every generation of human experience, we find the warm sap of the pagan primordial bursting through the seams of historical structure. The mysteries and deities of one cycle put on fresh masks and break forth anew; their sparkling pantheons bristling with creative force and tragic expression.
Hovering in a neon haze, Hollywood, California now stands as the pinnacle of our modern pagan collective, the bastion of the techno-cyber Mother Cult. Here we find the Gods and Goddesses of old in all their splendor. The roots of cinema and celebrity lie in the arcane ritual mysteries of the Cult of Dionysus. It was in this orgiastic movement that catharsis and ecstasy found full form in the earliest western ideal. Heated passion and sex made up the fertile soil of Dionysus’ adolescent reign, while modern theater was literally born to honor His older, more dignified form. We rarely consider it when Natalie Portman spins her web of charm and talent, but with every ticket purchased, every magazine sold, every gossip show sighting, the shadow of our cultural subconscious is forever in motion. Entertainment is modern worship.
The deities of the ancient pagan mysteries were manifestations of human desire, fear and instinct. A deity archetype was often based on, or melded with, a historical persona. Aradia, Goddess of the Strega, for example, was said to be an actual flesh and blood “messiah.” Witch-cult scholar Gerald Gardner illustrates how a human priestess might have been elevated to the level of deity in his book A Goddess Arrives. In the primitive pagan mind, there was little distinction between flesh and spirit, Queen and Goddess. An incarnate being could easily become the entry point for deity rising from the foam of the collective unconscious.
Strolling down Hollywood Boulevard today, one encounters the giant image of Jim Morrison, the Lizard King himself, leering down in smirking defiance. To many, Jim was the invocation of Dionysus, and Los Angeles the seething hotbed of decadence that nurtured his frenzied shamanic beat. It was time for a dark god to rise. The people needed flesh, they needed blood, and as always, they needed a sacrifice. Jim was willing to play the part.
In a few weeks, Andy Warhol’s Liz #5 is expected to sell at auction for over 30 million dollars. Warhol, more than anyone, understood our pagan collective, as well as the modern archetype of the voyeur, that exploded into cultural rage with the birth of reality TV shows. He was, after all, the first to run cameras without stricture.
Conception, projection, and mystical ritual have little place in our modern consciousness. Addicted though we are to the Kardashians, we also love hating these objects of our fascinated affection. There’s a surreal sort of struggle that goes on in the Western mind. Science has evolved very quickly, always attempting to usurp our mystical selves. But the magical child within still loves movies and drama and voyeurism, still embraces the ritual of “let’s pretend” as a vehicle of emotional catharsis and divine rebirth. The celebrities we now worship are the gods of old, and we insist that they be god-like. We project them from our own inner worlds, our deepest collective core, onto the stage or the screen or the rock star arena, no matter how much the rational mind fights to belittle the process. It wants what is “real”; what is defined, concrete and perfect. Having struggled its way out of the dire decay of the primeval abyss, it sees this pagan objectification and turns hideous in its response, fostering a hatred and loathing of the same beloved celebrity pantheon.
True drama, true worship demands audience participation. The masses must be driven to states of hysteria and frenzy. Any imperfection we see in our celebrities we punish as the shadow of imperfection in ourselves. A projection of our own deeply rooted self-loathing. Thus the public howls of derision for Christina Aguilera and her mistakes in the words to an anthem… they practically rave for her destruction, for in it they will find ritual release. Just as Dionysus was torn limb from limb by the wild women of His court, we rip and tear at our icons in order to dismember our own divinity. The sadism of our assault is a cultural masochism; a delirium of irony and an orchestration of extremes. The ancient ones never vanished, they simply changed costumes between takes. The cult of the collective flourishes still, nourished and ever flowing.