If you have been waiting for a black comedy about Shamanism and Cannibalistic Human Sacrifice, the just-opened Serving Up Richard might be the flick for which you have been looking. (The film’s official site is here.) On the other hand, if (like me) you don’t necessarily understand why Shamanism (specifically South American Shamanism) should go hand-in-glove with Cannibalistic Human Sacrifice, you may find yourself asking again (as we have here at the Juggler before): what is it about non-familiar Nature-Oriented Religious Systems that causes people to think in terms of human sacrifice and ritualistic cannibalism?
The brief background to this kind-of absurdist story (executed artfully enough to be taken seriously): a New York Italian guy (who suggests a handsome, sexy Ray Romano) transplants himself to the golden la-la land of California; a bit of humor, as decadent New York becomes the lost-paradise, as he finds himself in terrible peril on the seemingly tranquil West Coast. His New York Italian-ness also explains why he has a Cross tattooed on one bicep, and Crosses himself during a climatic battle with the Evil Shaman. (What is perhaps most annoying about the movie is its suggestion at the end that Christian “atonement” is the answer to all this Magickal Pagan Shamanic Human Sacrificing Horror.)
Well, this guy meets this strange couple, who describe themselves as anthropologists, who have studied many cultures throughout the world- some of whose customs are considered quite taboo, compared with our own. (The film is basically a three-person ensemble, the actors doing a fine job mixing the “reality” of the circumstances with just enough of a satiric edge to remind us that this is a dark comedy we are watching- signaled in fact by the script at a few points). This couple just happened to meet at a tribal ceremony in the darkest jungles of somewhere, naked, their bodies painted, swept up by the blackness of the jungle, and the hypnosis of the torches and the drumming and the dancing (sounds like Starwood, right?) Then the Magickal Healing of the ceremony occurred- right after the ritual victims’ had their hearts cut out and eaten (raw).
Well, I’m sure you can imagine what happens next: the guy gets imprisoned in the strange couple’s home, to be groomed as a Ritual Sacrifice (It is a Great Honor that you are doing for the Gods!) First though, the Animal Spirit Guides say that there must be Shamanic Initiation, with the Smudging of Herbs, and the Lighting of Candles, and the Astral Combat with Spirit Totems in order to become the New Shaman. In the meantime, there is dismemberment, and raw flesh-eating, and murder-victims dispatched with knives blessed by the High Priests of Some Tribe. (Oh, and there’s an eyeball-stabbing, too, at the end.)
Obviously, to Pagans, enough of this material sounds familiar enough, indeed, Sacred enough, that I trust they can join me in my puzzlement as to why all of this should be connected with kidnapping people into cannibalistic ritual sacrifice ceremonies. I imagine that it is probably fairly insulting to genuine South American Shamans, for their Sacred Traditions to be so characterized. I am sure that most Pagans recognize Shamanism as an extremely dedicated way of living attuned to Nature and to a Higher Calling; which will surely find imprisonment, mental torture, and murder abhorrent in a Shamanic context.
This film is well-done enough to be worth checking out- if you can handle the really exploitative use of Shamanism. It does demonstrate a certain beleaguered position held by Nature-Worshipping, Indigenous Belief-Systems today, since Shamanism, like Paganism and Witchcraft, can get cast in movies such as this, as inspirations towards Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice.
Bringing us back to the question: what is it about Paganism (and Shamanism and Witchcraft) that makes people go, Human Sacrifice and Cannibalism?