I want to call attention to two movies, one very recent and one recent to last year, each quite well-done in its own way, and each of interest (in its way) to Pagans: both of which have a perspective (one implicit, and one explicit) that might be judged “Shamanic.” Last year’s Letters from the Big Man manages to be a wonderful “Pagan” movie that focuses the viewer’s attention upon Nature as a source of healing, a place of grounding, and an inspiration towards earth-oriented spirituality (sounds pretty Pagan, right?)
The film follows a young woman in recovery from a bad romantic break-up, as she retreats into the wilderness. In the best manner of Thoreau, she leaves behind “civilization” to undergo that rejuvenation of spirit only attainable in the Great Outdoors (as any Pagan who has ever taken off for a summer gathering knows). Here, incredibly, she begins to form a relationship with none other than the Sasquatch- the “Big Man” of the title. This becomes a fascinating process, as the Sasquatch represents a sort-of natural “guru,” the Yoda of the great northern Wild. A being formed of, and comprising, the tranquility and the ancientness of forests, Sasquatch turns into the woman’s spiritual mentor, drawing her deeper and deeper into the transcendence of nature, in a process that has overtones of answering a religious calling; when we last see her, she has abandoned “society” altogether, hiking deeper and deeper into unspoiled woods in response to the “Big Man’s” call. The movie (gentle and wonderful) is a paean to the soothing quality and healing powers of Nature; its shots of the outdoors are magnificent; it treats the natural world as a kind of temple and sacred home to humans- an orientation that I expect Pagans will appreciate very much. In the inspiration of the woman’s consciousness to a spiritual awakening, achieved through her responsiveness to the Call of Nature expressed by the Dalai Lama-like Bigfoot- the movie realizes a point-of-view that I would describe as “Shamanic.”
“Shamanism” (this time, in quotes) is a significant feature in the more recent Serving Up Richard (quote line: You Are What You Eat). Here we are introduced to a somewhat eccentric couple, incongruously living in sunny suburban California, but cosmopolitan enough to have traveled extensively in South America, and worldly enough to have adopted and maintain certain practices of various native tribes to which they have been introduced. Long and short, these White Folks have assumed what they call a Shamanic Lifestyle and Spirituality: but not really “Shamanic,” as in “Shaman,” as in what I expect most Pagans would identify as “Shamanic”: meaning, a Life of Unity and Oneness, derived through the metaphysical guide of Nature. No (no), these “Shamans” are the sort (wait for it) who see Shamanism best expressed through the (wait for it; you knew it was coming) Ritual-Sacrifice and Cannibalization of other humans.
Cue Richard, a forceful, resourceful, and sexy man, who enters the picture to be kidnapped and held captive in a cage in their living room, while they prepare him as their Sacrificial Victim.
The film is meant to be the darkest of comedies (and is it ever), and is actually well-done: a sort-of charmless Addams’ Family or a very macabre Munsters, if you can imagine a Cannibal comedy. (At best, I figure the film maybe wants to be an indictment of meat-eatinging.) The thing is, there are enough “call-outs” to for-real Shamanic practice- smudging with herbs, a meditation rattle- to create a surreal universe in which sure, the folks next door, should they happen to “be into” Shamanism, might well want to kidnap you, as their Ritual Human Sacrifice (a subject that came up in The Wild Hunt, back in Lammas) But, for real- tell me, what genuine Shamanic Traditions do you know of, that require kidnapping a handsome man, imprisoning him against his will (sometimes shackled, sometimes blindfolded), torturing him mentally and physically, to the extent of forcing him to succumb to cannibalism, prior to sacrificing him to your Shamanic Gods? Anybody out there ever heard of such a thing before?
Both movies are very well-done, worthy of consideration, and both deal with subjects in accord with Paganism (specifically, the more Nature-driven, Shamanic forms of Paganism). But the two could not arrive at more dramatically different conclusions: the one sees the inspiration of Nature as a Holy calling; the other, tribal Shamanism as a potentially corrupting and murderous thing.