Witches, Paganism, Shamanism and Pre-Christian Religion in X-Men Comics

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” One of the most common and well known quotes from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. The scene is set in a cave, with three witches adding their sinister ingredients to a boiling brew chanting around a cauldron. Since the time when man could first put ink to paper, pagan traditions have been a popular reference in literary art work. Even today in the modern era, pagan allusions can still be seen. From the bluntly obvious Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling to more the more subtle references in our favorite comics, Pagan innuendos are everywhere.

Selene from X-Necrosha Storm

Selene is one of the most powerful mutants ever to have entered the inner circle of the Hellfire Club. She is a self proclaimed moon goddess and has been worshiped for tens of thousands of years. Selene has the ability to manipulate inanimate objects and with the use of hypnosis, she is able to psionically drain people of their life force to inhibit aging. Add her profound knowledge of the dark arts and Selene becomes quite the formidable foe. Just about everything in Selene’s character profile can be linked back to some form of pagan beliefs. To start with, her name alone refers to the Greek Titan goddess of the moon. In legend it is said that once her brother Helios finishes his journey, Selene would rise from the ocean and begin her journey through the night sky. Appearing throughout history in various cultures and eras, moon worship has been a common practice. In some ancient hunting societies, the moon is considered an evil and threatening figure, much like the Selene from the comics. Over time though, the moon has lost its precarious reputation and plays an important role in pagan rituals, to which it is also held in very high regard. Another pagan part of Selene’s character is the fact that she has the ability to drain a human life force to gain immortality (Uncanny X-men #183). In ancient Slavic paganism a being of this caliber would be called a wampyr, or more commonly known as a vampire. It is said that the wampyr would possess a victim and make them feed on another, draining their life essence. Once the creature feeds on this, it is able to remain on earth. Finally, and one of the most important parts of her characteristics is her extensive knowledge of sorcery. Sorcery and pagan beliefs tend to go hand in hand, although there is a constant argument as to what constitutes a sorcerer. A witch can practice sorcery, but not all witches are sorcerers. Sorcery by definition is someone who uses black magic, alchemy, necromancy, and requires the aid of evil spirits to assist in divination. Selene is the perfect portrayal of the classic medieval sorceress.

Ororo Munroe, a mutant with the ability to manipulate and control weather. First introduced to the Marvel universe in Giant-Size X-Men issue #1. Storm’s origin leads back to a small tribe in Africa where she was being worshipped as a weather goddess. One of the most fundamental aspects of paganism is the worship of the elements and the gods/ goddess that are attributed to them. Wild, free and unattainable, Storm would be the living embodiment of the air element. Air elements are said to be clear, pure and constantly moving. You cannot pin down the wind and it is often the facilitator of change. The air element is also linked with creativeness, higher consciousness, mental processes and wisdom. Other than being known as a weather witch, Storm’s religious preference is that of Goddess worship. On several occasions, while in the midst of a heated battle, Storm would often call upon the “Goddess” to assist her. She uses it mostly as a gasp phrase, but also abides bide the pagan laws to not harm others. This would be a clear innuendo of her pagan beliefs.


Magik - Illyana Rasputin from the cover of X-Infernus #1 Warpath

Illyana Rasputin, Aka Magik. She is the ruler of limbo and is sorceress supreme. The magical abilities that she posses while in limbo have yet to be matched by anyone, and they would have to be a fool to challenge her. Again any creature that possesses or has the ability to practice magic is a common occurrence in the pagan domain. Also in limbo, Magik is able to take on the persona of Darkchylde when she wields the soul sword. She is illustrated to be a scary, powerful, horned figure with goat legs and a long red tail. These are the most common and well know representations of an evil being. They are also the most construed. The whole goat and horned image has been around for centuries, representing gods like Dionysus and Cernunnos. In the pagan community these defining characteristics are commonly associated with the horned satyr Pan. Pan is the god of pastures, shepherds and wooded glens. Because of this he is also known for springtime fertility, sexuality and masculinity. It wasn’t until the medieval era that the image of Pan changed into that of the modern day Satan, and is presumably an evil demon. In that era lust, sexuality, and all human desires were considered a taboo. Thus if you were worshipping a god who embodied these traits, you were sure to be consulting with Satan. The fact that Magik’s form in limbo has goat legs and horns only shows how modern society still views so called satanic figures.

The scene is set at dusk, and kneeling in the fading rays of the setting sun, is the silhouette of a man. Shoulders hunched forward, grief, anger and the need for vengeance holding them down. Suffering with the loss of his brother and tribe, James Proudstar must now mourn the death of another. Kneeling at the site where he buried his tribe and brother, Proudstar gazes at a group photo of his deceased friend, Caliban. Reaching for one of his knives, he asks for guidance from his brother and apologizes to Caliban. With one quick fluid movement, blood spills from his palm and cascades down the photo. He swears a blood oath to Caliban, that he will seek vengeance for his spirit. The use of blood is said to be one of the most powerful kinds of magic. Blood is what gives us life and is the very essence of our being. To pledge with blood is like giving a part of you away to something, binding you with it for eternity. Though Warpath is of the Apache tribe, this type of shamanism can be seen in most cultures throughout the world. It was quite a common practice in the ancient world give blood sacrifices, in exchange for help from the gods. In the modern world, the use of blood sacrifices has become obsolete. One of the most important rules to most pagans is to not harm others, and that includes animals. The uses of symbolic offerings are now common practice.

Doctor Steven Strange

Dr. Stephen Strange, one of the most spiritual characters in the Marvel Universe. He is an expert in the Mystical Arts and has obtained and fought for the title of Sorcerer Supreme. To go into all of the religious aspects of Dr. Stranges character would likely lead to the production of a very thick book. So, the main focus here is the magical tools that he uses to augment his powers. In the original 1960’s issues, when he first appeared, Strange used such items as the Cloak of Levitation, Eye of Agamotto, Book of the Vishanti. When comparing these items to the ones used in traditional magical rituals, they really are quite similar. When witches or other magical affiliates come together and openly practice magic, they are called a coven. In some covens it is traditional for a person of higher ranking to wear a cloak or signifying robe. It stimulates energy and enables the one who wears it to feel more connected to the ceremony at hand. Another common item to be used is amulets and talismans. Like the Eye of Agamotto, they can be used for protection, to bring forth energy, good luck, increase strength or any other multitude of reasons. Anyone who is well versed in the occult wouldn’t ever be caught with of some sort of signifying charm. Next there is the Book of the Vishanti, a book full of spells and enchantments of white magic. These types of books can have different names depending on which type of Pagan or Wiccan you ask. Usually they are mostly commonly known as Grimoires. These are personal text books created by people of the magical community. They are used to store their spells, enchantments, instructions for different types of rituals, divination and more. Paganism is all about knowledge and practice, which makes this item one of the most important of all. Other tools commonly used in the pagan community are besoms, athames, chalices, candles, oils, and small cauldrons. With expert use and precision of these items is it ever a wonder why Dr. Strange should be called anything other than Sorcerer supreme?

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