AstroGnostic: Fantasy, Ritual and Transformation
If I were to create a new religion, I'd do so as a performance art exercise. Congregants would be told from the start that this was all fiction, it was all art. And believe me- I'd go whole hog with the liturgy. The smells, the bells, the chants, the vestments- all of that great ritualism that the Church stole from the Mystery religions.
But I'd make it absolutely clear that this was all fantasy. Because I believe that only as a role-playing exercise would people really let loose and put themselves into the ritual, heart and soul. And the Jungian in me knows that the ritual is the key to the transformation, not the purported "beliefs." And the movie geek in me knows that "act-as-if" is itself a transformative process.
There is an obvious precedent for this- The Burning Man Festival and its various offshoots. That too began as a performance art ritual, but has become a de facto pilgrimage for tens of thousands of Bohos. And one fact that's been gnawing at my brain the past few days is that the most successful new religious movement of our times- Scientology- was created as a "scientific" self-help program by a science fiction author, and only became a "religion" when Uncle Sam looked askance at said sci-fi author's scientific credentials.
It's always been my belief that the cult and New Age movements of the 60s and 70s were control-technique laboratories, seeing how most of their practices (and many of their beliefs) were later absorbed into the Evangelical and megachurch movements in the 80s and 90s. But there's been an interesting side effect in the process as well, in that many of the New Age beliefs that might induce cringing in a real world context make for amazing sci-fi and fantasy entertainment, whether in TV, movies or video games. Harry Potter and Heroes are the best examples of this, but by no means the only ones.
Here's a perfect example of the transcendent power of fictionalization- the Walk-In concept comes from Hinduism, but was revived in a different context by the UFO cults of the 70s. And it's also a concept that works great inside a fictional context, and not so much outside of it. Meaning that if someone came up to me and told me that they were not who they were born as, but were actually a ten-thousand year old extraterrestrial whose soul migrated through time and space and inhabited a new body while the previous host was experiencing a great personal crisis, I'd cringe over the encounter for years. But put that same tableau on screen in a sci-fi setting and man, I'm sold but good.
This episode of The Outer Limits is called "The Vessel" and presents us with a Walk-in situation, in which a cynical celebrity writer whose body is taken over by a Christ-like alien after a space shuttle explosion. There's an obvious influence from The X-Files- the alien is played by the same actor who played semi-regular hero-villain Billy Miles, who underwent a similar but more malevolent soul exchange. The effects are pretty rudimentary, but the story (as well as the luscious Vancouver scenery) here blows my mind. Even more interesting is the fact that this ep first aired on April 13th, the day the Apollo 13 drama began with an oxygen tank explosion.
Keep an eye out for some tasty little easter eggs of the Secret Sun variety. Non-US readers can view the ep here.