religion

The Numinous and Fiery Redemption of David Ayer’s El Diablo

diabloActor Jay Hernandez told Entertainment Weekly he’d recently contemplated leaving acting. His work in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad however should show Hollywood the actor needs more roles. The actor’s talent, explored in the character El Diablo, was overshadowed by the portrayals of gum-snapping criminal Harley Quinn and verbose machismo of Deadshot. When the emotional weight needed to be hoisted and shown to the world, Hernandez more than ably demonstrated the dark redemption of the sublime.

Without spoiling the character’s precise motivations, Diablo articulates his burden of pyrokinesis to his squad mates in a pivotal barroom scene. Since his introduction early in the film, the tattooed former gang-banger possesses a heaviness to heart. Refusing to wield his flame throwing powers for anyone or any cause, for a portion of the film he remains a silent spectator. Ayer and Hernandez seem to have synced perfectly in order to bring this character to life. Diablo’s language is philosophical and spiritual, but not uplifting or sin cleansing. The character is burdened by an evil gift, bestowed to him by the devil, that is inescapable and an emotional flare up away.

Perhaps the best articulation of Diablo’s eventual embrace of his power comes from Rudolf Otto’s numinous and mysterium tremendum et fascinans.The numinous is Otto’s interaction with a deity that is closely identified with mystery, fear, and awe. Through this fearful interaction with a god or even a strange physical manifestation can a character like Diablo experience the dread that eventually manifests itself as an almost ecstasy. Diablo, in a particularly Hollywood way, rises to the occasion by embracing the power welling inside him. He transcends his physical form into a being of mythic fire. This act by Diablo comes when he understands his sins and gift are connected, are one and inextricable. How can a figure not seeking redemption ultimately find it? In Ayer’s Diablo, the fire inside is rekindled by grief and anger. Fire equals sin. Fire equals the terrible gift. Fire however could produce redemption.

Diablo finds redemption even when he does not ask for it or seek it. His grief is a chain that anchors him to the world of the fire within. By using the power that led him into despair Diablo melts the Earthly chain that binds him to the physical world of grief, desire, and pain. Embracing the power of the numinous Ayer’s Diablo becomes a savior without asking for forgiveness.

 

Asymmetric Creativity: World Building a Relgion

foundationSince my World Building post was so well received I wanted to return to the subject with a bit more detail. Specifically I wanted to delve into one of the most critical aspects of fantasy or speculative worlds- religions.

This can be a delicate subject, religion and faith, but it is something defines a good portion of men and women around the globe. It informs decisions of cultures, affects politics, economies and even directs the outcomes of war. The complexity of faith is one that could spend a dozen posts on and just scratch the surface. So I wanted to get into the idea of religion by asking the question that was asked of me by a professor- what does ‘religion’ mean to you?

What does Religion mean to you– This is an important question because you would be surprised at the variety and scope of answers one produces with that question. There is no right or wrong answer, but it serves as your personal baseline as to your creative vision for your fictional faith. This will give you an idea for building blocks- are you a rules and ritual person, or a spiritual fulfillment person of faith or perhaps you’re simply excited by the imagery of religion. Once you have defined what religion means to you, then its time to start working on the religion of your fictional world. There are many ways of going about this, but I would suggest starting by reading about religions from across the millennia.

Research– Don’t go too far down the rabbit hole with this one. You can easily get caught in a the research trap when it comes to religions as they history and variety is literally as old as man. However, that being said, I would suggest picking periods of history- Bronze and Iron ages- to identify the faiths and religions practiced during those times. Choose religions that served as inspiration or building blocks to later, larger or well known faiths. Again, think and look asymmetrically at the subject of religion and you’d be surprised what you’d find. To do online research I would recommend Patheos religion library, a reliable site encouraged by my religion professor. Important, as you read about religions and take notes, keep in mind how you answered what you religion means to you.

Fictional Syncretism– One of the creative tools a writer can apply to constructing a new faith for a universe is by applying syncrestism to some faiths you’ve found in your research. The best explination of syncretism is the cooping or borrowing elements of older faiths by a new faith that is either  moving into or converting a population. Try looking at an old, mist shrouded faith, and looking at it with new eyes. If an old faith considers fire the element of a creator, perhaps your fictional creator employs it in a  different way. Perhaps your deities use it only on one day, therefore it becomes the symbol of a festival, month or day. Some of the best examples of syncretism in our world come from the Christian conversion of Scandinavian pagans (Thor’s Day =Thursday, etc.)

Avoid Egyptian and Greco-Roman Gods–  I cannot stress this enough. For me nothing is the kiss of death when reading a blurb about a new novel or short story and it is yet another retread of Egyptian gods or ancient Greece deities. It happens all too often and taints otherwise original stories and universes when a thinly veiled Ra or Zeus wanders into a oily back alley.

Express the idea of Religion in the voice of a character– You’ve undoubtedly created a pantheon, a creator goddess, her sons or daughters, their kin, creatures and beasts. Once its all sorted out, build a temple to that deity- whether its an open field or stone ediface- and have a character spend one afternoon inside it. Express the journey of fact, the act itself, in a peaceful setting. Perhaps create a regular man or woman, have them experience the sights, sounds and smells of the religious movement. Sit and think how your own religious experience affected you and rewrite that thought through the eyes of the fictional devotee. Express the act of devotion and the very important interaction the character has with the mystery of their deity.

All of these ideas, I hope, will aid fellow writers in creating inventive, exciting and engaging religions in the world of speculative fiction.


© Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Did Fire Kill the Night and Birth Storytelling and Religions?

With the flick of a switch and by the glow of a smartphone screen we have finally chased away the lonely, terrifying darkness of night. The portable access to light, to entertain and occupy, like the incandescent light bulb, have changed how we deal with and interact with the night. The night was once communally conquered by a bonfire where food was prepared and stories were exchanged. The fear of the unknown that lurked at the firelight’s edge was chased away by tales whispered by the lips of man.

For the better part of 40 years University of Utah anthropology professor Polly Wiesner studied the Kalhari Bushmen, specifically their communication habits and content. Wiessner examined the content of conversation between Bushmen during the day and night. What she found was particularly fascinating- daylight conversations were mundane or gossip filled. While when the sun set and flames rose stories became supernatural and deeply personal.

According to the University of Utah press release:

“What I found was a big difference between day and night conversation, the kinds of information transmitted and the use of imaginary thought,” Wiessner says.

“Day conversation has a lot to do with economic activities – working, getting food, what resources are where,” she says. “It has a lot to do with social issues and controls: criticism, complaints and gripes.”

“At night, people really let go, mellow out and seek entertainment. If there have been conflicts in the day, they overcome those and bond. Night conversation has more to do with stories, talking about the characteristics of people who are not present and who are in your broader networks, and thoughts about the spirit world and how it influences the human world. You have singing and dancing, too, which bonds groups.”

Healers dance and go into trances, “travel to god’s village and communicate with the spirits of deceased loved ones who are trying to take sick people away,” Wiessner says.

Wiessner goes on to note:

“firelight stories, conversations, ceremonies and celebrations sparked human imagination and “cognitive capacities to form these imagined communities, whether it’s our social networks, all of our relatives on Earth or communities that link us to the spirit world.”

Wiessner’s idea that civilization and community were born over a roaring fire is both brilliant and complex. The role of fire in ritual and worship is an important and continuing connection to those bonfire communes of pre-history. Viewed through Wiessner’s thesis the role of fire there is renewed and complexity to the birth of faiths and myths. If we look at the fire as deified symbol the Burning Bush perhaps started as a communal spiritual experience and turned into a solitary prophetic action that helped codify a faith. In Zoroastrianism fire takes on sacred complexity, with Atar, or holy fire as the “source force which is the source of all energy and the symbol of truth and righteousness,” according to University of Derby Multifaith Centre. From Hinduism’s Agni to Maori ahi tapu, or sacred fires, the role of fire of faith punctuates every continent and culture. And it starts with tinder and a story.

For the full University of Utah press release, read here.

Marvel Movies : Trading on Myth Without the Magic

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Ronan the Accuser (above) the main villain from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy film. Different in tone Guardians has a soul or a certain “magic” missing from most Marvel movies.

Within the Marvel comic book universe their stable of superheroes and villains are often cherry picked versions of once pagan gods, in particular and popularly the Asgardian universe of Thor. Marvel, however, chose many decades ago to remove the magic and turn these gods into super men whose technology was indistinguishable from magic.

In removing the “magic” these demigods went from omnipotent, and psychologically beguiling to so forthright and predictable that any morally ambiguity has been washed away. Pseudo-science and technology are the gods of Marvel movie and comic book universe. That is the joy of pulp science fiction.But in the process of creating something new, something was lost.

Stripped of their core magic, the gods of Scandinavia were syncretized again. Where Christianity did it in medieval times, the modern Marvel comic book movie replaced the mystical or fantastic with an pseudo-technology. Turning myths to science fiction, to infuse it with ‘science’ is a natural modern process of re-interpretation. Yet, does the techno-mystical of the Marvel universe reward the viewer with bigger answers that only spur bigger questions? The heroes relate and revel more in quantum mechanics than maleficia or miracula. And this exposes the weakness.

Ultimately, Marvel’s movie universe trades on the name of gods, religions and magic but never delivers. Instead it does the skeptic’s bait-and-switch, turning magic into theoretical physics and exposing the divine as the little man behind the curtain. Effectively these movies kill the mysterium tremendum and puts an expiration date on ageless myths.

Rituals of Asgard in the Thor movies are glossy pomp and circumstance. They carry no weight or gravitas. It becomes merely super powered men wielding directed energy weapons. The magic is gone. Yet tonally this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy establishes a dark faith with the introduction of the maniacal antagonist Ronan the Accuser (top) that is unlike any other entry in the Marvel movie universe. Ronan’s emergence from a pool of blood, ritualistically attended to by servants, dressed in armor and symbolically painted implies a developed ritual, something that is performed for effect rather than application for pure ornament. Drab gray and a stylized medieval coif turns Ronan into a dark knight on a crusade.

Ronan’s several monologues carry the weight of laws of the old faiths, a vengeful despot in a vanquished kingdom. Under Gunn’s direction and script co-written with Nicole Perlman, Ronan’s dialogue has a tone akin to an Old Testament king defeated by King David or a passage from the Mahabharata, and that feeling triggers something inside the viewer. Something bigger, older, and more  ominous. You fear Ronan more than most of the cookie cutter bad guys who sneer, smirk or cheekily seduce viewers.

Using technology to drown magic and its connection to myths, these movies crush the uncanny, the fear, with a pithy quip and some techno-babble. There is no sense of awe or wonder in the clash of peoples, nations or even galaxies. It is an arms race where the familiar hero becomes almost indistinguishable from his enemy in the power they seek or wield. And that makes sense since for the most part, comic books were born at the height of the Cold War. Technology and stampeding science created new heroes and villains and no deity was required for the narrative. Superheroes are creations at the height of the scientific-cultural-revolution with no room for gods. The magic of unconventional solutions is missing from many of these Marvel movies. Instead it falls back on the hackneyed turning the weapon on the bad-guy motif, generally spiced up with a snarky one-liner.

Can science fiction or comic book movies integrate traditional magic or myths? Absolutely. It should not be the domain of hazily constructed fiefdoms of the fantasy genre. Magic, faiths or religions integrated in a science fiction universe require a close reading of the myths or epistles. Instead of ancient characters being conveniently and quickly cherry picked by authors and screenwriters in order to populate a universe. The gods of myths breath deeply in much of modern fantasy. Why not science fiction too?

Within the Marvel stable there is Dr. Strange, a “sorcerer” who has yet to be knit into the new movie plan. What will happen to this occult figure when/if he is thrust into the techno-babble of Tony Stark? Or will his magic be denuded,  Midichlorian-ized, by the Marvel movie scribes?

Superheroes can be  fun and escapist, no disagreement from me on that. They are men and women of technology, generally, performing superhuman acts against calculating evil. They are our modern myths. Yet, if we look back at the ancient tales and myths and compare them to now, the magic is gone.

Asymmetric Study: Odin as Proxy Satan

With missionary zeal Christians trekked across Europe seeking to convert pagan peoples with vigor in the first centuries of the last millennium. Some Christian missionaries of Europe in efforts to  expand the flock, without inciting absorbed peoples, seemed to embrace conversion with syncretic results by selectively incorporating pagan elements. This adaptation of earlier pagan traditions meant a more accessible monotheism for the peoples of Europe. However, the same rich pagan connective tissue of European syncretism became the building blocks for demonization of gods.

In a letter from Gregory I to Abbott Mellitus, the pontiff recommended the missionary and his brethren adopt a softer approach when converting pagans in England. Gregory believed missionaries like Mellitus should not destroy the pagan temples they encounter but simply remove the pagan gods and sanctify the old space in the name of God.  Later in that same letter, Gregory endorses a sacrifice of an oxen as part of a religious feast,” They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated…Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones.”  In Gregory’s own words the act of eating and drinking, already ritualized by the church with the concept of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, was a sure way to win over pagan converts by embracing parts of their ritual feasting traditions.

 During the conversion period, Nordic pagan feasts featuring animal sacrifice and ritual drinking designed to honor the gods continued but ultimately took on a decidedly Christian purpose. Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway describes one such instance, “Odin’s toast was to be drunk first- that was for victory and power to the king- then Njordor’s and Freya, for good harvest and peace.” Ritual consumption of libations shifted from pagan to Christian, exemplified by Norwegian Gulaþing laws from the period of King Håkon in the tenth century where Christ and Mary were thanked for abundance and peace instead of Odin and Freya.

 If there is a single figure in paganism that so dramatically and liberally linked to the devil during the Middle Ages it is Odin.  Tried in Stockholm, Ragvald Odinskarl was accused of  robbing four Swedish churches in 1484. Importantly, records claimed that Ragvald Odinskarl had confessed to serving Odin for seven years. Linking the familiar name of Odin to the sacrilegious act of robbing  a church was no mistake. Who else would coax man into defiling or thieving from a church, but Satan. It was clear to the cosmopolitan population of Stockholm that Satan worked through the old ways.  An example of charm magic connected to the now demonic Odin was a thief finding runestick dating from the late 14th century invoking Odin’s name, as the “greatest among devils.” And throughout the period the chief of the Norse pantheon is known as “the devil Odin.”

Odin as tempter of sin in Christianized 15th century Sweden was furthered by the trial and execution of Erick Clauesson. The servant to a property owner, Clauesson was said to have renounced God and “all his servants” over nine Thursday nights. During those nights Clauesson became a servant of the devil, Odin, in order to gain riches. Convicted of the thefts and burned, Clauesson became a contemporary of Odinskarl in apostasy.

Like the examples of ecclesiastical disbelief in witchcraft, we see the idea of a monolithic approach to conversion of European pagans is far from absolute or unified. Yet when conversion was achieved, the old ways became the ways of Satan and a sure way to spiritual ruin or death.


The following is an excerpt from a personal paper on Witchcraft and Charm Magic. © Copyright site content Asymmetric Creativity/Kevin Cooney (asymmetriccreativity.wordpress.com) 2014-. All rights reserved. Text may not be used without explicit permission.

Witchcraft: Centuries of Dissenting Views

blasphModern popular perception of witchcraft is almost entirely informed through popular culture, from The Crucible and Bewitched, to Charmed or WGN America’s Salem. To ferret fact from fiction, to understand the roots of America’s witchcraft hysteria, takes up volumes and is continually being reinterpreted by authors and academics. Yet if we look back at the debate on the validity of witchecraft we find some dramatically differing opinions: from pragmatic or dismissive, to the violently merciless.

Burchard, Bishop of Worms, handled beliefs that witches were all around acting with malice as lingering superstitions remedied by penance detailed in his widely distributed 10th century work, The Corrector. In it Burchard hypothetically questions the faithful by asking if they had consulted a magician or recited incantations over medicinal herbs. The remedies to these sins and other sins were variations on penance and fasting over a few days or up to seven years; a stark contrast to later beliefs that witchcraft was Satan’s direct manipulation of humanity and needed to be dealt with swiftly and without mercy.

Interestingly, Burchard delivers a penance for those who accept witches, “Do you believe that there are women who, like the one people call Holda, ride by night on special animals in the company of devils which have been changed into women, as some people— deceived by the Devil— believe? If you do so believe, you should do penance on the appointed days for a whole year.”

An early image of the witch in air speeding to a conjugal visit with Satan was dismissed as misguided spiritual activity according to the 10th century’s Canon Episcopi. When describing the strange image, compiler Regino of Prum wonders, “Who is so stupid and foolish as to think that all these things which are only done in spirit happen in the body.”

The roots of the witches sabbat has its roots in the pagan past of Europe, in particular the idea of the Wild Hunt. In the Wild Hunt, Odin led an army of supernatural hunters or magical beings through the night sky in a tempest of action. Segue to post-conversion; the Wild Hunt becomes a demonic onslaught and a perfect model for a witch’s nightly ride to commune with Satan.

Some 500 years after Canon Episcopi the image of the sabbat as a Satanic orgy is real to Pierre de Lancre who, after putting 80 women to the torch, assembles a 200 page description of the sabbat. DeLancre believes women take flight nocturnally, assemble in numbers as large as 12,000, to meet the devil who they would greet with a osculum infame, before detailing their malefice, feast on babies before dancing naked and copulate with the three-horned goat that was Satan.

In 1486’s Malleus Maleficarum, Dominican inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Spranger declare not believing in witches alone is heretical, “Whether the belief that there are such beings as witches is so essential a part of the Catholic faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion manifestly savours of heresy.”

The deeply misogynistic work from Kramer and Spranger (which I will cover in a future post) essentially created a threat where there was none. Kramer and Spranger positioned themselves as unsurpassed witch prosecutors after leading 50 witchcraft executions in Germany. As they met a variety of resistence from communities and political leadership, the two men received a Papal bull from Innocent VIII. Calculating, Kramer and Sprenger attached the Bull to the front of Malleus Maleficarum, effectively sanctioning their writings and remedies for ridding Europe of Satan’s servants, witches.

 

Portions of the following post come from a paper I wrote two years ago for a Witchcraft and Charm Magic class.

Eco-Disaster Fiction: Mankind’s Folly? Why Not Displeased Gods?

From 2012 to Day after Tomorrow, environmental disaster films center on spectacle rather than substance. The modern movie goer revels in easy to digest worst-case scenarios rather than tackle the real-world questions about climate change that spur the fiction. The mainstream book world is also dotted with environmental calamities such as these lists from Bookish, io9 and The Guardian. These are horror stories, horrific tales on a global rather than intimate scale.

Many of these stories and films offer a bleak look at man-made environmental cataclysm, during and/or after the destruction. Taking a closer look at non-fiction environmental writing of the past century, you see bleak warning signs that fortify many scriptwriters and fiction scribes. These real environmental stories are mixed equally with rhapsodic prose of nature’s beauty and fragility. Mankind;s connection to nature was elegantly stated by environmental writer Wendell Berry who wrote in Preserving Wilderness, ” A culture that does not measure itself by nature, by an understanding of its to nature, becomes destructive of nature and this itself.”

From Berry to Emerson, we have a rich perspective on the preciousness of the environment that was intimately connected to the spiritual world. Where has this spiritual link between man and environment in our disaster fiction? Could there be another way of telling dire environmental stories without relying on the folly and failure of mankind? What would stories of environmental disasters of a spiritual nature look like? Nature folklore has never truly been syncretized into fiction.


Environmental Ecstasy


The stalwart and respected environmental essayist Berry wrote, “We need to come into the presence of the unqualified and mysterious formality of Creation.” Berry’s use of Creation, placing God within the conversation about the environment, and you have heavier, more Biblical language. The wilderness, according to Berry, is required for us to survive, as “an essential measure of our history and behavior.” The wilderness of the Bible is a place of hardship and discovery. It is the harsh crucible of races and individuals, the wilderness of the Bible. This is a language of devotion and reverence, a rarity written in today’s of scientific arguments.

Environmental writers of the last century freely used language of ecstatic religious experience where many modern environmental takes a decidedly secular tact. Conservation champions like Thoreau and Muir are what many associate with environmental writing. Ralph Waldo Emerson, articulated the Transcendentalist philosophy of soul and nature, “Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith.”

The wilderness of colonial Americans, those Puritans of New England, was not a place of trial and redemption but often a place of horror and temptation, occupied by the Devil and his pagan minions. Within two centuries, America’s progress changed the language of our relationship with the environment. The wild was either cheapened, conquered and harvested, or sanctified as a place of personal discovery. By the 20th century, environmental activism and awareness replaced theology and spiritualism with data and scientific theory. This non-fiction change is directly reflected in the tales of global disasters, now carbon footprints stomp our arrogance where fickle gods once did. The deluges of Gilgamesh and the Bible are replaced by humanity choked by greenhouse gas and mankind’s consumerism.


Spirit Never Left The Wood


The ideas of nature’s spiritual power, its potency and humanity’s relationship with it, are not lofty ideas generated by thinkers of centuries past. The spiritual connections between man and nature were being explored by David Abram in his 1990s, The Ecology of Magic. A trained stage magician Abram traveled the world seeking to rekindle humanity’s embrace of nature’s spiritual side. Abram would meet modern men and women, shamans and magicians of, who worked for man, but nature, performing “constant rituals, trances, ecstasies, and ‘journeys,’ he ensures that the relation between human society and the larger society of beings is balanced and reciprocal.”

Imagine Wicker Man‘s Lord Summerisle invoking Berry’s “culture” and “nature,” what tone does it take then? Strange, ominous or ‘backwards’? Or are they saying the same thing, just choosing a different path of worship to the same ends? Abram’s shaman and magician, like those of Summerisle, walk the path between the “human and more-than-human worlds.” Abram’s

The Green Man and Maypole are the environmental folklore descended from ancient tales born at the dawn of civilization. They are the mythologies of man’s relationship with the environment, shunned by the Christian world. The stories we are telling today about environmental horror are that of mankind’s doing, not a god displeased or spirit unsatisfied with tributes paid. Abram caught this modern oversight when he wrote, “modern civilized assumption that the natural world is largely determinate and mechanical, and that which is regarded as mysterious, powerful, and beyond human ken must therefore be some other, nonphysical real above nature, ‘supernatural’.” Modern mechanistic attributes of nature have left little room for the supernatural in much disaster story telling.

The cold sureness of science informs the screenplays and manuscripts about our bruised and battered environment. The narrative of nature before was told reverently through forest mythologies, faiths or religions; and are decidedly absent from modern disaster-tainment. Introducing the ideas of gods, spirits and beings tied to our environmental well-being would not trivialize the problems we face nor absolve us of guilt in the damage done. Watch Princess Mononoke or Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind to appreciate strong environmental stories told from a supernatural or magical perspectives. It is time to return to these old ways to provide new insights, add a spiritual and environmentally redemptive value to stories of global natural collapse.

High Octane Genuflection: Theology of Mad Max

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I grew up with the George Miller post-apocalyptic tales of Max Rockatansky, former pursuit specialist cop-turned dystopian Road Warrior. Through a series of Mad Max movies, the character survived one perilous descent after another into a world gone mad. The series, often imitated and never quite matched in tone or “pure” brutality, Miller’s Mad Max series is being given new life with a future film starring Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson as the leather clad anti-hero.

With the new Mad Max trailer (embedded below) the imagery is a color saturated maelstrom of automotive mayhem splashed across an Australian desert. A single shot among the chaos of metal and dust caught my eye. A group of painted, gaunt figures in ecstatic gesticulations with skull adorned steering wheels hoisted above their heads.

This image of society in full collapse, breeding in a contaminated wasteland, but finding a faith amid hell is intriguing.

In Mad Max, society is on the precipice of total collapse. Their are functionaries left, like police and public safety, even small towns clinging to free market normalcy. But stalking these institutions and people, are outlaw gangs of unmatched brutality. In Mad Max we learn the roads are the battlefields for humanity. One by one, men and women fall prey to savage biker gang leader Toecutter. This is the fall, where normalcy and hopes die on the outback asphalt. It’s also the least theologically laced film. Seems God or gods have walked away from humanity in Mad Max, leaving a highway anti-Christ to pick away the souls too weak or too slow to flee.

By the sequel, The Road Warrior humanity has been blow torched away by war, left to rot in the deserts. In this film Max finds group salvation embodied in two forms: Humongous and gasoline. The former is a scarred, deformed hulk in a hockey mask and little else. He commands his berserker minions to carry out unspeakable acts in the name of fuel to power their machines. Humongous is the next degeneration of Toecutter, irradiated and muscle bound, capable of savagery in the name of survival. His gang encircles and pursues a small enclave of survivors who have turned to gasoline as their savior. This is striking as on the face of it the tanker is guarded with fury and determination reserved for an otherworldly preciousness.Gasoline takes on a supernatural quality, becoming manna, capable of guiding and sustaining these souls lost in an infernal desert. It is a subtle idea, as basic survival of marauding hordes dominates the narrative, but the gasoline feeds hope, lust or greed in every player in The Road Warrior.

By the third installment, Beyond Thunderdome, pockets of humanity can be found in towns powered by pig excrement methane and run by gangs, like the cage-match-coliseum centered Bartertown. This is not the world of hope, it is merely a place to eat, drink and survive, just for a while longer. No, hope is hidden in a desert gully oasis where the child survivors of a plane crash have adapted a complex mythology for their survival and salvation. Led by a strong female character, acting as a form of shaman, we understand their history through cave paintings, highlighted by a bird feather and stick rectangle designed to echo a television screen. The cult of hope, seeking a savior who will return and guide them to paradise is heart breaking in simplicity and naivety. They await the Messianic “Captain Walker” to bring them home, echo strong elements of South Pacific “cargo cults” after World War II.To the children, Captain Walker is Max, deliverer to a new land out of the wasteland.The tribe’s leader performs a shamanistic ritual “Tell” of the collapse of mankind and their survival is a highly ritualized process and is sanctified by use of a children’s toy, View Master, to see a Shangri-La of past and future hopes. Max bucks these idealistic children with a cynicism born from years of blood and violence. There was no divine intervention for Rockatansky when his wife and child were killed on the highway by the Toecutter gang. Why should there be one for the kids? Here, twists and turns rewrite their juvenile understanding of their faith and along the way write a new reluctant savior into their evolving pantheon: Mad Max.

We finally arrive at Fury Road. While the plot remains roughly outlined, the trailer provides some ritualistic glimpses of a society rebuilding without a clear memory of what came before. A striking image of the War Boy cult dancing about an altar of car parts and steering wheels adorned with skulls. The steering wheel echoes an automotive mandala cluing into a possible a warrior monk caste born on the move, perpetually on the hunt. Could these gaunt marauders be custodians of a new faith where offerings of food and water to the god of gears are be rewarded with propulsion and power. These machines take on divine qualities after simple but potent tribute, gasoline. Will the Machine come to life and roar with monstrous power? These are not the qualities of idle machines, but rather gods and demons bound beneath shells of metal and rubber.

The Mad Max series shows society and culture devolve with each installment. It is about the worship of the machine and the mechanized destruction it can visit upon humanity. As the series evolves we see the bleakness change, becoming a strange reverence for the machine as savior. While the machine age led to the destruction of humanity, in the wasteland it has been mythologized, taking an inanimate object that can be roused to life with tribute and sacrifice.