Whoosh! Issue 31 - April 1999

YA GOTTA HAVE FAITH: XENAWORSHIP
IAXS project #688
By S. Jane Greening
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
2087 words



Introduction (01-02)
Components of Religion (03-06)
The Religion of Xena: Scripture (07-10)
Xena-isms (11-13)
Ritual and Pilgrimage (14-17)
Objects of Worship (18-19)
Faith? (20-22)
Biography



Ya Gotta Have Faith: XenaWorship



The Secret Formula for a popular soft drink

Scrolls are the written basis of most religions.




Introduction

[1] This article is not intended to offend anyone's religious sensibilities. It is an examination of the similarities between the "Cult of Xena" and the many recognized religions which exist in our multifaceted society. It is not intended to present a comprehensive view of the Xenaverse. It is only one of many perspectives. In this context, the word "cult" has no disparaging connotations either. (Many religionists would concur that Christianity began as a "cult"). I am personally non-denominational, so I have no hidden agenda.

[2] Although fairly new to the Xenaverse, I have been thoroughly intrigued by the fervor some fans bring to the TV show and their devotion to all things Xena: the characters, the plot, the creators, writers and performers. I have subbed (and often unsubbed) from a variety of mailing lists, checked the web pages (some quite magnificent), and could not shake the impression that Xena worship (two words not uncommon on lists and websites) was exactly that: Xena worship. I am not positing that those who ascribe to Xena worship are "heathens". I am, however, making a comparison between the vigor with which some fans approach the Xena phenomenon and religious devotion. This is no new phenomenon in fandom, but the success of Xena: Warrior Princess and its ability to "push the buttons" of such a diverse audience makes it particularly worthy of scrutiny.


Components of Religion

[3] First, let us examine the components of a religion. Such commonalities have been the bane of religionists since the onset of the relatively new field of comparative religion (which is the study of religions from a scholarly and non-faith perspective, unlike theology). The delineation seems to rest entirely on which religionist your read or speak to. There are things, however, that are readily acceptable as part of the religious experience.

[4] It is necessary to have myth. The word "myth" here does not denote verity or the lack of it. I use the term in the sense of the history, roots (be it a philosophy, God, or teacher) and the foundations for belief. In many religions, scripture is utilized. This serves to further teachings, act as reference, and to structure the belief system.

[5] That brings us to, belief system. Although most religions acknowledge a certain interpretive license concerning many matters, (i.e. Judaic midrash), sometimes it is just more productive for those concerned to create another "-ism" (Protestantism, Evangelism, any variety of Judaisms, Buddhisms, paganisms, etc.) "-Isms" hold particular parts of the scriptures as holier and indeed more inviolable than others. Due to the interpretive nature of many scriptures, folk do not always agree. This has resulted in lush variances within even individual religious traditions. Thus the words "sect", "branch" or even "cult" have come into existence. (In the varieties of Hinduism, for example, one may worship God in many incarnations: some consider themselves followers of Shiva, some of Vishnu, some of Krishna, and some of Kali - all the same source, but with different faces).

[6] "Sacred space" is another component. The majority of religions have a physical place which houses "ritual". For Muslims this is the mosque; for Christians, a church; for Jews, a synagogue or temple; and for pagans, a protected circle. Shrines, tombs, and places of pilgrimage are also all sacred spaces.


The Religion of Xena: Scripture

For my next trick...

Rob Tapert, 'god' of the Xenaverse.



[7] Perhaps you are wondering at this point what the Tartarus this has to do with Xena. If you have reached this point, ye shall be rewarded.

[8] There is a Xena canon of scripture. As a new cult, the scripture is still in development. These "scriptures" are known by some Xena fans as the "Xena Scrolls", by the production crew as the "Xena Bible," and by some simply as the script. With each episode, new history and new myth are established and woe to the writer who gives even the perception of a continuity gap.

[9] Xena and Gabrielle and the rest of the characters in the Xenaverse have heavy history. Poteidaia and Amphipolis are as inviolable as Bethlehem, Mecca, Jerusalem, and Mount Olympus. Gabrielle has one sister, not two. There is a fuzziness regarding the number of Xena's brothers (the production staff at Ren Pic assure us this will be "sorted out"). In ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72,73/413,414), fans were not at all pleased that Callisto was shown in the past with no sister. This did not jive with "the book", which seems to be not exactly synoptic at times. Xena was evil and redeemed by love. Whatever your "-ism", this love may have originated with Hercules, Lao Ma, Borias, or Gabrielle, (and on and on. Our gal has flirted with salvation a number of times).

[10] The philosophy is clear. Xena fights her "dark side" with the help of someone who is clearly more in "the light" than she is. (No one said this was not polytheistic). The forces which try Xena and Gabrielle are nearly always vanquished by the acknowledgment that love does indeed "conquer all". Hatred is the destroyer [see BITTER SUITE (58/312)]. When Xena gets "tempted", or falters, she undergoes purification and redemption, then gains a newfound understanding (to be entered into the scriptures) of how this "love thing" works. Subtext or no, whatever one's definition of "love" is, that is the basis of the Xena scriptures.


Xena-isms

[11] Within the Xenaverse, there are already "-isms". Subtexters believe faithfully that Xena and Gabrielle are more than sororal. This expression of love in all its forms provides the physical and spiritual bond for oneness. That some lesbians worship Xena is not a bombshell, especially given the short shrift many institutional religions have extended to same-sex bonding. Here it may be sacred.

[12] For others, Xena is a pure love between "soul-mated" friends, an agape kind of love. For women in general, it is a relief from patriarchal deities and heroes. Some believe Xena is discovering her light, and Gabrielle, her darkness. Different interpretations hold that Xena is the dark led to redemption by the pure light (a slight quirk on Zoroastrianism here).

[13] There are also other "Xena-isms". Some are deeply affected by the "heroic" aspects of the show, and it is interesting to note that currently in production is a series of shows based on a section of the Hindu sacred scriptures, the Baghavad Gita. The heroic battle epic of the Ramayana tells the tale of Lord Rama and his monkey general, Hanuman, who save Rama's wife, Sita, from a demon. (Does this mean Joxer gets "Hanumanized"?) For some, conflicts in battle, the methods of vanquishment, and the conqueror stand for the metaphorical battle we face daily in our own survival. Heroes can nearly reach the stature of godhood. This is exemplified in the Irish heroic cycle myths. Like the Greeks, the Celts were not always impressed with their gods and did not hesitate to pit their heroes against them. [See The Tain or the Welsh Mabinogian].


Ritual and Pilgrimage

[14] "Sacred space". No, I am not going to suggest the "one-eyed god" of television is remotely close to being a "sacred space". I do, however, believe that the viewing of the episodes is part of "ritual". Many fans tape the show, watch episodes several times, and pick up amazingly small details which often do add new light to certain attitudes and interpretations of the various scripts. I do have to howl with glee when they spot propane tanks, etc. in the takes. A pleasant irreverence rests with many of the followers of XWP. The individual may create the sacred space themselves within their own home, or with gangs of Xena fans who gather for the episodes, be it in a bar or in their homes.

[15] "Pilgrimages". Yes, lots of those. Some fans have gone so far as to visit the holiest of sites, New Zealand, to proffer their offerings. Some have even touched the leathers of the holies. For most fans however, Creation and other such companies and the fans with their XenaFests, create the sense of community. Fans gather together, interpret, party (yeah, Bacchus), and (so I have heard) mate! Coincidentally, community is also a key ingredient to the majority of religions. Opportunities exist to hear the production staff and stars speak. Many fans have met their favorites, and judging from some experiences I have read, these encounters are indeed "life highs".

[16] Fans have been known to disburse enormous quantities for "relics" (fan memorabilia). These expensive pilgrimages originate from all over the world, and I suspect, in most situations, not a penny spent is regretted. Not all of the fan activity is simply self-serving in nature either. Many of these pilgrimages feature, for example, occasions to hold auctions for worthy charities. Xenites, therefore, even contribute to the wider community. Leather clad Rotarians?

[17] "Fervor". Yes, there is lots of that. The Xenaverse provides an extensive channel for a great outpouring of emotion, adulation, and, in some cases, obsession. It unquestionably fills a need. Some of the websites are labeled as "Altars", "Temples", and "Shrines". Of course much of this is tongue-in-cheek, but some is not. I have been on mailing lists where a certain "-ism" is a given. A suggestion contrary to dearly held beliefs may provoke truly visceral and sincere responses.


Objects of Worship

What you can find in cereal boxes these days

The chakram -- an icon?



[18] Xena and Gabrielle (and for those marvelous Xenite versions of Anton Levay and his Church of Satan, Callisto) serve as the "objects of worship". They are the doers, the keepers, and they provide a paradigm of love vanquishing evil, with, often, a good dose of humor (which is decidedly lacking in some religions).

[19] The actresses themselves, however, are sometimes not separated from their characters and exhibit a rather charming bemusement with the worship of their "real" identities. I am sure they are not too amused when people turn up on their doorstep for salvation. Because, in fact, who are these women? Fans have brief snatches of carefully PR-ed interviews, and certainly both women "show" well in the public eye, but, I digress. What I am describing is another "-ism". Lucy Lawless is not Xena, nor is Renee O'Connor, Gabrielle. That is not, however, in the scope of this article, and is another issue, in this writer's opinion.


Faith?

[20] In summary, Xena worship appears to have all the necessary accouterments to be defined as a "religion". Ah! One issue has not yet been addressed: "faith". Does faith exist amongst the worshipers of Xena? Sometimes yes, sometimes, no. There are constant grumblings often against the "priests" of the show (production staff and writers), but this is generally because of some perceived flaw in the veracity of the scriptures. Sometimes fans get angry at Xena or Gabrielle for their actions in the scripts, but do they keep tuning in? It would appear that the answer would be largely, "Yes". That is faith. To question is a natural part of religious belief, but to remain engaged even when there are questions is faith.

[21] Is this healthy? Is it normal? This writer's opinion, and it is only that, is that zealotry in any form tends to be counterproductive. Gentle devotion, however, harms no one. The Xenaverse offers: a certain haven, a sanctuary, humor, hope, acceptance, a sense of community, and just a rip-roaring good old revival kind of spirit.

[22] Perhaps Ren Pic could apply for tax exemption based on identification as a religious institution?



Biography

S. Jane Greening S. Jane Greening
A mad Celt who has wandered the earth in search of enlightenment only to find that real life is filmed in New Zealand and kilts itch way too much when you don't wear underwear. Too many useless undergrad degrees to bother listing, but the parchments are useful (thanks for the idea Xena). Relevant to this article are degrees in Comparative Religion. Writer by trade, play in production (I may have to change my name), and dammit I'm still poor.
Favorite episode: BEEN THERE DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: Xena: "I love the smell of warrior sweat in the morning" THE FURIES (47/301)
First episode seen: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Least favorite episode: KING CON (61/315) or any Xena-lite episode.

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