Friday, July 29, 2011

Are the Smurfs Queer Pagans? Part Two!

3. Smurfette.

For further proof of the Smurfs' queer pagan nature, look no further than Smurfette.


The lone female Smurf, she was created by villainous wizard Gargamel from clay to cause discord among the male Smurfs. Happily Papa Smurf foiled his plan by giving her a magical make-over, changing Smurfette's hair from black to blonde, and her personality from evil to good.

If you ignore the tired old "black hair = evil" trope, this story is basically a reworking of the Prometheus and Pandora myth.

According to Greek mythology, in the primordial past Zeus and his siblings waged war against the Titans, the older generation of gods. Zeus won and kicked most of the Titans into the deepest underworld, but spared a few, including Prometheus, whose name means "forethought."  Prometheus populated the world by creating men out of clay.

Prometheus making men out of clay. Athena looks on skeptically.

It's important to note that Prometheus only made males, not females.  (There are also some myths that relate how Prometheus made homosexuals, but they deserve a post of their own.) Zeus later punished Prometheus and mankind for stealing fire by creating the first woman, Pandora, who carried a box that contained all the world's evils.

The ancient mythographers didn't specify Smurfette's hair color or if she had blue skin, but I think it's clear that Smurfette is the modern Pandora. The Pandora and Smurfette stories both are a little misogynistic, don't you think?

4. Vanity Smurf

The queerest of the Smurfs by far is Vanity Smurf. I'm sure the comic's author wanted to call him Gay Smurf but was warned against it by his publishers. Vanity Smurf is overly concerned with his appearance, loves clothing, and speaks in an effete manner. He also carries a mirror and wears a flower in his hat.

Work it girl! Show those other Smurfs how to wear a hat!

The name, the mirror and the flower identify Vanity Smurf with Narcissus, another important figure in Greek mythology.

Many people are familiar with Ovid's story about Narcissus, where the handsome man Narcissus spurns the nymph Echo. She asks the gods to punish him, and they cause him to fall in love with his reflection in a pool. He ultimately wastes away into a flower, and Echo wastes away until she's only a voice.

Damn! I look gooood!

It's a pretty story, but there's an earlier and gayer version. According to the poet Conon, Narcissus was a handsome young man who was pursued by multiple men but ignored them all. One particularly persistent wooer named Ameinias refused to give up, until Narcissus finally sent him a sword with a note telling him to end his life. Harsh! Ameinias killed himself, but with his dying breath prayed for the love god Eros to punish Narcissus.

His prayer was answered. While hunting in the woods Narcissus sees his reflection in a spring. He falls in love with his own unobtainable image. Realizing that he's being punished for his behavior towards Ameinias, Narcissus kills himself. The narcissus flower emerges from his blood. 

The narcissus flower shows up in many places in Greek mythology. For example, Persephone is lured into the underworld by a large narcissus, the Furies wear it in their crowns, and it grows in Nysa, the mystic land where the wine god Dionsysos was born. Clearly, it has some powerful occult connotations!

Could Vanity Smurf be wearing a narcissus in his hat? It seems very likely. I wouldn't mess with this Smurf - maybe he can access the occult powers of the narcissus!

So, are the Smurfs queer pagans? Maybe, maybe not. Honestly, I don't think the new Smurf movie is going to be a gay pagan love fest. But I do think that ancient pagan themes pervade our pop culture, and queer imagery does too, if you know where to look.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are the Smurfs Queer Pagans? Part One!

Although I'm too old to have watched the Smurfs when they first appeared on TV, I have always found them fascinating. Something about all those shirtless blue men living in loving harmony set off my gaydar.

In case you haven't heard, a new Smurf movie is being released later this month. My curiosity about these creatures, long dormant, has reawakened. Are the Smurfs queer? And on top of that, are they pagan as well?

Let's review the evidence.

Feeling Smurfy in a Phrygian cap!

1. Choice of headwear. 

The Smurf hat has a long and rich history. Technically known as the Phrygian cap, it can be traced back to Phrygia, and ancient kingdom in the area now occupied by Turkey, and home of famous city of Troy. The Phrygians were well-known around the Mediterranean for their peaked caps that drooped in the front.

Two major ancient deities are also identified with this hat.

The first is Attis, the lover/consort of the Phrygian goddess Cybele.

Bust of the god Attis

There are many conflicting myths about Attis, but my favorite tells how Zeus, while taking a nap, accidentally inseminates a rock. The rock gives birth to a giant super-strong hermaphrodite named Agdistis, who causes a lot of trouble. The gods trick Agdistis into castrating him/herself, and a tree grows from his severed phallus. Attis is born after a woman eats an almond from a tree that sprouts from the phallus. Attis grows up to be outrageously handsome and then falls in love with Agdistis, who may really be the goddess Cybele. Attis decides to marry a local princess, which so enrages Agdistis/Cybele that s/he disrupts the wedding and magically makes Attis castrate himself. He dies, Agdistis/Cybele mourns, Zeus causes a pine tree to grow from Attis's body, and decrees that his little finger (a euphemism!) will never die.

That myth's a real headspinner, and I don't need to point out the queer aspects. Definitely not something you'd see on an episode of the Smurfs. Attis was served by transgender priests called the galli.

Mithras slaying a bull.

The second god is Mithras, who was the object of an all-male mystery cult popular in the Roman Empire. Soldiers were particularly fond of him.

There were seven initiatory degrees in his cult, and the second degree was called "nymphus", which means "he-nymph." (Digression: I love that word! If I were a superhero that would be my name.) The he-hymphs were associated with the planet Venus, wore bridal veils, and served the higher levels. So, a little bit of cross-dressing is associated in my mind with the Phrygian cap.

2. Magic Mushrooms

The Smurfs live a in a village of mushrooms.

Smurf Village.

Mushrooms are well, you know, a little bit phallic. When a group of perpetually shirtless guys are living in phallic symbols, the neighbors are going to gossip. Who cares what those busybodies think?! Live your life the way you want to, Smurfs. You rock! Everyone's just jealous.

Fly agaric mushroom.

The spotted mushroom looks like a fly agaric mushroom, whose hallucinogenic properties were used by Siberian shamans to travel to the spirit world. (Note - Do NOT try this at home. Fly agaric is also poisonous.) Coincidentally, some powerful Siberian shamans were famous for being transgendered. I'm sure the Smurfs have a lot of shamanic power; I'm not sure if any are transgendered.

Next up: renegade Titans, Smurfette, and Narcissus!