The Super Bowl and Pagan Disconnect

I help run a local, public, Pagan group and one of my duties is to schedule and coordinate sabbat rituals. After allocating our Imbolc ritual to an area circle my phone began to buzz with multiple text messages. “What day is the Super Bowl?” “What times does the Super Bowl start?” “What times does it end?”

I was a little perplexed by all the messages. Our group generally meets on Saturdays, and Imbolc this year is on a Saturday. Certainly they weren’t thinking of trying to change the date of our event to Feb. 3? The phone buzzed again with another text message, “High Priestess will be out of town on Feb. 2, can we change the ritual to that Sunday?” “No you can’t do the ritual on Super Bowl Sunday” I replied in a huff. I looked at my wife, let out a long sigh and asked her “What is wrong with people!?!” (For the record, our ritual went off without a hitch this past Saturday, and it was exceedingly lovely.)

Of course there’s nothing wrong with asking to do a ritual on Super Bowl Sunday. What’s important to me may not be important to you, and the people that asked me about moving the ritual aren’t alone in wanting to do ritual on Super Bowl Sunday. There are groups out here in the Bay Area who are having Imbolc rituals during the game, a game that features the hometown San Francisco 49′ers. For those that have stuck with me this far you are probably wondering “what’s the big deal? I don’t watch football either.” Which is fine, but not knowing the date of the Super Bowl is a huge case of Pagan Disconnect.

I don’t think watching the Super Bowl is some sort of requirement to be an American, and there are a whole host of reasons not to. I know that it’s an advertising orgy surrounded by gladiators and brain trauma, and if you don’t like football, that’s another great reason. Watching the Super Bowl is not a litmus test for anything, and I really don’t care if people watch or not. The NFL draws plenty of eyeballs and they don’t need any help. Not watching the game is understandable, being unaware of it perplexes me.

For much of America the Super Bowl is a huge social gathering. People go to parties, hang out in bars, etc etc. For many people scheduling something on Super Bowl Sunday would be like scheduling something on Christmas Day, or in our case on Samhain. It’s a day you don’t touch because there’s already something going on. Churches don’t schedule anything but Super Bowl Parties during the game, why are we having Imbolc rituals? (Well, other than the hall rental being extremely cheap.)

Again, I don’t expect everyone to suddenly start watching football this Sunday because I think a few people are out of touch. My curiosity is more along the lines of “You wouldn’t plan a Yule ritual on Christmas, why is an unofficial American Holiday any different?” 170 million Americans watched at least a few minutes of last year’s Super Bowl, and the number who watched the entire game was well over 100 million. The Super Bowl is arguably the largest shared experience we have in the United States, and yet in Pagandom it’s persona non grata.

The Super Bowl is a supremely over-hyped event. There are Super Bowl displays at my local grocery store, and Target has a giant end-cap full of football shaped paper-plates available right now. There’s always a glut of Super Bowl related media stories, and if you watch at least a little TV or surf the major news websites you are going to run into it. How anyone could be completely unaware of the game happening at about the same time every year baffles me. A part of me is in complete awe at anyone being able to block out something of that magnitude, I wish I could do the same for things like Honey Boo Boo and any show and/or restaraunt involving Gordon Ramsey.

Many Evangelicals like to use the phrase “we are in the world, but not of the world” as a way to describe how they live. These are usually the Evangelicals who live in the bubble. They only listen to Contemporary Christian Music, only hang out with those of a like mind, read Christian books, etc. They’ve created their own little separate world apart from the Godless (of course many of us are godsfull, but I digress).

I don’t think the majority of Pagans live in the bubble, most of us tend to be engaged in many worldly pursuits. There are Pagans involved in politics and issues of social justice. Many of us probably have more “friends” and social experiences than the average person (at least those of us who aren’t solitaries). A lot of my Pagan friends are plugged into “geek culture*,” and completely destroy the stereotype of “read comic books? Welcome to a life of celibacy.” We were one of the first religious groups to really utilize the power of the internet as a community building too. I don’t normally think of us as out of touch, except when it comes to a few isolated incidents of Pagan Disconnect.

The Super Bowl isn’t the only case of Pagan Disconnect I’ve seen over the years. There are a lot of us who seem surprised when they run into conservative Pagans, or people who disagree with the standard liberal boilerplate. As we grow as a community** there are going to be more and more conservative Pagans, and probably more football fan Pagans. You may not want to plan your Imbolc Ritual around America’s biggest non-official holiday, but you might soon find yourself forced to. And please remember, I don’t care if you watch the Super Bowl or not, I’m just amazed at your inability to tune it out.

For the record I’m picking the 49′ers over the Ravens by a touchdown (place your bets for Baltimore now). The NFC has just been better this year. I also picked the Texans to play the Bears in the Super Bowl so my predictions aren’t worth much at all.

*I’m also one of those people. If anyone’s interested in discussing the cartoon Young Justice on a weekly basis I’d be totally up for it.

**Until we inevitably disintegrate into eight or nine separate religious streams.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “You wouldn’t plan a Yule ritual on Christmas”
    Why not? There have been suggestions that this would be a sensible date to hold Yuletide festivities – the Longest Night may well be on the 21st (or thereabouts), but the days do not noticeably increase in length for about four days afterwards. Which’d be the 25th (or thereabouts). If you want to celebrate the birth of the Sun, that’d be a good day to do it.

    “As we grow as a community****Until we inevitably disintegrate into eight or nine separate religious streams.”
    I honestly look forward to that point. It might provide a bit more cohesion and clarity. Of course, there is difference between community and religion. I don’t see a need for the Pagan community to split up, just because of the clarifying of religious streams.

    As to Pagan Disconnect… Well that is a big issue where the stance of society is significantly different to the stance of (that aspect of) Pagandom. As you state above, Superbowl is seen, by many, as an excuse/opportunity for excess and rampant commercialism. A lot of Pagans seem more into a low(er) impact lifestyle philosophy.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    As a Heathen, I think I’m kind of obligated to root for a team called “Ravens”. Sorry, Jason.
    Totally up for the YJ talk though. I’m terrified they’re just going to yank it off the air with all these sporadic broadcasts. Mrs V thinks its funny that every fight I’m yelling, “Don’t you dare hurt Wolf!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

    I’m definitely going to watch the game and recognize Imbolc. Imbolc is a big deal in our house, we are all pretty Brighid-centric. I read yesterday that YJ got cancelled. Ravens by 4.

  • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

    To be honest, the only good thing about the Super Bowl to me is that it marks the end of football season and I won’t have to listen to people talk about it anymore after it’s over :)

    • http://twitter.com/Panmankey Jason Mankey

      What about people talking about the draft in April? And the season schedule comes out around then too? And then the off season and free agency? I actually loved this comment.

      • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

        I mostly get irritated by it with people in my guild in Everquest 2 (an MMORPG); once football season starts everyone in guild is watching football and talking about it non-stop during raids. I’m a baseball fan, but my guild mates always tease me with things like, “Baseball is boring etc”, so I tease them back about football.

      • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

        Maybe only a small minority of Pagans watch the Super Bowl?

  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

    “Which is fine, but not knowing the date of the Super Bowl is a huge case of Pagan Disconnect.”

    If there is a case of Pagan disconnect, it is only an American disconnect. I do not believe there is a European equivalent of this issue. Even in my soccer-obsessed country no-one would care about ritual on a match day. But then, I do not think we have fixed dates for sports events. We have multiple sports-events, but not one that is valued above all others.

    • http://twitter.com/Panmankey Jason Mankey

      What about the World Cup? I know it’s only once every four years, but that’s a huge deal.

      • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

        It is a huge deal, and if you include the European cup (which is similar huge) it it’s every two years, but then, a lot of people only watch it if our team makes it to the finales. If not, only the real fans stick around. Maybe I am wrong, I just haven’t encountered any discussion of sports events in the planning of rituals.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Not in my house. Hel, I lost track of the Olympics…

  • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

    After moving our ritual days from Saturday to Sunday last year, and the bevy of complaints we got about having our Imbolc the same day as the Super Bowl (which I knew but didn’t think would be a problem, since the ritual would end hours before the game started – yeah, I’m one of those weirdoes who cares about the game and not the parties), we pushed it forward a week this year. I wasn’t entirely thrilled about a January Imbolc, but can’t deny that our attendance nearly doubled.

    And after seeing them beat the odds twice in the playoffs, I’m absolutely picking the Ravens to win. >8)

    • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

      Almost forgot – a few years ago when Christmas fell on a Saturday (before we switched to Sundays), I did indeed have people express surprise to me that we weren’t going to do our Yule on the 25th. Once I explained that most of our members had families who did celebrate Christmas, they understood. But yes, that level of disconnect is absolutely possible.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I still don’t get it. I have family that do the whole Christmas thing. Doesn’t mean I have to…

        • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

          Some people feel obligated, some people like interacting with their relatives, and some people (gasp) actually like the holiday itself, if not the “reason” for it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Do their families return the favour?

          • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

            And that would be my (or your) business why?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I wasn’t specifically asking about the people in your group, but in a more general sense.

            In my experience, people are expected to do the Christmas thing for family, but family will be unwilling to show a similar level of respect towards the Pagan festivals.

            Personally, I would greatly like to see Christmas return to a minor Christian religious festival.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      People valuing the game above religion?

      Well, I guess sport is a religion for some…

      • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

        If i ever act like people attending our rituals is more important than any other aspect of their lives, somebody please shoot me. Seriously.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          There is nothing wrong with highly valuing the shared religious experience.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

            Agreed, but there’s something very wrong with me ordering people to ignore the other obligations or interests of their lives, or trying to guilt them into doing so. Our org emphasizes the value of maintaining proper relationships in all aspects of life, including both the spirits and humans. I trust my Grovemates to make up their own minds on how best to maintain those relationships, and sometimes that means not coming to a ritual because of a schedule conflict.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Seasonal rites are based on specific times of the year, down to the day. I just find it frustrating that people don’t seem to see that as important.

  • lucystrawberry

    How can anyone vaguely artistic not root for a team named after an Edgar Allen Poe poem???

    • http://twitter.com/Panmankey Jason Mankey

      But I’m not artistic . . . . . . .

      • lucystrawberry

        =) All magical people are artistic.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Not true. For some, magic is a science.

          • lucystrawberry

            look, just root for the Ravens ;)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I prefer a walk in the woods.

  • Dver

    “You wouldn’t plan a Yule ritual on Christmas”

    Why not? Why would I not plan a ritual for my religion on some other religion’s holiday? In fact, I’ve actually done some Yule-season outdoor mumming ritual on Christmas *precisely* because everyone else is quietly spending time indoors. I understand that some pagans still have family obligations on that day, but I don’t think it should be assumed that pagans have to care about Christmas.

    “I don’t care if you watch the Super Bowl or not, I’m just amazed at your inability to tune it out.”

    I consider such an ability a sign of success at disentangling myself entirely from this vapid culture and its herd-like mentality about everything. Why do I need to be aware of what a bunch of other people happen to care about? Just because there’s so many of them? They certainly aren’t aware of *my* interests and priorities. I wish more pagans would spend their focus and energy on their own religious practice and prioritize it above the mob mentality of these secular interests. (And for the record, it bothers me just as much to hear that Christian churches have Superbowl parties. Doesn’t anyone care about their religion more than watching other people engage in recreational activities? Pretty sad if you ask me.)

  • http://twitter.com/Panmankey Jason Mankey

    I think for many of us holidays like Christmas are an essential part of our family life. It doesn’t offend my theological core to partake in Christmas ritual with my family. I grew up doing those rituals (like presents and dinner, church was not a part of the equation), and I can’t turn them off anymore than I could stop celebrating Beltane.

    I know this seems to bother many Pagans, but I don’t know how to turn it off. It’s not worth alienating my family for some sort of misguided attempt at religious purity.

    • Dver

      First of all, one CAN turn them off if one wants to. That being said, you don’t have to want to of course, you might have a lot of good reasons for keeping those secular Christmas traditions, but it’s not as if anything is *compelling* you to celebrate them. I grew up with the same stuff, and I don’t do it anymore. Helps that I moved thousands of miles away from my family. The good thing about being an adult is that we have the freedom to choose what we want to do.

      It doesn’t offend me if a pagan celebrates secular Christmas, nor do I think we all have to reject our family celebrations (though it does surprise me when people equate them with religious practices, or even give them higher priority). However, my point was that it shouldn’t be a GIVEN that no pagan would ever plan a religious pagan festival on the day of Christmas – aside from potential family obligations, which not everyone has, it’s just another day.

    • kenneth

      It’s very easy to turn off in the sense that we honor our families, not Christmas per se. My family, like a great many these days, is only Christian in the loosest nominal sense of the word. Christmas is really just a surrogate or marker that anchors one day in the culture and law set aside for family gatherings. It powers down many workplaces for a day or two to give us all cover (and perhaps a sense of obligation), to travel to the parents or the inlaws and sit down together. Of course its also a retail holiday first and foremost. In this way, Jews, atheists and Hindus get co-opted into Christmas. Thanksgiving is the same way. Nobody does it to celebrate the original event (the beginnings of huge real estate fraud and genocide). No problem either way. We do a perfectly good Yule in spite of that.

  • Caroline

    I don’t think my complete and utter disinterest in football has anything to do with my Paganism, I know a lot of non Pagans who don’t care about the Super Bowl or football.

  • atomicfeline

    Things are not going to turn out well for Aqualad if the secret of the double, double-cross he’s running against Black Manta gets out. I hope Nightwing knows what he’s doing.


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