Are Today’s Superheroes Tomorrow’s Gods?

The Hindu goddess Durga. Each item she carries speaks to a specific attribute of this goddess of strength and protection. Like the imagery here, the Tarot card Strength also depicts a woman and lion interacting. Flickr

If you visit the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove, you’ll find yourself directed to the main hall, which is the heart of the establishment. Along the border of the main hall are shrines dedicated to different Hindu deities that you can kneel and pray to. Each deity is dressed and surrounded by vibrant colors, and their two to ten hands are carrying unique symbolic talismans, from swords to flowers to conch shells. There’s enough visual stimulus going on in a single shrine to rival an X-Men trade paperback.

I currently identify as an agnostic Hindu with developing Buddhist tendencies, all of which is part of my faith in mythology and stories. I was born into a Hindu family, but Hinduism never really interested me until I was an adult. In college, as part of my quest to be a fantasy fiction writer, I began a degree in English and somewhere in the midst of that became fascinated with myths. I was most intrigued by the acute similarities between different mythologies—for example, both Hinduism’s Krishna and the Greek Achilles were struck dead by an arrow piercing their heel, which was their only vulnerable spot. I came to understand, alongside other students of mythology, that these ancient and ever-evolving stories hold the secrets to understanding our collective humanity and creative spirit. I returned to Hinduism sometime after this revelation because of how alive it still is today—unlike Apollo or Zeus, the 5,000-year-old Hindu deities are still being worshiped widely in temples worldwide. I find this continuing practice and evolution to be a testament to the great influence and power inherent in all stories and myths. If there were shrines here made in honor of the Celtic Green Man or Greek Aphrodite that were as robust in color and complexity as the Hindu deities, I would absolutely kneel, pray, and express thanks for their presence as well.

Yet when I last visited the Hindu temple of Minnesota, I noticed that a much more modern mythology—one that I’ve been a fan of since childhood—had infiltrated the holy site. Children and adults alike were wearing the symbols of Batman, the Flash, and Captain America on their clothing as they knelt before Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, and asking for her blessing. I was initially a little taken aback to see my fanboyism and religion intersecting. In my geeky circles I’ve been quite used to seeing the frequent appearance of comic-book heroes for a long time, but in the last ten years alone (heck, even in the last five) we’ve seen such an influx in the number of people who proudly display the symbols of these fictional superheroes in whom we have come to believe. I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve seen the bat symbol more often than I have Hinduism’s ohm, Islam’s crescent moon,  Judaism’s  Star of David, or Christianity’s cross.

A statue of Ganesha

Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. reibai via Flickr

Batman especially, it seems, has achieved mythic status in America. I know that I personally have called on his spirit when I needed a guiding light to pull me through a tough time, and if you’ve seen Legends of the Knight, then you know that there are others who draw strength from him and are even  bold enough to wear his costume as they do good in his name.

It makes me wonder: Will American superheroes reach the level of worship that Hindu deities enjoy today? If we were to take a journey 5,000 years into the future—a future that would have survived the rise and fall of civilizations, where intellectual property will be a thing of the past, leaving superhero stories as fluid as the legends of King Arthur—how will these stories change? Will the Marvel and DC pantheons combine into one (more naturally than the way they were smooshed together for the Amalgam Universe)? Will the stories that we consider to be cannon today survive in the future?

There are stories of an evil elephant-headed god who preceded India’s most revered deity, Ganesha. Some theorize that this angry deity transformed with the times into Ganesha. Suppose this was found to be fact. It would be dismissed as irrelevant to current worshipers because it’s too stark a contrast with the beloved Ganesha of today—the same way loyal Batman fans dismiss the old stories of the caped crusader wielding a gun. Perhaps in the future, it will be irrelevant that superheroes were created as stories for entertainment and profit.

There is, of course, no way of knowing how our beloved characters will evolve with the times. But it’s certainly fun to think about. Until I’m visited by a time traveler in a blue box (or a pink one—who knows how that story could evolve?) who nixes all my theories I’ll continue musing on the past present and future continuum of today’s mythic heroes.

Amazon with lightninght shooting from her fingertips, with Iron Man, Captain America, and other superheroes in the background

Marvel Comics merged its mutant goddess Storm with DC’s demigoddess Wonder Woman to create Amazon during the publishers’ Amalgam crossover series in the ’90s. Wonder Woman’s origin was recently ret-conned for her to be the daughter of Zeus, the Greek God of lightning, so who knows if we’ll see a rendition of Amazon return in the distant future. Marvel Comics

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