Alan Moore’s Promethea: Comics as Neo-Pagan Primer and Missionary Tool

Charming & Crafty: Witchcraft and Paganism in Contemporary Media

Harvard University, May 2006

Northeast Modern Language Association Convention

God and the Graphic Novel Panel

Baltimore, MD, March 2007

Christine Hoff Kraemer, Boston University

Alan Moore's series Promethea is a both a sophisticated reworking of the superhero genre and a primer on contemporary Paganism and ceremonial magic. Moore creates a strong female lead in Sophie, a college student who learns to channel the demigoddess Promethea and bring a utopian apocalypse of the imagination to the world. In the course of the story, the reader is extensively introduced to the elemental system used in contemporary Pagan ritual, as well as the occult kabbalah.

In this paper, I will argue that the graphic novel medium is an ideal form for this combination of story and spiritual instruction. Moore's writing, combined with J.H. Williams' art and layouts, creates a highly immersive reading experience that may potentially trigger spiritual experiences in the reader. As he told Comic Book Artist, Moore wrote the kabbalistic issues a state of ritual meditation. In order to describe each of the states of consciousness that Sophie would explore, he sought to achieve them, and to produce art as expressions of those states. "What you were seeing in the comic is not the report of the magical experience," he told CBA. "It was the magical experience." From this perspective, the comic itself becomes a tool to help create the positive shift in consciousness portrayed in its conclusion. The reader is not just presented with occult techniques for consciousness change, although Moore clearly does seek to educate and inform. For some readers, the comic also holds out the experience of consciousness change itself.

In a culture where the distinction between low art and high art still persists and "low art" works are often dismissed as cheap and mindless entertainment, the notion that a comic could effectively serve as a trigger for meditative or other spiritual states in its readers may seem absurd. Art historian David Freedberg's The Power of Images, however, explores the history of response to images in Western culture and charts the persistence of viewers' intense emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical responses to both popular and fine art. If anything, Freedberg asserts, it is more acceptable to have strong and varied responses to popular art forms, under which he includes everything from personal religious images sold for home altars to erotic photography. Freedberg presents convincing evidence for the persistent belief in images' power to affect viewers psychologically and spiritually, as well as to move them to action.

Moore uses comics' unique blend of word and image to communicate his personal religious vision to the reader with unusual power. As a spiritual tool and missionary text, Promethea may be properly considered an heir to the sequential religious art used to stir and educate medieval worshippers.