Mongolian Shamanism, Tibetan Buddhas breath new life, and Stephen Fry celebrates Samhain

Finding the hidden gems in Netflix is something I enjoy.  When I find one that also touches on Paganism or pre-Christian indigenous faiths  I feel I’ve hit the jackpot.

The Horse Boy – documentary – 2009
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Rupert and Kristin Isaacson have tried every traditional Western treatment and therapy they can find to help their son Rowan.  Rowan has profound autism and basic skills like potty training are beyond him.  Worse, his parents worry over their inability to communicate with him, which results in frequent violent outbursts of frustration by Rowan.  Noticing their son is calm when around horses, they set off to Mongolia, and the horse Shamans, in the hopes they can help Rowan.

This movie is not about autism, although an expert is interviewed.  It’s a movie that shows what parents will endure for their child.  The lengths they will go for hope.  In this case, Rupert, Kristin, and Rowan set off on a grueling weeks long trip which pushes them to physical and emotional breaking points.  It’s not a pleasure trip and the family and director allow us an extraordinarily intimate and uncensored view of their struggle just to reach the Shamans.  Once there, the family hears uncomfortable pronouncements about themselves and endures ritual flogging.  Mongolian Shamanism, like other surviving indigenous religions, is dying out.

Pagans will recognize all of this as a ritual of transformation and it does transform everyone, even the highly skeptical Kristin.  Like most Mysteries, we can see everything that happens, hear everything said, and yet still not be able to explain it or why it worked.  This is a movie about magic.  I can’t say it any plainer than that.

NOVA: Lost Treasures of Tibet – documentary – 2007
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NOVA did something it didn’t intend to do – proved the Buddha icons really are alive.  The episode is ostensibly about Tibetan works of art being restored by Western conservationists.  Centuries of bad weather and neglect have damaged the sacred works of art in a remote Buddhist monastery high in the Himalayas.  Without immediate attention, they will be lost forever.  In Buddhist theology, the icons are alive and contain the spirit of the Buddha they depict.  There are very few monks and nuns attending these monasteries and no worshipers to light candles.  The place feels dead, the Buddhas gone.

As the restoration takes place, interest is renewed in the monastery and old building and art techniques are regained.  The Buddhas glow and pilgrimages to the holy sites begin again.  As the icons are brought back to life, the Buddhas breath new life into the community and the religious practices of the surrounding countryside.

This is a common spiritual philosophy in Buddhism, Hinduism, and many of the indigenous religions modern Pagans are reviving.  That temples are the homes of Gods.  If you build it, create the best possible icons, and honor the Gods there, they will call to others and bring them to the site.  The idea is that thriving communities form around temples, not that thriving communities build temples.  In this episode you can watch divinity manifest and rebuild a community.

Stephen Fry in America – documentary – 2008
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Most people know Stephen Fry as a wonderful actor and comedian.  What they may not know is that Stephen from the UK was almost Steve from New  Jersey.  Finding out later in life that he was almost born and raised in America caused him to want to find out more about the USA.

In Episode 1: The New World, Fry travels through New England.  Of course one of his stops is Salem and he spends Samhain with Laurie Cabot.   As is the case all through this series, Fry is open to doing almost anything and is polite while it’s happening, but he’s also not shy about commenting on things he finds silly, appalling, or endearing.  He’s taken aback by the Samhain celebration, but that seems more to do with it being a religious observance than it being a Wiccan religious observance.  In this six episode documentary, Fry travels to all 50 states and explores the people and culture.I’ve watched the entire series and it’s fascinating to see our country through the eyes of someone from another culture.  So check it out for the stop in Salem, but you probably won’t be able to resist watching all six episodes.