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The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
of the Justice League and Sentinels of Magic
Zatanna Zatara is widely known simply as "Zatanna," a long-standing member of the Justice League of America.
Zatanna is a sorceress, a practitioner of occult magic, as well as a person who has religious beliefs and practices tied to these sources of her power. But Zatanna is religious in many, sometimes surprising ways. She has been specifically identified as a member of a Dianic Wicca coven, a formal organizational affiliation which complements longstanding characterization.
In addition to her invocations that are part of spells and magical pratice, Zatanna has frequently invoked, as part of informal prayer, off-the-cuff expressions, or profanities, deities such as Hotath, Xhtulu, Dagon and Azathoth. These are deities mentioned in sources such as H. P. Lovecraft fantasy stories and Robert E. Howard's "Conan" stories. (See, for example, Zatanna's invokation of Hotath, from Howard's "Kull" stories, in Justice League of America #206.)
Zatanna does not strictly limit her religious interests and practices to "magic-based" or occultic religions, however. She is best described as religiously eclectic, and has incorporated practices and wisdom from a wide array of religions, including Christianity and Buddhism.
Email received from Orville Eastland, 26 April 2006:
I just visited your website and found it very informative, though not yet complete.
I have some information on a specific character, Zatanna. It is fair to describe her as occult, but it would be more accurate to describe her as open-minded.
In The Brave and the Bold 169, Zatanna mentions attending a service at a Temple (presumably Pentecostal or similar... it contained crosses inside and on the graves outside) in Gotham, whose minister is a faith healer named Angela Marcy. I won't go into the story (you'll have to read it), but I will point out that (1) Zatanna believed Angela's gifts to be genuine, and (2) At the end of the story, Zatanna (and Batman) encouraged Angela to open a rescue mission in the slums of Gotham.
The only other time Zatanna has been expressly depicted as practicing religion was in Zatanna: Come Together, in which she was depicted as a Dianic Wiccan and a member of a coven in San Francisco. (Dianic Wicca is a female-centered variant of Wicca that worships only Goddesses and counts only females as its members.)
If this was confusing, it gets even broader. In JLofA [Justice League of America] 87, Zatanna isn't depicted as practicing any religion, but on the last panel, after describing Zatanna, it quotes Matthew 5:9 to describe her.
In JLofA 176, Zatanna is shown praising Buddhism after she and Red Tornado were sent to the location where Siddhartha Guatama (Buddah) achieved enlightenment. (Or was it where he was born? I need to check back on this.)
In JLofA 257, Zatanna quotes from C.S. Lewis's Perelandra, "There seems no plan because it is all plan. There seems no center because it is all center."
And this doesn't count all her references in her expletives (along the lines of Superman's "Great Rao!" and Diana's "Great Hera!") to Hotath (A deity used in Robert E. Howard's Conan stories), Xhtulu (A variant of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu?) and at least once apiece to Dagon (Philistine fish-god used in a H.P. Lovecraft story as founder of the Deep One race.) and Azathoth (a deity/cosmic being created by H.P. Lovecraft).
As for Zee's own personal views, I think she said it best in JLofA 246, "Any belief too tightly held will destroy the believer. Even a belief in magic."
I'll be glad to help submit pictures to support this.
Left: Catwoman calls Zatanna to ask for help. We see Zatanna sitting on her bed in her San Francisco home, surrounded by occult paraphernalia and books. She has been reading The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley. On Zatanna's nightstand next to her bed is The Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred. Both of these books are associated with occult studies, witchcraft and eclectic spirituality. These books reflect the fact that for Zatanna, magic and the occult are part of her overall religious beliefs and identity, and not simply a source of super-powers or a means to a career as a magician.
[Source: Catwoman #57, published by DC Comics (2006), page 22; written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by David Lopez, inked by Alvaro Lopez; reprinted in Catwoman: The Replacements, DC Comics (2007), page 114.]
Left: Closeup of book on Zatanna's bed: The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley, a favorite of occult aficionados, often regarded on par with "scripture" or sacred religious texts.
Left: Closeup of book on Zatanna's nightstand: The Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred. The Necronomicon (i.e., Kitab al-Azif) is an imaginary occult book that was "written" by fictional character Abdul Alhazred in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The book is an important part of Cthulhu Mythos lore. In Lovecraft's writings, the Necronomicon has a level of importance to occult practitioners similar to the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran or other holy works. Familiarity with this book has transcended Lovecraft's writing and has become a part of general occult lore.
Left: Selina Kyle ("Catwoman") went into hiding, adopting the alias "Irena Dubrovna," which she borrowed from filmmaker Val Lewton's classic 1942 film Cat People. Zatanna has come to Catwoman's home to erase the memories of two villains who have learned this new secret identity of Catwoman's and threatened her child. Zatanna mentions that among Val Lewton's films, she prefers The Seventh Victim.
Catwoman notes that The Seventh Victim revolves around Satanism and suicide, and makes a comment to the effect that this is a particularly fitting choice to be Zatanna's favorite. Catwoman's implication here is that Zatanna is connected to (or at least in some way partial to) Satanism. Of course, technically speaking Zatanna does not actually practice Satanism. But it is understandable that people who don't know her particularly well might think this about her, as she does indeed engage in occult practices and evince occult beliefs, and she does call down magical powers, including power from extradimensional demonic entities. Zatanna is not known to have ever called herself a "Satanist," per se, nor is she known to have ever worshipped Satan specifically.
[Source: Catwoman #58, published by DC Comics (2006), page 15; written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by David Lopez, inked by Alvaro Lopez; reprinted in Catwoman: The Replacements, DC Comics (2007), page 129.]
Above: A captive Angle Man mistakenly identifies Zatanna's name as "Satanik." This indicates that he associates her with Satanism. "Satanik" was, in fact, the title character of a long-running Italian comic book series.
[Source: Catwoman #58, published by DC Comics (2006), page 4; written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by David Lopez, inked by Alvaro Lopez; reprinted in Catwoman: The Replacements, DC Comics (2007), page 118.]
From: "Religion in comic books" discussion forum started on 24 April 2006, on DC Comics official message board website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000072787&tstart=0; viewed 1 May 2006):
Posted: Apr 25, 2006 2:06 PM
...some characters' religion varies from writer to writer. Zatanna attended a Christian worship service in Brave & Bold 169. (The denomination is unknown... but it did involve a faith healer... who Zatanna believed was genuine. Go read the story). In JLofA [Justice League of America] 176, Zee [i.e., Zatanna] praised Buddhism. In Zatanna: Come Together, Zee was depicted as a practicing Dianic Wiccan! (Of course, as Zee said in JLofA 246, "Any belief too tightly held will destroy the believer. Even a belief in magic.")
Excerpts from: "Atheist superheroes" discussion page, started 2 March 2006, on "Atheist Network" website (http://atheistnetwork.com/viewtopic.php?p=209834&sid=5ca5d2a99f2714e2f90fcee608eb4ac4; viewed 26 May 2006):
Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2006 3:42 am
It's good to see that Mr. Terrific is still an atheist...
Of course if I were in the DC Universe I would be a believer in the supernatural if not an outright theist [i.e., believer in God]. After all, the heroes of that universe have been to Hell. They've stood before the hosts of heaven. Not only does Spectre exist but so does Deadman, Zatanna, Swamp Thing, Ragman, Raven and Dawn Manitou, Shazam, and on into near infinity. ...even the original Green Lantern got his power from magic. And Hal Jordan/Green Lantern was the freakin' Spectre for awhile. Add to that the number of characters that come back from the dead and really in that reality there would be no real reason to doubt.
...not surprisingly more villains are revealed to be atheists than heroes...
From: "Religion in comic books", posted 14 June 2006 on "Get Religion" blog website (http://www.getreligion.org/?p=1679; viewed 14 June 2006):
[Comments section for this page]
Posted by Katie Q at 9:53 am on June 16, 2006:
Avram, the triple usage theory is interesting, but I'd say theology and mythology (in this context) are roughly the same. As far as the DC Universe is concerned, Wonder Woman's classical Greek pantheon-worship isn't much different from Zauriel's Judeo-Christian Silver City, which isn't much different from Zatanna the Magician's vague neo-occult beliefs. All lean heavily towards the mythology end of the spectrum; "theology" rarely plays a role in comic book worlds. This is largely because, when it comes to the validity of any given religion, the universes are very pluralistic.
From: Doug Tonks, "A Higher Power", posted 22 October 2006 on "All New! All Different! Howling Curmudgeons: Two-Fisted Comics Commentary and Criticism!" blog website (http://www.whiterose.org/howlingcurmudgeons/archives/009995.html; viewed 25 April 2007):
The never-identified but usually heeded "they" claim that there are two topics you should never talk about: religion and politics. But since Mike already brought up religion... I'll follow it up with a link to this page [link to: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html], which lists the religious affiliations of various comic book characters. Many of the religious identifications are backed up with lengthy supporting arguments, but some of the more minor characters get little or nothing in the way of explanation.
Some of them are not too surprising... Others are obvious... But my absolute favorite religious affiliation has to be Zatanna's--"eclectic Pentecostal Dianic Wiccan."
Posted by Doug at October 22, 2006 7:12 PM
From: "Sacreligious amd anti-Christian Comic characters" forum discussion, started 28 February 2007 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000107545&start=0&tstart=15; viewed 19 July 2007):
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 12:49 PM
Any character that uses magic, sorcery
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 12:58 PM
Is this crap serious? This all depends on what faith you practice. It's conservative braindead and downright dangerous thinking like this that makes more and more people turn on the church...
Good Lord, (sigh)
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 11:20 PM
Comments on Mavericker's list:
...Zatanna being homo magicus is sacreligious? ...
Scarlet Witch - well, since she's insane anyway...
"Any character that uses magic, sorcery."
The actual dictionary definition of sacreligious follows:
From the Oxford dictionary:
Adjective form of Sacrilege
Noun. Robbery or profanation of sacred building.
Outrage on consecrated person or thing.
Violation of what is sacred.
These are fictional characters!!!
Which of them have robbed or profaned a sacred building, committed an act of outrage on a consecrated person (well LOBO Probably) or violated what is sacred?
And if you think these characters are sacreligious, why don't you just avoid the books that use them?
Is Elfquest sacreligious because the elves have no organized religion?
Posted: Mar 1, 2007 6:41 AM
In regards to Zatanna:
Yes, she is a sorceress. She's also been a member of a Dianic Wicca coven (Zatanna: Come Together), invoked Gaea (War of the Gods), praised Buddhism (JLofA [Justice League of America #176), and was described as studying Tantra with John Constantine (Swamp Thing 49).
However, if you consider Zee to be sacreligious because of this, consider the following:
1. At the end of JLofA #87, in which Zatanna risks her own life to rescue Blue Jay, who was one of the foes the JLA was fighting, the editor quotes Matthew 5:7 to describe Zatanna and her actions.
2. In B&B [Brave and the Bold] #169, Zatanna was described as a friend of a Christian "faith-healer", attended her services, and believed her gifts to be genuine. Later in the story, after the faith healer realized her gifts were not genuine, Zatanna (and Batman) encouraged her to open a rescue mission in Downtown Gotham.
3. Zatanna quoted from C.S. Lewis's Perelandra and described herself as seeing God the Father in JLofA 257.
4. Zatanna mentioned her belief in God at the end of SO 27, which took place at the Abbey of Monte Saint-Michael.
It's not as clear-cut as you might think.
From: "Possible writers' cliche/prejudice: No well-adjusted athiests/agnostics in the DCU?" forum discussion, started 26 May 2005 on "Comic Bloc" website (http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-5064.html; viewed 20 July 2007):
May 31st, 2005, 12:41 PM
When you have the embodiment of God's rage [the Spectre] running around in your world, I would think that it's kind of hard to be an atheist. Now, knowing God exists and choosing to worship him or not could be an entirely different matter.
Oh, and I just thought of this: Does Zatanna count [as an agnostic/atheist character]? She accepts the mystical aspects of the universe, but she doesn't seem to worship anything. Something that could be explored, perhaps?
Webpage created 1 May 2006. Last modified 20 July 2007.
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