Pop culture paganism is a broad category of religious or spiritual belief systems, with the common defining feature of these systems being that they use idols, icons, rituals, characters, and symbolism from otherwise nonreligious media as a focal point or method of worship and spiritual practice. The selected media are usually from time periods no later than the nineteenth century, effectively excluding all ancient pantheons and mythic histories, but this is by no means universal among pop culture pagans.
The term itself was coined on the blogging website tumblr in 2014, when pop culture spiritual systems first became widely popular. Tumblr users who wanted to independently develop and formalize their own personal religions and iconographies irrespective to any existing pantheon or world religion, but they still preferred to use symbols that other users and members of their generation might find recognizable. While the 'pop culture' component of the label was unanimously adopted, the 'paganism' component is still widely contested. Some pop culture spiritualists do not want to be associated with the norms of existing pagan religions and religious communities, and some simply do not feel their spiritual systems have enough practically in common with pagan religious rituals and pantheons. In some cases, existing pagan communities online have deliberately harassed pop culture paganism practitioners, considering the entire practice of pop culture paganism to be merely a fad adopted by "fluffy" and attention-hungry teens who are unwilling to take a formal, traditional, or reconstructed religious practice seriously. Due to the friction between reconstructionist pagans and pop culture pagans, many of the latter have chosen to call it pop culture religion or spirituality, rather than paganism, but most will still tag their religious posts on tumblr with 'pcp' or a similar label to make it easier to find others who have similar beliefs and practices.
Pop culture paganism owes some of its origin to chaos magick and deconstructive modern spiritual systems, because those systems set a precedent for developing egregores, tulpa, and other spiritual thoughtforms around existing pop culture symbolism, even to the point of elevating thoughtforms to a role of personal godhood for the practitioner's worship.
Some especially popular pop culture icons for pop culture paganism include Marvel's Loki, Sam and Dean Winchester and the angel Castiel, the Doctor, The Phantom of the Opera, Kaname Madoka and Akemi Homura, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, The Outsider, The Crooked Warden, Haruhi Suzumiya, Kankri Vantas, and Raava and Vaatu from Avatar: The Legend of Korra.
It is popular to select idols who are themselves derivations or allusions to the mythic figures of existing religions, as a way to access their iconography without feeling the need to wholly commit to the religions that sourced them. One might, for example, worship the specific representation of Ares from Xena: Warrior Princess, rather than worshiping ancient mythic representations of Ares, if one finds a modern portrayal and practice more accessible or personally meaningful than the ancient portrayals and rituals that come with reconstructed Hellenic Polytheism. Kaname Madoka is popular as a Christlike messianic character who young girls sometimes find more personally sympathetic and accessible than Jesus himself, and Raava and Vaatu offer a more personal and less philosophical idea of yin and yang.
Pop culture paganism sometimes also includes deceased historical figures, writers, musicians, and artists as icons. Freddie Mercury of the band Queen, Frida Kahlo, and Oscar Wilde are all popular icons. The practice of including real persons in pop culture paganism is treated similarly to ancestor veneration by those who include them.
Not all pop culture pagans actively worship the icons they use; some treat their practice as hero emulation or a system for introspective self-analysis through personally significant symbols. A pop culture pagan may keep a shrine or altar with physical depictions of their icons, or they may avoid the use of physical religious accoutrements entirely. They may adopt many diverse icons from completely unrelated media sources, or they may keep to a single piece of media for their 'pantheon.' There is no single specific practice or symbol which all pop culture pagans adopt, perform, or hold in common, and it is very rare for two pop culture pagans to use all the same symbols and practices.
Iron Noder Challenge 2014, 8/30