Classification: Unofficial saint (some sincerely consider him an angel—no joke)
No need for last names. Go virtually anywhere in the world and mention the name Elvis and people will recognize the amazingly popular American singer Elvis Presley (8 January 1935–16 August 1977). Even those unfamiliar with his music or his biography recognize his name and/or image. He is an icon.
He may be a folk saint, too. In the years since his death, some fans have evolved into devotees. Home shrines, some small, some massive, are dedicated to the man known as the King. Visits to his grave have taken on the aura of pilgrimage. Offerings are left for him. Elvis himself was a man with deep spiritual interests. (The book he was reading when he died, A Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, is about the Shroud of Turin.)
The concept of a beloved, deceased entertainer evolving into a folk saint may be unusual in the United States but not elsewhere: for example, in Argentina, singers Carlos Gardel and Gilda are potent and popular unofficial saints. Elvis seems well on his way:
• In her essay, “Saint Elvis,” contained in the 1999 book Elvis Culture, author Erika Doss quotes an Elvis devotee who calls Elvis a mediator or intercessor between her and God.
• Frequent post-death sightings imply that he has somehow cheated, escaped, defeated, or transcended death.
• In life, Elvis was perceived as caring about people, including strangers. Stories circulated about extravagant gifts (Cadillacs, charitable donations). A generous, caring, empathic nature is often considered a prerequisite of sainthood.
• In the truest sign of a saint, Elvis has begun to be credited as a healer. Healing has occurred in response to his image (icon) as well as his voice.
Elvis is frequently compared to an angel and depicted as one. He was cherub of the month in a 1995 issue of Angel Times Magazine. Although some consider these comparisons to be humorous or poignant, others intend them quite literally.
As with the phenomenon of his musical career, the spiritual phenomenon of Elvis is multinational and international: he is a frequent subject of Mexican Day of the Dead altars and art. Images are often simply labeled El Rey (the King), no name needed at all. Elvis is frequentlydepicted as a winged angel with pompadour and cigarette.
An apparition of Elvis appears in Jim Jarmusch’s 1990 film Mystery Train.
Iconography: Elvis was photographed endlessly; virtually all phases of his life are documented.
Dates: Elvis is feted at his birthday and memorialized on his death day. There is an annual Elvis Week every August in Memphis.
Sacred sites: Pilgrimage sites include:
• Graceland in general, but especially the Meditation Gardens, where Elvis, his parents, and paternal grandmother are buried
• Sun Studios in Memphis
• Sites associated with his childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi
Offerings: Flowers and teddy bears are particularly popular; if you’d like to cook for him, several cookbooks feature Elvis’ favorite recipes.
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.