OMG, Cultural Appropriation of Hallowe’en by Capitalists

chesterfield-halloweenActress Dorothy Lamour, a Hollywood star of the 1940s and early 1950s (who made a comeback in the 1970s.) She appeared in several movies set in the South Pacific and is often remembered for the publicity photos of herself wearing a sarong, making her the “number 1 pinup girl of the U.S. Army” in World War II. The ad mentions her movie Wild Harvest, which appeared in 1947.

It’s Not Culturally Insenstive When We Do It in a Hip and Ironic Way

One Antonia Blumberg, writing at The Huffington Post, which often veers off into the weeds of political correctness, tackles that burning question of late October: Is it “culturally insensitive” to wear a Hallowe’en witch costume?

But the  HuffPo’s  cultural sensitivity is barely skin deep — they are also featuring an article on “Witch Is the New Black: How to Dress Like Your Favorite Sorceress.

At least Blumberg interviews Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who sees no problem:

“As someone who has been politically active for many years, I see that there’s some power in taking images and repurposing them,” said Fox. “Some in our community have chosen to have some fun with witch costumes.”

Pagan doctoral candidate Sam Webster adds,

“It highly depends on who’s doing it,” Webster told HuffPost. “If it’s a pagan or a witch, they’re usually doing it with a bunch of self-referential irony.”

Which makes sense; and what also makes sense is to adopt an attitude of “who cares?” Don’t be like the stupid school administrators mentioned in the article who banned Hallowe’en celebrations in the school “partly out of respect for practitioners of Wicca who might find the symbols offensive.” Yeah, right. They care so much about us. That language is just bureaucratic butt-covering: “Let’s avoid controversy by banning something else.”

The more Hallowe’en celebrations and the more pointy hats, the better, as far as I can see. Only what do the guys wear? Sorry, I can’t do Sabrina or Stevie Nicks.

Judy Does Hallowe’en

judy garland halloween

Actress Judy Garland in what I assume is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer publicity shot from the late 1930s, together with a publicity cat.

“Good Witches” at the Alchemical Bar

In Brooklyn, says the New York Times, “real-life good witches” are selling herbal cocktails and “celebrating all things magical.”

Ms. Ayales’s best-selling formulas are Love Handles, a tonic said to help blast fat with ginger, Himalayan pink salt, green coffee bean and a rain forest tree berry called cha de bugre, and Lucid Dreaming, a pungent cocktail of kava, ashwagandha, rose and passionflower that addresses anxiety.

Although let me say, as someone married to an herbalist, that herbal medicine works but it works slowly, and one drink served up by your “alchemical baristas” is not going to do the job.

 

“Beautiful, Wartless Witches”

(Smithsonian)

According to Smithsonian magazine, Hallowe’en started becoming a fashionable party evening in the early 1900s. And images of witches were (surprise) empowering:

“This is the period of the New Woman—the woman who wants to have her say, to be able to work, marry who she chooses, to divorce, and, of course, to be able to vote,” [Daniel] Gifford explains. “There are lots of questions about how much power women have at this time. What sort of boundaries can they push? How far can they push them? What sense of control do they have over their own lives and their own fate?”

Note the swastika and horseshoes, both good-luck symbols at the time, combined with hearts. (Hat tip to The Witches’ Voice on the Book of Face.)

Satan in Northern Ireland

Dennis Wheatley (1897–1977),  British military intelligence operative and author of occult-horror novels, is supposed to have left the “strategic military deception” trade after World War II, but his spirit evidently lived on.

According to a recent article in The Guardian newspaper, during “the Troubles” — the period of conflict between versions of the Irish Republican Army and their Unionist [loyalist] opponents that peaked during the late 1960s and 1970s — British intelligence operatives tried to create a “Satanic panic” that would hinder all the so-called paramilitary groups.

Many Irish nationalists were strong Catholics, while many Unionists were followers of the “Free Presbyterian” minister/politician Ian Paisley. Both were likely to accept the idea of Wheatley-style Satanists among them:

The head of the army’s “black operations” in Northern Ireland, Captain Colin Wallace [said] that they deliberately stoked up a satanic panic from 1972 to 1974, even placing black candles and upside-down crucifixes in derelict buildings in some of Belfast’s war zones.

Then, army press officers leaked stories to newspapers about black masses and satanic rituals taking place from republican Ardoyne in north Belfast to the loyalist-dominated east of the city.

If nothing else, it kept gullible teenagers off the street late at night, maybe.

The Myth of Halloween Sadism

Myth in the popular sense, that is to say, an urban legend, says sociologist Joel Best, who has been studying the razor-blade-in-the-apple and similar stories for decades.

Visit his website and click the tab for “Halloween Sadism.”

Halloween sadism is best seen as a contemporary legend (sometimes called an urban legend) (Best and Horiuchi 1985, Grider 1984, Ellis 1994). That is, it is a story that is told as true, even though there may be little or no evidence that the events in the story ever occurred. Contemporary legends are ways we express anxiety. Note that concerns about Halloween tend to be particularly acute in years when some sort of terrible recent crime has heightened public fears.

Worth a read. One root of the legend may be a related tale of nasty people heating pennies in skillets and then tossing them to begging children.

Queen Nefertiti Goes Cuckoo

clock“It’s kind of fascinating but it’s kind of horrifying,” I said to M. across the breakfast table when I saw an ad for “the only cuckoo clock inspired by the Wonders of Ancient Egypt.”

“‘Queen Nefertiti’s regal procession rotates,‘ it says,” I added.

“Horrifying, completely horrifying,” she replied. She detests noise-making clocks and barely tolerates my c.1910 “kitchen clock” that merely strikes the hours.

“You can have it in your study if you turn the sound (‘an exotic melody capturing the mysteries of Ancient Egypt’) off.”

Still, couldn’t you imagine sitting under it as you read John Crowley’s Ægypt sequence?

Help a Russian Scholar of Paganism Attend the AAR

galtsin

Dmitry Galtsin

Most scholars who attend the American Academy of Religion annual meeting have their travel and hotel rooms paid for, at least partly, by their institutions.

Some, however, don’t receive such support.

Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Galtsin has had a paper on “The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond” accepted by the the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, of which I have the honor to be co-chair, with Jone Salomonsen of the University of Oslo.

But he needs help with the travel expense of flying all the way from St. Petersburg to San Diego. To quote my blogging colleague Ethan Doyle White,

Although scholars of Pagan studies on the whole don’t seem to be a particularly wealthy bunch, they should nevertheless recognise the importance of building a dialogue between scholars operating in the Western world and their counterparts in Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation, in order to better understand and appreciate the growing multiplicity that exists within the phenomenon of contemporary Paganism. Arguably this is even more important in the current climate of growing political tensions between NATO and Russia.

He has an IndieGoGo campaign going. Please toss a few dollars in the can, and you can receive a copy of his presentation.

Clerical Dress for Respect, Christian and Pagan

It happened this afternoon that I had tabs open to two different articles about clothing and social respect for (Protestant Christian) clergy as well as a Wild Hunt post about some kind of Pagan trying to prank the county commissioners in Escambia County, Florida, into abandoning their custom of religious invocations before meetings. (I am glad that around here we just pledge allegiance to the flag and then get down to business.)

I am not sure of the process here: apparently the guy in question just asked to be included in the list of religious invokers. But let’s move on.

One Wild Hunt mentioned his clothing — ” I would have worn something more like business casual dress”— and that dovetailed nicely with two pieces that I had been reading just moments earlier.

In one, Paul Walters, a Lutheran minister from Troy, Michigan, writes, “Pastors complain about the lack of respect they encounter in the world around them, and yet for some reason faded blue jeans and t-shirts are equated with work clothing . . . People will judge you based on your clothing every single time(emphasis in the original).

Whereupon the commenters crucify him. One even says, “Being a pastor is not a profession.” (Huh?)

That post was linked by the doyenne of Protestant clergy fashion, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein, a/k/a PeaceBang, at her blog Beauty Tips for Ministers.

Protestant ministers are in a time warp, and in a reality warp. What they know of the new reality they have decided doesn’t apply to them because they don’t approve of it. Maybe the world has become more visual. Clergy don’t care, because they’re certain that words will solve social issues and save the world. Why should they wear heels and professional attire when a well-meaning slogan on a T-shirt or a big cross around the neck should communicate what they’re about to the public?

Weinstein is a Unitarian, in an old, rather churchy (for UUs) congregation on Massachusetts’ South Shore (no CUUPS Pagans at First Parish of Norwell, as far as I can tell).

She makes another point as well:

Today, in 2014, the mainstream Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and progressive Catholic movements are all in a big pot together in the public imagination. We’re just “those religious people” in our houses of worship doing our Saturday or Sunday thing, and carrying on with our quaint ways while the world increasingly fails to notice us or care about us. We’re nice to have in the neighborhood, maybe, but mostly for when you want a nice wedding or a kind person to say some words when Uncle Milt dies. If we step beyond those roles, we are regarded as dangerous, and in the United States, accused of violating the sacred separation of church and state enshrined in our Constitution.

Read her post on “Subverting and Interrupting Unconscious Scripts [of power]“— it is more honest than you usually see.

So, if you are any sort of Pagan moving into the public sphere, how do you deal with this perception that religion is “dangerous” and at the same time irrelevant? And how do you dress up for the job?

Back in the late 1970s, Raymond Buckland tried to start a vogue for wearing clerical collars with pentagrams embroidered on them. That went nowhere.

Some people like the stole. Patrick McCollum’s ubiquitous saffron scarf is similar, but it was given him by a Hindu holy man, as I recall. It may come from a “scarf of office” worn by imperial Roman officials, and it may also been worn by high-ranking professors, such as Hypatia of Alexandria. (I welcome clarification, if there is any historical record of this)

But the Catholics took it over as they did so much else of imperial organization, so what then? And the loose scarves are really more like the Anglican tippet, a/k/a preaching scarf.

Such a dilemma — especially in a culture where sloppiness = sincerity in some people’s minds.