I stood in Cheers Liquor Mart, a supermarket of things alcoholic in Colorado Springs, last Wednesday wondering if I should try a bottle of Witches’ Wit beer.
The “controversial” Witches’ Wit beer, that is, with the witch-burning scene on the label. The brewery had defended the design, and even the artist commented on one blog, in essence, “How dare you insult my artistic vision?! If you could see the painting full size, you would understand.” (Can’t find the link—will add it if I do.) But of course, it’s bottle-label size.
“We have been accused of inspiring violence against women, and we have been compared to the violence in Darfur,” said Sage Osterfeld, a spokesman for Port Brewing. “It has run the gamut from people saying politely, ‘This is offensive to pagans,’ to people saying we are responsible for all that is wrong in the world.”
Is the design “hate imagery” against today’s Pagan Witches? Honestly, I don’t think so. And if it is, it is nothing to do with the modern religion of Pagan Witchcraft in its various forms. (If you want to argue that it is anti-women, go ahead.)
When it comes to the word “witch,” we want it both ways—safe and edgy. As the Dutch scholar Léon van Gulik writes in a paper that will appear in the forthcoming issue of The Pomegranate,
The acquired taste of Paganism is rationalized by upholding a self-image that perpetuates a tension with the secular world without, and sometimes even the non-initiated world within. This tension can for instance be observed in the clinging to the term “witch” in Wiccan circles, the meaning of which clearly differs between insiders—and outsiders.
There in the aisle at Cheers, however, I decided not to reinforce the current label imagery of Witch’s Wit. Because right next to it was another beer with a folk-Catholic-themed label: Maudite (“the damned one”) Belgian-style ale from Quebec. I acquired a taste for Maudite when in Montréal about a year ago, but had not seen any in a Colorado store until now, so into the shopping cart it went.
UPDATE: No, apparently they are going to consider changing the label.