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.

“Beautiful, Wartless Witches”


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.)

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.

The Day of the Dead Post that was not Written

This would have been the perfect writing prompt for a Day of the Dead post: a big family memorial service for my uncle Jim, my mother’s younger brother, once well-known in the Denver legal scene.

But I am not writing that post, full of ancestral stuff.

He died in September, in Sun City, Arizona, where he lived after retirement, but the memorial was delayed until today, for reasons that I am not privy to.

His brother, Robert, told me that his ashes would be interred in a columbarium at the Episcopal cathedral in Denver. Columbarium is Latin for pigeonhole or dovecote, basically. Depending on the design, your “cremains” go into something like a post office box.

Robert had said that Jim’s would be placed with those of his mother and sister. These compartments are built under a broad sidewalk. As a high school senior, visiting the cathedral during some sort of humanities class trip devoted to ecclesiastical architecture, my girlfriend and I danced up and down that sidewalk, because I wanted to say that I had danced on my mother’s grave — in advance.

My mother and I were not too close.

When she died, I did the medical power-of-attorney thing, making last decisions at the hospital, and then handled her estate, but that was out of filial duty — and neither of my sisters wanted the job. They had their own issues with our mother.

Although I take after my mother’s family physically, I am not too close to them either — even though I have about twenty cousins on that side. For some reason, Uncle Robert never emailed the final details about the service and reception, and it says something that I did not know whom to call. Nor was I about to drive 150 miles to Denver and then hang around the cathedral, waiting.

Besides, had I gone, I would have missed the neighbors’ Bonfire Night party. (She’s British, in case you’re wondering.) As I started writing this post, with the front door standing open for the afternoon warmth, I heard a chainsaw whining in the distance — probably Bernie cutting more wood for a big fire. It’s a tradition on our road, and I wonder who the “Guy” tossed into the fire will be this year.

Last year’s party came a week after the forest fire, and the party-goers were split between the people who still had their homes and those who did not but came anyway.

This year, anyway, the village is more important than distant kin.

Beavering Away at Home

beaver ponds10-13Once in a while, I like to note that Hardscrabble Creek is a real place. The beaver pair had kits this year, and they also expanded their dams from two to five. A couple of years ago, they left because they had eaten all the available deciduous forage, mostly narrowleaf cottonwood and willows. Will the rising water table encourage more beaver-edible trees to grow? (They don’t eat pines.) Can they keep expanding their string of dams upstream?

And here are some links:

¶ At Occult Chicago, Rik traces sites associated with Thee Church of Satan in the 1970s.

¶  Artforum notes the recent Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions.

¶ Anton Lavey’s daughter Zeena describes how her Halloween experience when she was a little girl living with her father, the founder of the Church of Satan.

For the first quarter century of my life, back when I was the devil’s defender, Halloween wasn’t the fun and merriment it was for many others.

¶ Oh no! I bought the Halloween candy, but I forgot to pray over it!

A Phone Call for Owlivia

Owlivia release_sm

Owlivia makes her getaway.

I have two volunteer gigs, and they both involve unexpected telephone calls.

For the rural volunteer fire department, it will be a recorded voice saying something like, “We have a smoke report east of Highway 165 and north of Highway 78.”

That is followed by a sudden switch into Nomex clothing, either the yellow shirt/green trousers wildland-firefighting outfit or the slightly heavier all-yellow “interface gear,” a fine product of California’s prison industries. Then comes urgent radio chatter as I try to figure out who is able to respond and if someone can pick me up with the engine on the way or the fire, or if I have to drive down to the station — or if I should just slap the magnetic flashing light on the Jeep and head for the incident directly.

The other unexpected type of call might be from the director of the raptor center down in Pueblo saying, “Someone in [some town] has an injured hawk in their back yard. Can you go pick it up?”

Or perhaps it is it’s the area wildlife-volunteer coordinator: “A rancher in [the valley] found some abandoned fox kits in a hay stack. They’re at a veterinarian’s office up there. Can you go get them and take them to the rehabilitation center?”

And M. and I get gloves, pet carrier, capture net, goggles, flea powder — whatever we need — load the truck and go.  Maybe I pin on my official Colorado Parks & Wildlife name tag (she never bothers), so I don’t appear to be some random animal-snatcher.

Last Monday, the 21st, was the second kind of call. This time,  an injured sharp-shinned hawk was in a garage—the homeowner had found it outside, unable to fly, and shooed it into the building for its own safety.

I was able to catch it pretty quickly — always good when there are people watching, and there usually are people watching, because they made the original phone call, and they want to see what happens next. And I gave the usual reassuring speech that it would be at the raptor center that evening and evaluated by a veterinarian the next day.

I knew its prospects did not look good. A day later, we learned what had happened: broken humerus, dislocated elbow, possibly the result of being hit by a car. Result: euthanasia. The expert opinion was that this bird would never be healed well enough to live on its own.  More than not, that is what happens.

But there was better news. A great horned owl chick that had been found in a certain hardware store in our county last spring had spent all summer learning to fly and hunt at the raptor center, and now it was ready to be released. Could we pick it up and take it back to the same general area?

Such calls — all too rare — are the pay-off for the rest. We picked up the owl in her carrier, and before many miles, M. had named her “Owlivia.”

“Willow Creek Road,” I suggested, thinking of a small canyon in the national forest where I had heard great horned owls before, one that offers a mix of habitats: deep forest, brush, and pasture. After supper, as night was falling, we drove up there and let her go. She did not hesitate.

M. and I have special feelings about owls. For several years, they helped put food on the table for us, when we spent many spring and summer nights hiking in the dark, counting them for the Bureau of Land Management. If you’re fond of owls too, the Cornell Ornithology Lab has a package of owl sound clips that you can download for free — at least through H-owl-owe’en.

It’s October—And You Know What That Means

It means incoherent news stories about “the occult.”

On the other hand, here is something genuinely cool: Oxford Journals are offering free downloads on a group of articles that have some connection or other to historical witchcraft, horror stories, or the just plain spooky.

The offer is good only through the 31st. I am off to read “Buffalo Bill Meets Dracula” myself.