Neopagan Jewelry of 1951 and the Origins of the Tiki Bar

From the Evening Star (Washington, DC)  newspaper, 1 April 191. It was published 1852–1981.

Back in 1951, when Wicca was first being introduced to the world, largely via Gerald Gardner and Cecil Williamson’s seasonal museum on the Isle of Man, a store in Arlington, Virgina advertised that “the neo-pagan influence on fashion is one of the style news notes of the Spring season.”

Say what? Tim/Otter/Oberon Zell, who pushed “Neo-Pagan” as a religious designator in the pages of Green Egg, was still a little boy then, and that influential Pagan zine was almost two decades in the future.

So herein lies a tale and also a connection to the “tiki bar” craze, which has now become retro-cool.

For this research I thank Scott Simpson, co-editor of Equinox Publishing’s books series on “Contemporary and Historical Paganism,” who made some connections after prowling through Library of Congress databases.

He noted the line about “Bird of Paradise” fashions (the necklace would cost about $20 in today’s money) and linked it to a movie that premiered that year, Bird of Paradise, starring Debra Paget as “Kalua,” an “island princess.”[1]Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.

So this is one of those “Will the princess be thrown in the volcano to appease the angry gods?” movies that used to be popular. Cultural anthropologists are welcome to cringe now. You can watch it on YouTube.

But it was not the first. The Bird of Paradise began as a 1912 stage play, set in Hawaii, credited with creating an image of Hawaii as a land where native girls “dance the hula, play ukuleles, live in grass huts, and worship volcano gods.”

Dolores del Rio as “Luana” in the 1932 version of Bird of Paradise in s tender moment with Joel McCrae, plsying “Johnny Baker,” a visiting yachtsman.

Then there was the 1932 film version with Dolores del Rio as “Luana” and the same “appease the angry gods” motif. You can watch it on YouTube.

Even bigger was the huge success of the musical South Pacific (1949) and subsequent movie (1958), both based on one story in James Mitchener’s short-story collection Tales of the South Pacific.

The  “tiki bar” craze began in the 1930s and survived World War Two’s Pacific Theater. The Trader Vic’s chain, the only one that I was familiar with, started as a tropical-themed restaurant in Oakland, California, in 1934 — just two years after the first Bird of Paradise film.

Original menu cover from the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland (Wikipedia).

Some people had good wartime memories involving fruity drinks with umbrellas in them and tropical sunsets.

My stepmother lost her first husband, a young Navy ensign, when a German submarine sank his ship in 1942. But two years later she was in Honolulu, working as some general’s secretary, and filling a photo album of pictures of friends sitting around tables full of drinks with umbrellas in them, not to mention a lot of shots on the theme of “Me and Colonel So-and-So at the beach.”

She was not adverse to visiting Trader Vic’s either in later years.

Here is Wikipedia on the origins of the term “tiki.”

What interests me now though is that “neopagan” was enough in the American vocabulary that it could be used in advertising copywriting! [2]I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted. And did it envoke angry volcano gods, semi-nude Polynesian girls, and rum drinks?

Scott Simpson found some other earlier uses of it (besides the G. K. Chesteron one that I already knew about). For instance, a group of young “creatives” at Cambridge University was using it c. 1908, including the artist Gwen Ravarat and the poet Rupert Brooke.

“But the New-Pagans seem to have had no real spiritual direction. The members went on long coutry walks and slept under canvas, but they made no serious attempt to restore the Pagan religions.”[3]Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

For example, In Italy, a poet named Giosuè Carducci (1835–1907), winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, wrote a poem titled “Hymn to Satan,” by which he meant, in a sort of Romantic sense, Lucifer as symbolic of the of rebellious and indepedent spirit. He also wrote poems dedicated to some of the old Roman gods. Based on that, he was sometimes referred to as a “neopagan” in his time.

And that is just one example. So it was not a common term, but it was out there. Especially when you wanted to honor the volcano gods.

Notes

Notes
1 Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.
2 I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted.
3 Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

“Childish and Credulous Fantasy”: How the BBC Viewed Witchcraft in 1962

Cecil Williamson, left, and BBC interviewer Alan Whicker (BBC).

Pop over to the BBC archive to watch presenter llan Whicker pontificate about witchcraft in a short television segment from Hallowee 1962.

Among other non-information, Whicker trots out the bogus “nine million witches executed” figure from the Renaissance and Early Modern witch trials.

He also interviews Cecil Williamson, Gerald Gardner’s original business partner in the Isle of Man witchcraft museum, whose opening, I suspect, had much to do with the formal creation of Wicca.

William, meanwhile, announces his official “witch ratio”: 1 witch to 53,000 population. Now you know.

Salem Museum Gives In, Exhibits 1692 Witch-Trial Materials

Samuel Sewall, a witch trial judge, painted by John Smibert (Peabody Essex Museum).

In 2017, Donna Seger, a history professor at Salem State University (Massachusetts) wrote an open letter to the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum, a big, rich institution in downtown Salem that along with being a major art museum, controls (and usually hides) the town’s historical archives.

Her letter stated,

Please reconsider your decision to remove Salem’s historical archives from Salem.

I consider the Peabody Essex Museum to be an extraordinary asset to our city, fostering engagement, awareness, and edification. Furthermore, I understand that in order for it to flourish, it had to become greater than the sum of its two parts: the former Peabody Museum and Essex Institute. Yet those two institutions, the products of the fruits and labors of generations of Salem residents, created a foundation on which the PEM was built: a strong foundation that is acknowledged in the museum’s mission statement, which asserts its 1799 foundation and status as “America’s oldest continuously operating museum”. There are no explicit references to history in this statement, but it is implicit everywhere, especially in the aim to transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. A key path towards self-knowledge and knowledge in general is historical understanding, which is grounded in historical archives full of people as well as papers.

Shortly before that, the travel writer J. W. Ocker[1]Say it with a long O, like “oak-er” wrote in his highly entertaining book A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusettsthat the Peabody Essex, “the oldest continually operating museum in America,” was well, sort of embarassed by its local-history collection, including the surviving documents from the 1692 witch trials.

“We don’t talk about Salem, we talk about the world,” the PEM’s chief marketing officer told Ocker. “The October [witchy] crowd, they don’t go to art museums.[2]I think that M. and I proved him wrong, although admittedly we did not visit in October. . . . . We are a museum of art and culture, not a museum of social history.”[3]J. W. Ocker, i Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (New York: The Countryman Press, 2016), 78–79.

Somoone must have suffered a change of mind though, because the Peabody Essex is offering a new exhibit through April 4: “The Salem Witch Trials, 1692.

Follow the links there and you will find more, such as a podcast on the trials’ legacy.

Join [Dinah Cardin] and Chip Van Dyke, your hosts of the PEMcast, as we go beyond the often-told story of the Salem witch trials to give you a deeper understanding of what happened. We’ll explore what life was truly like in a 17th-century home, go to key sites around the city and even find ourselves on a hilltop in Maine. A selection of the largest collection of Salem witch trial documents goes on view at PEM on September 26, with the opening of The Salem Witch Trials 1692. Visitors can also see, from PEM’s collection, possessions related to the judges, and the 25 innocent people tragically died.

Watch it if you can’t visit the exhibit, and be glad that perhaps peace has been made between the high art-focused museum leadership and the events three hundred twenty-eight years ago that remain spirituall potent today.

Notes

Notes
1 Say it with a long O, like “oak-er”
2 I think that M. and I proved him wrong, although admittedly we did not visit in October.
3 J. W. Ocker, i Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (New York: The Countryman Press, 2016), 78–79.

Call for Papers: Pagans and Museums

Ray Buckland (1934–2017) at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cleveland, Ohio, which began with his personal collection (From the museum’s Instagram feed).

NOTE UPDATED DEADLINES AT BOTTOM

Museums and contemporary Paganism are inextricably linked. Gerald Gardner, founder of modern pagan witchcraft, first publicized Wicca in 1951 at Cecil Williamson’s Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft at Castletown (later The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft) on the Isle of Man. Some of his correspondence suggests that the first formal Wiccan coven might have been created partially to provide provenance for the museum’s exhibits.

Sold to Gardner in 1954, the museum housed his collections and was the base from which he promoted modern witchcraft and published Witchcraft Today. Inherited by his high priestess Monique Wilson after his death in 1964, the museum continued for almost a decade before Wilson sold the 10,000-piece collection to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Ltd in 1973. Tamarra and Richard James of the Wiccan Church of Canada purchased much of Gardner’s collection from Ripley’s in 1987. Cecil Williamson, meanwhile, had attempted to establish a new witchcraft museum on the UK mainland at various locations, eventually settling at Boscastle in Cornwall in 1960. Williamson’s Museum of Witchcraft was sold to Graham King in 1996; and has been under the direction of Simon Costin as The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic since 2013.

A number of small museums today focus on contemporary and historical witchcraft and magic: The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cleveland, Ohio was founded by Raymond Buckland, one of the first Gardnerian Wiccans in America. Others include the Witch History Museum in Salem, Massachusetts; The Hexenmuseum Schweiz in Gränichen, Switzerland; Strandagaldur, The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft; the Museo de las Brujas in Zugarramurdi, Spain; and HEX! Museum of Witch Hunt in Ribe, Denmark.

Temporary exhibitions of objects belonging to the “mother of modern witchcraft,” Doreen Valiente, were held in Brighton, UK, in 2016; the Academy of Arcana in Santa Cruz, California, ran for two years between 2015–2017; and objects loaned from The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic to The Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in London were displayed in 2018. There are also museums dedicated to stage magic such as the American Museum of Magic in Michigan; the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas; The Magic Circle Museum in London; and the Musée de la Magie in Paris.

Exhibitions of objects pertaining to Paganism, witchcraft. and magic also feature in large “universal” museums, galleries, and libraries. Occult walking tours of London include the British Museum; the “Witches and Wicked Bodies” exhibition was held by the National Galleries of Scotland in association with the British Museum between 2013–2015; the British Library presented the exhibition “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” in 2017; which was followed by “Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft” at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2018. In 2019 “Second Sight: Witchcraft, Ritual, Power” was held at the University of Queensland Art Museum in Australia; and “Waking the Witch” at the Bonington Gallery at the University of Nottingham. Most recently (2019–2020), the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery held “Do You Believe in Magic?”

Beyond Wicca, museums have played important parts in other magical and Pagan revivals. The late nineteenth and early twentieth-century members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn sought to commune with the collections of large public museums such as the British Museum and the Louvre. Today, ancient Pagan objects are often the focus of quiet reverence by contemporary Pagans in museums, although in early 2020 the Witches of New York conducted a vocal “pop up” ritual to the goddess Hekate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. British Druids have been active participants in the controversy over the storage and repatriation of human remains held in museums; Pagans hold rituals at prehistoric archaeological sites which can be considered outdoor museums; and go on Goddess tours to experience sites and museums in locations such as Ireland, Crete, Malta and Turkey. “Witch City,” Salem, Mass., is a tourist/pilgrimage destination where public witchiness is encouraged; the Witch House is used as a backdrop for evocative Instagram photos and offerings are left at the Witch Trials Memorial.

In contrast, Salem’s Essex Peabody Museum is often ignored, although perhaps not for much longer with an exhibition on the Salem Witch Trials scheduled for September 26, 2020 to April 4, 2021.

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagans and Museums, edited by Caroline Tully, University of Melbourne, Australia.

How and why do contemporary Pagans engage with museums today?

Possible topics include

  1. The role of elite museums in the creation of contemporary Paganisms
  2. The role of small museums: e.g., the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic; the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft; Salem witch museums
  3. Pagan perceptions regarding the agency and enchantment of museum objects
  4. Material and sensory aspects of Pagan experience within museums
  5. Pagan use of museums and preserved historic or archaeological sites for religious purposes: e.g., the replica Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee
  6. Pagans and Witch Trials Memorials: e.g., Bålberget Memorial, Sweden; Steilneset Memorial, Norway; Paisley Witches Memorial, Scotland; the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
  7. Pagan attempts to change the narrative in museums, including efforts at removing ancient human remains from display, for example, the efforts of the Honouring the Ancient Dead movement in the UK
  8. Memorializing contemporary Pagan history: e.g., the Doreen Valiente Foundation

Abstracts due 31 December 2020. If accepted, final papers due 31 March 2021.

For information on the submission process see this link.

Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style.