Pagan Myths Debunked: Where Did You Think That Pointy Hat Came From, Anyway?

Pagan Myths Debunked: Where Did You Think That Pointy Hat Came From, Anyway?

 

by Lilith Veritas

It’s never been easy to be a pagan in a world where differences are feared and minorities are persecuted. It’s made even tougher by how little nonpagans usually know about the realities of our lifestyle and beliefs. How many times have you had to explain that Satanism is not Wicca, or that Wiccans are not the only pagans? Most nonpagans get their information about Wicca, neo-paganism and other Craft-related beliefs from the mass media, which has faithfully clung to stereotypes and painted a sensationalistic picture of pagans, just like they do about everything else. TV shows like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have contributed much to making paganism seem less frightening and more acceptable to the mainstream, but they’ve also continued to support misinformation and superstitions that have plagued pagans throughout modern times. Shows like Sabrina, or even the old favorite Bewitched, leave nonpagan viewers with the impression that witchcraft is all fantasy and special effects, and anyone who believes in such things might have a screw or two loose. Really, do you know anyone who has a talking cat or has developed a working teleport spell?

The reality is that the majority of pagans today come from other religions and backgrounds and are at least partly self-educated, and many bring some of these ideas with them! It’s really difficult to educate the nonpagan public if we’re not clear ourselves on the history of witchcraft and the origins of our symbols, tools and stereotypes. While it’s hard to change deeply held beliefs, the truth is a powerful weapon against fe

and prejudice, and acknowledging our own history is the only way to move forward to a (hopefully) enlightened future.

For a quick example of the history of a pagan tool, let’s look at the Book of Shadows. Many pagans take it for granted that these books are an integral part of being a pagan. The term itself has been popularized by the media; the sisters on Charmed have a family Book of Shadows, which seems to be a universal encyclopedia of all things magickal, and the sequel to the popular Blair Witch Project movie was called Book of Shadows. The common perception seems to be that Books of Shadows have been handed down from medieval times and contain wisdom gathered hundreds of years ago. How accurate is that perception?

The first recorded reference to an actual Book of Shadows was in 1939, by the founder of modern Wicca, Gerald Gardner. He claims to have received pieces of this book during his initiation into the religion now known as Gardnerian Wicca. Both Doreen Valiente and Aleister Crowley appear to have added to the book, after Gardner “restored” it. Prior to that, however, there is no known recording of a Book of Shadows, at least not by that name, and few references to grimoires or books of knowledge used specifically by pagans. The book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches was written by folklorist Charles G. Leland in 1899 and appears to be the closest historically, but it would hardly have been ancient knowledge a mere 40 years later. Books of Shadows are now used by many pagans, both Wiccan and non-, but that name seems to be solely a creation of Gardner and his contemporaries.

Many pagans would like to believe that there is a written source for ancient spells, rituals and traditions to which they can turn to validate their current practices. They may forget that in ancient times, and often through the first part of the twentieth century, the common person didn’t know how to write or read! Most pagans in the Western world today can both read and write, and even those deemed “illiterate” can often do both enough to get by. During the height of the witch hunts and in rural areas where folk medicine and pagan rituals may have continued more or less uninterrupted, literacy was not common, and it is unlikely that many witches, if any, kept such a book. Most commoners didn’t keep books at all!

There is another argument against the idea of ancient grimoires being commonplace: Anyone found with such a book would likely have been found guilty of heresy and possibly put to death, and the book summarily burned. This threat would have been lessened for someone of the upper classes, but for typical rural folk would probably have been too big a risk to take. During the times when herbal healers had to be very careful to hide the tools of their trade and be sure to put their best Christian face forward, it would have been virtual suicide to have a book of “arcane knowledge” laying around the house, even if most of your neighbors couldn’t read it! Having books at all was cause for suspicion amongst the lower classes, since they were poorly understood by most and rarely read by any but high society. The few documented grimoires likely did belong to folks of higher classes, as they were the ones who could afford them and could also afford to learn to read.

As I mentioned, many pagans would like to have a historical book of knowledge to justify their current practices. While it would be nice to trace such things unbroken into the past, “new” does not mean “bad” or “invalid.” Newer ideas aren’t automatically bad ideas! Now that we have the means to write down our beliefs and rituals to pass on to future generations, or just to remind ourselves, many of us will choose to do so. Knowing where a practice comes from allows room to change and grow, and keeps folks talking from a place closer to truth than superstition. And knowing that new practices are springing up will hopefully keep the pagan paths alive and vital instead of bogging them down in the dogma so common in many mainstream religions.

Moving into the realm of stereotypes, many Americans think of the pointed black hat as the key identifier of a witch. These folks are often the most surprised when they meet a real, modern witch wearing jeans and a T-shirt. But where did the stereotype of this pointy hat come from?

One thing to keep in mind in the search for this stereotype’s origins is that it is peculiarly American and Western European, particularly from the British Isles, and it is a fairly modern invention. Witches in Eastern countries do not appear wearing pointy hats or any of the accoutrements that we commonly associate with the Halloween-style witch. Early woodcuts of witches in the Middle Ages showed them wearing scarves, or hats popular at the time, or even with their hair flying in the wind. Our media has popularized the view of witches with pointy hats as well as green skin, warts and brooms. I suspect the Wizard of Oz movie released at the dawning of the media age has more to do with the current stereotype of the “wicked witch” than does historical evidence!

The most positive interpretation I came across was echoed by Doreen Valiente as the probable source: Pointed hats were actually a visual representation of the Cone of Power that witches drew upon during their rituals. While this puts a nice, witch-friendly spin on the image, I find it to be rather unlikely. People in previous centuries who were creating woodcuts of witches tended to paint a very unkind picture and did not include positive aspects of true witchcraft as it existed at the time. Witches were portrayed dancing with devils and participating in all varieties of heinous rites, not drawing down the moon and healing the sick. It is unlikely that someone projecting a witch in such a light would bother to represent a Cone of Power, which is typically a positive force.

There is another, commonly held belief that the pointed hat originated with another persecuted group in Europe, the Jews. While Jews did wear pointed headgear, most scholars now believe these hats were not a likely source for the witch’s pointed hat. After all, pointed hats were fairly common throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

This fact leads us to the source I find to be most believable, and most mundane, for the Pointy Hat Look. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, commoners in Wales and England often wore pointed hats. As fashions changed, the last to retain the old styles were the rural and peasant folk, who were considered “backward” by higher society and were usually the ones accused of heresy and witchcraft. Much as we today have stereotypes of the sort of student who might commit violence at a high school, so did the medieval people have their ideas of what sort of person might be a witch.

Along these lines, Gary Jensen, a professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, postulates a connection between the persecution of Quakers in America and the stereotypical appearance of witches in our folklore. Quakers did wear pointed hats, and the negative image of witches wearing conical hats in America became common about the same time anti-Quaker sentiment was at a peak. Quakers were thought by some to consort with demons and practice black magic, things also associated with the early American view of witches. Once again, an easily recognized symbol of an oppressed minority may have become generalized to a group equated with them.

In the final analysis, it’s likely that more than one of these issues came into play to ingrain the pointy hat into the mainstream idea of what a witch looks like. After all, the ideas that stick most firmly in the mind are the ones repeated from different sources, and many things in history can’t be traced to a single root cause or moment.

In the Craft, as in all aspects of human culture, the powers of media and modern communication weave together a new “truth” from bits of folklore and whispered traditions, and picking apart this fabric to get at the real foundation requires persistence and the willingness to view your own ideas in a new light.

For those interested in further reading about pagan stereotypes and history, I suggest the Internet as a great source of information, if one takes the information found with the proper grain of salt. Two articles in particular that I came across stand out in my mind, and I believe it would benefit pagans in general to read and consider the implications of both of them.

First of these is a speech by Doreen Valiente at the National Conference of the Pagan Federation on November 22, 1997. As a founding influence on the modern practice of Wicca and a contemporary of both Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley, Valiente had a unique perspective. In this speech, she questioned many “truths” about Gardnerian Wicca and presented views that some may find surprising. Transcripts of her speech can be found at http://www.users.drak.net/lilitu/valiente.htm.

Second is a very well-researched essay about the Burning Times by Jenny Gibbons, which can be found at http://www.cog.org/witch_hunt.html.

While I don’t endorse either of these sources as the absolute truth, they are certainly thought provoking.

Some other sources:

The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

Best Witches site, http://www.rci/rutgers/edu/~jup/witches

“The Witching Hours,” by Shantell Powell, http://shanmonster.bla-bla.com/witch

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A Little Humor – A Dog’s Letter To God

A Dog’s Letter To God

 

Dear God, Let me give you a list of just some of the things I must remember to be a good dog.

  1. I  will not eat the cats’ food before they eat it or after they throw it up.
  2. I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, etc., just because I like the way they smell.
  3. I will not munch on   “leftovers” in the kitty litter box, although they are tasty.
  4. The diaper pail is not a cookie jar.
  5. The sofa is not a ‘face towel’. Neither are Mom and Dad’s laps.
  6. The garbage collector is not stealing our stuff.
  7. My head does not belong in the refrigerator.
  8. I will not bite the officer’ s hand when he reaches in for Mom’s driver’s license and registration.
  9. I will not play tug-of-war with Dad’s underwear when he’s on the toilet.
  10. Sticking my nose into someone’s crotch is an unacceptable way of saying   “hello”.
  11. I don’t need to suddenly stand straight up when I’m under the coffee table.
  12. I must shake the rainwater out of my fur before entering the house – not after.
  13. I will not throw up in the car.
  14. I will not come in from outside and immediately drag my butt.
  15. I will not sit in the middle of the living room and lick my crotch when we have company.
  16. The cat is not a ‘squeaky toy’ so when I play with him and he makes that noise, it’s usually not a good thing.
  17. I must remember to lick my butt after I lick their face, not before.

 

Turok’s Cabana

Feng Shui for Pets?

Feng Shui for Pets?

By TAILS

What’s better for Fido’s wellness—having his water bowl near the eastern or  western wall of your house? How about your cat’s scratching post—will kitty be  more inclined to use it if it’s in the living room or bedroom? Perhaps you used  feng shui to organize your home when you first moved in, but did you ever  consider that this Chinese philosophy relating spatial arrangement and  orientation to energy flow can also benefit your pets? Why is it important to  make your companion animals’ living quarters more feng shui–friendly, and what  steps can you take to help your furry friends achieve a better balance of yin  and yang? How can feng shui benefit Fido?

“A house with good feng shui means that you have a peaceful, clean, and  harmonious home,” says Kathryn Weber, publisher of the Red Lotus Letter, an  online newsletter about feng shui. “When your home is in good order, everyone is  more healthy and content. This transfers to your pets’ health and well-being,  too,” she says.

Dirce Johnson, a Longview, Washington-based certified practitioner of  interior alignment, feng shui consultant, and animal rescuer, concurs. “Feng  shui is even more important for animals than people,” she says. “If a living  area is out of balance, people sense it and react negatively,” she says. “These  reactions can run the gamut from mental issues, such as depression, anger, and  anxiety, to physical ones, such as loss of sleep and illness. Animals are far  more intuitive than we are—they survive by instinct. Consequently, an animal’s  reaction to an imbalance in the environment is much worse than that of a  human.”

Basic ways to achieve balance

In light of these expert observations, what can average pet guardians do to  prevent such imbalance and improve the feng shui within their living space?

“A beneficial home environment is one that is neither too dark nor too light,  not too loud nor too still,” explains Weber. “If your home has a loud TV and  bright sunlight or is noisy and without calm, the pet may be anxious, [which can  result in] birds plucking out their feathers or dogs excessively licking. If the  home is too dark or quiet and is cluttered, the pet may experience weight gain,  feel lethargic, lose [his or her] zest, or have nagging health complaints, such  as achy joints or poor breathing. Cleanliness is also essential for maintaining  good feng shui. For example, a kitty litterbox that’s rarely changed is bad for  the cat, emits negative energy in the form of odors, and is unpleasant to look  at.”

Suzanne Metzger of Feng Shui Consulting Services in Colorado Springs,  Colorado, adds to these recommendations by emphasizing that eliminating clutter  is a simple yet critical step that pet guardians and home owners can take to  enhance feng shui. “This is especially important in your bedroom and your pet’s  sleeping area,” says Metzger. “Clutter, which is stagnant energy, is a common  problem in our material-based culture. Both people and pets can be affected in  subtle ways, such as premature aging, eating disorders, and lack of focus. In a  pet’s case, lack of focus can contribute to problems with housebreaking or other  training difficulties.”

Calling all experts

But what if cleaning up clutter and providing a calm yet energized home  environment seem like daunting tasks in and of themselves, let alone when the  idea is to create the optimal combination of yin and yang for everyone in the  family? According to Metzger, certain circumstances often necessitate a little  expert advice.

“A trained feng shui consultant will be able to balance your entire space,  pinpoint problems you may not be aware of, and give appropriate solutions with  more accuracy than someone without training. Yet not all consultants are tuned  in to animals, so it’s important to tell them about any problems your pets are  experiencing when they take your family history.”

Weber, on the other hand, advises that outside consultation is not always  essential. “You don’t [always] need to see a feng shui consultant, because good  feng shui starts with the basics—a clean and tidy, clutter-free home. If you  have pets, this will help them stay in good health and prevent them from being  pestered with problems like fleas. Feng shui is truly an easy-to-apply  technique.” On the flip side, she adds that furry and feathered residents are  responsible for actually generating feng shui within a home. “Pets themselves  are good feng shui! Their lively, active energy works as an energizer for the  home environment, and animals are also wonderful protectors.” Consider this food  for thought the next time you’re experiencing any negative energy as you go to  change Fluffy’s litterbox.

Everyday Tips for Fostering Feng Shui with Your Furry  Companions

Consider trying out these simple suggestions to ensure that your pet benefits  from as much positive energy as possible!

• Make sure any litterboxes are situated in secluded areas, preferably in  their own nooks.

• Be certain there are no exposed beams above your pet’s  sleeping area.

• Do not situate your pet’s sleeping area near any electronic  devices.

• Consider purchasing a pet fountain from a pet supply store or  constructing your own with an inexpensive pump purchased from a craft  store.

• Make sure there are no sharp corners pointing towards your pet’s  food, sleeping, or toilet areas.