coromandal


know your witches

Western Alps: worker of magic, lurid orgies

Germany: flying witches, always a woman, wicked, lone female, wicked thoughts, satanic, dangerous, insatiable, commanding.

England: blood compact with the Devil, marked bodily, enchanter using charms, ointments and effigies.

The continent: hand walker, rode hyenas, attended forest bacchanals, stole babies and penises, extended pregnancies.

Scandanavia and Scotland: flying witches

Massachusetts: general mischief involving cattle, letters, hay and beer, witty and could either be diminutive or strong.

Witchy qualities / adjectives are established by clergy and authorities who were terribly threatened. Each adjective is a restatement – and a mask – of a root female quality that challenged the authority’s power. The root qualities are perennial through centuries: joy, curiosity, yearning, abandon etc.

What exactly was a witch? Any seventeenth-century New Englander could have told you. As workers of magic, witches and wizards extend as far back as recorded history. The witch as Salem conceived her materialized in the thirteenth century, when sorcery and heresy moved closer together. She came into her own with the Inquisition, as a popular myth yielded to a popular madness. The western Alps introduced her to lurid orgies. Germany launched her into the air. As the magician molted into the witch, she also became predominately female, inherently more wicked and more susceptible to satanic overtures. An influential fifteenth-century text compressed a shelf of classical sources to make its point: “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.” As is often the case with questions of women and power, elucidations here verged on the paranormal. Though weak willed, women could emerge as dangerously, insatiably commanding.

The English witch made the trip to North America largely intact. She signed her agreement with the Devil in blood, bore a mark on her body for her compact, and enchanted by way of charms, ointments, and poppets, doll-like effigies. Continental witches had more fun. They walked on their hands. They made pregnancies last for three years. They rode hyenas to bacchanals deep in the forest. They stole babies and penises. The Massachusetts witch disordered the barn and the kitchen. She seldom flew to illicit meetings, more common in Scandinavia and Scotland. Instead, she divined the contents of an unopened letter, spun suspiciously fine linen, survived falls down stairs, tipped hay from wagons, enchanted beer, or caused cattle to leap four feet off the ground. Witches could be muttering, contentious malcontents or inexplicably strong and unaccountably smart. They could commit the capital offense of having more wit than their neighbors, as a minister said of the third Massachusetts woman hanged for witchcraft, in 1656.

Matters were murkier when it came to the wily figure with six thousand years of experience, the master of disguise who could cause things to appear and disappear, who knew your secrets and could make you believe things of yourself that were not true. He turned up in New England as a hybrid monkey, man, and rooster, or as a fast-moving turtle. Even Cotton Mather was unsure what language he spoke. He was a pervasive presence, however: the air pulsed with his minions. Typically in Massachusetts, he wore a high-crowned hat, as he had in an earlier Swedish invasion, which Mather documented in his 1689 book. Mather did not mention the brightly colored scarf that the Devil wound around his hat. Like the Swedish devil’s gartered stockings or red beard, it never turned up in New England.

The Witches of Salem, Diabolical doings in a Puritan village, BY STACY SCHIFF

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how European languages evolved
April 20, 2015, 8:12 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, departure lounge | Tags: , ,



continental abyss

This is from Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction which describes the differences and similarities between continental and British – also called analytic – systems of thought.

I’m just back from a trip to London and Paris and found the two cities to be radically different; I am convinced the forms of the cities derive directly from their philosophies.

Critchley seems to be saying – you know I don’t really know! – that there is a gap – a gaping one – between merely finding solutions – as Thatcher seems prone to do in the excerpt below – and finding a way toward a well lived life.  The British tradition tends to separate these ideas – with ultimately reductive results, whereas the Continental joins them in a kind of enriching critique of life.

Here is Simon Critchley –

On 5 October 1999, when pressed for her current views on the prospect of a European union, Margaret Thatcher remarked, ‘All the problems in my lifetime have come from Continental Europe, all the solutions have come from the English-speaking world.’  Despite its evident falsehood, this statement expresses a deep truth:  namely, that for many inhabitants of the English-speaking world, and indeed for some living outside it, there is a real divide between their world and the societies, languages, political systems, traditions, and geography of Continental Europe.  British politics, especially but by no means exclusively on the right, is defined in terms of the distinction between ‘Europhobes’ and ‘Europhiles,’ known to their opponents as ‘Eurosceptics’ and ‘Eurofanatics’ respectively.  That is, there is a cultural distinction, some would say a divide – perhaps even an abyss – between the ‘Continental’ and whatever opposes it, what Baroness Thatcher, in tones deliberately reminiscent of Winston Churchill, calls ‘the English-speaking world.’

/…/

There is a gap in much philosophy between theoretical questions of how one knows what one knows, and more practical or existential questions of what it might mean to lead a good or fulfilled life.

/…/

the cultural life in the English-speaking world is marked by a divide between science, on the one hand, and literature and humane understanding on the other.



tintin and america
May 8, 2009, 1:30 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here is an article that asks why Tintin is such a popular comic in Europe but relatively unknown in America.   It misses the mark by a wide margin, but it’s still interesting to read.  It never really answers the question and it spends a lot of time making the case for the author Herge having extreme views – racist, fascist.

Tintin was my favorite reading at a certain phase growing up in India.  I have always thought that Tintin worked as a hero in Europe but not in America; and that it had a lot to do with the basic make up of the two minds.  There are so many crass observations that can be made – liberal Europe, provincial America, old Europe, modern America etc –

However, there are general comments that can be made about the difference between the two attitudes.  I can think of two, one relating to a body/mind dichotomy and the second to morality.

That the small, smart Tintin is a European hero implies Europe values thought over force, mind over body.  Tintin thinks:  his body is small and unimportant, he muses and plots, he outwits.  In contrast, an American superhero acts:  his body and costume are critically large and lurid; he makes declarative statements; he achieves his goal through brute force.

Another clear difference between a European and an American comicbook hero – and ostensibly a difference between their two minds – is their respective attitudes toward clarity/ambiguity.  For instance, the American hero John Wayne was morally unambiguous – he knew the guys in the white hats were good and the guys in the black hats were bad.  It was a code; he didn’t question it; why question that the other, the outsider is evil?  Sergio Leone loved the western genre but knew the moral clarity of the American hero could never work with the European mind.  So, the Italian western hero – embodied by Clint Eastwood – was decidedly morally ambiguous, and much more interesting.  Men could be bad and good at the same time, like in real life.  The reason Tintin is not an American hero is his moral ambiguity, or as it’s simplistically described in this article, his ‘neutrality.’

From the article, Tintin: A Very European Hero

All societies reveal themselves through their children’s books. Europe’s love affair with Tintin is more revealing than most.

/…/

There is a link between Hergé, this disappointing man, and his creation Tintin, who fights against despots so bravely. It lies in the rationalisation of impotence: a very European preoccupation.

The key to Tintin is that he has the mindset of “someone born in a small country”, says Charles Dierick, in-house historian at the Hergé Studios. He is “the clever little guy who outsmarts big bullies”. And as a little guy, even a clever one, Tintin’s bravery works within limits: he rescues friends, and foils plots. But when he finds himself in Japanese-controlled Shanghai, in “The Blue Lotus”, he can do nothing to end the broader problem of foreign occupation.

/…/

Interviewed late in life, Hergé acknowledged the links between his wartime experiences and his moral outlook. The second world war lies behind a great deal in Tintin, just as it lies deep beneath the political instincts of many on the European continent. It matters a lot that the Anglo-Saxon world has a different memory of that same war: it is a tragic event, but not a cause for shame, nor a reminder of impotence.

Tintin has never fallen foul of the 1949 French law on children’s literature. He is not a coward, and the albums do not make that vice appear in a favourable light. But he is a pragmatist, albeit a principled one. Perhaps Anglo-Saxon audiences want something more from their fictional heroes: they want them imbued with the power to change events, and inflict total defeat on the wicked. Tintin cannot offer something so unrealistic. In that, he is a very European hero.

Tintin A Very European Hero The Economist



the inveterate, avowed rabble
November 24, 2008, 12:32 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here is a description of how Europe colonized the world between the Middle Ages and modern times, as described by Ryszard Kapuscinski.  His book The Other is short and sweet and so good for understanding our perennial tendency to look lovingly inward.

In their violent desire to expand into and profit from the outside world, European powers used men from low strata of society to do the dirty work.  The violence of those excursions was caused by both greed and by the xenophobia of the men sent.  Call them what you like, they were outcast:  beginning at home, and then cast out into worlds of mercenary violence.  They were nothing – because of their class – and everything – because of their mission.  And centuries later we recognize them as a medium that has channeled into our world fear and intolerance of the other.

“The image of the Other that Europeans had when they set out to conquer the planet is of a naked savage, a cannibal and pagan, whose humiliation and oppression is the sacred right and duty of the European – who is white and Christian.  The cause of the exceptional brutality and cruelty that typified whites was not only the lust for gold and slaves that consumed their minds and blinded the ruling elites of Europe, but also the incredibly low standard of culture and morals among those sent out as the vanguard for contact with Others.  In those days ships’ crews consisted largely of villains, criminals and bandits, the inveterate, avowed rabble; at best they were tramps, homeless people and failures, the reason being that it was hard to persuade a normal person to choose to go on a voyage of adventure that often ended in death.”

~Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Other



take one child, her blood, a candle, some bread
April 27, 2008, 4:42 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Unbelievably, the nursery rhyme LondonBridge is Falling Down is connected with human child sacrifice. It seems rivers felt transgressed against by bridges and that the spirit of the offered child helped maintain functioning relations between the realm and governance of the city and that of the river. And, it wasn’t only the Thames that had a blood thirst: apparently quite a few European rivers developed refined, and costly, palates.

So, the child is set apart, taken from life, to mediate between human political need and the anger and unpredictability of a water god. I guess it’s the innocence and purity of the child that the river wants, a perfect substitute, or at least something as close to perfection as possible.  And, in theory,  a child fits that requirement well.

It makes me wonder whose family had to suffer, how that particular child was chosen, what was the relationship to society of the child and her parents before the murder, after the murder? One guess is low born, outcast, but just good enough (blonde curls?) to assuage the angry river.  A second could be zealous parents and possibly higher born. In either case, like religious parents who set aside one son for a lonely celebate life in the priesthood.

Except that she doesn’t mention the human sacrifices. It was apparently customary in the long ago and far away to secure a building or bridge through sacrifice to the deities of the area or river. The preferred offering involved children, their blood, or, if possible, the sealing in of a child with a candle and hunk of bread at the foot of the bridge. When the Bridge Gate at Bremen was demolished in the nineteenth century, the skeleton of a child was indeed found implanted in the foundations. Nor are songs about bridges falling down unique to Britain, with examples coming from Italy, France, and Germany. The idea behind the sacrifice was that the spirit of the youngster looked over the bridge using the light and stayed awake by eating the food.

In Romania it was believed that the sacrifice of a person’s shadow to a building or bridge would do the trick. People would be enticed to stand over the foundation and their shadow measured. This written measurement was then buried with the foundation stone. Sadly, it was also believed that the person whose shadow was buried in such a fashion would die within forty days of the building’s completion. So-called “shadow traders” still existed in Eastern Europe until the nineteenth century, and people would shout out warnings to those passing freshly erected buildings to beware in case someone stole their shadow. These are interesting, if gruesome, legends, but there is scant evidence linking London Bridge specifically to such practices.

“Rivers and child sacrifice,” you might scoff. “Dark Ages stuff!” Except that in the twenty-first century such practices still take place. On 21 September 2001, the headless torso of a young boy was found floating near Tower Bridge. He had been used as part of something called a muti ceremony, in which the body parts of a child are used for medicinal purposes or to bring good fortune to a business enterprise. Police throughout Europe believe that there have been perhaps a dozen such cases .

~from Heavy Words Lightly Thrown by Chris Roberts, Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA).