Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Samhain, Our National Demonic Holiday!"

Ugly Americans is a relatively new animated show on Comedy Central, which features demons, zombies, wizards and all kinds of assorted characters who have taken over America in the not too distant future. Tonight's episode was entitled "Hell for the Holidays" and opened with a reference to "Samhain (pronounced correctly), our national demonic holiday." Mark Lilly is a normal-looking human who is dating a female demon named Callie (portrayed as a seductive and sexually-insatiable woman with red hair that looks like it's made of flames). Mark presides over a meeting at his office that is meant to promote tolerance of Samhain. Callie's father invites Mark to a weekend at their "lake house" (in Hell, naturally), where, unbeknownst to Mark, there will be a reunion of sorts known as the annual "Games."

One character announces: "I would like to wish you a happy and evil Samhain." I's nice to see they did their research and at least are pronouncing it correctly! I mean, even The X-Files did not manage to do it right. (Ya like that little blast from the past?)

Other choice quotes from this episode:

In the demon forge: "Then it's off to a demon inspector who will check for lunacy, strength and genitalia barbing."

Receiving some flowers: "I'll put those in some goat's blood right away."

"The new wife buries the old one on Samhain, at midnight."

"The blood courts have already been reserved!"

Bing Crosby zombie, to a man who has just wished him a Happy Hallowe'en: "I think you mean Samhain, there, David; Bah buh buh bah, BRAINS!"

Normally I don't think this show is all that clever, even though it's chockfull of popular culture references. But tonight's episode was fun, especially following an episode of South Park in which British Petroleum, after causing a disastrous oil spill, decided to drill for oil on the moon and managed to unleash Cthulu!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ah, now comes censorship.

I joined the Facebook page for the folks trying to boycott the Lost Abbey Brewery. (Yes, boycott; as if any of these people were in the habit of buying this company's products to begin with). One poster named "Coven Avalon" posted several times that the Lost Abbey blog had been "pagan bashing big time; called us ignorant!" I posted to say that this was not true, that the word "ignorant" had only been used to refer to the remarks in emails sent TO the Lost Abbey Brewery. I also wrote that this poster should get their facts straight before trying to incite people to engage in an angry campaign of email to the company. At no point was I rude or derogatory (despite receiving fairly condescending treatment from the creators of the page). After a bit of back and forth where I attempted to clarify my position when it was being misinterpreted, my remarks were deleted from the Facebook page and my membership in the page removed. NICE. Ironic, too...given the insistence of so many of these people that they feel a desperate need to "have their say." Hmm.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The New York Times, The Lost Abbey, and What Microbrew Goes Best with Crow?

Just in time for Hallowe'en, the New York Times has weighed in (can you believe it?) on the Lost Abbey controversy. The tongue-in-cheek tone of the piece makes me think that perhaps some folks in the pagan community reached out for some media coverage on this, and perhaps got more than they bargained for. The news is making the rounds in the beerosphere, too: The Full Pint, a beer lovers' news site has also offered its take, after first posting on it last week. The Wild Hunt also reports on the latest developments in this issue and, as always, the comments section is a collection of diverse opinions. At least one commenter mentions that one prominent witch and author actually suggested HEXING the Lost Abbey Brewery (on a Yahoo group mailing list, apparently). But, seriously? HEXING? To what end? To make them go out of business? To cause their buildings to go up in flames? This is seriously out of line, people.

Then again, the controversy generated over this has been nothing short of ridiculous. I posted the New York Times link to Facebook via our Witches' Voice page of links, and had people screaming at me (or, you know, the internet equivalent of screaming) for daring to speak for the Witches' Voice on this matter (uh, I don't speak for them, for the record, folks. I'm one of several people who has the ability to post news links on the Facebook page). In typical (if unfortunate) Facebook fashion, the comments have been volatile and not always very well thought out.

Which brings me to a very thoughtful piece of writing I found today on the Lost Abbey website. I repost it here. I hope the folks at Lost Abbey won't mind. I'm okay with their using the term "Brew Ha Ha" which I of course believe I cleverly thought of first, so I guess we're even.

"This morning, my phone roared to life as it does each day when it awakens from a short but well deserved slumber. Google Mail alerted me that the New York Times had indeed published the article detailing our week long conversation with members of the Pagan Community. And unless you have been around the brewery for the last week, you might have missed these conversations.

You see, they started last Friday October 15th at 12:01 AM when a slew of emails hit our Lost Abbey in box. Many of them were of the cut and past variety and they all were sent to detest our “New” Witch’s Wit label. We thought this odd since the label was first produced in 2008 and has never once inspired anyone to contact us to express their displeasure.
Turns out that recently a very famous member of the Wiccan Community “found” our beer in a store. She was immediately appalled by our use of 16th Century images featuring a Witch being burned at the stake. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter were all employed to mount an assault on our systems. An email campaign was also started and a barrage of very similar emails filled our in boxes for the duration of the weekend.

Many of these emails labeled our Marketing and PR Departments as ignorant, woman hating Cretans. Some claimed that no sane person in their right mind would use an image of a buxom Witch being burned at the stake for commercial gain.
We have a stack of emails asking whether we would show Jews being gassed or African American’s being lynched. Of course not was our reply. Others seemed to think we were responsible for recent incidents in Darfur as well. It was amazing chain of events to say the least.

Apparently, many of the emailers didn’t bother to spend time researching our branding and the positioning of our beers. In blindly denouncing our original art and the satire of our labels, most of the emailers failed to connect with our brands. Looking at these emails, it was obvious that in our desire to tell a great story, we had forgotten to get that information on our website in a meaningful way.

Sitting in my office, I can honestly say it was hard for us to see the forest from the trees.

Since day one, The Lost Abbey has been about original artwork, original beers and original back label stories tying them together. I know this because it’s been my job to develop the beer, commission the original artwork and write the back story for the label. This has been no easy task. Yet, I am very proud of our labels. They are cohesive and constantly work at pushing the boundaries of beer as art.

But we’re still missing some of the storytelling aspects on our website. So we’ll be adding this to our list of things to do in the not so distant future.

But getting back to the Pagan and Wiccan brewhaha that ensued is why I am blogging today. Sage was tasked with answering the communities and in his response he emplored the emailers to approach our beers as a collection of original artistic pieces displaying the struggle between good and evil. As soon as this email began making the rounds, some members of the pagan community responded with more positivity; others were still not placated.

Each day last week, I came to work and wanted to communicate this situation to our Lost Abbey Clergy. I felt it was important to share this with the consumers of our beers who support the artistic direction of this brand. Ultimately, I decided against it as this because I didn’t want to fan the flames of this little wildfire. This was incredibly difficult for me as I received some memorable emails and quotes like this one: “Screw you, you fat ass beer slugging alcoholic Christian Ass Hole.”

But now that the New York Times published a story in today’s paper detailing our situation with the Pagan and Wiccan communities, I typed this blog post to share my thoughts with you. Please go read the New York Times piece. Then please go read the notes I published about our Witch’s Wit Label on our website. When you’re finished, you can use this forum for comments about this beer. We’d love to hear what you have to say about this.

At this time, the only decision that has been made about this label is that we have agreed (as owners) to discuss this label controversy at our meeting in November. We remain committed to the art of story telling and using beer as our medium and hope to keep delivering more amazing beers and storys for years to come."

I think it's wise for them to wait until November to make a decision about this. I applaud the author's willingness to share the brewery's experience. Boy, talk about a witch hunt. It sounds like some of the "email protests" directed towards them were downright abusive. Meanwhile, given the numbers on the calendar and the abundance of candy and spooky kitsch on store shelves at the moment, I wonder how many more news outlets will give space to this story?

I was blissfully unaware of any further developments on this issue over the weekend. I was in western NY, closing down my campsite for the season, and enjoyed my birthday on Saturday the 23rd with a lovely steak dinner at a tavern in the woods, and hoisted a glass of microbrew called "Nosferatu." Ironically, I was thinking of Lost Abbey as I did so, drinking a silent toast to them for standing their ground in the midst of the protests. I hope they know, not ALL witches have a problem with their label. I think I'l toast them again tonight with a bottle of "Hex" from the Magic Hat Brewery.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Horror! 'Tis the Season!

Today, the British newspaper The Guardian capped its series of lists of best films in various categories by offering their take on the 25 Best Horror Films of All Time.

I like their list: I especially like that they chose Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) as the top horror pick, and that The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) is Number Four! I also admire their choosing The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) as a top contender, since that film is so reviled and misunderstood (personally I think it's a brilliant work of truly independent cinema, and a scary horror film to boot). I'm surprised by some of the omissions: like Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968), Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) and 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002).

I'm a huge horror film fan, and something of a horror scholar, I suppose. Some more obscure titles I love include Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964), Ganga and Hess (Tim Gunn, 1973), The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996), Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001), Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (Bob Clark, 1972), The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971), A Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman, 1959), and The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983).

For pagan-themed horror films, or those including witches, at any rate, you can't beat The Wicker Man, The Craft, Practical Magic (Griffin Dunne, 1998), The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Devil Rides Out (Terence Fisher, 1968), and The Dunwich Horror (Daniel Haller, 1970).

What say you, friends? Anything to add to the Guardian's list? What are your horror favorites?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brew Ha Ha! An Update

So, just when you thought it was safe to go purchase a six pack or two of your favorite naughtily-named microbrew, it turns out that the indignant complaining of some righteous witches might have had an impact on a small sector of the craft beer industry.

I've recently learned that the Lost Abbey Brewery, the source of some controversy earlier this week over their label for "Witch's Wit" wheat beer (which features a young woman being burned at the stake), has decided to respond to the angry emails directed at them by offering to create a new label for the beer, and, what's more, to host a contest for a new image! (No information on when, where or how this contest will be conducted; stay tuned!)

Considering a great deal of the pagan community's response has been fairly evenly split on this, with roughly half of them expressing negative emotions ranging from mild annoyance to impassioned outrage, and the other half wondering what all the fuss is about (and wondering why so many witches want to make it look like our community has a persecution complex), this response from Lost Abbey was somewhat surprising to me. Then again, it may help generate some publicity for their products; maybe even more than the recent flurry of media attention over the Witch's Wit label. Oddly, it's been two years since the label was first introduced.

Well, congrats, angry witches. You've managed to make a small independently-owned company bow to your ludicrous campaign of whiny nonsense. So what's next? Getting involved in some environmental activism, perhaps? Cleaning up your local park? Volunteering at your local hospital or nursing home or food pantry? What's that, you say? More protesting of offensive witch imagery during the month of October? Maybe you should head on up to Salem, Massachusetts. I hear there's a whole lot of tacky stuff with witches on it for sale there.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Isis is Pretty! And memories of Saturday morning...

My friend Walter, who has a healthy obsession with films and television depicting pretty much anything connected to paganism and the occult, shared this link with me this week. It's a photo of an upcoming episode of Smallville that will feature the goddess Isis.

Awww....isn't Isis PRETTY?

Walter called this" jaw-droppingly awful," and maybe he was referring to the story line in which Isis (who is really Lois Lane, temporarily transformed, apparently) will use Clark's body to revive her mummified lover Osiris (I mean, that is kind of offensive to those modern pagans who worship Isis as a more benevolent goddess, not a bloodthirsty goddess of sacrifice) , but I dunno...compared to the depiction of Isis that I remember on television from my Saturday mornings as a kid...this looks like par for the course.
Isis was a companion show to Shazam! and both shows were an important text in the formative years of millions of American kids born, say, between 1960 and 1970.

But what's perplexing is the use of an Egyptian goddess as an agent of murder. Moreover, having said evil goddess possess the pure, sweet and good Lois Lane...this is a rather prurient, sophomoric and not very creative storyline, really. Any why Isis? I mean, why not a goddess associated with death or sacrifice or destruction, like Kali? Or even Cerridwen? I remember Isis being portrayed as a very kind, positive, compassionate goddess. Then again, that was the 1970s, era of disco and homegrown pot and roller skating in Central Park. I guess she had to evolve into a dark-hearted bitch to reflect the unfriendly times we live in.

I miss the creative, wonderfully entertaining kids' programming of yesteryear. It does seem as though today's programs are devoid of any real invention or sense of fun. I mean, remember those Sid and Mart Krofft shows? How trippy and wonderful! Sigmund the Sea Monster was my favorite; and it looks like it will be coming to the big screen. How will it fare, outside its 1970s-era context?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Controversy? Or Overreaction?

Over at the The Wild Hunt blog, there's a discussion happening regarding a label on a bottle of beer. The company is called Lost Abbey, and the beer is called Witch's Wit. The label depicts a witch burning at the stake, while hundreds of anonymous men look on. Jason Pitzl-Waters provides plenty of links to more information, and some of the remarks being made around the net. Rather oddly, given that the label has been in circulation for a couple of years now, a number of witches are up in arms, calling this artwork offensive. Some have even compared such imagery to depicting a black man being lynched, or a Holocaust victim being burned in the ovens at Dachau.

I am beyond offended...not by the image of the witch burning at the stake, but by the outrageous comparison to lynching or the Third Reich. The last time there were witch burnings in the western world was over 400 years ago. And those martyrs were Christians, not witches and sorcerers. The last time there was a lynching of a black person in the deep South was less than a half century ago. The last Jew burned in the German camps died in the 1940s. To invoke recent history as a parallel to ancient history is not only ignorant, it's self-serving.

Every year, around this time, we see plenty of sensationalist, stereotyped portrayals of witches. There are those ugly old hag archetypes, straight out of Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages or The Wizard of Oz. Then there are the more modern, titillating depictions: the buxom, beautiful, sexy young witches in skimpy outfits, like Elvira, or the gals in The Craft. The witch, whether beautiful or ugly, young or old, enticing or frightening, is an archetypal image that will probably never go away. Those of us who call ourselves witches, who practice modern witchcraft, should be able to accept that this archetype is part of our history, our culture, and our heritage. Hell, some of us even wear those pointy hats and skimpy black outfits at Hallowe'en! How many of the female pagans protesting this label image have not done that at least once? You can't have it both ways.

I'm not saying the label from Lost Abbey isn't sexist, because it is, a bit. But I don't think it's thoughtless, nor do I think it's anti-pagan. Their beers and labeling are thoughtfully conceived and executed with no small amount of humor or irony. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the description for their Inferno Ale: "Your roommate is an axe murderer. Eerily, he’s not threatening. How can he be? The Fallen Angel owns your body, mind and soul. As such, no one can take your life. It’s already been taken. Or was it given? Neither matters. Did you seriously think you were living a virtuous life? At least Satan serves beer in Hell. He brews it himself right there in that flame stoked cauldron."

Clearly, these is some measure of humor intended here. I think maybe some of those witches choosing to be morally offended should lighten up a little bit. It's also not really appropriate for modern pagan witches to align themselves with the martyred witches of the European witch craze or the North American witch trials. They were martyrs, victims, persecuted women and men, to be sure. But they weren't witches! And if they did traffic in sorcery, I promise you, it was a far cry from the invented ceremonial rituals and nature worship that today's witches practice. Today's witches are mostly middle class white people, and we're generally not in danger of being persecuted. We are, however, in danger of being misunderstood and ridiculed. And one way to bring ridicule upon oneself is to get morally indignant about imaginary persecution.

I think the reply from Lost Abbey, sent to one blogger protesting this issue, and posted on The Wild Hunt earlier as an update, is worth reposting here:

"I encourage you to look at all of Lost Abbey’s beers and consider them in context. Each of the Lost Abbey beers features a label which depicts a theme of Catholic excess — good and bad — on the front, and tells a moral story on the back. (Our founder is a recovering Catholic.)

In the case of Witch’s Wit, the back label is a story of the bad consequences of religious intolerance and oppression. The woman on the front is referred to as a “healer” on the label and accuses the Church of being narrow-minded and violent, threatening the same fate to anyone who would help the woman. The label ends with a note that this beer — a light, sweet and golden ale — is brewed in honor of that woman (and all those who died for their convictions).

Our other beers — Devotion, Deliverance, Judgment Day, Inferno, The Angel’s Share, etc. — all have similar messages of morality. Unfortunately, the people who started this meme either didn’t bother or didn’t care to actually read the label and simply chose to fan the flames of ignorance and intolerance — which, ironically, is what the beer is actually against."

I also find it deliciously ironic that, like the majority of modern pagan witches, the brewery's founder is a recovering Catholic.

People, we simply have bigger fish to fry. You want to help a witch who's been persecuted? Go send a donation to the legal funds of the West Memphis Three; three young men wrongfully imprisoned for murder, in part because one of them, Damien Echols, was a practicing Wiccan who wore black and listened to heavy metal music, and was believed to be the ring leader of a satanic ritualistic killing of three young boys, and whose trial was a travesty of ignorance, fear and prejudice. If you want to protest the persecution of witches, then for goddess' sake, help someone who has actually been wrongfully persecuted in the name of witchcraft.

I did a bit of research and found some interesting links. I am guessing most of the folks protesting the beer label are not terribly familiar with craft microbrews. They're very good, and expensive, and therefore not generally of interest to "drunks" or casual beer drinkers. Further, these small independent companies have a long and colorful history of beer names and labels that push the envelope of what some might call decorum, what others might call good taste. They are the indie cinema of beer, if you will. And many of them use supernatural imagery in their names and artwork.

Check out Magic Hat, for example, or the Voodoo brewery in western PA. As for mainstream beers, Miller High Life has been using witch imagery in their advertising for a long time.

Moorhouse's Blond Witch gets a good rating from Beer Advocate. Here's a bar in Florida with a witchy name. And here's a great craft brew label sure to incite protest!

And oh, look! A scholarly article about "beer witches" in the industry! And here's some food for thought on beer witches in history. And some saints associated with beer.

Anyone else find some interesting links on witches and beer? Send 'em over!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hail and Welcome!


This is my new blog. I'll be blogging about media; specifically media of interest to witches, neopagans, heathens, and other like-minded folks. Some of you may remember some of my work as the long-time Media Coordinator for The Witches' Voice website. But the times they are a-changin', and it seemed like a fine time to being my scholarly interests, critical acumen, and unique brand of snark to the blogosphere.

This has been in the works for a while, and will be bringing forth all sorts of exciting surprises in the near future! So for now, I hope you enjoy what you read here. And do feel free to contact me with any leads or questions.