A recent blog article titled Witches Wit Beer Label—The Lost Abbey Response, which was posted as a follow-up entry to the original called A Wit-less Beer Label on Deaf Pagan Crossroads, is currently sweeping the pagan blogosphere. It is in regards to a potentially offensive, possibly insensitive, or perhaps disturbing beer label by The Lost Abbey beer company (left). The author of the blog entry described their outrage against the label’s use of an image of a burning witch to sell beer. However, the offense the author took to the imagery did not seem solely based on the subject of using human suffering for commercial gain. It also seemed to lean on the notion of the pagan community’s association with, and guardianship of, The Burning Times.
The author wrote to the company urging them to rethink their label, and received a response from a representative of the company. The rep urged the author to look at the beer label in context with their other products. Each product label had a historical image regarding the theme of Catholic “excesses” and tells a “moral” story on the back label. The blog’s author asked for comments regarding this explanation. Was the company just making a ‘flimsy excuse’ or was this an adequate position for them to take regarding the potential offense some may take to the imagery? My rather lengthy response is below.
Initially I was concerned for the one major issue [the author] raised: the imagery of someone being tortured as a way to sell a product. That was a valid and highly important point. However, the response from the company is more than adequate to explain the context of their use of the image (if it is in fact true).
As to the rest of the concerns raised, most of it seems to be in regards to the old “pagan proprietary” argument, which gets me down. The actual history of the so-called burning-times is not the intellectual property of pagans and witches. We do not own that history, it has nothing to do with us as a minority religion or esoteric group.
That period of time belongs to all of humanity. The author’s solution of keeping the Burning Times ‘in the past’ is essentially trying to bury it (although an unintentional result, I know). We must remember, that discarding the knowledge of human suffering is just as bad as sensationalizing it. Neither extreme brings out the truth. And again, as we don‘t own the history, we do not have any power over it’s distribution or representation.
Personally, I think the image of that persecution and suffering should be remembered. This label certainly has done the job of bringing the subject to our attention. (I just wish it had brought out something other than a knee-jerk reaction based on a false sense of ownership by the pagan community—as it seems for the most part, the article and majority of its responses bend that way.) Even as a outpouring of concern for a representation of human torture and death as a commercial label, or possible misinformation of the imagery by those who don’t read the back of the bottle, this reaction is still rather unfounded.
Putting historical information out there of actual events (in any form) is not the problem. People who refuse to learn that history (and its corresponding lessons) are the problem. The solution to that problem is not to stop the discussion or the teaching of history. Not to mention, the company has the right to post or identify themselves with whatever they want as long as it is not an infringement of copyright.
To respond to the kind of arguments made by others…how would I feel if this was a label of a black man being hung by a tree surrounded by white men? Horrified, outraged, and reaching for my cell-phone to call the ACLU or whoever else I could think of to boycott and stop that company from using racism as a form of shock-advertising.
So is this shock-advertising? I don’t think so. Racism, of the specific kind I used as an example, is relatively not that long ago, and the slave market primarily fed the land labor “needs” of the Americas. So it hits very close to home, and results of slavery are still present in contemporary culture today, as racism still lives on. The majority of the witch hunts occurred in northern Europe and were very long ago (circa 1400s – 1700s). It is my belief that the only people who still claim to feel the sting of these events are modern pagans. This is because of the false connection that has been passed down to us from neo-paganism’s founding fathers/mothers.
That is not to say that we shouldn’t feel a connection to the suffering and persecution of these people. No matter how long ago an atrocity occurred, it is still an atrocity. But again, we don’t have the patent on pain when it comes to persecution. And it bothers me greatly that we are still so seduced by the concept of persecution, that we allow ourselves to adopt a false history and prejudice that was not meant for us. Why do we want to be persecuted?
The irony is, that we don’t need to borrow persecution, because we have more than enough persecution to deal with in this century. Racism, sexism, agism, and religious intolerance are alive and well in today’s society. Let’s deal with our current problems. A label using a typical woodcut-style image of a witch-burning event in medieval Europe is indeed, in the past. Let us discuss the real history behind that popular image, misconceptions and false data commonly believed in popular culture, modern equivalencies to that kind of fear-mongering and public torture, and then move on to more relevant subjects in today’s world.
We cannot fix the past, we can only learn from it. Personally, I intend to save my energy for today’s injustices.
What do you think? Am I totally out-of-line, missing the point, or bringing up a much needed reality-check in these types of debates? Feel free to add your thoughts to the original blog here at Witches Wit Beer Label—The Lost Abbey Response. Or you can argue, debate, agree, suggest an alternative view, or rip me apart in a comment, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.