FLU, MASQUES AND WITCHES
When I left Rome two weeks ago, I found that most of the airport personnel had been provided with surgical masks. Once inside the plane, I became drowsy. I don´t know why, but when a plane is about to take off I have an urge to go to sleep.
While closing my eyes before departure I imagined I saw Richard Prince's suggestive painting of a nurse wearing a surgical mask. It is a quite troubling work of art with its black background and dripping paint, reminding me of Francis Bacon's screaming popes, enclosed within their absurd power.
Her soiled medical makes Prince's nurse anonymous, almost intimidating, like a disguised criminal. The sinister mood is further emphasized by white lettering behind her - Hurricane Nurse, making her appear as even more disquieting by turning her into some kind of feminine, imminent natural force.
Why did Prince name her Hurricane Nuse? Richard Prince made himself a name by using commercial myths in his art, such as the so-called Marlboro Man a virile, cigarette smoking cowboy. I suspect Prince's Hurricane Nurse is a similar role model, a female equivalent to the super-macho Marlboro Man. A powerful and attractive professional woman.
It would not surprise me if Prince had been inspired by Peggy Gaddis (1895-1965) who for several years once a month wrote so-called nurse novels, including one called Hurricane Nurse. I am fascinated by pulp fiction writers. While writing my extensive blogs I identify myself with their hectic prolificacy, like Barbara Cartland with her record number more than 700 novels. Peggy Gaddis ”only,” wrote around fifty novels, though that was not a bad output either. I consider my blog-writing to be akin to Peggy Gaddi's description of her pencraft: ”It's a kind of drug, for which I hope no one ever finds a cure”
I haven't read anything by Peggy Gaddis, though I assume her nurse novels were far spicier than those Helen Wells (1910-1986) wrote about Cherry Ames's platonic relationships with various strapping and admirable Men in White. Helen Wells was even more productive than Peggy Gaddis, writing at least fifty novels under her own name and several others under pseudonyms. However, unlike Peggy Gaddis, Wells did not direct her novels to an adult audience but to girls, who in those days were not supposed to be exposed to an overly raw reality. Throughout her career, her heroine Cherry Ames was engaged in every conceivable professional role available to a nurse. Always remaining an impeccable role model; effective, beautiful and despite her romantic involvement with attractive, male superiors, she did in all novels remain single. Apart from doing her job, Helen Wells makes Cherry Ames solve several criminal cases. The author's obvious purpose was to stimulate girls to become professional, chaste and independent nurses.
My youngest sister, who I assume read the entire Cherry Ames series, actually became a nurse and I know she has enjoyed her career choice. I actually read some of the yellow-spined books about the super nurse (otherwise were girls´ books in those days generally red-spined, while boys´ books were green-spined). At that time, I was unrestrained in my reading and read almost anything I assumed was interesting among the books I found at home, and much more besides However, Cherry Ames proved to be a quite boring acquaintance. Too much romance and rectitude. And how could such a conscientious and skilled person like Cherry Ames change jobs all the time? The novels´ titles informed us that Cherry Ames had been army-, chief-, flight-, rest home-, summer camp-, rural-, private duty-, jungle-, department store-, boarding school-, dude ranch-, clinic-, and hotel nurse, apart from several other nursing jobs and on top of that she did not get any older. Was she constantly dismissed? I probably read two or three Cherry Ames books and then returned to Biggles and Deerfoot. These ”books for boys” were certainly not better written and far more prejudiced than those about Cherry Ames, but what was not at all noticed by a kid with an eye for adventure.
After vacillating between dream and alertness, I came round when the plane had reached its normal flight altitude. An internet connection was available and since no one was sitting beside me I had enough space för computer surfing – I don´t like using my cellphone for that.
I wanted to know more about the coronavirus and what I found was fascinating. The microscopic virus world is just as remarkable and incomprehensible as any other phenomenon in the Universe, by far exceeding the limiting framework of our human mind, enclosed as it is within questions like "how?" and why?".
It has been stated that a virus is not a life form because it lacks a metabolism of its own and is unable to reproduce without entering an organism. Nevertheless, it is alive in the sense that it is able to breed and can thus be described as ”an intermediate entity”, something in between living and dead matter. Viruses propagate by invading living cells, using their functions to create new virus particles.
As with living organisms, there are a variety of ”species”, or forms, of viruses of which at least six hundred ”survive” by infecting humans. Their existence is dependent on our misery, like humans viruses are parasites exploiting, damaging and often destroying other life forms. Virus causes a wide variety of phenomena, some are violently feared, others considered to be fairly harmless. However, all viral infections can have a lethal outcome and there is no cure for any of them, although some can be vaccinated against. Some examples of diseases causeb by viruses are herpes, shingles, brain inflammation, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, rabies, ebola, HIV/AIDS and influenza.
Every year, influenza viruses travel through the world and seriously infect between three and five million people, of whom between 290,000 and 650,000 dies. This is part of our human existence and rarely causes panic. However, fear spreads when ”new” viruses make their appearance. In 2002, SARS appeared in China and infected 8,098 persons worldwide, of whom 774 died. Less well-known is MERS, which in 2012 originated in the Middle East infecting 2,494 persons and killed 858. SARS probably spread from bats to civet cats and from them to humans, while dromedaries carried MERS.
The surgical masks worn at the Rome airport were designed to protect people from the Wuhan Corona Virus discovered in Wuhan on December 31, 2019, and traced to its markets. At the time of writing, we do not know for sure what animal it was that transmitted the virus to humans, though the main suspects come from the ”wildlife” markets. Something that, after my time in Hanoi by the beginning of the 1990s is not at all surprising to me. At that time, I could at the city's restaurants find a section which sometimes was written in French - de la forêt, ”from the forest” where dishes cooked on various exotic animals were offered. I and my good friend Svante Kilander, who at that time was Secretary of Embassy, often considered whether we should order a stewed pangolin. We jokingly wondered if you ate the animal's scales dipped in melted butter like the bracts of an artichoke. Thankfully, we never ate any pangolin, it would have given me a bad conscience.
Live and slaughtered dogs, pangolins, snakes, monkeys and other animals were sold at the large Dong Xuan market that burned down in 1994, a year after we had left Vietnam.
A few days ago I read that the pangolin is now the prime suspect for transmitting the Wuhan Corona Virus. One of the reasons for the spread of this specific virus may be that the hands of some pangolin butcher which after being in contact with the poor animal's flesh have transmitted the infection to people. The virus now spreads through direct skin contact, or by spreading virus particles through microscopic droplets that attack you if an infected person coughs you in the face. However, the virus cannot travel through the air at a longer distance than one metre.
As the name indicates, the Wuhan Corona Virus, like SARS and MERS, is a coronavirus. The denomination derives from the Latin word for ”crown” and comes from the fact that if the virus is viewed through an electron microscope it seems to be surrounded by a corona. like the sun. What looks like a shining corona is actually small ”tags” that link the virus to the cell that will be infected.
Like other unpleasant viruses, such as HIV / AIDS and ebola, coronavirus is a retrovirus. This means that the virus´s RNA molecule, which is single-stranded, i.e. it has only one chain, unlike the double-stranded DNA (double helix). The RNA strand of a coronavirus joins the DNA of an infected cell and this transforms it into another type of DNA. This abnormally altered DNA now affects the cell's information flow, which is stimulated to create harmful proteins. Under normal conditions it is the DNA that uses RNA as a ”messenger” between the genes, creating proteins that encode the hereditary information that is stored within each organism. The treacherous retrovirus uses its RNA to encode DNA, rather than the other way around, which is why it is called a retrovirus.
I an amateur when it comes to understanding and describing this strange microcosm, it might thus be that I have misunderstood the entire process, but that does not prevent me from being fascinated by how these strange transformations within a tiny microcosm can have enormous consequences in our human dimension of existence.
A common concern is that after a little more than a month, the Wuhan Corona Virus has proven to be more deadly than both SARS and MERS, it is already damaging China's economy. At the time of writing, on the twenty-first of February, 76 769 cases have been confirmed. In China, 2 239 persons have died from the virus, which now has spread to 26 other countries where it has so far only caused eight deaths.
All over the world people now fear that the Wuhan Corona Virus might develop into pandemic just like the deadliest flu epidemic ever – The Spanish Flu that agonized the entire world during the end of World War I and during some of the following years. In 1918, it killed my grandfather, made my father fatherless at the age of one year and forced him, his four siblings and my grandmother to live in poverty for many years. People were weakened by the war and other tribulations caused by it. Tightly-knit groups in trenches, in barracks, or during troop transports spread the virus at great speed, a development further supported by new, improved means of transport. Spain was not particularly hard hit, but since this nation did not participate in the war and furthermore had better health control than most other countries, the flu epidemic could be ascertained, tracked and means to control it was early put in place, hence the name Spanish Flu.
The pandemic raged at its worst between March 1918 and June 1920, reaching Inuit in the Arctic and Polynesians in the Pacific. Spanish Flu became the pandemic known to have killed most humans in shortest time. In twenty-five months, it killed between 50 and 100 million people, i.e. three to six percent of the world population. An estimated 500 million were infected, which corresponds to one-third of all people at the time. Of those diagnosed with the flu, at least 2.5 percent died, which can be compared to a normal flu epidemic during which no more than 0.1 percent die.
In contemporary photographs, we see that healthcare personnel just like now wore surgical masks. How effective are they really? WHO, The United Nations World Health Organization, notes that the use of surgical maks is no guarantee against infection. These masks, which are most common, were actually made to keep infectious agents from surgeons´ noses and mouths while operating and not designed to protect from virus particles. They can nevertheless provide some protection, but they do not seal of mouth and nose tightly enough and leave eyes and other parts of the body unprotected. In addition, after a day's use, the masks have to be washed, disinfected, or discarded. The Wuhan Virus also has certain properties making it difficult to control. Unlike SARS and Ebola, which are contagious only after symptoms of an infection have emerged, the Wuhan Virus may be dormant up to fourteen days and during this time a person, even if unaware of her/his sickness, can infect others not only by sneezing but through touch, speech, and even breath, though only within a radius of one metre. Even if our bare skin has been protected by gloves the infection might affect us if our gloved hands touch naked skin, for example of the face. Within an hour a person touches her/his face at an average of 23 times. More important than wearing a face mask is to wash/disinfect our hands as many times as possible and keep away from infected persons
It is by Burchard (950 - 1025), Bishop of Worms, that we for the first time find written hints of a powerful and obviously international cult of a female, ”pagan” divinity. Burchard wrote comments on the text that would later be affirmed as Canon Episcopi. Several versions of this law eventually included Burchard's observations as part of the law text.
Have you believed there is some female, whom the stupid vulgar call Holda, who is able to do a certain thing, such that those deceived by the devil affirm themselves by necessity and by command to be required to do, that is, with a crowd of demons transformed into the likeness of women, on fixed nights to be required to ride upon certain beasts, and to themselves be numbered in their company? If you have performed participation in this unbelief, you are required to do penance for one year on designated fast-days.
Belief in an almost omnipotent female divinity, mistress of nature; fertility, birth, and death, appears to have been an essential part of traditional, European thinking, perhaps it was even a global phenomenon. Like nature, this divinity was beyond good and evil. In fact, she included in her character what we perceive as distinct qualities, like life and death. This mother-goddess of could reveal herself in both terrifying and benevolent manifestations. More than five hundred years after Bishop Burchard wrote his comments, Martin Luther mentioned Frau Hulde in one of his comments on the Bible's epistles. He appears to be describing a procession of disguised participants:
Here cometh up Dame Hulde with the snout, to wit, nature, and goeth about to gainstay her God and give him the lie, hangeth her old ragfair about her, the straw-harness; then falls to work and scrapes it featly on her fiddle.
In present-day Germany, stories might still be told about Frau Holle, an old lady who sneaks around during the night, visiting dreams of lazy girls, who may suddenly wake up by finding themselves lying naked in the street. Diligent little girls, however, may be rewarded with a silver coin under their pillow, or during bygone times with a coin falling into their buckets when they had been fetching water. Frau Holle has to do with water and in the depths of springs, wells, and lakes there is a path leading to a wonderful garden where she, as a white-clad old lady, receives both kind and naughty girls, whom she then rewards or punishes according to their merits.
The Grimm brothers told a story about her. A widow had two daughters, her own daughter whom she, as in most stories, spoiled and one stepdaughter whom she treated poorly. The stepdaughter was forced to sit next to a well, spinning day after day, though she was one evening stuck by the needle of the spinning wheel. However, when she went over to the well to rinse the needle and her bloody fingers, she fell into it. Instead of drowning, she found herself in a flowering meadow. As she walked across it, she came to a cottage surrounded by a blossoming garden. where she was greeted by a gentle, old lady who took her into her service. The girl watered the garden flowers, washed, aired and shook the bedding. When the girl once told the kind, old lady, that she despite in spite of all her graciousness longed for home, the benevolent Frau Holle let the girl return to her stepmother dressed in beautiful clothes and equipped with plenty of gold coins. When the stepmother understood what had happened, she threw her adored but miserably spoiled daughter into the well. This lazy and corrupted girl also ended up with Frau Holle, but misbehaved in such a manner that the powerful Frau made her return covered by filth and tar.
The story is one variant of many others that tell about omnipotent women disguised as nice old ladies, or nasty hags, testing the heroine's kindness and skills and abundantly reward her if she passes the ordeals. Frau Hulda is in Grimm's story welcoming and friendly, though for example in a folk tale retold by Alexander Afanasiev – Vasilisa the Beautiful, Frau Holle's Russian equivalent, the terrible old hag Baba Yaga, nevertheless rewards the steadfast Vasilisa just as generously as Frau Holle. The Grimm brothers' fairy tales also have their frightening witches, no less terrifying than Baba Yaga, for example in their tale about Frau Trude.
A defiant girl ignores her parents' advice to avoid visiting Frau Trude's cottage in the depths of the forest. The stubborn girl imagines her parents' prohibition is based on their superstitions and fears. However, she knows that the old hag is filthy rich and assumes she may be able to lure her off some of these riches. Frau Trude receives the girl in a courteous manner and asks her if she has met someone on her way to her secluded abode. The girl tells the truth – she has met but not spoken to a black rider, a ”charcoal burner” explains Trude, a green rider, a ”hunter” states Trude and finally a red rider, a ”butcher” according to Frau Trude.
Similar riders appear in the tale about Vasilisa the Beautiful and there they are the servants of Baba Yaga. A white rider, who is the Day, a red one who is the Sun and a black rider who is the Night. In Grimms´ tale the girl adds that she has also seen another creature. When she peeked in through the window of Frau Trude's cottage, she saw the Devil sitting there. The annoyed Frau Trude declares that she is really Satan himself and then transforms the girl into a log of wood, which she throws into the fire. The witch states: ”It heats well and the cottage has become brighter,” thus the story ends on a more infelicitous note that use to be the case of most fairy tales.
Child robbers, night walkers, cannibals and a host of other monsters haunt European fairy tales in all conceivable shapes and sizes. Ancient mythologies used to be dominated by female monsters but over time, male villains increased in number and prominence. Similarly, male tellers of fairy tales and myths gradually usurped a female story telling tradition firmly rooted in an ancient peasant society where men worked in fields and forests, while women were responsible for children and home. They spun, weaved, managed the gardens, baked and cooked. Their activities were related to fertility and maintenance, nourishing activities like raising children, being responsible for the sick and the old and thus they also preserved ancient traditions linked to female existence, women´s duties to care for life and prepare the dead for the afterlife. This, in any case, claims Marina Warner in her well-written and fascinating studies of popular storytelling – From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers and No Go the Bogeyman: Scaring, Lulling and Making Mock.
Manyof the stories told by these peasant women were about dangerous and ambivalent old hags, some of which might have preserved traits from ancient, pagan godessess, Frau Holle and above all the Russian Baba Yaga might indicate such origins. The Slavic Baba Yaga, who had a certain appetite for children's flesh, eventually evolved into an individual character, with a cottage moving on chicken legs and her unusual mode of flight. She traveled in a wooden mortar which she steered with a pestle while sweeping away the tracks left behind with a broom. She has had clattering teeth as a lock for her door, the roof was made of pancakes and the walls of meat pies. Baba Yaga was a multi-faceted creature, not only incarnate evil but also a cunning lady who ruled over sun and wind, over the seasons, life and death. Like many other fairy tale creatures, she was a shapeshifter and could assume the aspects of a cat or a bird. Forest birds were her servants, as well as several powerful men and gods, such as the three horsemen and the sinister Koščéj the Immortal, ruler of the Kingdom of Death.
One of the Grimm brothers, Jacob (1785-1863), was among the first to discern a close connection between fairy tales and traditions, rites and notions stretching far back in time, across borders and cultures. In his Deutsche Myhologie he extended descriptions of mythology from mainly having been devoted to written tales about gods and heroes, as well as records of established religious dogmas. Jacob's and his brother's studies of oral traditions made him compare them with contemporary customs and rituals, as well as written descriptions of historical customs and notions. All in an effort to trace the origins and development of ”Germanic” culture. Of course, he was often mistaken, particularly when it came to etymology, changes over time and specific cultural contexts. Nevertheless, Jacob Grimm's approach influenced later interpretations of different customs and was an important contribution to the budding science of ethnology. The concept had been established by Adam Franz Kollár´s epochal Amenities of the History and Constitutional Law of the Kingdom of Hungary published two years before the birth of Jacob Grimm. In this book, Kollár described ethnology as:
the science of nations and peoples, or, that study of learned men in which they inquire into the origins, languages, customs, and institutions of various nations, and finally into the fatherland and ancient seats, in order to be able better to judge the nations and peoples in their own times.
Before I return to Czech Advent customs let me follow some thoughts originating from Jacob Grimm's theories about the nature and origin of Frau Holle. He considered tales spun around her as evidence of the survival of an ancient belief in a nature deity, which had mingled with the Roman Diana and later on with Virgin Mary, Jesus's mother and Keeper of the World.
Jacob Grimm relates the name ”Holle”, with notions about Norse huldror, who were chotonic creatures. It appeared as if Frau Holle had inherited some eerie features from the huldror, for example in her role as mistress of the souls of the dead. Frau Holle's kingdom was placed under water and resembled some a kind of Paradise, like the medieval Virgin Mary's Rose Garden. Like some Catholic saints and angels, Holle presided over changes in the weather, which is crucial for any peasant. When the girl in the fairy tale waters the flowers of Frau Holle's garden it rains on Earth and when she shakes bolsters and pillows it snows.
Frau Holle is linked to ”female” chores, such as spinning and weaving, just like the ancient Nordic norns who spun the fate of humans. In the tale about the evil Frau Trude, probably akin to Frau Holle, the witch rules over three riders, who may be identical to the horsemen in the stories dealing with Baba Yaga, where they correspond to the sun and the circadian rhythm.
Furthermore, Frau Holle is a shapeshifter and manifests herself as both an evil and a benevolent creature, as light or dark, old or young. She is the epitome of a constantly changing nature beyond good and evil.
If we study ancient Slavic beliefs we may find that they are ambiguous, even bipolar. Chronica Sclavorum, which recounted the pre-Christian culture of Polabian Slavs, was written by the end of the twelfth century and suggested that Svetovid, their supreme god, had two aspects who in their own right were worshipped as gods, Belobog, the White God, and Chernobog, the Black God. This aspect of Slav religion is irrefutably proven, though it reflects quite convincingly much of the duality found among the creatures which emerge during Czech Advent celebrations. Not the least do Saint Barbora unite the evil and benevolent features of a being like Frau Holle and perhaps even more so in her threatening appearance as Frau Perchta.
The word perchta which later came to be associated with Saint Bertha/Barbora, or more correctly Saint Barbara, comes from the Old High German word perhat, "shining" or "brightness". Something that may be related to Frau Perchta's appearance by the beginning of December, an indication of the return of light after the winter solstice. In processions, Frau Perchta may just like Frau Holle appear crowned by a wreath with burning candles and it may be difficult to find any difference between these white-clad ladies and the famous Lucia, who at the same time is celebrated all over Sweden. Like Lucia do Perchta and Holle in their beautiful aspects wear wide, red silk ribbons around their waists.
However, it is more common to associate Frau Perchta not with brightness, but with paleness. White was until the middle of the nineteenth century the colour of death. A corpse turns pale; becomes grey or white. Both children and adults were buried in white clothes and usually in white coffins.
Frau Perchta lived at the bottom of wells from where she often attracted children whom she drowned. Like Frau Holle, Frau Perchta was often called The Dark Grandmother or The White Lady. When she emerges during Advent, it is mainly in the guise of a punishing lady with an entourage of evil and horrendous creatures, like the terrifying Krampus and/or children she has killed.
As mentioned above, Martin Luther described ”Dame Hulde” as girded with a corset of straw, probably a sign of her role as a fertility goddess. Straw and fertility are also connected with Frau Perchta/Barbora. She carries with her a basket of fruits and sweets to give to young women who diligently had spun hugh quantities of yarn and to children who had behaved well. However, the punishement she meted for sloth and misbehaviour was terrible, to say the least. With her sharpened knife she slit open the bellies of her victims, ripped out their guts and replaced them with straw.
In her Czech aspect as Barbora, Frau Perchta might also appear as a ghoul with her face hidden behind long, striped hair, she is then associated with a demon who sneaks into nurseries to kill, or even eat, babies. Child mortality used to be a dreaded and ordinary scourge and was generally blamed on supernatural forces.
Saint Barbora did not only manifest herself as the dreadful Frau Perchta, more common was that Barborkas represented her by placing long cones in front of their faces and some covered one of their feet with a dummy in the form of a bird's claw or goose's foot, emphasizing Barborka's quality as a water creature. Water is condider as the ultimate source of all fertility and as mentioned above aquatic animals such as frogs and storks were associated with childbirth.
Already during the Middle Ages, Frau Hulda´s entourage was labeled as ”demons”. Perhaps a remnant of the wild hunts that Odin and all kinds of beasts used to devote themselves to during the winter months when the powers of darkness were evoked from their hiding places and threatened to take over the world if they could not be kept in check by the mighty Nature Goddess. Nevertheless, evil creatures could be allowed to punish children and adults who violated social rules. Thus, even such a terrifying figure as Krampus could be considered as a servant of benevolent forces. He is an unusually disgusting, horned monster, described as "half goat, half demon" but even significantly more horrible than that. His name is derived from the Old High German word krampen which meant ether "claw," or "curved," a hint of his predatory appearance and behaviour and the fact that he is a grotesque abnormality, a mix of demon and animal. Possibly Krampus is akin to the Baba Yaga´s subordinate Koščéj the Immortal, a symbol of uncontrolled natural forces and the certainty of death.
In the Czech Republic, Krampus emerges as a companion to Saint Nicholas while he hands out Christmas presents to children. Krampus is then often called Čert, a name usually translated as The Devil. However, Čert is actually not the same creature as The Devil. He is certainly a demon, but the word apparently comes from čersti/čьrtǫ, meaning "to draw a line", "making a furrow" and Čert could then be considered to be an incarnation of Death and thus a servant to Barbora /Frau Perchta and their connections to birth and death.
Perhaps the Swedish Christmas Goat is a remnant of the horned Krampus/Čert. Before the Tomte, the Swedish equivalent to Santa Claus, took upon himself that task it was The Christmas Goat that came to Swedish children with both gifts and punishment. Another coincidence between the Swedish Christmas Goat and Czech Advent creatures may be the importance of the straw. The Swedish Christmas goat's mask was often made of straw and,like Krampus/Čert, he was generally dressed in a black fur coat. Even if the Chistmas Goat does not appear in person anymore, almost every Swedish home has a goat made of straw standing by the Christmas tree.
In Finland, the Christmas Goat, Joulupukki, has become Santa Klaus´s companion and may thus recall the chained Čert, who follows Saint Nicholas during his Christmas visits. The fact that Saint Nicholas has a goat- or devil-like companion is a common feature of several European Christmas traditions, although in Slavic folklore this companion is not always demonic, but exhibits the same ambiguous characteristics as those of exposed by Belobog and Chernobog.
What fascinated me most about St. Ambrose's attire was that it made me think of St. Lucia's followers during the processions that are staged in every school and town in Sweden. This luminous personage with her white-clad bridesmaids and male companions with long pointed hats seem to have a connection with similar, continental processions, this while several peculiarities like the Lusse Cat Buns distributed by her and the candle wreath worn by Lucia remind of the Norse fertility goddess Freyja, who was connected with light and had the cat as her sacred animal. However, who are these Star Boys with their pointed hats? It is has been said that the hats indicate the three Magi, coming ”from the East” to worship the ”king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1-12). It is very possible, but after being immersed in all these myths about the midwinter creatures I wished to learn something more about pointed hats as well, particularily since they appear to have several ancient connections to magic and power.
When, during my return trip from Prague, I made a few days stopover in Berlin to visit my youngest daughter, we made frequent museum visits. Among other things, we visited the collections at the Museum Insel. There I was confronted with depictions of pointed hats from differnt times and cultures. Most impressive of them all is a 75 cms high pointed hat crafted in gold sometime between 1000 and 800 years BC. It is one of three found in different sites in Germany, while another was found outside of Poitiers in France. Everything indicates that such artifacts have been common in other places as well. Apart from those gold hats, which obviously were too heavy and cumbersome to be worn as headgear, bronze-age gods and princes were obviously wearing pointed hats. It has been speculated that the striking gold hats, with their sophisticated symbols and patterns, may have had something to do with solstices.
It is quite possible that this may have been the case, however, one thing is certain and that is that such hats have been and still are of great importance in the most diverse cultures. Like a masque, a hat may change, cover and make a person visible. Among other things, I think of the expression that in recent years has become increasingly annoying during all kinds of official meetings: "Today I wear a different hat and represent ...". As soon as I hear that silly expression, it gives me the willies, just like the equally ridiculous saying "think outside of the box", generally uttered by people who do not do that.
A hat often represents something magical, something greater than the individual who wears it. If someone puts on Che Guevara's beret, Sandino´s or Bhagat Singh's hats, Arafat's keffiyeh, the French revolutionaries Phrygian Cap hat or feminists´ Pussy Hat, they make a statement, while the headgear transforms the bearer into something beyond her/his everyday existence. Similarly, when an English judge pronounced a death sentence he transformed himself into a higher, impersonal authority by putting on a black cap.
The typical symbol of a hat's magical, transformative qualities is otherwise the pointed hat of magicians, skillfully portrayed in the symphonic poem by Paul Dukas, which the DisneyCompany dramatized in Fantasia, while turning it into one of its brands.
Pointed hats make their bearers visible from a long distance and seem to have been an important sign of divinity, like the Phoenician god Baal who on statuettes generally is presented with a gilded pointed hat.
The Egyptian Pharaohs whom people worshiped as gods, wore pointed hats when they performed their official duties.
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