Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pointy Hats and Pacifism

My favorite Bay Area witchy bloggers seem curiously quiet about the appropriation of witchy imagery by the antiwar protesters at Code Pink.

I don't normally get into politics on this blog, but whatthehell.

From a rhetorical standpoint, I am not sure if anyone's set political views have been changed by street theater -- giant puppets and all that stuff.

You can see from the comments that the Code Pink women are not doing the Craft or the larger Pagan movement any good.

Do you think they would have chosen to dress up as Catholic cardinals or Shiite mullahs? How about some big-nosed Jews?

Or how about dressing in buckskins and feather headdresses, while waving rubber tomahawks in an "antiwar dance." Oh no, they would never do that. It might be offensive.

No, they pick the stereotype green-faced Halloween witch instead. They parody our religion for their futile cause. Somehow I don't feel the compliment.

One ex-military Pagan wrote to conservative columnist Michelle Malkin to say he was embarrassed by Code Pink too.

And that is the thing about today's Pagans: for every lefty pacifist there is one (or probably more) military Pagan.

I wrote a paper on this topic once, during the flap over Wiccans at Fort Hood.

UPDATE, 13 May: One commenter suggests that the green faces may have been PhotoShopped in on Malkin's page. He could be right; and if so, image manipulation hurts her credibility. However, a photo from the Berkeley Daily Planet, certainly no right-wing source, does show pointy hats and cloaks--but it is from an earlier Code Pink protest. Newer photos seem harder to come by--I suspect that the Berkeley news media by now regard Code Pink as just part of the weather and turn instead to stuff like fraternity stabbings.

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Anonymous anne hill said...

Fucking embarrassing. How's that for commentary?

Also, be sure and check out the Daily Show clip where Rob Riggle (correspondent) goes to cover a Code Pink protest at the recruiting station. He interviews one protester, while another jumps in front of the camera and shouts inane slogans! Way to grab some positive PR, ladies.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Sangrail said...

I've got nothing to do with the situation, but I've seen enough comments pointing out that there's a lot of pagans involved with Code Pink, and they're behind the demonstration, to believe that maybe...
They really do have a lot of pagans involved with Code Pink, and that they're behind the demonstration?
I'm not really surprised.

And while people may disagree with their point of view, or the way they're phrasing their message, that's no excuse to say that they can't say it like that, or that it's anti-pagan.
It's like conservative gays getting up in arms about gay pride parades.

And well, I've talked to a lot of people who've said their political views are changed by theater and puppets, rather than sign waving protests etc.
It shows a creative approach rather than an antagonistic approach.

In New Zealand, when we had the vote to create Civil Unions for heterosexual and homosexual couples in 2004, several politicians actually stated they were still on the fence right up til going to parliament that day, or were going to abstain, but when they got there...
what they saw on one side, were angry, mostly male protestors, dressed in black t-shirts, mostly representing an evangelical Christian church, angrily protesting well, homosexuality in general -

And on the other side - a small rainbow group, with a marching band, 'fairies' and kids blowing bubbles. (there were more at parliament)

Several Politicians stated that that was what really decided them as pro-civil union - they preferred the pro-civil union 'protestors', and their rainbows.
That's what it can be when it's effective.

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

So now you have the anti-Code Pink, pro-Marine demonstrators, in equivalent numbers, chanting, "Witches out of Berkeley."

Some of my friends would have to move if that were true.

Code Pink reminds me of bicyclists who ride three or four abreast in traffic lanes because, after all, they are morally superior to car and truck drivers.

Yeah, maybe, but it's still a stupid idea.

And it's lousy visual rhetoric.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Sangrail said...

but I'm just trying to point out that it's not that a) pagans can't use pagan stereotypes or imagery, in protests or otherwise - it's not anti-pagan,
and it's not even that b) street theater is an ineffective tool for swaying political opinion...

It's just that this was an ineffective protest, and was probably counter-productive as far as the message they were trying to convey.

Presenting it as proof for arguments a or b, seems inaccurate.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


You are in New Zealand, by your own admission. Go back to my original point about Bay Area bloggers. IF Code Pink had serious Pagan participation, we would be hearing about it -- I truly believe -- from those Bay Area bloggers.

Anne Hill, who commented earlier, is a Northern California blogger, by the way. Go back and read her response.

Lacking such testimony, I regard Code Pink as guilty of stereotyping as if they had dressed up as American Indians.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Sangrail said...

Wait, they're not allowed to protest unless they're big name pagans &/or bloggers?

I find it actually less likely that any pagan Bay Area bloggers would necessarily be part of any given protest in the bay area, pagan or not. Or, well, bloggers in any particular area. Ever notice how hard it is to find out about events?

And look, that's besides the point - the pagan cluster has done marches in Witches hats with brooms, etc, there is a long-long history of Goddess groups doing magical activism, and I've known both pagans in NZ, and pagans I met in the *Bay Area* who would join in on that sort of activism
- therefore, is it the dressing up as witches that makes it wrong?

Because of the above, I have no real reason to doubt that it was a pagan inspired action.

Googling shows me - front page, it lists the days of action as being Grandmothers, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, and then on the fifth day -
"Witches, Crones, Sirens: perform rituals of leaving, cast a spell of peace and love over the station, rendering nil the recruiting of our youth to become fodder for this occupation of Iraq. "

It lists the activities of the day as
"Calling all Witches, Crones, Sirens! Come to the MRS tomorrow, Friday, May 9th and create magick! Bring objects for the alter, elements for the cauldron, wisdom of the foremothers! Or just BE THERE!
7:30am at the MRS, 64 Shattuck Square, Berkeley
8:00am Opening Ritual
9:00am Innvocations
10:00am Cast Farewell Spell!
12:00 noon Spiral Dance
1:00pm Raise Energy: Chanting, Dancing, Singing
2:00pm Protection, Strength Ritual
3:00pm Closing Resistance Ritual"

Again, I'm wholeheartedly in support of anyone's right to say it was stupid, counterproductive, against their personal values...
but, it's sounding pretty par for the course for many other pagan activist demonstrations I've heard of, so I'm inclined to think it's genuine, not a parody.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Yes, they called for "sirens" too, but the only ones that came were the sort that are mounted on police cars.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Copper Asetemhat Stewart said...

There are also plenty of Pagans who have no trouble with "just war" concepts, but who fail to see present egagements as just or honorable. It may take one kind of moonbat to wear a pink pointy hat, another to freely enlist during Bush's exploits. The practical questions are not about war per se, but present wars in particular. Under present leadership, support for the wars is betrayal of democracy. There is no honor--only shame--in volunteering to be colonial canon fodder.

Our local group is moving towards incorporation as an Isian "church," partly to document/institutionalize our opposition to all violence not in immediate self defense and to affirm the Isian right of conscience to object. We don't work with the Rede and regard this as common sense.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"so I'm inclined to think it's genuine, not a parody."

Ok...that would be why they painted their faces green, complete with fake warts, and Halloween-type costumes. Cause they are serious witches acting in a respectful manner, being mindful of how this represents witchcraft to America. Right?


9:58 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Good point, Calla.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous anne hill said...

I have no doubt the protest was organized by women who consider themselves pagans/Goddess worshippers/witches. Some of the founders of Code Pink were prominent Pagans.

The far left, particularly in Berkeley, often lacks awareness of what constitutes an effective media action. That is why most of the Pagans I know in the Bay Area were not part of the Code Pink protest.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Sangrail said...

go take a look at the quality 'Fox News' report again -

The photo at the bottom of the page here? -
Not of the protest.

And well, I'm a little bewildered by the picture used on Michelle Malkins page, also shown here -

It's rather ah, amazing looking, it looks like a photoshop job.
If it isn't, how the hell did they do that pink circle on the ground with white (I wanna know!?) and get the text Spell Book perfectly facing

It looks like smear tactics from conservative sites, so thank you for buying into it.
If they wanted to be green, fair enough.

The fox news footage just has some women dressed in pink (which you may think looks equally ridiculous), around a cauldron, (*not* on the footpath or road but in a car park), and a woman committing civil disobedience by going inside and opening a window.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Sangrail said...

Sorry to bring this up again, but - duh!

Now that I'm looking at it on a good monitor, I can see it's clearly a photoshop job, I couldn't see that the witch hats were clip-art images pasted on.

I am a little offended that (US) conservative sites are copying and promulgating photoshopped images of women by colouring them green, putting witchhats on them, and giving the misleading impression they're from the protest.
If they were mock-worthy before, there was no need to come up with trumped up images just to justify their own negative opinions.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Pointy hats here as well as cloaks, but the faces are obscured by banners.

Keep having fun.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Fionnuala Bloom said...

I don't know how to frame this in the best way, or even if I should bring it up, but I sort of feel like I've reached my limit on neopagans claiming that the "stereotypical witch" is a slur in the same way that the pointy-nosed Jew or the savage Indian is. The dangerous, marginal, curse-wielding hag is a folkloric character that's at the *very* least hundreds and arguably thousands of years old, and I've never seen any compelling evidence that "witch" was *ever* a positive or even neutral word, prior to its adoption by neopagans in the 20th century, so by what rights do we lay sole and unequivocal claim to every last one of the deeply embedded cultural associations with the word? Jews and Indians were in fact *actually Jews and Indians* before the imagery used against them arose, specifically to be used against them.

My understanding is that part of the reason that modern pagans wanted to use the word "witch" was out of a sense of relationship with the marginal, the liminal, and the uncanny. Now we seem to want to retain the word but jettison all those meanings, and we get angry if the larger society doesn't choose to use language in this way that we've settled on in-house. That makes no sense at all to me. Meanings of words do change, but we're trying to force a change that just plain hasn't happened organically, which is a questionable enough project, but then to accuse people of bigotry because they don't go along with it -- to compare it with anti-Semitism, for crying out loud -- I just find really upsetting.

Sorry for using your post to vent about it.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


I am with you part way. Certainly the use of the word "witch" involves playing with liminality, although from the 1950s onward, that play has been mixed with claims of religious legitimacy.

I wrote a whole chapter in Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America on that topic.

And I don't mind pointy hats and hag costumes at Halloween, for instance. But I would rather not see the witch/Witch issues blurred in the name of political theatre.

10:38 AM  
Blogger deborah oak said...

I'm with Anne. Fucking embarrassing. And I'm a feminist/witch/activist who lives in the bay area and blogs. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Carol Maltby said...

"One of the first principles of politics is to choose battlefields to fight on that unite your side and divide the opponents." -- Rick Perlstein

"And that is the thing about today's Pagans: for every lefty pacifist there is one (or probably more) military Pagan"

And your source for this peculiar notion is...?

There was a poll posted at Witchvox around the time of the 2004 elections. If I recall correctly, only 25% supported George Bush's re-election. I know that out of dozens of posters on a private forum for Pagan attendees of an annual gathering, we had a single poster saying she planned to vote Republican.

While there are conservative Pagans, they are a very small minority. While there are military Pagans, they are an insignificant handful compared to the military mainstream. Their Commander in Chief doesn't think witchcraft is a religion, and does not think it is in any way appropriate for the military to promote it.

Michelle Malkin and Melanie Morgan would not like us even if we wore business suits and politely noted that we didn't want our grandchildren bankrupted by paying for this war, or if we suggested we didn't like gasoline nearing $4 a gallon while oil companies reported record profits.

They are Rush Limbaugh with tits and there is nothing about our religion they respect. They hate us for being Pagan, no matter what our politics.

Is parading with straw men such as these any better than giant puppets?


(who spent her Mother's Day at a Bread and Puppet performance)

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


Being a military Pagan does not necessarily equal voting for Bush.

And have you forgotten the Pagan mobilization behind the pentacle quest?

Maybe it is because of where I live, but I meet quite a few current or ex-military Pagans.

These people, however, could fill you in even better.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Carol Maltby said...

"One commenter suggests that the green faces may have been PhotoShopped in on Malkin's page. He could be right; and if so, image manipulation hurts her credibility."

It baffles me that you'd consider that Michelle Malkin would have the slightest bit of credibility, especially on this issue.

War protestors are a particularly hot button for Malkin, and like most issues she covers, she does not make any pretense of a neutral point of view. In 2006 she published the home phone numbers of college students who were protesting military recruiters on campus. She refused to remove the numbers even after she was asked to take them down, as the students were getting death threats. Didn't stop her from squawking with righteous indignation when her home phone number was later publicised online.

Unlike us, Michelle Malkin does not worry about the fine points of the iconography of witchcraft. She hates multiculturalism, environmentalists, and even the teaching of yoga as a stress reduction technique in schools. She approved of the rounding up and internment of the Japanese in WW II, and frequently criticises President Bush for not being conservative enough. I think we can safely say Michelle Malkin doesn't give a rat's ass for anything Witches do or our core religious values, and in my opinion she has zero credibility on the subject.

And have you forgotten the Pagan mobilization behind the pentacle quest?

The Pagan pentacle quest is one that started nine years before the death of Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart, long before this war that Code Pink are protesting. I don't recall a single Pagan voice ever objecting to the right of Stewart and his family (and others in that situation) to use a standard Wiccan religious symbol on his grave.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


In regard to Malkin and holders of extremely well defined politcal views -- right or left -- I try to not forget the old saying, "Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day."

7:53 AM  
Blogger Carol Maltby said...

Two minutes out of 1440 (24 x 60) minutes, thus thirteen hundredths of one percent of the time. I'd be glad to agree with you that Malkin is at least that correct. :)

Speaking of "twice," the Military Pagan Network would have done better at picking their random statistics to offer the press if they'd used the 2000 COG poll rather than the 2005-6 one, since the earlier poll gives 13% of Pagans answering the poll as having military service records, rather than the 6%
in the later poll.

Probably just as well that they didn't link to the poll. The information is poorly presented, context and methodology are lacking, and some of the figures are so different from the one 5 years earlier as to make thoughtful readers wonder whether there is any use to the information at all. Junk science doesn't serve us.

I also wonder what MPN are intending with their media page statistics on their numbers. Any reporter who fact-checks their membership (4300 Pagans) compared to a total active-duty number (a recent NY Times figure gave 1.36 million), will realize that their membership works out to about one 316th of the total, thus about one third of one percent of the whole.

While it shouldn't matter in terms of their right to practice their religion within the armed forces, doing the numbers doesn't persuade anyone that it is anything but a very tiny constituency in that context.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

I feel certain that the Military Pagan Network's numbers are low. Not everyone is a joiner, and many Pagan service personnel may not even know that the MPN exists. But thanks for checking.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Nyx said...

I can't say I see a problem with the melodramatic, public spell casting as a legitimate means of spell casting. As a chaote, I'd be a terrible hypocrite if I said that's just not how it's done. I do see a problem with particular groups doing things certain ways, though. While the method may be legit, that doesn't mean it's a method best suited to everyone, and may even be in direct contrast with other messages put out by the same group. For many Pagan groups, this would mean it's probably not best to try spell casting in a way that goes against a, "We are a legitimate religion and have nothing to do with witches from fantasy, movies, or cartoons. Spell casting is a part of our worship and a tool for our lives, but not a stand-alone practice, nor all there is to witchcraft," message. Using it as part of a set of themed protests makes it difficult to believe it was serious spell casting, at any rate.

My husband, who completed his active duty in the Marine Corps last year, pointed something out to me about these Code Pink protests, which seem to be heavily focused on the idea that recruiters are tricking people into signing up for the war. He said recruiters don't trick you into anything. Their job is to make it sound appealing and worthy, but you don't sign anything until it's all been gone over in detail with you. You know exactly what you sign on for, and the claims that people aren't able to get their benefits later because the confusing process and time limit weren't explained to them are ridiculous, in his opinion. You have up to ten years on many of those benefits to first file a claim, and the process is only as difficult as asking someone at the local VA office to help you with it. And if you do sign up for the military, you still have until the point that you are sworn in the day you leave for boot camp to decide you've changed your mind.

Just or unjust war aside, real witches or offensive stereotypes aside, Code Pink's claims about recruiters and targeting of recruiters just doesn't really make sense.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Dana Seilhan said...

It should be noted (if it hasn't been already) that just because someone is in or has been in the military, does not make them a conservative. For that matter, it does not mean they don't oppose war at some point, or at least pointless war that only enriches corporations and does not actually accomplish anything that makes our country safer.

If you haven't already, look into Veterans For Peace.

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Since this post was written a year ago, Dana, everything has changed. George W. Bush is gone. Barack Obama is president, and we have peace, prosperity, and free unicorns.

You are right about veterans, but I would suggest that is the political left that stereotypes them as conservative (not to mention as psychotic baby-killers, etc.), which makes lefties sometimes easy to fool.

7:44 AM  

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