Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Witch Craze and Modern Penis Panics

It's a well-known fact that Early Modern Europe, most especially Britain and Germany, saw a wave of panicked trial and execution of an unexpectedly high number of people, mostly women, thought to be witches. What's perhaps more surprising is that this first seems to manifest, not from an attempt to destroy some subterranean magical cult as imagined by Margaret Mead, nor from a generic McCarthy-like fear of infiltration by the enemy as in Miller's famous theatrical depiction of witch trials in colonial America, but from a highly specific sort of hysterical panic on the part of men. Witch trials in sixteenth-century Europe seem, based on the writings of those involved in them, to have been about an unusual male fear which has prompted similar outbreaks of judicial or extrajudicial violence around the world, including in the present day.

The central idea of the witch panic, in its earliest days, was the fear of having your penis stolen. From this bizarre beginning, Europeans launched themselves into a frenzy of torture and execution of alleged witches which lasted centuries.

Friday, September 19, 2014

And most wickedly I did as I sailed

My name is Captain Kidd, as I sailed, as I sailed
Oh my name is Captain Kid, as I sailed
My name is Captain Kidd, and God's laws I did forbid
And most wickedly I did, as I sailed

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Let Friendship and Honor Unite

What's the Spring, breathing Jessamine and Rose,
What's the Summer, with all its Gay train;
What's the Plenty of Autumn to those
Who have bartered their freedom for Gain.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Inventiveness in Oral Music on the North Carolina Coast

Not long ago I acquired an album - I use the term slightly generously - from Smithsonian Folkways entitled Between the Sound and the Sea: Music of the North Carolina Outer Banks. It's a glimpse into the last generation of a lost oral tradition in coastal North Carolina, as captured by a modern folklorist without the prejudices that bedeviled the antiquarian tradition of prior decades of folklore studies, and so serves as a perfect case study for the role of authorship in at least some oral cultures.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Late Medieval Phallus

Shortly after François I was crowned king of France, a procession was held commemorating the new king, said to be a celebration of le vit de François I. This title is a pun on the near homophony of the sixteenth century French words vie "life" and vit "penis"; the artists responsible drew a cart through the streets of Paris on which they displayed a gigantic sculpted penis and invited the populace to come flagellate it.

The motivation for the demonstration is unclear, but it arose in a cultural context which had been filled with phallic art in all media for the past several centuries.