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Friday, October 29, 2010

To Burn a Beer? Witch's Wit

A person can identify with both sides of an issue. In fact, without a complete knowledge of an opponent's basic proponents, a person cannot mount a successful strategy for success because concessions would be left undisputed. Careful consideration of opposing ideas is paramount to understanding the power of any argument. But then, a proposition can be so well defended by both sides, that further argumentation becomes useless.

Let's look at a definition central to the topic of the day. Is a witch defined as "an innocent woman who was accused of professing sorcery or the black arts"? Or, is a witch defined as "a woman in tune with nature who has a knowledge of herbs and medicines and who gave council as a Shamanic healer"?

A word carries various connotations and often even changes definitions as it spends time in the etymological process. The history of the word provides people a view of the past that may or may not influence the future definitions. Here is the entry for witch in the Online Etymology Dictionary (Douglas Harper, 2010). By the way O.E. = Old English, OED = Oxford English Dictionary, and PIE = Proto-Indo-European.  

O.E. wicce "female magician, sorceress," in later use esp. "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts," fem. of O.E. wicca "sorcerer, wizard, man who practices witchcraft or magic," from verb wiccian "to practice witchcraft" (cf. Low Ger. wikken, wicken "to use witchcraft," wikker, wicker "soothsayer"). OED says of uncertain origin. Klein suggests connection with O.E. wigle "divination," and wig, wih "idol." Watkins says the nouns represent a P.Gmc. *wikkjaz "necromancer" (one who wakes the dead), from PIE *weg-yo-, from *weg- "to be strong, be lively." That wicce once had a more specific sense than the later general one of "female magician, sorceress" perhaps is suggested by the presence of other words in O.E. describing more specific kinds of magical craft. In the Laws of Ælfred (c.890), witchcraft was specifically singled out as a woman's craft, whose practitioners were not to be suffered to live among the W. Saxons. 

Which witch definition is intended in various stories and allusions in America? Overwhelmingly, folk tales, the celebration of Halloween, and common images denote the sorceress/devil partnership. I doubt if many people even know about Wiccan beliefs of paganism. Neither do most think about factual and evil intentions when confronted by witch costumes, films featuring an ugly witch, or drawings of witches by grade school children. Or, do they? 

In what has become one of those zany "where did you get the time to think that up" issues, witches are being reexamined. Why? Would you believe a beer label dispute?

Witch's Wit

Witch's Wit (a limited-edition pale ale — “wit” means “white” in Dutch) is one of Port Brewing Company's Lost Abby beers, which the distributor calls "inspired beers for saints and sinners alike." Each beer sports a label that aims to tell a story about the struggle between good and evil. This, being the Halloween season, is a good idea, right? Well....

Vicki Noble, a famed healer, astrologer and spiritual leader in the pagan community, saw only evil in Witch's Wit after a worker in a liquor store called the bottle to her attention. As a professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, Noble knew that wiccans and pagans generally are "a discriminated-against segment of the population." Noble said this was because people keep repeating these terrible misconceptions of them. She was incensed at the image of a witch being burned at the stake, so she sent an e-mail to her followers, asking in the subject line: "Can we stop this brewer from their hate imagery?"

Noble used the following comparison. "Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven?" she asked. "Such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be, either." (Diane Macedo, "Beer Distributor's Witch Label Brews Contempt Among Wiccans," FoxNews, October 29 2010) So the Wiccans and witches demanded a change.

Of course, everyone -- blogs, Facebook and Twitter -- launched a major assault at Witch's Wit.  An e-mail campaign was also started and, soon, a barrage began to hit the company's in-boxes.Tomme Arthur, Port Brewing's director of brewery operations, attempted to explain that all Lost Abbey beers, including Witch's Wit, deal with religious irony and feature both original artwork on the front and a written story on the back.

According to Noble, this explanation would not suffice for the Pagan people. Noble had these three key points to make in her defense:
1. The image on the label was horrific and there was no reason for that label to be used for the promotion of beer.

2. The label was just another opportunity for men to show a dominating, misogynistic perspective bringing down women and what women have accomplished in the last 200 years in terms of women's rights.

3. Atrocities against witches still occur in other parts of the world. People are unaware of this fact, and the image was discriminatory toward that "persecuted minority."

Tomme Arthur replied, "What I was looking at was this notion that there was a lot of people in the 16th century who would have been sent to a horrific death for potentially committing no crime, and that's what she represents, this woman, this girl…. My notion of this woman is that she's innocent, but we don't know what she did." He said his beer was brewed to honor the woman in the image, and the back label was written to play off of the guilt in the crowd with the message.(Diane Macedo, "Beer Distributor's Witch Label Brews Contempt Among Wiccans," FoxNews, October 29 2010)

Here is the message on the back label:

Whether you're a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you'll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.

Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you'll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch. 

In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch's Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it's exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us."

Kris Bradley ("Outrage Over Witch's Wit Beer Label Better Focused on Real Persecution,", October 26 2010) reported Sage Osterfeld, a spokesman for Port Brewing, said, “We have been accused of inspiring violence against women, and we have been compared to the violence in Darfur. It has run the gamut from people saying politely, ‘This is offensive to pagans,’ to people saying we are responsible for all that is wrong in the world.”

Kris reminds the world that 80 women in Malawi sit in prison over witchcraft charges. A recent report by Unicef found tens of thousands of children in Africa, some as young as four, were being accused of being witches. (David Smith, "Dozens Jailed for Witchcraft in Malawi,", October 14 2010) Have all those witches who are now "boycotting" an American beer had access or the taste for boycotting all the products that come out of Africa?

Kris continued, "While I really do see and share the disgust over the image, it's just an image. Out there in the world, there are real people being accused of witchcraft - beaten, jailed, raped, banished and killed. Where is our outrage for that?" ("Outrage Over Witch's Wit Beer Label Better Focused on Real Persecution,", October 26 2010)


Maybe most importantly, how does Witch's Wit taste? The ratebeer site has tons of reviews. So far, people like the beer. It is rated at 85 overall with a 94 for style. One consumer notes the following:

"Pours a hazy golden yellow, inch or so of crisp white head that clears to leave a decent layer. Aromas of coriander, cloves, some orange peels, and some tart yeast. Flavor is dry and sharp, citrus notes and a light bitterness up front, smooth dry sweet grain and honey. Some grainy yeast rounds out the back end. Active carbonation, sharp, dry, and clean on the palate. Overall, a very tasty rendition of a style that’s often not the most exciting. Very well done."

And while the New York Times and many websites are reporting that Port Brewing Company has agreed to change the name of the beer and the label, the company has stated on their site that no decisions have been made, but that they will discuss the label and issues surrounding it at their next meeting in November (after Halloween).

Ms. Noble? Well, she looks forward to a time when she can, with clear conscience, sample a Witch’s Wit. “I think that would be fun,” she says. “Maybe we can make a ceremony out of it.” (Mark Oppenheimer, "Witches Say Beer's O.K., but Lose the Fire and Stake," The New York Times, October 22 2010)

Here is video, extremely well done, on the topic today

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