Santa Claus is a psychedelic mushroom

One fantastic and wonderful origin theory of Santa Claus involves psychedelic mushrooms and shamanic rituals of the indigenous Sámi people who live in northern Finland. Paul Devereux wrote about this incredible hidden history in his fascinating 2008 book The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia. Then, Brooklyn filmmaker Matthew Salton blew mainstream minds with this fantastic New York Times "Op-Doc" short video on the topic.

For more on psychedelic Santa, check out the following pieces by Greg Taylor at the Daily Grail:

• "Santa is a Psychedelic Mushroom: Were Modern Christmas Traditions Influenced by Shamanic Folklore?"

• Santa's Long Trip Read the rest

The weird history of magical ways to protect your home

Last month, I posted about "witch bottles" -- containers of curious items like human teeth, fish hooks, glass shards, and undetermined liquid -- sometimes found in chimneys or inside walls of old buildings where they were placed to ward off evil spells, spirits, and curses. Turns out that there's a new book -- "Magical House Protection: the Archaeology of Counter-Witchcraft" by Brian Hoggard -- all about the strange history of witch bottles and other kinds of occult home protection! From John Rimmer's post about the text over at Magonia Review of Books:

We are all familiar with the practice of hanging up horse-shoes as a ‘good-luck’ token, although there is some disagreement as to whether the points of the shoe should be pointing up or down. My grandmother insisted that if the points were turned down, “the luck would all run out”.

Lots of people hang up a horseshoe, but maybe we would be less inclined to bury a dead cat under our threshold, or place a bottle full of urine and nail clippings up our chimney, or nail horses skulls underneath the floorboards? These are just some of the objects which have been used for centuries to offer some sort of ‘magical protection’ to houses and other properties.

In the past magic and witchcraft was not a topic for discussion between believers and sceptics, it was just an ordinary part of everyday life, and taking precautions to divert its power was seen as no more remarkable than taking an umbrella with you on a wet day to protect you from the rain.

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Public cemeteries as a precondition for the sale of land

Writing at Metropole, Sarah Balakrishnan describes the development of cemeteries in a city in Ghana. As of the 1800's, the general practice in the seaside city of Accra was to bury the dead underneath the family's home.

Around 1888, British colonists began forcing the populace to bury the dead in public cemeteries. The requirement served multiple purposes:

Cemeteries were undoubtedly a part of British colonists’ bid to reorganize African societies according to Christian schematics of “civilization”—what has been called the “civilizing mission.” But they also had another, more insidious, ambition. Creating private property in Accra required cemeteries. Graveyards relocated ancestors to the public domain, making it possible for Gold Coasters to sell their property to interested buyers.

British colonists had long understood that communities in Accra would never sell their land if it contained the remains of their elders. Public cemeteries thus transferred rituals of social reproduction—celebrating, mourning, and remembering the dead—into the domain of the state, so that private houses could be made fungible and sellable. Like elsewhere in the world, commemorations of death shaped the devolution of property. In colonial Accra, British colonists used cemeteries to enforce private property in land.

Soon, large public cemeteries indeed grew, which led to various other problems. For one thing, once large public cemeteries came into existence, developers started scheming to use the land for a different purpose:

While the state used cemeteries to enforce private property in land, this had come at a cost: the creation of massive “immovable properties.” Whereas chiefs and wealthy “big men” (abirempon) had built many cemeteries in the 20th century by buying expansive estates, the colonial government now wanted to build railroads and thoroughfares through these lands.

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The devastating 200-year-old tradition of running along a greasy pole in Malta

Presumably coming soon to ESPN's "The Ocho" is some version of this 200-year old tradition in Malta held in honor of St Julian the Hospitaller:

In the tournament, known as Gostra to the Maltese, a 16 meter-pole is covered by 15 liters of lard and fixed at an angle from the promenade into the sea. Competitors try to grab three flags at its end – a blue and white one dedicated to St Mary, a yellow and white one for the Vatican, and the Belgian tricolor, since St Julian is believed to have been born in the Belgian town of Ath in 7AD.

The prizes for competitors "are nominal" but the risks huge:

This photograph from the tournament is particularly great:

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#REUTERS Pictures of the Decade POY DECADE. A man runs up the "gostra", a pole covered in grease, during the religious feast of St Julian, patron of the town of St Julian's, outside Valletta, Malta, August 25, 2013. Picture taken August 25, 2013. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo MALTA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN MALTA SEARCH "POY DECADE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2019 PACKAGES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY. #malta #oddly #tradition #gostra #gostraman #reuters #POY #POYdecade #tpx #picoftheday #toppix #pixoftheday #photooftheday #photosoftheday #imageoftheday #imagesoftheday

A post shared by Darrin Zammit Lupi (@darrinzl) on Dec 3, 2019 at 12:25pm PST

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Modern archaeology is entering a paywalled Lovecraftian forum to access a 1929 edition of an Egypt travel guide

I had hoped In the Valley of Gods, Campo Santo's follow up to Firewatch, was going to adapt some of the magic of the Indiana Jones and Brendan Fraser Mummy films, and add a modern sensibility. The trailer looked promising:

From the team that brought you Firewatch, In the Valley of Gods is a sprawling narrative experience in remote, 1920s Egypt. You are Rashida, a disgraced former explorer and filmmaker given one last shot at the adventurous life you desperately miss. Somewhere, beyond the endless miles of dunes, ruins, and tombs lies an incredible archaeological discovery—but it can't be found without the help of Zora, the former partner you vowed never to work with again. Gameplay A thrilling adventure in first person Navigate and rebuild a relationship with your companion, Zora Utilize an authentic 35mm film camera to document the world and story around you Climb, explore and traverse the wonders of the ancient world

Alas, Campo Santo was acquired by Valve, and a statement was put out today that the project was "on hold" since the team had scattered to work on other Valve projects like Half-Life: Alyx.

Duncan Fyfe, who had been thrilled to be working on In the Valley of Gods, tweeted a thread lamenting the apparent end of the project. You can read the entire thread about his time working for Campo Santo here. But the best part is Duncan's own adventure to read an obscure antiquity he needed to help his work on the game:

Read the rest

Learning to See the Commons

[[Generations of propaganda about the instability of "the commons" and the desirability of assigning property rights in everything has led the human race into a very dark place: now, two scholars, David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, have published Free, Fair and Alive, which offers a critique of the "Tragedy," case studies of working commons, and a path to a better world based on shared resources and commons-based production. -Cory]]

Could we please, finally, lay to rest the tendentious "tragedy of the commons" fairy tale that has poisoned the minds of at least two generations? The accurate story about the commons deals with its ability to address the intractable problems of our time -- wasteful economic growth, predatory markets, the climate emergency, savage inequality. The commons offers practical ways to develop non-capitalist social systems that meet needs while helping rebuild our ecosystems and create a sense of belonging.

This was a key reason why we wrote Free, Fair and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons. At some point, Big Deceptions such as the "tragedy" fable become so deeply rooted they need to be confronted and debunked. One way to do this is to recognize the social realities and political potential of actual commons.

At the chemist’s: recording of a 1930s conversation in England

The Sound Archive posted a 1930s-era recording of a conversation in a British pharmacy. The received-pronunciation chatter isn't quite reality--it was recorded to teach English as a foreign language--but it's a stark and amusing insight into English as she was spoke.

Madam. Would you like a hard brush, or a medium one?

The recording also offers a glimpse of contemporary pharmaceutical products and terminology. Court plaster – as opposed, simply, to plaster or sticking plaster – is particularly intriguing and J.R. Firth’s endorsement of the brand New-skin ('you see what it is from what it says on the label') bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous 1990s TV slogan for Ronseal wood preserver (‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’). Finally, Lilias Armstrong’s use of good morning as a farewell might seem particularly unusual to modern ears.

Photo: National Library of Ireland Read the rest

Rats' nests are rich with unrecorded history and urgent scientific data

Pack rats, aka woodrats, build their nests, called middens, from plant debris, rocks, animal parts, paper, and almost any other bits of detritus nearby. Frequently, they urinate on their middens. The urine crystalizes and encases the nest material, preserving it for as long as 50,000 years by some estimates. For paleobotanists, middens are a great source of information about how flora has changed over time. Zoologists study the animal remains and poop. And climatologists analyze the material for insight into past climates, even the most recent ice age that ended more than 11,000 years ago. In Smithsonian, Sadie Witkowski digs into the topic, including a story about what historians learned excavating rats' nests in the walls of the 1808 Charleston, South Carolina home of slave trader Nathaniel Russel:

Among the mass of organic matter, they found sewing pins, buttons, marbles, part of a uniform waistcoat, and even fragments of printed paper that could be dated to November 1833. The paper was darkened and curled but still legible once it was gently opened.

“It was protected from rain and moisture, and even though it’s sooty, it didn’t burn,” (University of Delaware art conservator Susan) Buck says. “So we just have all these fragile materials that normally wouldn’t survive.” Among the material, the team recovered scraps of an early writing primer, suggesting some of the enslaved workers living in the kitchen house has been learning to read and write.

To move beyond the written record, historians and conservators have looked for new clues in unlikely places.

Read the rest

alt.interoperability.adversarial

Today, we are told that the bigness of Big Tech giants was inevitable: the result of "network effects." For example, once everyone you want to talk to is on Facebook, you can't be convinced to use another, superior service, because all the people you'd use that service to talk to are still on Facebook. And of course, those people also can't leave Facebook, because you're still there. Read the rest

Beautiful footage of Parisian life from more than 100 years ago

A clip from director Hugues Nancy's "Paris 1900, the City of Lights," featuring restored and colorized film footage from the fin de siècle. From C21Media:

Thanks to incredible archives restored and fully colorized, this film presents a previously unseen journey through time and space. Discover, Paris in 1900 at the time of the Exposition Universelle and the very beginning of modern art and cinema. The City of Lights became a showcase city, displaying the latest technical and scientific inventions, and also boasting avant-garde art galleries, lively cabarets, the ultimate in high fashion, and… the Parisiennes. The myth of “La Belle Epoque” reigned supreme.

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Jeannette Ng was right: John W Campbell was a fascist

My latest Locus Magazine column is Jeannette Ng Was Right: John W. Campbell Was a Fascist, which revisits Jeannette Ng's Campbell Awards speech from this summer's World Science Fiction convention. Read the rest

The mystery of brass Roman dodecahedrons

Brass dodecahedrons keep turning up in the European soil. They're of Roman antiquity, but no-one knows for sure what they were for. Thankfully, "mundane ornamentation or maybe a childrens' toy" is not what anyone wants to hear. Mental Floss:

Historians have found no written documentation of the dodecahedrons in any historical sources. That void has encouraged dozens of competing, and sometimes colorful, theories about their purpose, from military banner ornaments to candleholders to props used in magic spells. ... Amelia Sparavigna, a physicist at Italy’s Politecnico di Torino, thinks the dodecahedrons were used by the Roman military as a type of rangefinder. In research published on the online repository arXiv in 2012, Sparavigna argued that they could have been used to calculate the distance to an object of known size (such as a military banner or an artillery weapon) by looking through pairs of the dodecahedrons' differently sized holes, until the object and the edges of the two circles in the dodecahedron aligned. Theoretically, only one set of holes for a given distance would line up, according to Sparavigna.

Or, perhaps, an astronomic measuring instrument for determining the optimal sowing date for winter grain. [romandodecahedron.com]

My favorite explanation: a glove-knitting gadget.

Photo: Lokilech (CC BY-SA 3.0) Read the rest

Belgian synthesizer master Mario Mathy in action

Mario Mathy still lives, but even when he is gone, the jumping dance will live forever. Mathy was recently Keyboard Mag's featured artist.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR CRAZY VIDEO WITH KEYBOARDS AND HORSES: The video clip for "Jumping Dance" was actually a joke between my wife and my record company. Of course I also realize that my videos were exaggerated, but that was the only way to stand out in Belgium. My wife who is 23 years younger than me put that clip on YouTube together with my record company. And of course, it became quite popular after 32 years! It featured only Casio instruments like the CZ-3000 and 5000 and the CZ-1, because I was Casio demonstrator.

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The 2019 Halloween Candy Hierarchy

A HISTORY

It began, as all things do, with a geology joke. We ranked candy based on their location in various geological strata, both real and imagined. The strata, not the ranking. In 2006, we compiled years of lived experience into a hierarchy of candy preference for Halloween. Not all candy. Not all times. But for trick or treating purposes. 

Let’s talk candy rankings, then, which have become a kind of cottage industry in the last decade’s social-media age of the internet. In fact, candy rankings and arguments over their perceived accuracy might be the perfect distillation of what a certain kind of internet is good for. It lets people argue over opinion; its conclusions thus have to be constantly modified and adjusted; also there are no conclusions, of course, because it is a fickle game of idle speculation; it’s low stakes fun; and reasonable people can disagree with unreasonable arguments. These are great things for hashing out the enjoyment of various shapes of sugar. Good on you, social media. They are not necessarily great things that go beyond idle speculation, for actual democratic society, for governance or policy or the protection of human dignity. 

Candy, though. And Halloween. There will be rankings (immediately below), then deliberations on history (further below) and a beautiful chart (furthest below). There is a hierarchy. We are making our priority claim.

 

The Candy Hierarchy (2019)

Any full-sized candy barReese’s Peanut Butter CupsKit KatTwixSnickersCash, or other forms of legal tenderPeanut M&M’sRegular M&MsNestle CrunchTolberone something or otherMilky WayLindt TruffleRolosThree MusketeersHershey's Dark ChocolateYork Peppermint Patties100 Grand BarSkittlesStarburstHershey’s Milk ChocolateHeath BarJunior MintsCaramellosNerdsMilk DudsHershey's KissesJolly Ranchers (good flavor)Cadbury Creme EggsSwedish FishGummy Bears straight upSmarties (American)LemonHeadsGlow sticksMint JulepsVicodinPixy StixLicorice (not black)LaffyTaffyLollipopsMint KissesMinibags of chipsBottle CapsSmarties (Commonwealth)

Candy Corn

Now'n'LatersDotsKinder Happy HippoGoo Goo ClustersFuzzy PeachesHard CandyGood N' PlentyLicorice (yes black)Reggie Jackson BarChicletsTrail MixHugs (actual physical hugs)Bonkers (the candy)MaynardsSweetums (a friend to diabetes)Healthy FruitBlack JacksPencilsThose odd marshmallow circus peanut thingsJolly Rancher (bad flavor)Spotted DickGeneric Brand AcetaminophenBox'o'RaisinsWhole Wheat anythingAnonymous brown globs that come in black & orange wrappers (Mary Janes)Creepy Religious comics/Chick TractsKale smoothieWhite BreadDental paraphenaliaGum from baseball cardsCandy that is clearly just the stuff given out for free at restaurantsBroken glow stick

 

We revised the original hierarchy each year between 2006 and 2009 to include feedback from readers and onlookers back at our blog The World’s Fair. Read the rest

What the London Underground used to be like

From the Kino Library comes this set of film clips shot on the London Underground in the 1960s and 1970s.

View at end of tube platform looking up at crowded platform and tube train, Victoria, pulling in. Men and women passengers board train, pushing on. POV from front of train through tunnel and past passengers waiting on platform as it comes to a halt. Shot on board tube carriage, sun streams through windows as it rides through London suburbs. Men in bowler hats reading newspapers. One woman in 1960s outfit sits in FG. Commuters. Passengers bounce around as train moves. Scene gets darker as train goes through tunnel. INT dark tube carriage. Men and women sit reading, quiet. INT tube station great shot at base of escalator, people coming down. Lots of miniskirts. Late 1960s fashions. 1960s passengers out of tube and up stairs, poster just seen ‘Heals Sale Now On’. People walking up stairs. People coming down escalator.

I lived in London in the late 1970s, when it was as depicted here but more run down, and the late 1990s, when it was all being renovated into a clean new sci-fi set. Different worlds! (Except for the Northern Line, which for some reason was not being upgraded and I guess is still exactly like this video.) Read the rest

The wonderful You Must Remember This podcast returns to tell the secret history of Disney's most racist movie, Song of the South

Song of the South is one of the most obscure and most popular of all the Disney movies: despite the fact that Disney has not made it available for a generation, the movie is the basis for the "Splash Mountain" flume rides at the Disney parks, and the movie's theme, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" remains a familiar anthem. Read the rest

Vintage Asteroids costume is surprisingly terrifying

Costumes in the early 80's were little more than decorated plastic bags. And before Disney's IP came to dominate Halloween shops, costume makers had to come up with creative ways to let kids embody concepts like an Asteroid or Rubik's Cube. The resulting costumes may have lacked padded muscles, but made up for it with surprisingly disturbing masks:

Someone made the call that it was worth spending resources to make a costume based on the cyclops from Krull:

You can find more costumes from the 70's and 80's here and here.

(Via Attract Mode.) Read the rest

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