A Perplexing Thing

I’m about halfway through Sings, Cures, and Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore  by Gerald C. Milnes and I have mixed feelings. I think his ear for what is important information from his informants is spot-on. And whew, he’s hearing some really interesting stuff. But his history… ugh… I don’t trust it. And I don’t think his interpretations of historical events are exactly right, either.

But I wanted to show you the strangest thing, because I can’t be alone in wondering at this.

So, the premise of the book is that Germanic culture is just as vital and long-lasting and shaping of Southern Appalachian culture as Scots-Irish culture is, and evidence of that still reverberates in Appalachian folkways.

And on the last page of front matter, right across from the first chapter, is this headstone from 1834 (sorry, the picture isn’t that great. I shot the page with my iPhone). The caption says “Tree of life gravestone, Old Probst Church cemetery.”

I keep waiting and waiting and waiting for Milnes to make the obvious point about the headstone, but it’s not in the caption and, like I said, I’m over halfway through the book and there’s been no discussion. And I’ve flipped through the rest of the book and I don’t see it.

So, I cropped so you can see it. And I’m open to suggestions that these are not what they look like.

And again, I apologize for the quality, but is that not Ehwaz there on the left and Laguz on the right? I am dying to speculate about how proto-German runes got onto a German-American’s gravestone in 1834. But it perplexes the shit out of me that it’s not even mentioned. The thing is–I don’t know of any runic systems being used in Germany that had a symbol shaped like Ehwaz. I’m no expert, but I’m flummoxed. But you’d think it would make for an interesting bit of evidence when arguing for a direct European origin of folk symbols and beliefs in Appalachia.

And yet, no mention.

Anyway, I think it would be irresponsible not to speculate. So, here’s my speculation–the Germans who came to America were, in the most non-perjorative way I can use the word, religious fanatics with some beliefs considered odd and somewhat heretical by religious authorities. We know they saw nothing contradictory about Christianity and magic, all were a part of a belief in a rich supernatural world. We also know that the Germans got along with (let’s make that a qualified “got along with) and adopted and adapted the magical practices of people they encountered, thus the overlap in magical herb lore between them and Native Americans and  black people.

We also know that a lot of these Germans were coming in through Philadelphia. And we know Swedes, in small number, were here in New Sweden in the 1600s, with New Sweden being sort of between Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia. And the Swedes had some Germans with them. The Swedes were in the middle of one of their “Remember how great we were before we were Christian?” cultural moments, which makes it plausible that some of them might have been using Runes, especially for occult reasons.

So, when the Germans who were also into occult crap encountered Swedes into occult crap, there was some transference. Tada!

Of course, that’s what I’ve come up with at the end of a long day, while just talking out my ass. And maybe the Germans would have had knowledge of runes most popular in Scandinavia,

But man! It tickled and perplexed me to see runes on that headstone. And then perplexed me that they weren’t mentioned at all.

Edited to add: It occurs to me that, if that’s not Laguz on the right, but another, albeit broken, Ehwaz, that would be a rune used in German-speaking areas. No Swedes necessary.

Gardening Joy

An Open Letter to Stacey Campfield

Dear Stacey Campfield,

You know I think you’re a giant douchebag of historic proportion. You know I think you never met a “fuck you, bitches” bill you wouldn’t champion because I think you hate women. And you know I think your a massive creep.

But this is painful to watch, even for me, who thinks the outcome we ended up with is lovely.

So, let me hop the fence just a second and make sure you’re clear on something.

When Ramsey and Harwell say, “The confusion surrounding the language in the budget regarding Planned Parenthood has been unfortunate. The Office of Legal Services advised House and Senate leadership that it is unconstitutional to amend general law through the appropriations bill (Article II, Section 17), an interpretation which would have put the entire budget document in jeopardy,” they are admitting they knew that second amendment was going in the budget. Do you get this? Because that subtext could barely be called subtext.

So, if they knew that language was going in the budget and have a reason why it had to go in the budget and undo what you’ve done, they KNOW WHO DID IT. In fact, I would interpret those sentences as meaning they worked with that person to make it happen.

Posting a list of all of the people who told you it wasn’t them? All it does is make a nice list of all of the people who might have lied to you. You can’t honestly believe it means anything other than that.

As for what anti-choice folks they might be working with, IT DOESN’T MATTER. If it’s not the guys who are working with you, that’s because the guys who are working with you can’t swing an election. Their endorsement didn’t get Cobb elected in District 62, so everyone now knows the bag has a cat, not a pig, even without the poke being opened. They don’t need to work with the Tennessee Right to Life until the Tennessee Right to Life’s giving or withholding of an endorsement hurts Republicans. And they’re probably relieved about that, because those guys are total jerks.

The Tennessee Right to Life needs you, not because you’re some great champion of the unborn, but because you’re the fool with the biggest platform who will still pretend (or believe) that they decide elections.

Bless your heart. If I liked you, I’d advise you to get a little more cynical about shit and then maybe you won’t be blindsided by this stuff.


Edited to add: While we’re speaking frankly, let me add that most Republicans don’t actually want to end abortion, some of them because it’s a perennial drum to beat on at election time, and some of them because if their wives or daughters were raped or if their mistresses got pregnant, they’d be sitting at Planned Parenthood next to them quicker than you can say ‘Jack Robinson.’ They are fine with it being inconvenient and expensive and dangerous for the rest of us, but believe me, they will always want abortions for their women, and they won’t let you stop that.

One Disturbing Thing

During one of the presentations yesterday, we got to see this Youtube video of Kellie Pickler on Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t know. I find it so upsetting. I mean, first of all, there’s a moment, shortly after Pickler looks like she would like to run off stage and go die in her dressing room, when you can see that she gets that Foxworthy is not her ally in this moment, and, whew, is she sharp and fast at him. The thing about that moment is that it’s clear Pickler isn’t dumb, right? She pretty much instantaneously gets that Foxworthy is a misogynistic fuck, right? That he’s not even using her situation to make fun of her at her own expense, but that he’s turning her into an example of how women are. That’s a lot to get in a short time. She is as quick-witted as they come.

And so, it’s not like I can comfortably watch that and feel like “Oh, Kellie Pickler, what a dumbass.” She’s clearly sharp. So, I sat there watching, thinking “How the hell does a bright woman end up not knowing that France is a country?” The presenter alluded to her very troubled home life growing up, so I was thinking, “Well, maybe she was just in and out of school a lot.” But she graduated from high school, according to Wikipedia.

Someone just fucking failed her, and failed her big, along the way.

But that’s not the part that sticks with me. The part I can’t let go of is that there were a lot of people who thought this, this moment, was a good idea. Nobody at her label said “Hey, you know, you had a shitty education. Maybe you don’t want to get up there and embarrass yourself.” or “You know, Foxworthy can be an asshole; maybe you don’t need to subject yourself to that.” Nobody said “If you can’t get to $25,000, you won’t have any money for your charity. Are you sure you can get that far?”

Instead, all along the way, folks thought this seemed like a good idea, would make for good entertainment–that watching Pickler be publicly embarrassed, that letting everyone have a good laugh about what a dumbass she is and how funny it is when she panics–and then letting Foxworthy tell her that it’s because she’s a woman–would be great television.

Oh, look at the stupid, babbling woman, who babbles and is stupid because she’s a woman.

I wanted for Pickler a “Help Me, Mary” moment, where she gets famous enough that she can burn all those fuckers down. I hope Dolly Parton teaches her that.

I don’t know. It’s one thing–and I’m sure it’s true throughout the music industry, throughout history–but I’m thinking a lot about it because I’ve been listening to people discuss country music for two days straight. It’s one thing that seems a constant: find these desperate folks, who are smart enough to realize they need something more from life than what it’s about to hand them, who have the intellectual gifts that let them connect with an audience, either through their song writing and/or their performance, and keep them compliant by constantly reminding them of how stupid they are, and exploit them because they don’t know to even be suspicious of you.

And you’d hope that it wouldn’t… I don’t know… be so blatant now.

And then there’s this.