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Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
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'Witch’s Wit' Leaves Sour Taste
Article ID: 14273
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,126
Times Read: 3,783
RSS Views: 14,807
Author: Z Budapest
Posted: October 31st. 2010
Times Viewed: 3,783
In 2008, a little obscure brewery decided it would be a good idea to print a label for their Witch’s Wit pale ale that would depict a graphic scene of a woman being burned alive at the stake for the crime of witchcraft, and in that depiction she would be surrounded by an angry mob of on-lookers who would enjoy that woman’s death while drinking their favorite Witch’s Wit pale ale. And that somehow this would be a statement against the establishment of the (Catholic) Church.
Seriously, that’s what the makers of pale ale Witch’s Wit beer thought would make a good label for their good vs. evil themed pale ale beer.
Vicki Nobel discovered the graphically labeled beer at the local liquor store in Capitola, CA. She did two things. She emailed The Lost Abby to complain, and then she emailed her personal email list saying, “Can we stop this brewer from their hate imagery? Can you imagine them showing a black person being lynched or a Jewish person going to the oven? Such images are simply not tolerated in our society anymore (thank the Goddess) and this one should not be, either.”
“I like beer, ” Noble said, and as a practitioner of religious traditions that revere the Earth and women’s special powers, she also feels a special connection to brewing. “It was the women who brewed beer from ancient times right up to the Reformation, ” she says. She noted some were burned as witches to destroy “the ancient traditions of shamanistic medicine, which in every indigenous culture includes the brewing of medicinal fermented beverages.”
The maker of Witch’s Wit is The Lost Abby Brewery/Port Brewing Company, and they are very perplexed as to why no one has complained until now. Seems a little too easy, but the answer is simply that none of the people complaining had even seen the beer before now.
And while this beer label is clearly offensive to the Pagan community at large, it’s far more offensive to women everywhere. The Burning Times systematically murdered between approximately 3 million people, mostly women, and is an era of human history as dark as the Nazi reign in Germany during World War II, or the lynching/burnings of the white supremacy in the southern United States.
Lost Abby leadership says, “We have a stack of emails asking whether we would show Jews being gassed or African American’s being lynched. Of course not was our reply. Others seemed to think we were responsible for recent incidents in Darfur as well. It was amazing chain of events to say the least. Many of these emails labeled our Marketing and PR Departments as ignorant, woman hating Cretans. Some claimed that no sane person in their right mind would use an image of a buxom Witch being burned at the stake for commercial gain.”
What we’d ask is, then why is there any question that you wouldn’t issue an apology and drop this label immediately? But that’s not what’s happening at the Lost Abby Brewery. No, instead they’re going to capitalize on their witchy brew during the Halloween witchy sales week, and discuss the changes to this beer’s label after the cash registers have tallied their Halloween sales.
We don’t think The Lost Abby is responsible for Jews being gassed, lynching in the south, nor Darfur. But we do think they are responsible for a seriously bad lack of judgment, a complete lack of sensitivity to women’s history and inaction to a situation that could have been resolved quickly.
According to The Lost Abby leadership, Tomme Arthur, “Apparently, many of the emailers didn’t bother to spend time researching our branding and the positioning of our beers. In blindly denouncing our original art and the satire of our labels, most of the emailers failed to connect with our brands. Looking at these emails, it was obvious that in our desire to tell a great story, we had forgotten to get that information on our website in a meaningful way.”
It’s doubtful that the people complaining are going give a hoot about the company’s branding nor positioning. And to say that the emailers are blind to the label’s art and satire … clearly the leadership of The Lost Abby does not understand the complaints. So Lost Abby leadership, let us help you. These people are complaining that they find the art offensive and in poor taste … and in the beer making business taste is everything. You’ve left a sour taste in their mouths. That’s not a good thing and it is definitely not satire.
You can be proud of your beer, and the feeling that you are pushing beer as art, and all the while be doing it in very poor taste.
Tomme Arthur calls his employees The Lost Abby Clergy, and refers to himself in his response emails as “a recovering Catholic.” The witch burnings had less to do with the Catholic Church and more to do with the Protestants. Pagans and women in general don’t care if you’re recovering Catholic. It’s not a line of defense, and it’s not satire either. What they care about is the image your company is projecting to the world. The attempt to show the battle between good vs. evil has missed the mark in a very tasteless way. The attempt to proselytize as clergy for beer and art has resulted in a huge failure and the public is letting you know it. It’s time to hang up your robes, change the label and call it a day.
“At this time, the only decision that has been made about this label is that we have agreed (as owners) to discuss this label controversy at our meeting in November, ” says Arthur. “We remain committed to the art of story telling and using beer as our medium and hope to keep delivering more amazing beers and storys for years to come.”
Besides the obvious need to use spell checking, the makers of Witch’s Wit beer need to understand that just scheduling a meeting to discuss things isn’t enough, nor is it good business to announce that’s all you have planned to do. Do you not comprehend that this faux pas has gone into national awareness? At the end of the day little brewery, you have to ask yourself if any type of publicity is good publicity. Because it’s a well known fact that the Pagan community in general are very big beer drinkers, and are especially big lovers of specialty beers. Basically, your target audience.
We decided to take a deeper look into the realm of beer makers who produce witch labeled brews, and we were pleasantly surprised by the other breweries producing tasteful and fun witchy beer labels. Our favorite is a pale ale called Witch’s Brew, and they do know satire! (witchesbrewpub.com)
Witches’ Brew is brought to you courtesy of TI Beverage Group, Ltd., purveyors of legendary wines from Vampire Vineyards and Sasquatch Cellars.
After a long day of working at the vineyards, and tasting numerous wines, we found that one inevitably gets palette fatigue. So we thought, "What better way to wind down a long day than to sip a cold brew?" Of course, we wouldn’t settle for just any ordinary beer. No instead we sought out the best brewmeister we could find and issued a challenge: Brew us a beer so great that it will put a spell on you. We didn’t expect him to take that challenge literally, but that is what he did. He went out and bought a few books on witchcraft and went to work.
We would have preferred to let the original brew master say a few words in this space, but unfortunately he was so ecstatic after tasting his life’s piece de résistance, that he mixed up his words and uttered a mistaken spell that cast him . . . we know not where. Which goes to show, be careful if you mix with witchcraft. Words have meanings. So be warned. Don’t go saying things unless you mean what you say!
Actually, we Googled “witch brew beer” and looked at hundreds of Google images, and nothing there was offensive to us the way that The Lost Abby’s Witch’s Wit beer label is. That’s saying something!
We decided to have a closer look at the verbiage behind this label.
The Story on the 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 his or her 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.
Prince of Darkness? Really?! So The Lost Abby leadership doesn’t know that Wicca/Witchcraft have nothing to do with the Devil? That the witch burnings had nothing to do with the Prince of Darkness? Oh wait! That’s their attempt at satire for which they’re so proud. Lame.
As an addendum to The Story on the Label, none of which is on the actual label, Tomme Arthur writes, “When I imagined this beer, I thought of two perspectives that would make for the best story. The first story could have been told from the Point of View of our Witch (or Heroine depending on the story) . Ultimately, I think I like not knowing her story is better. How she got there is a big part of the mystery.
I became more fixated on the guilt of the crowd. There would surely have been people (the faceless souls) who could have/ would have wanted to help. There also would have been some righteous people smug with satisfaction knowing another “witch” leaving their world.
The Point of View for this back-story label is about that smugness and righteousness in light of a horrific atrocity against mankind. It’s written in a modified 3rd person Omniscient Point of View (partly a member of the crowd and my own voice) . I knew that most people wouldn’t spend the time delving into the mystery of the piece I wrote but at the same time, I wanted a voice of reason (or counter reason) to be present for this beer. Specifically, we knew this to be a thought provoking original art piece.”
Shouldn’t we be talking about the quality of the beer rather than the label? Isn’t that the goal?
When the women’s-only T-shirt art reads… Attend your next medieval witch-burning event in style with this oh-so-flattering v-neck T-shirt. The front features the Lost Abbey Celtic cross while the back display’s our famous Witch’s Wit label… you have to realize, one this protest has made this beer label famous and two, they totally get and intend the anti-female/anti-witch message they are distributing.
Making it all the more sad that women like Melissa Ward of Ladies of Craft Beer (ladiesocb.com) would Twitter their voices in defense of The Lost Abby.
Ward apparently feels that since witch burnings really did happen, its fair game to use as a beer label, and she points out that women weren’t the only ones burned to death. While she does acknowledge that it is upsetting to see a woman victimized in art, as the opinion piece for the Ladies of Craft Beer, she is supporting the brewery.
Ward missed the mark when she wrote, “I have a feeling that those who get their panties in bunches over this kind of thing are NOT the kind who buy quality craft beer.” Seriously? Most Pagans we know drink a lot of quality beer and are excellent home brewers in their own right.
Apparently the beer world has many offensive beer labels, and the community has become accustomed to viewing them. So, the consensus is that it’s “okay” to show a woman being murdered and drink beer while watching. Scary isn’t it? To know that this could actually happen and these people would watch as long as there was beer.
Reaction has birthed a Facebook page advocating the Boycott of The Lost Abby’s Witch’s Wit beer ( http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Boycott-Port-Brewing-The-Lost-Abbey/144594552254013) .
Kimberely Fox posted: …in regards to this very subject, I am not inclined to "Like" the idea of protesting to the point of encouraging a boycott of this company. Though ever since I sampled some Lost Abbey ales at a microbrew/craft beer tasting, my opinion was they need to put as much passion into their recipes and actual brewing as they do their bottle artwork (meaning I didn't think the beer itself was all that tasty) , I would ask that my fellow pagans and witches step back, take a deep breath, and take a look at the *whole story* here.
Sage Osterfield, Media Liaison for Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey has been responding to the complaint emails with the following message:
I encourage you to look at all of Lost Abbey’s beers and consider them in context. Each of the Lost Abbey beers features a label that depicts a theme of Catholic excess — good and bad — on the front, and tells a moral story on the back. (Our founder is a recovering Catholic.)
In the case of Witch’s Wit, the back label is a story of the bad consequences of religious intolerance and oppression. The woman on the front is referred to as a “healer” on the label and accuses the Church of being narrow-minded and violent, threatening the same fate to anyone who would help the woman. The label ends with a note that this beer — a light, sweet and golden ale — is brewed in honor of that woman (and all those who died for their convictions) .
Our other beers — Devotion, Deliverance, Judgment Day, Inferno, The Angel’s Share, etc. — all have similar messages of morality. Unfortunately, the people who started this meme either didn’t bother or didn’t care to actually read the label and simply chose to fan the flames of ignorance and intolerance — which, ironically, is what the beer is actually against.
This kind of reminds us of that old Saturday Night Live skit with Jane Curtain and Dan Aykroyd, where every time she makes a valid point he counters with “Jane, you ignorant slut….” Seriously Sage? Fan[ing] the flames of ignorance and intolerance? “Oh, yes, why of course! Now we see your point, ” they said satirically. And when we’re attending our next medieval witch burning event in style in our oh-so-flattering v-neck Witch’s Wit T-shirts, we will remember your message of our own ignorance and intolerance as we drink beer and watch a woman burn before our very eyes. Seriously! We will!
Bottom line, whether it’s Pagans or women in general, no one cares about this beer too much but a handful of The Lost Abby fans. We might have cared, but we aren’t going to now that we’re, you know, ignorant and intolerant.
We agree with Elizabeth Creely when she posted, “They should be happy people are paying attention, and drop the defensiveness. I just looked at their website and it says nothing about challenging Catholic/Christian dogma, [by the way].
Maureen Long adds, “[Sage’s comment] smacks of the same level of ignorance of public relations as some of the BP actions during the oil spill. Context is everything in marketing and the context here seems to glorify the burning, with a crowd of males gathered to enjoy it. I’ve never seen the beer bottle, however the images on the web do not show the back of the label, so it is impossible to draw conclusions based on anything other than the image presented. That image, regardless of what the back of the label may say, is inappropriate.”
Natalie Rand says, “Wow! The image is quite engaging – for lack of a better word. There is so much going on. The guys are not only gawking – do you see the one with his tongue out??? The problem with this label goes beyond offending witches – it is offensive to women! There is sexual component to it as well… very creepy.
I think it should be changed! I understand what they are trying to do. It’s interesting. But, as someone said, you can’t put a label of a Jew being gassed and justify it by writing a paragraph about the horrors of genocide. Take that as far as you want… with slaves, Native Americans, gays etc… it’s just not done. It needs to be changed.”
Then there’s the artist of the Witch’s Wit beer label, Sean Dominguez, chiming in … “Wow, with the tongue out and gawking? I don’t remember painting that in there. Yes, I’m the artist. By the way you people are replying to my art and that what it is, is astonishing. Too bad you can’t see the actual piece in person. Maybe you can actually see what is going on. The people’s faces are actually emotionless. The church in the back is a symbol of the intolerance, very much what you are doing. Close-minded. Your way or be damned. Sounds like what you’re doing. Spare me the hypocrisy. Its art and beer. Don’t buy it. You’re free to have your opinions, that’s why we live in a free country, I hope.”
You can read more at: http://deafpagancrossroads.com/2010/10/16/witches-wit-beer-label-the-lost-abbey-response/ , but we think you get the idea of how neither side in this discussion is hearing each other. Lots of finger-pointing and name calling … a real mixed cauldron.
And what of the beer itself? What do the reviewers say?
“Enjoyable and forgettable at the same time, I've had this beer many times before, but from different breweries over the years, pretty cut and dry.”
“I appreciate the multiple layers in this beer. That being said, I am not sure I would fork over the high price to get another.”
“Starts out neutral with a bit of bitter in the finish. Mildly flavored. Not a lot of complexity here. Drinkability is just OK. This would be an OK beer at $7 a six pack but at $9 for a 750 ML bottle I'm feeling cheated.”
“A wit that's all over the place, but after a rough start enjoyable enough to barely recommend.”
Just Google “witch's wit beer review” for more reviews if you’re still interested in this beer. In the meantime, The Lost Abby gets a big thumbs down from us for failing to do the right thing in this situation. It could have been enough to issue a statement saying that this label was already at the end of its run and basically off the market except for a few bottles here and there. At least, that’s what we’re hearing. They could have said thanks for the feedback, how about you help us design the next label around our theme of religious intolerance and ignorance … and let’s do it now. Pagans are big on those topics and always willing to jump on board. There are a lot of things The Lost Abby could have done, but trying to bury the issues and stall on decisions was what they chose to do. And for that, we say shame on you!
By Z Budapest and Bobbie Grennier
Here’s Z’s satire: http://blog.zbudapest.com/2010/10/28/the-lost-consciousness-in-the-abbey/
Then, watch Professor Cynthia Eller’s Youtube video regarding The Lost Abby’s Witch’s Wit beer label as she explains the “brewhaha” in simple and easy to understand thoughts. And maybe enjoy a nice Witch’s Brew from the other guy’s brewery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MWzj1_QSNk and feature=player_embedded
Copyright: Z Budapest and Bobbie Grennier
Location: Santa Cruz County, California
Author's Profile: To learn more about Z Budapest - Click HERE
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