Tuesday, August 27, 2019

‘I was a Punk - Before YOU were a Punk’ *

On Co-Opting Symbols

Note to Readers:
This is proving a very difficult piece to write.
I am fully expecting a lot of kick back - but I would ask you read the whole piece - first. Comments will be welcome, but expect limits to ‘free speech’ will be applied. 

Thor's Hammer pendant from a Viking grave from Bredsatra, Sweden. At the Museum of National Antiquities' collection in Sweden, 10th century  (from a Pintrest collection)

What do you do, when objects you long have owned, suddenly are grabbed by some specific group, and incorporated into their personal vision?
Suddenly lifted completely out of context.
Look to the left hand in the image below:
Demonstrators carry Confederate and Nazi flags during the "Unite the Right" rally at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. (Emily Molli/Sipa USA | AP Photo)
Or you realise that there may be new meanings applied to an old symbol, which you may have first chosen in innocence.
But then was co-oped by others, and distorted into something entirely different. This new association most certainly something you can not agree with!

Now, there are two quite different things going on here.
If you display an SS badge, or a Swastika flag, it is pretty damn certain what you are intending.
Seriously, you can rant all you want about ‘freedom of speech’, but everyone knows the pit of hate behind those symbols in the Modern Age. And exactly what you are clearly stating and promoting.

Modern Era and current Neo-Nazis, starting in Europe, had / have adopted many icons from ancient Goths and Norse. This all in a attempt to create a (false) ‘lineage’ to their views. The fascination of Hitler and his gang with the occult most certainly is another reason. There is most certainly a direct connection being made by current Neo-Nazis, both in Europe and as today active in the USA, with ‘Heathen’ / ‘Odin-ist’ practises and symbols. **

But to be absolutely clear, the historic artifacts had absolutely no connection what so ever with these purely modern, propaganda, uses of the imagery.
There was absolutely no concept of ‘White Power’ during the Viking Age.
(Show me some Archaeology. Not some written fantasy from the 1930's!)

Context can become everything.
I have a bronze ‘interpretation’ of the Bredsatra hammer. I was given it as a gift, back in the mid 1980's. Purchased by a friend who got it at the Coppergate Viking Centre in York, England.
When worn with obviously all Viking Age clothing, inside a living history demonstration, this is fully intended to represent an individual who was following the primary religion of that time, place and Cultural set. This is a historically based character, created for purely educational purposes.

If I should chose to wear that same token with street clothes, it may - or may not, symbolize my own personal faith view.
It may be most safe to say that if the token is worn under my shirt, next to my skin, it is most likely to actually be a religious symbol. Consider a Cross, Star of David, Pentacle, …
'Thor's Hammer' necklace, 1993. Pendant based on Rømersdal, Denmark
Worn over clothing, highly visible?
Seriously - it may just be ‘a nice bit of jewelry’.
But this may also be fully intended as a visual signature of membership in a ‘club’.
Wearing a Celtic ringed Cross? Likely you are showing both Christian and Irish associations.
Wearing a Thor’s Hammer? May certainly mean you are following some version of North European Paganism.

The same symbol printed on a T shirt?
Again, the most typical is ‘that is a cool design’.
It may only represent ‘I’m interested in that Cultural set’.

But horribly - increasingly, with the (repeated) rise of the extreme Right, White Supremacist and Neo-Nazis?
The ‘Thor’s Hammer’ is becoming yet another ‘code’ symbol for those groups.
Maybe like shaving your head?
Or sporting an SS Lightning or Swastika tattoo.

This becomes a form of Cultural Appropriation.
A very, very destructive kind.

While I was researching this piece - another symbol association struck me:

Neo Nazi demonstration in Myslenice Poland.
Contributor: Bart Pro / Alamy Stock Photo

Now, I have been working with Celtic inspired designs for some 45 years. This working primarily from artifact source materials. The objects made in Ireland, in the period of the Norse expansion (c 800 - 1000) show an wonderful blend of Celtic and Norse, pagan and Christian. I love the sweeping reversal curves from earlier La Tene objects. I have never been especially interested in Irish Catholicism, or it’s symbol meanings, however. The only time I have specifically used the Irish style 'high circle cross' in my work was in the creation of a forged steel grave marker.***

Taken from Avia Venefica : Celtic Cross Meaning
It should be remembered that the ancient carved stone cross seen above is not the typical. I have seen a number of these artifacts personally (Ireland and Scotland, museums in North America). The most common layout for the Celtic / Irish cross is a with a very long lower shaft, then three much shorter upper arms.

If you did an open internet image search using ‘celtic circle cross’ - this is what you would see :

Check on the reference link for image # 2.
The association of this symbol (also called ‘Odin’s Cross’ ??) with Neo Nazi’s is listed.

Reference link on image #7 ?
“ Legal disclaimer
This image shows (or resembles) a symbol that was used by the National Socialist (NSDAP/Nazi) government of Germany or an organization closely associated to it, or another party which has been banned by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. The use of insignia of organizations that have been banned in Germany (like the Nazi swastika or the arrow cross) are also illegal in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, France, Brazil, Israel, Ukraine, Russia and other countries, depending on context. In Germany, the applicable law is paragraph 86a of the criminal code (StGB), in Poland – Art. 256 of the criminal code (Dz.U. 1997 nr 88 poz. 553).”

How careful must we be, that the brush, now covered in black and blood, may now end up painting us as well?


Note : In preparing this piece, I have lifted a number of images off the open internet.

* Title taken from : the Tubes, 1977, song of the same name

** Before readers get offended!
I am NOT implying that any specific religious practice always implies a specific political viewpoint. If anything, the merging of Nazism with Odinist should be even more offensive to any who reject those political concepts.

*** Long installed in a small cemetery near Belleville, Ontario. Unfortunately, I have never seen the work as installed - or even have a reference photo of the finished piece. It stood about 5 feet tall. 

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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