The Progressive Case For Cultural Appropriation

July 23, 2019 Category: American Culture


{1  A note about my choice of the descriptor, “Cul-Ap-phobia”.  I do not use this merely as a pejorative.  It is intended to be descriptive, independently of normative claims.  In opting for this neologism, I am actually giving complainants the benefit of the doubt–as it presumes that their contempt for cultural appropriation is sincere, stemming more from neurosis than from mendacity (which is to say: they are being irrational, not perfidious).  Hence “phobia”.  Their aversion might even be categorized as “hamartophobia”, as it pertains to paranoia of imaginary crimes.}

{2  Nicolaus of Myra was a quasi-apocryphal holy-man from Lycia who lived in the 3rd or 4th century.  The first major version of the cult surrounding his personage was at Bari, in Puglia (on the Italic peninsula) in the late 11th century.  It then spread to Spain in the late 15th century…and was thereafter adopted by the Dutch (whereupon he became known as “Sinter-klaas”).  The legend then became Germanic and Slavic…then English.  THAT adoption was followed by those in regions colonized by Roman Catholic (European) powers–as with the Americas and the Philippines. In the Roman Catholic world, his moniker either involved “Noel[le]” / “Natale” (birth) or some version of the name “Nikolas” (after the Anatolian saint).  Germanic paganism was eventually incorporated into the Christian leitmotif—as with “Belsnickel”, “Knecht Ruprecht”, and “Krampus”.  This was a reminder that syncretism is often concomitant with Cul-Ap. What of Eastern Europe? In Slavic folklore, “Ded Moroz” [“Grandfather Frost”] was based on pagan myths, so was not influenced by Christianity.  Only later was this folkloric figure incorporated into a Christian motif.  This was more a case of syncretism than of Cul-Ap.  The same goes for the Turkic “Ayaz Ata”. So who “owns” this legend?  As it happens, Santa Claus is quintessentially European.  A depiction of him as anything else–be it African, Arabian, or Asian–is not only erroneous; it shows a lack of respect for the tradition.  However, this does not mean that non-Europeans shouldn’t be allowed to dress up as Santa Claus just for the fun of it.  For when people engage in so-called “costume play”, there is no pretense to ethnic fidelity.  People are just–as it were–playing around; and it is “all in good fun”.}

{3  Hoop earrings go back to the Babylonians / Assyrians.  During Classical Antiquity, they were commonplace throughout the Greco-Roman world.  Countless African and Amazon tribes have worn hoop earrings over the centuries.  So did the Barbary pirates.  So did European pirates.  In sum: The accessory has been used in countless cultures around the world at different points in history.  To suggest that a particular ethnic group somehow “owns” hoop earrings is preposterous.  But it is preposterous for the same reason it is preposterous to suppose that ANY culture owns ANY meme.  It makes no sense to treat cultural elements as intellectual property.}

{4  The first to posit mermaids were the Assyrians, who associated the magical aquatic females with the goddess, Atargatis.  In the Occident, the idea goes back to the ancient Greeks, who posited “sirens” (e.g. Homer’s Calypso of Ogygia).  The Greeks also told tales of nereids and oceanids (as with Persa, Amphitrite, and Ianeira); while naiads dwelled in fresh-water lakes.  The Romans posited “nymphs”.  The Persians posited “maneli”.  During the Renaissance, such enchanting creatures were referred to as “undines”; while “limnaeds” dwelled in freshwater lakes.  In “One Thousand and One Nights”, there is reference to “Djullanar the sea-girl”.  There are also mermaids featured in the tale of Bulukiya.  (These were European embellishments of ancient Arabian folktales.)  The Scots told tales of “ceasg”.  The French told tales of “Melusine”.  The Slavs told tales of “rusalki”.  The Yakut / Sakha of Siberia told tales of “alara”.  The founding of the Polish capital, War-sawa, was based on the tale of a mermaid named “Sawa”.  Amazonian natives (spec. the “Tupi”) had legends of the mysterious lady of the waters: “[u]Iara”.  There was the Hellenic “Tyres” (after whom the ancient Phoenician city of Sur was re-named) as well as the Turkic “Alara”. Mermaids were made popular in modern times by Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen (“The Little Mermaid”).  And what of the Far East?  Hindus and Buddhists tell tales of “apsaras”.  (Notably, there is the legend of mermaid princess, “Suvann[a]-Maccha”.)  The Chinese tell of the “jiaoren” (ref. the “Classic of the Mountains and Seas”).  The Japanese tell of “nin-gyo”.  And the Siamese tell of “pongsa wadarn”.  Alas, the closest African folklore came to the ideation were (androgenous) ethereal water spirits: “mami wata”.  In Africa, there were aquatic beings that were seen as mother-goddesses (as with the Yoruba “Yemoja”); but they were not mermaids.  Meanwhile, one of the naiads, “Achiroë”, was affiliated with the Nile River; but she was Greek.  There have no more been black mermaids than there have been Latino leprechauns (see Footnote 30).  We don’t help marginalized ethnic communities by pretending that they can represent mythical creatures from other ethnicities as if ethnic heritage was somehow irrelevant to folklore.  It is important to be true to ALL ethnic traditions.  (For more on this, see Footnote 15.)}

{5  “The Princess And The Frog” would have been linguistically Creole; and “Brave” would have been linguistically Gaelic.  Meanwhile, Snow White was allegedly of German origin, while Sleeping Beauty was allegedly of French origin; though neither of those tales is necessarily specific to those ethnic traditions.  (Each of them might be characterized as “generic white European”.) It might be noted that of the 21 films mentioned here, 15 had a strong female protagonist (while one had a duck).  Kudos are in order. Forthcoming are other animated features with female protagonists from around the world.  In 2020, there’s “The Sky Princess” (African), “Sitara: Let Girls Dream” (Indian), “Ginger’s Tale” (Russian), “Over The Moon” (Chinese), and “Ainbo: Spirit Of The Amazon” (Native South American).  In 2021, there will be “Encanto” (Colombian) as well as a composite of Siamese, Khmer, Vietnamese, and Malay: “Raya And The Last Dragon”.}

{6  The day that the caterwauling of the “adhan” is no longer heard bellowing in the public square anywhere in the Muslim world (and, instead, one of Chopin’s nocturnes can be heard emanating from an open window as one strolls down the street), we will know that Cul-Ap has helped to move things forward in the Muslim world.}

{7  The origin of barbecue seems to be from the Taino / Arawak people.  Today, one of the more popular kinds of barbecue is Korean barbecue…which certainly ignores the origins of the culinary style.  Shall this be taken as an unforgivable slight toward Caribbean Islanders on the part of Hanguk-in?  If we apply this logic, then we would also need to proscribe “jerk” seasoning (also Caribbean) on all chicken consumed by non-Caribbean Islanders.  If we were to do so, then other quandaries arise.  What are we to do with Cajun cuisine–a hybridization of Caribbean and Acadian cultures?  Was that a matter of French Canadians exploiting Creole culture?  Who gets to eat a Po’ Boy sandwich?  Those who gripe about Cul-Ap often forget how delicious it can be.}

{8  A major patroness of the arts, the (Florentine) Queen of France pioneered the use of high heels in the 16th century.  She was inordinately short; and was envious of her philandering husband’s relatively tall mistresseses.  We can also thank Catherine de Medici for pioneering the ballet (de cour), as well as various staples of modern cuisine.  Peoples from all over the world has since appropriated such elements of European culture; yet neither the Italians nor the French seem to be up in arms about it.}

{9  “B-style” is a cartoonish emulation of American hip-hop (read: urban African American) culture.  So where does that leave us?  According to the logic of Cul-Ap-phobes, the Japanese are guilty of exploiting African Americans.  In Korea, K-pop is also based on a repurposing American musical idioms–typically, as schtick–to bolster their own pop culture.  Artistically-speaking, this can be considered hokey to the point of distraction; but it is certainly not an ethical issue.}

{10  I chose this particular example because it turns out to be the opposite of what Cul-Ap-phobes think it is.  As is often the case, when caviling about Cul-Ap, prosecutors haven’t any clue what the real historical relevance of the characterization might be.  The Powhatan princess named Amonute (née “Matoaka”) from Tsenacommacah in present-day Virginia (i.e. the girl on whom the folkloric figure, “Pocahontas” is based) actually eschewed her culture in favor of English culture–adopting the name, Rebecca (an English name appropriated from the Hebrew “R-V-Kah”).  In one sense, the British appropriated HER PERSONALLY; yet in another sense, she willingly adopted a British identity.  Therefore, for non-Native Americans to dress up as her is–in a way–an insult to Native Americans; yet for the exact opposite reason the complainants suppose. (!)  For it tacitly pays tribute to a Native American who rebuked her Native American heritage.}

{11  Hindus and Jains were donning dread-locks (Sanskrit “jata”) OVER A THOUSAND YEARS before it became part of Afro-American culture.  Eventually, dreadlocks could be found in ancient Indian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Germanic, and Viking cultures.  Hence Caribbean Islanders (spec. Rastafarians) appropriated the hair-style from EUROPEANS.  In other words: Jamaicans are the MOST RECENT culture to have adopted the hair-style as a signature stylization.  To contend that it is now off-limits to white people is preposterous.  It amounts to a historiographical conceit: “Though it has been done for thousands of years, once WE start doing it, everyone else in the world must be barred from doing it ever again.”  The world is on notice: Henceforth, only Croatians can wear neckties.  (The French adopted THAT sartorial practice from the Croats in the 1660’s; then the Brits got in on the action.)  And while we’re at it, no more eye-liner or mascara!  Why not?  Well, you see, the ancient Egyptians were using kohl for eye-enhancement 6,000 years ago.  Unless you seek to bring back the society of the Pharaohs, you are doing that ancient culture a grave disservice by engaging in such cosmetic practices.  Anti-Cul-Ap crusaders should be handing out cease-and-desist orders left and right to women shopping at Mac.}

{12  Jehovah’s Witnesses eschew the conventional iconography; as they consider the crucifix to be a sullied talisman.  In a sense, the Watchtower Society is correct: The use of a Roman torture device as a symbol has little to do with the original movement around JoN–a small community known simply as “The Way” (later derisively referred to as the “Ebionites”), which used a fish as its insignia (as most of the apostles were Galilean fishermen).  As it turns out, very few who have called themselves “Christians” have actually followed the moral teachings of Yeshua ben Yusuf of Nazareth (helping wayfarers of other tribes, turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, judging not lest you be judged, sharing your possessions with those in need, etc.)  Charity and forbearance are now about as “Christian” as separation of church and state (another tenet espoused by Jesus).  That is: Not very much at all.}

{13  The Sanskrit term for the symbol was “sauvastika”.  It originally represented permanence–which was construed alternately as prosperity or eternity (ref. Panini’s “Ashtadhyayi” from the 4th century B.C.)  It also served as the emblem for “surya” (the sun); and was later associated with well-being and good fortune.  (This is why–to the present day–the symbol is inscribed at the threshold of many Indian homes.)  In Shaivism (esp. Tantric), it is associated with Kali.  In Jainism, it is associated with the famed tirthankara, “Suparsh-vanatha”.  In Theravada Buddhism, it is associated with the footprints / heart of the Buddha.  The name of the symbol was later rendered “wan” (Classical Chinese) and “manji” (medieval Japanese), roughly meaning omni-presence.  It also emerged in Tibetan “Bön” as the “yung-drung”.  Note that the Semitic history of the swastika goes back to the Bronze Age.  The Phoenicians seem to have used it as a symbol for the sun.  There is also evidence in Troas (at the site of the ancient city-State, Troy) that the symbol was used by the Trojans: as the “tetra-skelion” / “tetra-ktys”.  In ancient Roman ruins, the symbol appears next to the caption “zotiko zotiko” [life of life].  Meanwhile, ancient Celts used a variation of the symbol–notably the “fylfot” cross of Druidism (which was later adopted by the early Gaelic tribes, as attested in the Book of Kells c. 800 A.D.)  It is also used in Slavic “Rodnover” iconography as the “kolovrat”: used to represent the Hands of Svarog. Most notably, there was a swastika-like symbol used in ancient Nordic / Germanic paganism (associated with the hammer of Thor)…which may have inspired its usage by the Teutonic Knights of the High Renaissance…which, as explained, accounts for the Nazi incarnation.  In that latest case, Cul-Ap was objectionable not because an exogenous cultural element was appropriated; but because a sacred symbol was grossly perverted, and used as an icon for fascism (hardly in keeping with its Vedic roots).  This was more about the hijacking–and thus betrayal–of a semiotic tradition than it was about memetic transference.}

{14 Note the abiding reluctance of Muslims to acknowledge that virtually every element of the “Hajj” was appropriated from antecedent pagan rituals.  Admitting this would bring into question the rituals’ authenticity, and thereby undermine the tradition’s professed Abrahamic pedigree.  Most elements of the Hajj were appropriated by the early Mohammedans from pre-Islamic Hijazi culture.  We rarely hear protestations from Cul-Ap-phobes about this.  Such silence is mostly due to the fact that the pagan Bedouin lobby is non-existent. Meanwhile, most Muslims really, really, really don’t want to concede that many of their sacred rites are a rip-off of the widely-derided “Jahiliyyah” (“ignorant people”; i.e. pre-Islamic Arabians); as such an admission would countermand the standard Islamic narrative.  There are few non-Muslim Arabians remaining to mobilize a formidable awareness-generation campaign on that particular matter.  This is the problem with anti-Cul-Ap crusades.  For, as we have seen, grievances against Cul-Ap are–invariably–highly selective.  But then again, such frivolous indictments are ALL based on arbitrary application (it applies HERE, but not THERE) and inconsistent logic (which may be suspended whenever it doesn’t suit the purposes at hand).  The implicit message: “It’s okay for US to do it; but we shall excoriate anyone else who does it.” For more on the cultural appropriation undergirding much of Islamic lore, see my essays: “Syriac Source-Material For Islamic Lore” and “The Syriac Origins Of Koranic Verse”. One is hard-pressed to find an element of Islamic lore that ISN’T the result of Cul-Ap.}

{15 We do nothing to advance the cause of civil rights by flouting fidelity to the ethnic exigencies of folklore.  (Pretending Santa Claus was Siamese does Thai people no favors.)  In her usual fashion, Oprah Winfrey was merely being flaky when she opted to cast an African American actress as Cinderella.  However, misrepresentation is more often than not a matter of perfidy.  It is a weird irony that precedents stemming from “identity politics” have enjoined people to indulge in rather daffy portrayals–all in the name of “inclusion”.  Imagine casting an Caucasian women to play Harriet Tubman in a film about African-American history.  Why would such a thing be asinine?  Shall we also pretend that Sojourner Truth could just as well have been Anglo-Saxon?  How about an Asian Phillis Wheatley?  Color-blindness only goes so far before one is just being zany.}

{16  Tell that to the hundreds of millions of professional men in East Asia who now wear Western-style “business suits” (replete with ties and other impractical accoutrements), none of which makes any rational sense.  (The idea is to signal participation in a certain cultural milieu–one that happens to have originated in a foreign land.)  This is yet another reminder that political correctness involves double standards.  For we are ALL prone to stylize our behavior according to prevailing stigmas–culled from various places, for a variety of reasons.  In this case, it is attire seen as as a mark of professionalism; but stigmas are not only sartorial.  This needn’t be problematic.  Note that, in donning Occidental business suits, denizens of the corporate world in the Orient are not trying to assimilate into–let alone exalt–“Western” culture.  They are simply partaking in a regimen of stigmatization based on certain sartorial practices that happened to be initiated in “Western” societies.  In this case: A colorful cloth tied around one’s neck (complimenting one’s collar, while veiling the buttons of one’s shirt) is associated with prestige.  If we were to hew to the strictures proposed by anti-Cul-Ap crusaders, though, things would have to change.  Taking this logic to its extreme would impose some rather outlandish limitations.  From this day forward, only male WASPs are permitted to wear polo shirts.}

{17  The most ironic example of a meme has been the term “meme” ITSELF.  The lexeme was originally coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene” when he proposed a new sociological paradigm.  In the advent of the social media craze (post-2007), the “meme” meme underwent its own mutation–thereby illustrating how memes can be co-opted, and subsequently reified.  Those oblivious to what the scientific term actually means started using it as slang for images with silly captions (especially those posted / disseminated on social media platforms).  Of course, the virality of such images was probably what first inspired someone to start referring to them as “memes” (rather than as, well, just photos with a silly captions).  The problem is that the most aloof participants in this fad have since become convinced that THAT is all that a “meme” is.  The concept of meme is a very important one; and it would be unfortunate if the term continued to be vitiated in this manner.  Other than Dawkins’ work on the subject, see Susan Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine”, Steve Stewart-Williams’ “The Ape That Understood The Universe” (Appendix B), as well as commentary by Daniel C. Dennett–especially “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” (chapt. 12), “Breaking The Spell” (Appendix A), and “From Bacteria To Bach And Back” (chapt. 11). Others have attempted to explain memes in alternate ways. Notably, Merlin Donald posited “external memory storage” / “external symbolic storage” to account for cultural elements and their symbiotic relationship with mental processes.  But no other paradigm has the explanatory power of memetics.}

{18 So when British poet laureate, Robert Bridges (an Anglican) composed lyrics for one of Bach’s cantatas, thereby rendering the familiar hymn, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, the world was treated to a felicitous case of Cul-Ap; as the gesture did not betray the spirit of the piece.}

{19 Incidentally, the “Rama-yana” was “appropriated” by myriad cultures in the Far East, each of which rendered their own version of the classic Indian work.  (I list TWO DOZEN incarnations in part I of my essay on “Mythemes”.)  This makes perfect sense, of course, as Buddhism’s roots are in Hindu lore.  (It is analogous to Christianity’s relation to Judaic lore.)  Yet how often do Indians cavil about the adaptations of their ancient motifs in Thailand?}

{20 The key difference between items like tacos and burritos (on the one hand) and items like caesar salad and popcorn (on the other) is that the former have become an integral part of Mexican culture; whereas the latter have not.  But is THAT to be the clinching factor for determining illicit Cul-Ap?  If so, then it does not matter who established the meme–or where it originated–after all!  Rather, we are to proceed according to what is revealed to be a daffy protocol: In the event that a meme becomes an integral part of a particular culture, nobody else on the planet shall be permitted to use it evermore.  The reductio ad absurdum of this maxim should be immediately obvious.  For who, then, shall lay claim to wine?  And what of things that are the result of cultural hybridization–as with fajitas, quesadillas, and chimichangas?  It’s hard to tell where one culture ends and the other culture begins.  This is a reminder that no culture has a distinct–or even a static–boundary.  So it is unreasonable to plant a flag and demand that nobody cross it.}

{21 There have been myriad incarnations of the Rama-yana; as enumerated in part I of my essay on “Mythemes”. This is a reminder that even the most classic work of the Far East has been appropriated over and over and over again without any fuss.}

{22 “Beauty And The Beast” was actually adapted from a tale by French author, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve from the 17th century.  And HIS rendition was based on an ancient Roman tale–most famously rendered by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis: “Cupid and Psyche”.}

{23 Demands that we all “know our place” are inimical to cosmopolitanism.  The implicit request seems to be: “Celebrate cultural diversity, but do it from safe a distance!”  The moment we hear someone insist that we stay in our own lane, hints of fascistic thinking are afoot.  This admonition should sound eerily familiar.  It is a dark road to go down.}

{24 Zhao’s novel was actually a well-crafted narrative about the horrors of marginalized groups being exploited, and addressed such issues as discrimination against subaltern communities by a socio-economic elite, as well as human trafficking.  (Apparently, only African Americans are allowed to pen such novels.)  This shameful episode is a stark illustration of how Cul-Ap-phobia can devolve into absurdity.  For Cul-Ap-phobes, our shared humanity is something to shun, not to celebrate.  The castigation of Zhao reminds us that anti-Cul-Ap crusades are a RIGHT-wing phenomenon.}

{25 For more on this topic, see K. Van der Toorn’s “The Iconic Book: Analogies Between the Babylonian Cult Of Images And The Veneration Of The Torah”; as well as Z. Zevit’s “The Religions Of Israel”.}

{26 The term “appropriation” did not originally mean to seize or confiscate something; it simply meant to use something for a specified purpose (as when the government “appropriates” funds for certain purposes; i.e. allocation of outlays).  Hence the distinction that was traditionally made between appropriation and expropriation.  (Note Karl Marx’s use of the latter when he referred to seizure / confiscation.  He referred to the capitalist class as the “expropriators” because they exploited everyone else.)  Even as “appropriation” is now used interchangeably with “expropriation”, it is only the latter that I take to mean: Using–or taking control of–something for which one did not receive permission from its rightful owner / custodian.  Until recently, “appropriation” was a term used in sociology to mean assimilation or adoption (that is: the incorporation of an exogenous meme into an indigenous memetic repertoire).  The notion of SEIZING / CONFISCATING a meme is, of course, nonsensical; so it makes no sense to say that a cultural element has been expropriated.  (The only way in which a meme can be “expropriated” is in a scenario where it as been legally designated as intellectual property, and the rightful owner of the copyright / trademark / patent opts to redeem it from parties that have used it illicitly.)  Consequently, I use “appropriation” in its original sense rather than as a synonym for “expropriation”.  This distinction is crucial if we are to assay the notion of “cultural appropriation”.}

{27  The alternate term for this salutation is “namaskar[a]”.  Amongst American “New Age” enthusiasts, we also encounter dandy vapidity with the use of the “pranama” (physical gesture of salutation).  The over-use of the “anjali mudra” (“wai” in Siamese / Lao) is rather grating for those of us who are familiar with Hindu / Buddhist cultures.  The comical irony of all this is that many Cul-Ap-phobes are also “New Age” enthusiasts.  Even as they are busy checking whether or not their spirit animal aligns with their moon sign, they are caviling about who gets to wear hoop earrings.}

{28 References to Saturnalia (marking the winter solstice) preceded the establishment of the Roman Empire–as found in the writings of Catullus.  The writer, Macrobius was still talking about the tradition c. 500 A.D.  It (ostensibly) commemorated a halcyon era, during the fabled reign of Saturn, when there was no slavery and no private property.  Nobody was above anyone else; which is to say that nobody was driven by avarice (an idyllic society that involved no exploitation, no material accumulation, and no privation).  This was eventually used as an occasion to pay tribute to Sol Invictus–who’s birthday was considered December 25th (marking the re-birth of the sun).  This “Natalis Invicti” was recognized through the 4th century–as documented on a Roman Chronograph from c. 354.  Not until the 12th century did there appear any reference to this auspicious time as, well, Christ-mas.  And THAT came from the Syriac writer, Dionysius bar Salibi of Melitene (Cappadocia).}

{29  To assay any given instance of Cul-Ap, we must consider all the historical contingencies that led to it.  When exploring this topic, a good place to start is Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “The Ethics Of Identity”.  Also insightful is his “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics In A World Of Strangers”.  Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities” is a classic in this field.}

{30  We can applaud the casting of an African American actress (Halle Bailey) in the leading role of Disney’s live-action rendering of “The Little Mermaid”; while keeping in mind that—even when it comes to fictional characters—there is nothing wrong with acknowledging ethnicity.  Santa Clause, for example, is a fictional character based on an Anatolian saint (Nikolas of Myra); meaning the historical figure wasn’t Anglo-Saxon, even as the fictional character was.  That said, Kris Kringle was certainly not Native American or Latino.  Nor was he African or Arab.  Nor was he Persian or Indian.  I digress.  Black mermaids—like, say, Mongolian or Pashtun mermaids—were never a thing…until, that is, Hollywood in 2023.  The only exception seems to be the Turkic “[su]Sulu” / “[su]Suna” / “[su]Sona”. The Yoruba river goddess, Yemoja / Yemanja was sometimes thought of in vaguely mermaid-like terms; however she was not a mermaid per se.  Suffice to say, Hans Christian Andersen did not have Yemoja in mind.  Rather, he would have been inspired by the Greek myth of the Sirens made famous by Homer (daughters of Calliope who hailed from the Cretan islands known as “Leukai”).  That’s probably where the Poles got the idea for “Syrenka”.  These mysterious aquatic maidens were preternatural denizens of the Mediterranean; so probably had olive skin.  Andersen, meanwhile, likely had ancient English / Scandinavian folklore in mind, so was influenced by the depiction of alluring maritime creatures found in, say, the Anglo-Latin work, “Liber Monstrorum” from the 8th century.  Being in the North Sea, they were likely fair-skinned.}

{31  In Exodus 22:18, when we are told that we mustn’t “suffer a witch to live”, the Semitic term for the person of opprobrium (“me-khashepha”) is best translated as “poisoner”; as “khasheph” referred to potentially harmful herbs.  (The pejorative is also used in Deuteronomy 18:9-10.  It was rendered “pharmakeia” in Koine Greek; and “maleficius” in Vulgar Latin.)  When we say that someone is a “snake”, we mean that they are seeking to do harm in devious ways; and hocking some kind of poison.  Recall that in Genesis, Satan (the Semitic term “na[c]hash” actually meant “shining one”) is represented as a serpent, and is associated with temptation / deception.  Just as a staff was used by Moses to channel god’s power to part a sea, a staff might be used to employ god’s power to protect people from harm.  It is no coincidence that wizards are often depicted with a staff; as the object (alt. a scepter) is typically associated with supernatural powers (e.g. Genesis 49:10).  This semiotic is common across most cultures.  The ancient Egyptians had the “was”.  The Sumerians had the “gidru”.  The Assyrians had the “hattum”.  The ancient Greeks had the “skeptron”.  The Romans had the “sceptrum”.  Throughout history, around the world, this idiom has been ubiquitous. The Chinese used it.  The Persians used it.  The Norse used it.}

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