The Lost Abbey Debacle

Broken by The Wild Hunt about a week ago, the controversy over The Lost Abbey's Witch's Wit label has definitely hit full steam. I had intended on commenting about this little matter earlier in the week, but life and all. So, let's start from the beginning.

First, there was the label itself that looks a little like this:

Well, actually it doesn't look quite like that. There's an apostrophe in between the 'h' and the 's', making it possessive instead of plural. But, who's being grammatically picky? Huh? Anyone?

This little label caused quite a controversy, headed up by the blog Deaf Pagan Crossroads. There are many complaints heard 'round the interwebs. The biggest seem to be in a procession: 

  1. The label is highly insensitive to the modern pagan movement who still own a piece of the Burning Times myth
  2. For those that don't quite appropriate the label with burning witches, there is the anti-feminist stance. Grr... The label doesn't give credit to the strides women have made.
  3. For those with less of a historical bone to pick, you have the ones arguing that the label is merely poor marketing strategy.
  4. Then, finally, there's some sort of equating the image with terrible genocides of the past - the Holocaust or slavery chief among them - and saying it either makes bad art or bad marketing (and that sort of puts us back at either 2 or 3, depending). 
In typical Riot fashion, I shall...ahem...discuss these in order.

It's really about time that we got over the Burning Times, folks. If any witches - real witches - were murdered by the Inquisition, it is in small percentage comparison to the thousands of individuals killed for their land or wealth or political or social power. It is dwarfed by those burned, hanged, pressed, or drowned due to the mob mentality created when rumor and fear rule uneducated communities. The academic community resoundingly deny the biggest untruths: 9 million women were burned at the stake for being members of an ancient witch cult in western Europe that subversively survived an underground railroad style war against the Church. It's bunk, largely. Pagans, at least pagans in the way we think of pagans today, were not the major target of the Inquisition. The majority of those killed were Christian or Christian affiliated. We are not the owners of this piece of history.

The image depicts a time when women were lower on the social rung than they are today. I am quite confused, however, as to how simply depicting the image takes anything away from the strides women have made. It is the duty of art to reflect life, ugly or bold or wrong. Ignoring this part of history doesn't make it go away, nor does rejecting its imagery or idea make the modern day status of women any greater. If it were glorifying the 'rightful' deaths of women at the hands of patriarchal society the artist could have chosen many other images rather than the stoic priests in front of a cathedral. It does not promote the issue, it simply examines the issue. If we'd like to see the strides of the feminist movement, we may simply turn on the television, look at a billboard, head to a bookstore, or switch the station on the radio. It's everywhere. One bottle of beer from a microbrewery takes nothing away from those successes.

The marketing argument is counterintuitive. The point of marketing is to get people talking about a product. There is truth to the idea that there is no such thing as bad press. The more we talk about the Lost Abbey line of beer, the more people will hear about Lost Abbey beer, the more people will look up Lost Abbey beer, and the more people will seek out Lost Abbey's line of beer and purchase them - either for the novelty of it or the curiosity. Lost Abbey's name is quickly pervading an entire subculture through the internet due to this marketing strategy, whether it was their intention with the image or not. One commenter said the image was shocking, striking, or something to that effect. It makes you turn your head and take a second look, and then a third, and then possibly you turn the bottle over and read the rest of the label, which tells a very different story than what some bloggers might have you believe.

On a quick side note, I had one respondent tell me they had a rule called the 'One Second' rule. They believe it takes exactly one second to form an opinion. Psychologists are unsure of exactly how long it takes for the human brain to create a first impression - an initial, yet lasting opinion - but the best estimates are around 7-10 seconds with the full range going from 3 seconds to 32 seconds. Either way it goes, it is pretty much agreed that you have more than 1 second to make a first impression. More than enough time to turn the bottle over and read the story on the back condemning the Catholic church for killing 'healers' who were never really witches. More than enough time to convey that this bottle is brewed in honor of those killed for their beliefs and convictions.

Finally there's the, "You can't show a picture of a Jew getting led to the ovens and call it a statement against the Holocaust, because it glorifies their death," argument. The only way the 4th argument against this label has any validity is if you don't understand the function or method of art. That's what this is, Rioters; it's art. Art is subjective, and while a microbrewery might not be considered fine art it is an artisan craft. Everything from the beer to the bottle to the label and story on the back. Everything is part of the artistic creation. It tells a story. Just as I said earlier, nobody is glorifying the death of this woman - or any of the women or men that died in this manner.

If anybody is a target of this label it's the Catholic church. The art seems to be a pretty scathing commentary on how the church brutally murdered individuals with malice and careless abandon to good reason and societal justice. Also, when both the label on the front and the story on the back is considered, what little connection there is with the modern pagan community seems to lie with the word 'witch' on the front - despite those individuals that want to claim ownership of the Burning Times.

To be upset about the Inquisition as a modern day practitioner of magic or pagan practice is like modern African American children hating white people for slavery in 2010. The white folks these days didn't own any slaves, nor did their parents or - probably - grandparents. Likewise, African Americans these days aren't slaves, aren't the children or - probably - the grandchildren of slaves. We are so divorced from that time period that it is ludicrous to hold the grudge based on a history that is not and was never yours. You and I can subjectively and objectively look back and say 'shame' on those that committed the atrocities and feel sorry for the loss of life of the victims, but we don't own either end. It is not ours, not in 2010. doesn't seem to matter. The New York Times got wind of the story and is reporting that the brewery is changing its label due to the public outcry. I cannot believe this. According to this new story, it seems as though the owners of the company are trying to slowly back away from their original intention of this being a scathing finger pointed at the Catholic church and, instead, are trying to make it appear as 'gentle satire.' Monty Python is gentle satire. Saturday Night Live is gentle satire. A woman being burned as a victim of the Catholic church's early quest for domination is not gentle in any sense of the word. Stick to your convictions and intentions and stay with them.

Rioters, what do you think about this continuing controversy?

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


  1. *shakes head* So sad to see that they gave into the pressure of ignorance and reactionary drama from this community. I'm appalled by the reactions of some of my "elders" in this matter. What are they thinking? The "anti" arguments are so transparently groundless. I wrote a comment on the DPC blog about it when it posted, and I immediately got a response by someone who took it upon themselves to gently but firmly "correct" me about the heinous crimes against innocent witches during the Burning Times. This person claimed that as an anthropological scholar they were in the right and quoted all kinds of "soft" historical data at me as though it were a mini history lesson. (I'm glad I took the time to breathe before I responded, but that kind of [stuff] really gets to me.) As someone new to this path, I can't help but feel let down and even offended by the lack of research and stubborn opinions some people insist on perpetuating, even in the educational sphere. I want to learn, but when these types of issues occur, it only reminds me that I can't necessarily trust my fellow pagan and teachers. Even if I respect them, I still have to check and double check the sources used and keep bringing up topics for debate. There is so much misinformation out there and it is so ubiquitous in the community that I haven't been able to avoid it in my studies, much as I've tried. This beer label incident is not the first time this argument has yet again been brought to the surface...I don't think it will be the last. (God I sound depressed...sorry. I'll go make myself some hot chocolate and perk up.) I agree that Lost Abbey ought to "grow a pair" as you so beautifully tweeted.

  2. Why should they change? They weren't hurting anybody - thing thing is, most people seem to forget that there are certain "offensive" things that you can just ignore. Like a beer. Really, it seems like all the people who got offended were LOOKING for a reason to be offended. If they didn't want that label in their life, why are they focusing so much energy on it? I personally think, looking back on everything, that it was a brilliant marketing strategy, considering I, not even of drinking age, already know the name of this beer. Considering that the message was actually anti-inqusition, they really should have left it as is. I kind of liked it.

  3. Thank you. You said pretty much exactly what I've been thinking since the "debacle" as you so well call it broke. Seriously people? Is the "community" just looking for a reason to get its collective panties in a wad? Maybe if people could put down their historic chalices or whatever and pick up a couple of history books written by people who aren't out to burn the witch burners, we can move forward with a sense of reality and let go of these myths. But then what would we cling to? Who then would we point fingers at? I guess if it's not insensitive beer makers, because alcohol companies are so known for their lack of bias and stereotyping dontcha know, (I think of Busty co-eds in commercials when I say that sarcastically) then we might have to find wrongs with ourselves or our own community or even just something else to snark about. Seriously, thanks for sharing this here.

  4. I must have been under a rock this week or at the very least, missed the uproar over this. After perusing a bit and finding several more stories on this and rolling my eyes a great deal over it, I have to say you've really hit the nail on the head here and I couldn't agree more. As far as I'm concerned, if the beer tastes good and the back label doesn't say something along the lines of 'burn those darn witches!' who gives a toss?

    Thanks for being so thoughtful and honest about this. It's not something worth causing an uproar over.

  5. Odom of the Evil EyeOctober 25, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    This has definitely been an interesting exercise pointless drama, though it does bring to the surface a point of interest. Now I'm no expert on the constitution, but as Americans we are entitled to the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of religion.

    The microbrewery in question has the constitutional right to create its beer with whatever theme it wants to. There's supposed to be nothing we can do about that, as it is their right.

    Now religions, which is also a freedom granted by this country, tend to have cultural taboos fashioned into them. These taboos, as they are arbitrarily seen in the negative light, causes emotional distress, as they are forbidden.

    This mechanic of religion puts a damper on the freedom of speech, as it is religion's right to be offended and claim that what they see as sacred is being defiled. More times than not, this leads to conflict, sometimes to the degree that lawsuits and slander/libel charges become involved.

    Basically this means that though this country says we have freedom of speech, we most certainly do not. Religion governs what is appropriate expression.

    Religion isn't just a spiritual categorizing. Sociologist Emile Durkheim labels religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things" (the sacred being arbitrary agreed upon and declared by the cultural community), meaning that any system of things seen as truth in a culture can be considered a religion. The religion of Science, the religion of Atheism, of Consumerism, and so on.

    While these are not necessarily spiritual in nature, they are a cultural community. They all have their taboos, and that effects our behavior and limits our freedom of expression.

    What does any of this have to do with beer pissing off some members of the pagan community? It gives an example that freedom of expression does not exist, as all expression is policed by numerous cultural and subcultural groups. While not all in the pagan community find the beer offensive (I for one do not, and was actually going to buy the beer. Hopefully I'll be able to do so before they change the label) there are those that do. I think its unfortunate, as the only thing that makes it offensive is the culture seeing it as treading on what they see as sacred.

    Long story short, there will always be someone that gets pissed off about something, and that can ruin it for everyone else. There is no real remedy for this that I can see.

    Sorry for the rambling, this is what popped in my head after reading up on the article. I just figured I'd share my thoughts.

    -Odom of the Evil Eye

  6. Shoot, if I were 21 I'd go buy three bottles--one for my Shelf of Awesome Things, and two for my best friend and I to drink. Because we think it's pretty freaking awesome--especially me, the once-upon-a-time-Catholic of my crew.

    The fact that people get so bent out of shape about it really irritates me--like you said, we don't own that part of history. It's not about us. It's not bashing anybody but the Catholic church, so if anybody has the right to be pissed, it's them. But still, changing the label is dumb--if we took away everything that angered somebody, we'd be sitting and doing absolutely nothing in a world with absolutely nothing in it.

  7. I think it's stupid. You can't avoid offending everybody, no matter what you do, so why kowtow to thin-skinned idiots who are Totally Missing The Point of the artwork in the first place?

    Changing the label is a bad move on the part of Lost Abbey.

  8. Let's not forget that this is a BEER BOTTLE LABEL. When did such things become our source for historical information? Really, I'm tired of having every crybaby pop up looking to sue for "emotional distress" every time they see something they don't like. (Anybody suing The Lost Abbey yet?) I'd really love it if they'd stop speaking for me. As a woman, as a witch, as a human being. Dudes...I can take care of myself, I'm a big girl, and I'll decide what I find offensive. I can make up my mind to patronize or not patronize whatever I wish!

  9. I had my own little rant about this on my show this weekend and I can't believe the company is considering changing the label. Actually, I sent the company my own message letting them know I was not offended by the label. Perhaps that's what we should do, launch a counter offensive. Everyone who is NOT offended write the company in a show of support. Maybe then they wouldn't feel the need to cave to the children in our community.

    I'm sorry but this just irriates the crap out of me. It's this type of nonsense that gives the Pagan community a bad name. When this type of press appears in such a mainstream media outlet, it only goes to show what crybabies the Pagan community can be. If anyone thinks this gives any kind of positive light or press to the Pagan community I've got a bridge I'd like to sell ya.


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