Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


Burn a Witch, Have a Beer, All in Good Fun, Right?

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Witch’s Wit beer may be tasty, but the label is distasteful. See for yourself:
WITCH-articleInline-v3.jpg
I am sure that the beer-makers were not inspired by malice toward witches or any other Pagan practitioners, but in a world in which people are still burned for their beliefs, Pagan and otherwise, do we really need use images of people being burned at the stake to sell anything? And yes, that is a rhetorical question.
This is not about political correctness, of which I am no fan. In fact, I believe that most sacred cows are meant to be slaughtered. But objecting to Witch’s Wit labeling is not about protecting any sacred cows or any particular tradition. This is simply about the need to maintain a level of civility which is slipping away a little bit more, it seems, each and every day.


If you remain uncertain about this, try this little thought experiment: Picture a marketing campaign built around images of members of the tradition most sacred to you being burned alive. How does it make you feel? Even if you believe that the marketers are not motivated by hatred, are you feeling comfortable with that image? Does the suffering of those who share your belief make sense to you as a way to sell beer, cookies or anything else? You get the point.
This is actually not simply a question for the makers of one particular beer or for Pagans. With Halloween only days away, it’s a question for anybody who plans to put on a costume or decorate their home. I will not be doing either, because that is not my practice, but you can bet I ask myself those same questions at Purim time.
What is an appropriate costume for Halloween? College campuses around the country are grappling with this issue. At Syracuse University, a message from University administrators reminded students that “costumes needs to be respectful,” and at Northwestern, students were told, “No black face.”
In reaction to these messages, campuses around the country are being called hypocritical, and censors of free speech. But is that really the case? Like the case of the beer label, one can insist on limits without being unduly draconian or oppressive. It simply requires a bit of common sense.
To be sure, as a matter of rights, we need to protect individual’s freedom of expression. But the issue of college costumes, like that of the beer label, is not really about rights, it’s about wisdom. Of course there is a certain inconsistency in any institution, and most universities are in this category, warning against insensitive costumes but protecting flag burning as free speech. And University leaders should take note that if they are going to speak out against one; they should speak out against the other as well. But, not all free expression is equal.
While it is all protected, there is and ought to be particular awareness of how a particular outfit or image may threaten a particularly vulnerable group e.g. dressing as a gay teenager with a noose around his neck is not appropriate given the high rate of suicide among gay teens. It may be legal to where that costume, but is it right?
Sometimes debating what is legally protected undermines actually protecting human beings. Just because someone has the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do –something to think about this Halloween, and pretty much any other day of the year.



  • romanscapegoat

    capitalism…sell anything at any cost..works best when not regulated..keeps the rich rich and the poor poor…its nothing new..invented by jews…GOD BLESS AMERICA

  • Lucy

    Wow. Some label. Actually, I am not sure who should find it personally offensive or perhaps we should all just consider it in very bad taste. Remember, most of those burned as witches were not “pagans” or “wiccans.” Most were Christians who were in some way “odd.” Frequently they were lonely, older women who were fond of cats, talked to themselves or had other “odd” habits, midwives who presided at an unsuccessful delivery of the baby of an important community member or simply someone who was targeted because he or she was disliked or perhaps owned something a more powerful communtiy member coveted. It is incorrect to say that the witch trials were a persecution of Wiccans. Remember, Joan of Arc was burned as a witch. Later, she was made a Saint.

  • Erika D

    Obviously Mr. Scapegoat knows nothing about Capitalism!
    Yes God Bless America and yes, this is very distasteful. If this was a muslim on a stake burning; you’d see a lot more outcry, but unfortunately it’s ok because it’s pagan and if it was Jesus on a cross, same thing, nobody would care. It’s awful!
    A little common sense goes a long way, as Christians we’re taught tolerance, we’re also taught free will and that we’re born with certain rights that are from God that nobody can take away. That’s the difference between America and other societies.

  • kenneth

    As a pagan witch myself, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the issue. It’s a heartbreaking image to me, in part because we do consider these witches of old to be our spiritual ancestors, even if they weren’t outwardly pagan in the way we are. In addition, we feel the very same forces of hatred that informed the witch burners of old times. We are lucky we enjoy relative safety, but those sorts of people are very much around in today’s world, and even if they can’t burn us, some of them would very clearly like to, and make no bones about that fact. Part of what bothers me is the fact that we DON’T have the guts to really gore everyone’s ox with tongue in cheek humor. We do so to those we think we can get away with. If everything is truly fair game, would a beer company depict a oldtime lynching and call it “strange fruit” beer? Or one depicting Mohammad in a “girls gone wild” spring break scene? To me there’s something especially craven about satirists who pretend they’re irreverent and no-hold barred but who really just go after soft targets. Sort of like the “hunters” who shoot hand-fed game in preserves.
    On the other hand, I don’t want to be part of one of those special-interest groups which harbors a permanent grudge and a bottomless sense of victimhood. Like Bill Donahue and some bishops do with Catholicism. Every time they see anything in media they don’t like, they send out a press release about how everybody else in the world gets a fair shake but their group. We’re not a shrill, humorless people, we pagans, and most of us can have a laugh at the aburdities of our own culture and past. Supposedly, the beer company in this case was actually intending to take a swipe at the intolerance of the Church in the old days.
    I guess in the grand scheme of issues, I consider this one to be too small to fight over. Beer bottle labels, even ones in poor taste, are not the real problem. The real problem is things like evangelical Christians who act as if they are the only ones who should have standing before the law in our country. The problem is preachers who regularly demonize us as “satanic.” The problem is discrimination on the job and in the military. The problem is a mainstream media who too often still links our religion with “ritual murder” or treats us as a sideshow freak story around Halloween. We have a lot of work to do before we can afford to pick fights over beer labels.

  • OMG

    Wow. Kenneth you crazy. I think this falls under the category of “ignore it and it will go away”. If it floats like a duck, it is a witch. Deal with it.

  • Gil

    Rabbi Brad- You became upset by a beer label depicting a few, possibly demented women being burnt at the stake by some 17th century Puritans. You realize this is a meer bagatelle in the schema of human history. Humans are the most dangerous animals alive – bar none. Our holy books – Bibles – are replete with murder and mayhem – God has quite a hand in destruction – including the world, save for a righteous man and his family in a Health Department condemned ark crammed with an assortment of animals. Man has at his command the weapons: Abombs, Hbombs, Neutron bombs, Binary poison gas bombs, biological missiles, lazers, etc. to wipe out the entire world. I’m not very sanguine for the future of mankind. We just may be the incomplete residue of evolution. Remember, if God loved His creatures both large and small – where is His Dinosaur? – that magnicent creation that roamed the earth eons ago and existed for 160 million years. Except for some petrified bones, nary a sight. Humans have been around for approx. 100 thousand years, and where are we going? We hate everything and everyone. We are war mongering killers. We destroy for expediency sake or for the sheer pleasure. Euthenasia, “therapeutic” abortion, wrong political belief, wrong religion, wrong sex, wrong skin color, wrong tribe, wrong philosophy, wrong country, wrong ancesters, wrong pronunciation of a word [shiboleth], wrong flag, ect. An intelligent alien in an intergalactic space ship would be wise not to land on this blue planet, if he/she values their life. Some excuse our behavior due to the remnants of the evolutionary reptilean brain, others to the “evil inclination” or the “free will” of man, I just plain do not know. History is replete with stories of people coming to save mankind or change them – usually winding up being killed. If there is a God involved- where is the miraculous intervention – how many of his children must suffer and die because of their own “misbehavior,” human parents if they are compassionate- would intervene and put a stop to one of their children accosting a sib. This appears to be a failed “experiment.”

  • http://ThusSayethMe.com Dr. Paul K. Fauteck

    How quickly responses to an intelligent, balanced article by Rabbi Hirsch turn to slandering of the Jewish people, distorted regurtitations of history, condemnation of abortion rights, promotion of some new-age version of pagan religion, and any other bug a reader happens to be nurturing. Lynchings by white robed Christians of people they didn’t like, including Jews; public burnings of so-called witches, homosexuals, and those who refused to convert to Christianity; bombings of churches; all of these are symptoms of an evil sickness that any gang of zealots could unleash on humanity like a plague antime, anywhere. Is it freedom of expression? Perhaps, so long as the overwhelming majority use their own freedom of expression to denounce it as repulsive.

  • Jack West

    The image on the bottle calls into question the value we place on human life. A more positive spin would have been to show the young woman witch drinking from a cauldron or at least flying on her broomstick. The picture is mysnognistic regardless of the pagan’s belief system.

  • Alan

    Obama embodies the worst of all the modern liberal political pathologies–intellectual bankruptcy, boundless arrogance, embrasure of the “transgressive” as a virtue, the postmodern critique of the concepts of objective reality and absolute moral values, contempt towards and demonization of political opponents, the elevation of self-gratification into the highest human aspiration, active hostility towards America’s British and European roots, and Chicago-style zero-sum-game political sensibilities.
    He is the least-qualified man ever elected President of the United States–he can’t give a speech without using a teleprompter, and even screws that up from time to time–and is in fact our first affirmative-action President, elected on the basis of the color of his skin, rather than the content of his character. His presidency is a textbook example of how racial preferences end up placing unqualified minorities in situations in which they are guaranteed to fail; only this time, the failure has consequences from which we as a nation may never recover.
    May each and every candidate wo has supported this man be voted out of office on Tuesday.

  • Bonnie

    First off – Alan, you’re posting on the wrong blog! Rabbi Schmuley wrote his diatribe on the Obama administration, NOT Rabbi Brad. Get it straight.
    Second – Rabbi Brad, your post is both thoughtful and thought provoking. That label is indeed an outrage. It recalls the violence and superstition of a dark time when the hateful Malleus Maleficarum sent thousands in Europe to the burning stakes, and many more were tortured to death. The majority of victims were innocent women. How could a company think picturing such a despicable event would inspire consumers to buy their product? ‘Witch’s Wit’? Not bloody likely.

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