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The Grisly Quest For Body Parts

I’m working on a story that involves research into some ancient Christian practices. And I’m reminded yet again about the weird human penchant for bones.  When people die we either bury them in dirt or burn them. Some places like Cuba and New Orleans, which have little dirt due to high water tables, bury their people in above ground caskets where there is less chance of a body floating away or unpleasantly moldering in a hot climate. Most cultures inter their dead one way or another.

But along with the ritualistic aspects of burying the dead comes the adoration, idolizing and power of those people  who gained fame and notoriety.  Ancient Celts would save the heads of their enemies, as an honor to the fighter and for the power that would be imbued to them. Drinking from skull cups (kapala) has been done as part of ritual, to honor the defeated person, or for power to pass onto the drinker in Hindu and Buddhist cultures, Celtic, Chinese, Scythian, Rus, Bulgarian, Uzbek and even Lord Byron. Shrunken heads of the Amazon also fall into this except the skull bone was removed.

People have a grisly fascination with that which supports us but yet remains invisible until we die. Bones. The early Christian church was no slacker in this regard. Any body part of a sainted individual was ready for demolition and salvation in a reliquary. Finger bones, skulls, leg bones, you name it. If it could be found and sanctified the churches and monasteries would hang on to such a reliquary to make each of them special. Never mind that the vaunted saint might not rest easy when their bones were scattered far and wide. Funny that we’re very touchy about our dead getting proper rites and their remains being undistrubed…unless their saints. Then it’s a wholesale grabfest for every pious group.

Of course any place that boasted of owning the used hanky, holey sock, or toothpick of a saint would have a chance of getting more believers to view the grisly religious tourist attractions. Of course this wasn’t just the Christian religion, with the Vatican being the biggest repository of weird sideshow bits of dead people. Buddhists often used the skull cup and other beliefs have their body parts too.

Of all the prized possessions it seems people have sought the head most of all. Coinciding with this research I’m doing CBC was talking about the stolen heads of famous musicians like Beethoven and Haydn. It was a pretty popular sport in the 1800s to dig up a grave and grab the head of a famous poet or composer. In some cases the macabre quest was for science. What had made these people so great? In some cases it was for grisly rewards. Own the head of Marie Antoinette…yours for $100,000. And in some cases it was for that nebulous religious aura. I touched the finger bone of St. Peter and therefore I’m blessed, I’m closer to heaven, I will get that X that I prayed for.

Whatever the reason, we are similarly repulsed and drawn to aspects of the dead. Don’t look at a corpse, and  bury the bones, but oh wait if it’s got some power, well then I will touch it, look at it, revere it. Humans are very odd, at one point fearing everything to do with death and the dead and at the other end, eternally pulled to and fascinated by it. Look at vampire fiction. There is a crossover with the dead and the living; and zombies, though not as sexy as vampires, are definitely gaining mainstream time but usually in  a more campy way. But in the true essence of humanity our natures our dichotomized by our logic and our beliefs and I’m sure in the future we’ll continue to see body parts revered in some way or another.

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Body Adornment

The other half to yesterday’s blog on camouflaging the true shape of our bodies is one of adornment. People are like crows. We have always been attracted to shiny and colorful objects. Ever since Grog the caveman noticed the bright blue stone, we’ve been collecting these things. The best way to store such objects, if you were an itinerant caveman, was to wear it. And look, that blue stone brought the sky back again or slowed the mammoth down so we could kill it.

Body adornment covers jewellery made of glass, metal, clay, wood, stone, feathers, bone, etc. strung or worn in many ways across different parts of the body. As well it has been stuck through and pierced into whatever piece of flesh could be pierced. From lip and nose discs to rings on fingers, toes, nipples, to pieces of wood or stone or metal punctured through chests, backs, arms and other fleshy bits–if it could be done, someone has done it.

Jewellery has as many uses as clothing does. In many cases such adornment started out as a ritualistic aspect with Grog, perhaps a dedication to a belief or god or path. As well, certain body markings indicated tribal/familial affiliations or ranks of authority. A pope would wear an amethyst ring that the faithful would kiss. A particular group in the jungle may have their noses pierced while their neighbors had their eyebrows be-ringed. Whether a fashion trend in that area or a mark of community, these regional differences served the purpose of identifying one group from another.

Facial and body makeup also came along, where applications may have been used for special occasions, rituals, power or to enhance characteristics, such as outlining the eyes to make them look bigger; but also the kohl liners worked to reduce sun-glare into the eyes. There have been practical applications for some body makeup and painting, such as coatings to keep sun off, or insects from biting.

Tattoos and scarification are other ways in which the body has been marked for centuries. Piercings can be temporary, as in the sundance done by some plains nations in North America, where the man’s chest is pierced for the (up to) four-day sundance. But permanent marks are part of identification, authority or belonging to a particular group. Scarring the skin with ridges and whorls, along with embedding items under the skin have been done in some areas for quite a while. Sailors were long known to pick up tattoos on their travels. I’m not sure of the reason why and that would take a bit more research. Some I believe had to do with visiting foreign countries where some of these practices were more common.

Tattoos are big now in parts of modern tribal culture as well as the resurgence of the burlesque dance style. Dancers often have designs that are reminiscent of the 50’s and the earliest North American white tattoos (I say white because I’m not sure if any First Nation groups did tattooing like the Maori have done). Maori tattoos served several purposes including looking fierce in battle, along with the facial gurning.

But last and probably the most popular reason for adorning one’s body, whether with rings, earrings, necklaces, piercings, makeup, tattoos or scarification is for the sheer enjoyment of decoration. We have not traveled that far since Grog started smearing red clay handprints onto his chest, tying a blue stone about his neck and piercing his ears. Though he may have decorated some for superstitious reasons or protection from spiritual or real elements, there came a time that it was just cool and fun to decorate himself. And let’s not forget the status symbol of having the brightest colored rocks or the largest gems in the whole tribe. That hasn’t changed much. If it had, we wouldn’t pay through the nose (does that term come from jewellery?) for precious gems and gold. As long as there are humans we will be given to adorning ourselves and structures around us. If you don’t like a particular fashion of body decoration, be assured that within a hundred years it will change again.

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Fashion Camouflage

Throughout humanity’s history, we’ve used clothes for camouflage. I’m not talking about camo gear and leaf markings on your face to hide in the shadows while carrying out some special ops espionage. Although that is the most blatant aspect of camouflage it’s not the most prevalent.

Besides the basics of keeping ourselves warm, we started to wear clothing for a host of other reasons. Ritualistically, masks, accessories and robes were donned to imitate a spirit or element or to make oneself pure or sacred in the eyes of the gods. Along the way standards of modesty and morality came in to play. Genitalia are a vulnerable area on most creatures, and for humans many other connotations are attached, such as virility, power, immortality, continuance of family. Religious aspects and beliefs, as well as just hiding something mysterious and scary (a woman’s womb has often been related to the underworld) combined to cover the genital areas first.

In African countries, other warm climes, and throughout periods of history, women’s breasts were not always considered erogenous, and therefore did not need covering. A period of Elizabethan dress had the decolletage so low that the nipples were visible. But that is more revealing than camouflaging.

Yet, we’ve used camouflage to enhance our bodies for a long time. Elizabethan men wore pads of horsehair to give the right line to their calves under their hose, as well as padding to form the preferred peascod bellies. And then there were those codpieces to make the genitals look way larger than they were. Women wore corsets to slim their waists, or bustles on the backs of dresses to enhance the womanly shape. Shoes of varying heights have been worn to convey status or make a person taller.

We do the same today. Slimline jeans with no pockets to show off the curves and line of a woman’s leg and hip. Padded and uplift bras to make the breasts look larger, men’s underwear (and chaps) that may shape and define the genitals or butt, (some of this for gay culture but not all), tuxes or other James Bond jackets for that sophisiticated, I-have-plenty-of-money look.

Makeup, since at least the Egyptians, has also been used for enhancement or to comouflage plainness, blemishes, birthmarks, or whatever reason was required. Wigs and toupees have been worn for many centuries as status symbols, to change one’s looks, to make it look like a person had hair. It’s not a new thing and most people do look better in clothes because they cover up all sorts of imperfections. Fashion can highlight a person’s good points, change the line that the eye follows so that a person looks taller, broader, slimmer, bustier, etc.

Until we hit the day that we have our own heat generating forcefields, have tossed vanity and modesty to the side and do not need possessions or adornment, I think humans will continue to dress in a myriad of fashions, as well as camouflaging what is not seen as the current trend and fashion for bodies and looks. The realm of phsical changes has its own history, but that’s for another day. We may yet hit again a look where flat chested, twiggy and adrogynous shapes are considered sexy and then the padded bras and fitted clothing will disappear…for awhile.

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Sex and Politics

As long as there have been people, there has been sex, obviously. But as long as there have been more than two people having to get along in a group, there have been politics. And I’m betting that as long as there have been politics, sex has often been involved.

Sex has been exchanged for power for millennia. Look at the Egyptians. They married brothers and sisters to keep the bloodline pure and royal. All in the family. And throughout the middle ages brides of nobles and royalty were locked into marriage contracts with other rulers so that borders could be expanded, loyalty could be guaranteed and tithes could be exchanged. For the little people, the peasants, they got to arrange their own marriages in most cases.

I’m sure there were illicit affairs happening in the 19th century. After all, the Italian Renaissance of several centuries before was known for the nobles being married to one woman and having several mistresses along the way. Even the Borgia popes had mistresses. Sexually transmitted diseases, gonorrhea, syphilis, etc. were widely known and spread. In fact, I believe it was syphilis that was called the Neapolitan disease because it was rumored that Italian sailors went to foreign ports, brought back the disease and spread it through the known world in seven years.

Along came the 20th century, North America. JFK was purported to have had an affair with Marilyn Monroe and also with other women. He wasn’t the first, nor the last. Then came the famous Cinton-Lewinsky affair. Or maybe it was just a blowjob. I don’t know if she inhaled or not. Millions of dollars was wasted of the taxpayers’ money to find out if Clinton had sex with Monica. (And what kind of freak keeps a semen crusty dress anyways? That is particularly disgusting.) Polls showed that really, the public didn’t care.

Truth is, human nature/culture often includes affairs outside of marriages, whether known about or not. People joked that the Europeans wondered what was wrong with US presidents if they didn’t have a mistress. (I’m not sure if women were allowed equal on-the-side benefits or not, but I doubt it.) That Europe rolled their eyes at all the “scandal” of presidential love affairs. The Italians would know; they’ve been doing it for centuries.

When it comes down to it, what does it matter who a person sleeps with, as far as politics are concerned? Affairs should be between the politician, their spouse and any other directly related parties. It should not include the public or the media. The nation should keep its nose out of the politicians’ bedrooms. The only exception would be if state secrets were being divulged to any lovers. Maxine Bernier, Canada’s “past” foreign affairs minister had a girlfriend where he left his important papers laying about. Whether she stole them or he was just careless, in either case he was dealing with important state papers.

But over the years, at various levels, political officials have lost their jobs because they were with prostitutes or had affairs. And really, I don’t care what they do on the side as long as they do their jobs well. Not one person could stand up to scrutiny that dug into all corners of their lives. And then it comes down to, who judges and on what grounds? Sex and power. Sometimes sex is used to gain information. And sometimes it’s used to be with the powerful and famous. But I’m all for seeing how all our politicians do in politics and n leaving their bedroom antics alone.

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