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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Lammas 2014

Lammas 2014 by Man Crack
For my fifth year of blogging, I’m starting a new tradition; every sabbat I’ll feature a piece of seasonal art by one of my readers.  This one is by Man Crack; if you like to commission something from her you can email me and I’ll forward it to her.  The next such occasion is the autumnal equinox, September 23rd; this year; if you’d like the job, send me a sample of your work within the next three weeks.  If you prefer a future sabbat (Halloweeen, Yule, etc) you needn’t wait; just let me know your preference.

Blessed Be!

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There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.  –  The Gospel of Philip

Today is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, long considered to be either a prostitute or “reformed” prostitute and therefore the subject of special devotion by many Catholic (and Orthodox, and Anglican, and Lutheran) whores.  As I have explained before, there is no canonical evidence for this; the idea seems to date to a sermon  delivered in 591 by Pope Gregory the Great, in which she was identified as a repentant harlot (possibly by identification with the “adulterous woman” whom Jesus rescues from being stoned in the 8th chapter of John).  But the four canonical Gospels are not the only ones:

…among those used by Gnostic congregations (and subsequently excluded from the canon) were four more Gospels:  Thomas, Philip, Mary and Judas, all but the last of which assign a much more prominent role to Mary Magdalene than the four canonical ones; indeed, the Gospel of Mary is actually attributed to her.  These Gospels refer to Mary as Jesus’ “companion” and describe him as loving her more than his other disciples and often kissing her on the mouth…the Gospel of Mary identifies her as the unnamed “disciple Jesus loved” mentioned so often in John…

Pope Gregory may well have been aware of these gospels, and perhaps intentionally conflated the Magdalene with the adulteress as a way of smearing her in a time of increasingly-patriarchal Church practices and increasingly-prudish Church attitudes toward sex.  It is possible that one of the reasons Mary the Harlot caught on so quickly as a mythic figure was that she built upon and supplanted the clearly sexual (though not specifically professional) portrayal in the Gnostic gospels, oral traditions of which could well have survived their suppression two centuries before Gregory’s sermon.  I might even point out that she could well be viewed as a Christianized Venus, just as the Blessed Mother is a Christianized mother-goddess and Jesus himself a Christian solar deity.  The actual biographical facts of the lives of the human beings upon whom the mythic figures are based is of no more importance than whether Buddha could actually perform miracles, King Arthur pulled a sword from a stone or Mohammed flew into heaven on a winged horse; as in the case of Saint Nicholas (the official patron saint of whores), the mythology which has developed around the historical Mary Magdalene has a life of its own independent of the mundane facts.  The process of apotheosis creates a new being separate and distinct from the long-dead person whose name he or she shares, and that being inhabits the irrational realm of faith rather than the rational one of fact.

Simply put, Mary Magdalene the symbol is an entity wholly distinct from Mary Magdalene the first-century Jewish woman, and whether the latter was a whore, wife or mere follower to Yeshua bar Yosef is immaterial to the power of that symbol.  For centuries, the name “Magdalene” has been synonymous with “prostitute” in Christendom; when in the 13th century the idea arose for the first time that whores were “fallen” women in need of “rescue”, the asylums established for the purpose were called “Magdalene homes”.  Though few of these institutions survived the Black Death, the movement was revived in the mid-18th century and the number of such places multiplied with the rise of the “white slavery” myth a century later; though they again died out in most places in the early 20th century, they continued on in Ireland until 1996.  In various parts of the British Isles, the term “Magdalene” became “Maggie”, and applied either to whores in general (in England) or ones confined to Magdalene laundries (in Ireland).  The working girls in a number of folk songs are named “Maggie”, and of course Stephen Crane gave us Maggie:  A Girl of the Streets; some of y’all have probably guessed that I chose the name “Maggie” for a reason, and perhaps noticed that the name “Maggie McNeill” has a similar cadence to “Mary Magdalene”.

So even though I well understand that Mary Magdalene may not have “really” been a member of my profession, I also understand the difference between fact and truth.  The sacred whore may have largely ceased to exist in the mundane world of matter, but she still exists in the human unconscious.  And in the West, it has pleased her for a number of centuries now to work under the stage name Mary Magdalene.

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Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.  –  William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (II, ii)

Yes, it’s been four years already, and some of you have been reading for most of that time; I’m very pleased to see how few of you have tired of me.  Pleased because, though I would certainly like to believe Enobarbus’ description of Cleopatra also applies to myself, one must always be careful to take flattery with a grain of salt, and never to fall for one’s own ad copy.  At the same time, false modesty in excess tends to make a lady look more silly than sincere; I therefore try to maintain a balance between self-promotion and self-deprecation, though I suspect you’ll forgive me if I err a bit on the side of the former on occasions like this.  Custom has not yet staled my variety for most of my regulars, and I gain new readers all the time; a look back at last year’s anniversary column will serve to illustrate that.  The Honest Courtesan now has almost 1500 posts, 92 assorted pages, almost 40,000 comments, about 1200 subscribers and 3900 Twitter followers, and 2.8 million page views from all over the world.  I write regular features for Cliterati and the Eros Guide; have seen my work published in Cato Unbound, Reason and the Washington Post; have published a book of short stories (which I’m currently promoting on a national tour); plan to release a book of essays in January; and have done so many interviews, speaking engagements, consultations and other such work that I’ve completely lost count.

So all in all, I think I can safely declare this blog a success.  I’ve got my procedures down to a science now, so I can do outside projects without too much difficulty (though a 15-week book tour is definitely testing the limits!) and I’m even starting to make a small amount of money from it.  That, however, will never be my primary motivation:  this blog exists to spread knowledge about the demimonde; to debunk propaganda spread by our enemies to demonize or infantilize us; to help people realize that whores and our clients are really just regular people and our work is regular work; to argue for self-ownership and the rights of individuals to direct their own lives without interference from tyrants and control freaks; to call attention to the awful things those tyrants do to advance their agendas; and to entertain y’all in the process.  And though I’m rarely at a loss for words, none in my vocabulary are sufficient to express the gratitude I feel for all of y’all who choose to spend some of your valuable time with me every day, and without whose attention, praise and support none of this would have been possible.

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History is the interpretation of the significance that the past has for us.  –  Johan Huizinga

Those of you who were paying attention in world history class may remember that the Western Roman Empire ended on September 4th, 476 AD with the accession of Flavius Odoacer as King of Italy, and that the Eastern Roman Empire was thereafter known as the Byzantine Empire.  But this is merely a convenient lie invented by historians; to the citizens of Rome, Italy, areas of Europe still dominated by either Eastern or Western Empires and foreign governments who had dealings with the Romans, 476 was very much like 474 and 475 had been, and nobody noticed much change in the years 477-493, either.  To be sure, the Empire under Odoacer was quite a different place than it had been under Augustus, but then the same could be said of the Empire under Hadrian, Constantine, Honorius or Justinian.  The laws, structures and political realities had changed dramatically (and not for the better) since the end of the Republic, yet even when the vast territory was divided in two (temporarily, then later permanently) it was still called the Roman Empire, and its people still thought of their government as continuous with what had gone before.  The term “Byzantine Empire” for the eastern half is a total fiction; it was still referred to both officially and in popular use as the Roman Empire (even after its territory had shrunk to only part of the area of modern Turkey) until Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.  And even then, Germanic kings who had been granted the title of Roman Emperor by Papal edict continued to use it until the last of them, Francis II, abdicated the title to Napoleon in 1806.

By the 14th century it would have been obvious to all but the dullest historians that neither the German nor the Greek pretenders to the title of “Roman Empire” were remotely the same as the original entity which had borne that name, and unconnected to it by anything other than a long and winding chain of historical events.  But it would not have been so obvious to an historian of the 10th century, and one of the 6th would probably have violently disputed the claim (at least in the case of the Eastern Empire).  Modern scholars looking at the events from over a millennium later decided that after 476, things began to change so dramatically and so quickly that a different name needed to be applied to the political entities existing after that date so as to make the difference clearer for purposes of study and discussion.  But the people living at that time had no such historical perspective; few of them would have agreed that the differences between Odoacer’s reign and that of Julius Nepos were any more meaningful than those between the reigns of Constantine and Constantius, and probably less significant than the difference between the reigns of Diocletian and Aurelian.  They were emotionally invested in the name “Roman”, and the changes in both the Empire and its people had been so gradual that only by viewing the events from a period completely removed from them could a meaningful line be drawn between “Roman” and “Post-Roman”.

Rome is an especially prominent and striking example, but by no means the only one; except in cases where a culture is completely overrun by wholly alien invaders (as in the case of the European conquest of the Americas), most lines drawn between historical periods and most names given them by historians are rather arbitrary and only make sense to people of later eras.  Those living at the time see no seismic shift, no change of identity; the English still considered themselves English after the Norman Conquest, and the lives of peasants were largely the same in 1067 as they had been in 1065…but historians regard the unified England of the late 11th century as a different thing from the Anglo-Saxon realm of a generation before, and not only because the rulers were speaking a different language.

Declaration of IndependenceExactly two months short of exactly 1300 years after what we now think of as the end of the Roman Empire, a group of colonies belonging to a country which had itself once been a Roman province declared themselves independent of their parent nation.  And though colonies, provinces and other dependent entities had done this sort of thing many times before, what made this one unique in world history was that the revolutionaries were not merely the followers of a rival monarch determined to wrest the territory from its legal ruler by military force; instead, they were philosophically-inclined sons of the Enlightenment who argued that human beings had certain unalienable rights which no ruler, no matter what his titles or antecedents, had the right to abrogate.  This was such a new idea that historians recognized it as a dividing line as soon as the British government did, five years later…but for the average working man, not much really changed, and for the slaves absolutely nothing did.  Even most of the laws of the states and cities of the new country were the same laws they had before the revolution…laws based on traditions dating back to the time when almost no educated person would have agreed that the Roman Empire was a thing of the past.

But less than a hundred years later, that began to change; the United States now bears more resemblance to the bloated, top-heavy, militaristic, moribund Roman state inherited by Odoacer than the lean, minimal government conceived of by the Founders.  Yet for now, the people of the US are still so emotionally invested in the label “American” and so blindly devoted to worship-words like “freedom” that they are unable to recognize that we’ve already crossed the line future historians will draw between the American Republic and the American Empire.  When did we pass from one to the other?  Alas, I’m in the same forest as you are; only the perspective of time will allow us to determine that.  Perhaps they’ll draw it at the end of the Cold War; perhaps even earlier, at the end of World War II.  Maybe they’ll make it simple for student memorization by setting it at the beginning of the 21st century.  But one way or another, it is insulting to the Founders’ memory to associate any patriotic feelings you have for the memory of the nation they created with the repressive fascist police state that now occupies its territory; the 4th of July is now a memorial rather than a celebration, and the Spirit of ‘76 is nothing but a ghost.

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Summer Solstice 2014

A something in a summer’s noon –
A depth — an Azure — a perfume –
Transcending ecstasy.
  –  Emily Dickinson

Blessed LithaYou may have noticed that this essay posted fifty minutes late today; that was fully intentional, because I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have the moment of posting coincide with the moment the apparent path of the sun reached its northernmost point at 10:51 UTC (5:51 AM where I live).  I say “where I live” rather than “where I am” because as you already know I’m not at home right now, and the moment of solstice occurred well before sunrise here in Denver.  Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time know that I’m not really upset about missing the summer’s heat at home; though it’s not as sweltering there as it is in New Orleans it’s bad enough (though as my body ages I find it easier to endure the heat and harder to endure the cold).  And though I won’t be home to pick many blackberries myself, I hope to get at least a few while I’m home for Independence Day.  Then it’s off again to the eastern half of the country, and by the time I’m home again summer will be dying and my beloved autumn will be on the way.  I hope to be able to enjoy it the better for having had (I hope and pray) a successful book tour, and if you’d like to help that to happen please donate to my fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.  I wish each and every one of you equal success in whatever summer projects you undertake.

Blessed Be!

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It’s time we let the prohibitionists know that if they want to pick on sex workers, we have a whole lot of brothers and sisters they’re going to have to face as well.  –  “Friday the Thirteenth Again

Red Umbrellas by Georgio BisettiEvery year has at least one Friday the Thirteenth, and there can be as many as three in a year; next year will be that way, with the day appearing in February, March and November.  The longest time that can pass between two such days is 14 months, as noted in “The Last Thirteen for Fourteen“.  But this year we only have one, in the middle of the year, and that’s today.  Regular readers know what this means, but for those who’ve joined us since December, here’s how I explained it last September:

…from soon after the beginning of this blog, I’ve asked those of you who aren’t sex workers yourselves to speak up for our rights on this day.  The gay rights movement didn’t really take off until the friends and families of gay people got involved, and…we’re going to need [similar] help to make our voices heard.  We need all the sex workers (such as strippers, dominatrices and porn actresses) whose fields aren’t currently criminalized, and the sugar babies and other women who have informally or indirectly taken money for sex…We need all of the men who hire us at least occasionally…[and] all of the women who recognize that…laws which can be used to arrest us will also work to arrest you.  We need all of those who love porn, polyamory, BDSM or kink, because even though policing of sex usually starts with harlots, it never stops with us.  We need all of the public health and human rights experts who understand the necessity of decriminalization in light of their respective fields, all of the libertarians who recognize that governmental prohibition of consensual behavior is both indefensible and dangerous to individual liberty, and all of the feminists who recognize that a woman’s right to control her own body and make her own sexual and economic choices is the primary feminist issue.  And we need all of the decent human beings who don’t fall into any of those categories, but are simply disgusted by the idea of armed thugs arresting, humiliating and ruining people for the “crime” of consensual sex…

You could write a blog post, make an anonymous comment on an anti-whore news story, bring up the subject with friends, link or reblog this column…anything is a help!  If you don’t feel comfortable making any sort of public statement but still want to help the cause, there’s a “Donate” box in the right-hand column; you could also support my current speaking tour via GoFundMe or just buy a copy of my book.  There are also sex worker organizations such as SWOP, ESPLERP and the St. James Infirmary, or sex-worker-friendly organizations like Women With a Vision, that could use your contribution.  Whatever you do, please post about it in the comments and include a link if appropriate; I’ll republish every one next March together with whatever people do in February.  Above all, please remember that any contribution – loud or quiet, public or private, eloquent or laconic, lengthy or brief – is important and worthy, and everyone one will hasten the day when governments no longer believe it’s acceptable for them to persecute sex workers, our clients and our associates in any way they please.

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First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.  –  Mahatma Gandhi

Today is International Whores’ Day, the 39th anniversary of a protest in which…

over 100 French prostitutes occupied the Church of St. Nizier in Lyon.  In a very real sense, today is the birthday of the sex worker rights movement; though Margo St. James had already founded COYOTE two years before, the French protests were the first ones large and vociferous enough to gain media attention, and led to the formation of the French Collective of Prostitutes (which in turn inspired the founding of the English Collective of Prostitutes and a number of other, similar organizations)…

Birthdays are a good time for taking stock, for looking at where one has been and where one is going.  Like humans, movements have good birthdays and bad ones; the first few anniversaries of that historic protest were good, until mainstream feminism betrayed us in the early 1980s by selling out to the carceral anti-sex crowd and hopping into bed with the religious right.  And though there were some dark days after that, the movement continued to grow throughout the ‘90s and early ‘00s despite every opposition.  Of course the prohibitionists struck back; they revived the old “white slavery” hysteria under a new name, and for years now they’ve seemed to have the upper hand in the public’s imagination with their lurid masturbatory fantasies of gypsy whores, weeping teenage “sex slaves” and leering “pimps” with magical powers.  At the same time, however, the internet has allowed sex workers to organize with each other and reach out to the public at a level we could only dream of when I first entered the business.  While politicians, cops and the more ignorant and authoritarian members of the general public have subjected the rights of sex workers, our clients and our associates to unceasing attack, at the same time health officials, human rights groups, and the more well-informed and freedom-loving members of the public have increasingly sided with sex workers in calling for decriminalization.

In “Back and Forth” I provided a snapshot of how things stood last summer, and I think it’s safe to say they’ve shifted somewhat in our favor since then.  Oh, one wouldn’t know it to look at the mainstream media; with a few rare exceptions the Fourth Estate has largely abdicated its role of exposing tyranny and instead dedicated itself to the worship of those in power.  Every moronic assertion about “sex trafficking” is slavishly parroted without a whisper of skepticism, every asinine lie about sex workers a cop vomits out is presented as gospel, every ridiculous prohibitionist “study” is reverently cited as ironclad proof of the necessity of “rescuing” us by either locking us up or starving us to death.  The horrible Swedish model has advanced in Ireland and France, was recently adopted as a “recommendation” by the European parliament, has been re-introduced in the UK after being sent packing once before, and is being touted by the Canadian government in a sleazy attempt to circumvent the court decision which struck down criminalization in Canada last December.  The week doesn’t pass that some US jurisdiction doesn’t come out with a new draconian law designed to save nonexistenttrafficked children” by shredding the Constitution and scattering its remains to the four winds; and even countries which have previously taken a more liberal view such as Germany, the Netherlands and Australia are now infested with prohibitionists demanding state control over adult sexual behavior.

The ranks of our allies, however, increase every day.  Over 560 organizations  advised the Parliament to adopt decriminalization over the Swedish model, and over 300 academics gave the same advice to Canada.  A few reporters are beginning to question “trafficking” mythology, and anti-criminalization articles by activists and allies are getting far more common not only in libertarian publications like Reason, but also others all across the political spectrum from Jacobin to Vice to Salon to The Economist to National Review.  It won’t be long before prohibitionists recognize that they’re on the wrong side of history, and begin to adopt the sort of delaying tactics they’ve used for decades against gay rights and are using now against the erosion of the drug war.  The fight won’t be over soon, not by a long shot.  But I predict that every year on this day, I’ll have ever-increasing amounts of good news to report. 

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