Monday, August 3, 2015

Superstition and Totem

    We like to think we are beyond these things. We prefer to believe that we are unaffected by superstition in our modern world, but we are fooling ourselves.  We, most of us, have totemic items within the number of Attire words we choose.  Perhaps its a favorite shirt, or a lucky hat.  It might be a ring from a loved ancestor, or a clan tartan.  Whatever it is, and wherever it ends up on us, when we put it on we take its meaning and power onto us.  When we put on that lucky hat, we are telling ourselves that we are more fortunate today.  When we wear that brooch from Great Aunt Susan, we are claiming our tie to her and her history.  When we wear the plaid of our clan, we are making public our connection to a larger group. 

    Specific objects and symbols have strong cultural meanings that influence us, and reach this totemic level.  For example in Italy, peacock feathers are an omen of bad luck, where in India they are symbols of the goddess Parvati, wife to Shiva, and goddess of fertility, love, and devotion. The number 13 in western culture has come to signify bad luck, and so has little or no reference in Attire.  Where the number one has significance as the alpha point, and so is constantly re-imagined in apparel.  Lightning bolts, ocean waves, clouds, stars, all of these things have reach the status of totem in apparel, bringing their entire freight of history and meaning along with them, every time they get put forward.  Sure, you don't see it. I don't see it. That doesn't mean it isn't there if we choose to look.

    There are superstitious notions that cling to the fibers of the textiles we wear, and to the colors and patterns that we choose.  Various cultures invest certain colors with meaning.  In China red is the color of good fortune, but in the Western world its the color of passion, of blood, and of lust.  White, in Japan is indicative of mourning, but in other cultures its means virginity, and innocence.
    Devoid of their cultural references colors are nothing more than specific visible wavelengths of light, reflected by physical objects to the rod and cone receptors in our eyes.  They, of themselves, have none of the attributes associated with them.  It is true however, that colors create specific, graphable physical responses in the body.  Orange causes us to feel uncomfortable,  and accelerates the production of hormones associated with the fight or flight response.  (I must add as a side bar here that I find it fascinating that in the USA convicted felons are clad in orange).  Red increases heart rate, dilates pupils, and causes salivary glands to produce more.  Certain shades of pink slow respiratory rates, induce alpha wave action, and calm aggressive tendencies.  Blue also acts as a calming factor, and actually increases efficient brain activity.  Every visible color in the spectrum, (and our eyes are capable of discerning hundreds of thousands of individual gradations of color) creates a response in our bodies that we seldom are aware of, and if asked, likely could not put our finger on, besides saying we either liked, or disliked them.
    So behind the cultural associations, religious and spiritual symbols, and familial, tribal connections that give power to these superstitions and totems we wear, there are some base line physical things that grant them more influence than we might otherwise assign to them.
    That favorite shirt is not just something with which we have a happy history, its also a shade of blue that makes us, every time we see it, sigh with happiness, and feel safe.  Perhaps that lucky hat hasn't just been worn to many ball games where our team won, but its also red, and we feel empowered, sexy, and assured in it.  And it might just be that that intense purple stripe in our clan tartan is more than just an indicator of heritage, but a also subtle cue to our own desires for sexual primacy, and temporal sway.
    Search your own closet, open your drawers. You will find more than one thing in them that is a totem of some thing or other to you.  We care to think we are so divorced from our primal past selves, but it simply is not so.

We are our past, every day.


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