SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Christmas & Punishment
A Holiday Guide to Shame & Misrule
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required.
The barrel is punishment enough but being mocked by small, face-less children is truly inhumane.
Humans really love restraining other humans; there’s just something about subjugating your fellow man that sparks joy, but none were more joyful about punishment than the early English. Systems of horribly inhumane punishment have dotted the histories of all peoples, but since it’s Christmas, I would like to focus on those few methods that, while still innovate in their cruelty, are almost wholesome in their child-like attempts at law and order. My favorite vintage criminal punishment has to be the Drunkard’s Cloak, whose name alone shows how effectively we’ve removed creativity from the law.
“Bear witness to this fool!” is the 16th century equivalent of becoming a hashtag for the wrong reasons.
The world, particularly the way the world tried to control societal chaos, was definitely weird around the 16th century. I like to think of this era in society’s history as being an awkward teenager trying on different but half-hearted attempts to appear more mature than it truly was.
Looking much like something from a child’s nonsensical drawing, the drunkard’s cloak is just a barrel with holes cut out for the limbs and head. Criminal law used to favor public shaming as a useful punishment to control people. The drunkard’s cloak was a way to punish small crimes without using courts — thieves would wear barrels with signs like “I stole whiskey.” It sounds more like a frat-house prank today, but based on this roast from 1863, the drunkard’s cloak could break a man’s soul:
“One wretched delinquent was gratuitously framed in oak, his head being thrust through a hole cut in one end of a barrel, the other end of which had been removed, and the poor fellow loafed about in the most disconsolate manner, looking for all the world like a half-hatched chicken.”
Punishment by disconsolate loathing. Hopefully sans barrel, but who can’t relate.
I endorse the drunkard’s cloak. We have become so obsessed with stamping out any hint of shame in our society that, as Youtube and much of popular culture can prove, would go a long way in reminding people to give just a moment’s thought to their words and actions. Maybe we can remember to have a little more shame in our lives —not in the puritanical don’t-drink-don’t-think way, but more in the stop-playing-music-out-loud-on-your-phone-in-public-places way. There was a lot the 16th century didn’t know, but they knew that a shameless society is an insufferable society.
Twelfth-night (The King Drinks), 1650.
I know it’s en vogue to dig into why Christmas is problematic and cynically dismiss its celebration as the observance of a consumer culture mutant of some unacknowledged pagan celebration of the past, but I refuse. I love celebrating holidays, especially Christmas. Rejecting a holiday because of its history or mainstream observance is wasteful; every holiday is just a writing prompt that you build upon with your own interpretation, adding your own values and traditions in. Christmas is one of the best holiday prompts we get.
Christmas is a festive person’s dream — it’s a blend of traditions and holidays, most notably the ancient Roman festival Saturnalia, which is already a more compelling title than Christmas, so why not send out Saturnalia cards this year? Of course history is great for helping us avoid replaying massive human failures but we really underestimate how the history of partying can inspire us.
The Lord of Misrule, 1896.
You think Christmas is boring but have you appointed a Lord of Misrule at your Chrismas party yet? Possibly a leftover from the time of Saturnalia, the Lord of Misrule is a Christmas season tradition that makes one special peasant the king of rowdy partying. Not surprisingly, the King of Misrule (or my favorite version, Scotland’s Abbot of Unreason) tradition existed roughly around the same time as the Drunkard’s Cloak.
Maybe our holidays have become overrated and overrun with consumerism; instead of tossing them all out in a fit of cynicism, let’s turn to history to remember what holidays are really about — letting the vice of human pleasure-seeking go just wild enough not to get you put in the Drunkard’s Cloak.
Iniziale “D” (Dixit), Bodleian Library, Oxford.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.