This photo series on Life.com depicts a “hex party” convened by some adventurous souls in 1941 with the goal of hexing Adolf Hitler. Yes, hexing — or rather, “to kill Adolf Hitler by voodoo incantation.” The amateur magicians’ supplies included “a dressmaker’s dummy, a Nazi uniform, nails, axes, tom-toms and plenty of Jamaica rum,” along with a manual of sorts, Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today. The dummy and Nazi uniform became an effigy of Hitler, which the rite’s participants cursed, attacked and even pierced with nails through the eyes — to cause blindness — and heart — to cause death, presumably. Make sure you click through the whole slideshow or you’ll miss the shot of the dummy’s decapitation by axe.
I’ve got two initial reactions to this piece. The first is this is very clearly excellent gaming fodder. In a Weird War-like setting — or even in the world of Angel and the Demon Research Initiative — of course there’s going to be a magical front to World War 2. The leaders of the day would be well-protected with layer upon layer of warding spells. (I’m reminded of the super powered alternate World War 2 setting Godlike, where the most sought-after Talents were the Zeds, who had the power to nullify Talent abilities.) In such an instance, the hex rites need to be powered by such overwhelming sorcerous might that they punch through any number of talismans and anti-magic fields, which means globe-trotting adventures to tap into long untouched mana wells or artifacts steeped in same; or they have to be done stealthily, practically on top of the target, where only a few defenses still stand. Reminds me of crashing a conference at Wewelsburg.
My second reaction is cultural appropriation isn’t cool. And that’s an unexpected reaction for me to have, because I’ve been pretty gung-ho about it in the past, cribbing bits of this and that and other things to write about here. Role-playing is, by and large, built on borrowing and stealing different pieces of this and that to make something new. People have argued that doing so trivializes the source by oversimplifying, ignoring meaning or failing to perceive distinctions. And I don’t disagree with that.
So I find myself with the conflicting reactions of “Hey, that’s a great plot seed for role-playing” and “That’s some white people using Hitler and another culture’s customs as an excuse to act like buffoons.” But then, when did people need an excuse to behave like buffoons?
… it’s only the cultural appropriation part that you find vaguely disturbing? The fact that a group of people assumed to be otherwise normal performed an occult ritual which they believed would actually affect a real person doesn’t give you pause?
As gamers, I suspect that we have a greater realization of the line between fantasy and reality — we consciously choose where we want to be at any given time. I’m not sure that everyone else has that — thus the fear of D&D as “demon worship”. Because the people who fear it are the ones who actually believe in those demons. That, to me, is the frightening part.
The ‘reality’ you start your gaming session with may not be the same one standing at the end. Some gamers might decide to obtain & cash-in some of Goering’s art treasures in order to have a private slush fund to purchase the needed voodoo supplies, find a dowser to scout out the obscure magic portals that will get us in & out (because don’t you need some piece or relic of the target to make it all work ??) along with the obligatory car chase, shoot-out, cave in, plane crash, a heroic phrase or two, some obscure rules brought into the sunlight & finally who is going to write that obituary anyway ?? Long story short, any book of fiction has the same suspension of reality as an RPG. Is the medium the message ??