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?