Feb 192018

On this date in 1963 W. W. Norton published The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, which is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States.In 1957, Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her former Smith College classmates for their 15th anniversary reunion. She found that many of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives which prompted her to begin research for The Feminine Mystique, conducting interviews with other suburban housewives, as well as researching psychology, media, and advertising. She originally intended to publish an article on the topic, not a book, but no magazine would publish her article.

During the year 1964, The Feminine Mystique became the bestselling nonfiction book with over one million copies sold. Friedan challenged the widely shared belief in 1950s that “fulfillment as a woman had only one definition for American women after 1949—the housewife-mother.”

The Feminine Mystique begins with an introduction describing what Friedan called “the problem that has no name”—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. It discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being married with children. Furthermore, Friedan challenged women’s magazines, women’s education system, and advertisers for creating this widespread image of women. The detrimental effects induced by this image was that it narrowed women into the domestic sphere and led many women to lose their own identities.

In Chapter, 1 Friedan points out that the average age of marriage was dropping, the portion of women attending college was decreasing and the birthrate was increasing for women throughout the 1950s, yet the widespread trend of unhappy women persisted, although American culture insisted that fulfillment for women could be found in marriage and housewifery. Although aware of and sharing this dissatisfaction, women in the 1950s misinterpreted it as an individual problem and rarely talked about it with other women. As Friedan pointed out, “part of the strange newness of the problem is that it cannot be understood in terms of the age-old material problems of man: poverty, sickness, hunger, cold.” This chapter concludes by declaring “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.'”

Subsequent chapters go on to detail how the various organs of society – books, advertising, magazines, etc. – all perpetuated the narrative of the feminine mystique. Friedan also recalls her own decision to conform to society’s expectations by giving up her promising career in psychology to raise children, and shows that other young women still struggled with the same kind of decision. Many women dropped out of school early to marry, afraid that if they waited too long or became too educated, they would not be able to attract a husband. Friedan argues at the end of the chapter that although theorists discuss how men need to find their identity, women are expected to be self-sufficient, contained within a role set for them by society. She writes, “Anatomy is woman’s destiny, say the theorists of femininity; the identity of woman is determined by her biology.”

Here are more quotes:

Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?”

The way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.

In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination–tell them not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should she “adjust” to prejudice and discrimination.

Nowadays there are so many women who say, “I am not a feminist” without really understanding what they are saying. Do they mean that they want to live in the suburbs, cooking and cleaning the house, waiting on their husbands, and having no independent existence? I doubt it. There is still a long way to go before there is genuine equality between men and women, but things have come a long way since the 1950s and ‘60s.

In 1958, when my family moved to South Australia, we lived in a suburb where all the men went off to work in the morning, and all the women stayed home to clean and cook, and occasionally meet over tea in the afternoon. My mother barely tolerated this life for one year. She started taking the train to Adelaide to finish her secondary education, which she had not completed because of the war, and also began teacher training. It was an arduous task. She had to walk across a sheep pasture to get to a trestle train halt and flag down the train from Gawler to Adelaide. On the return she had to instruct the driver to stop at the halt, and then walk home across the pasture, often in the dark. She did this for 2 years and then began teaching at my school, first as a trainee, and then as a full-time teacher.  All the time she was studying, and then teaching, my father hardly lifted a finger. He cooked on Saturdays for lunch, but otherwise he expected to be waited upon. He was born in 1917 and my mother in 1921. That was the only life he knew, and the one that my mother was determined to break for herself – well before The Feminine Mystique.

I grew up in a house where the feminine mystique was already a thing of the past, so the idea of feminism is very simple for me. It is about equality – period. It does not mean that men and women have to be the same. It means that women should not be subordinate to men whether at home or at work. They should be on a par. Both should be free to make of themselves what they want, or what they can. The idea is simple; carrying it out is still a work in progress.

When looking for recipes to honor The Feminine Mystique I came across the article “Cooking With Betty Friedan … Yes, Betty Friedan” by Betty Friedan and published in the New York Times in 1977. You can find it here. http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/05/09/specials/friedan-cooking.html By 1977 Friedan had discovered the joy of cooking when it has ceased to be drudgery as part of a woman’s role in society – the way men had known for centuries. This excerpt gives the idea. She had just opened a can of Campbell’s soup and was heating it with some added mushrooms and sour cream when her son, Jonathan, arrived without notice:

So when Jonathan arrived here unexpectedly on his way to Israel, I sprang into action. I got green noodles — which I tell myself are less fattening if they are made out of artichokes or spinach — and eggplants, onions, mushrooms and capers and made a pasta sauce from scratch. I browned more mushrooms to add to the Campbell’s soup and we had the smoked salmon that Jonathan brought from his island. For desert we had the Sacher torte I bought back home from lecturing in Vienna, eating it with natural honey ice cream instead of schlag. My friend Alex came by to give the traveler tips on Israel and he watched with a strange sort of beaming expression as I stirred around in all those pots adding oregano and things and not really concentrating on what they were talking about.

I was having a wonderful time. I felt unabashed, overwhelming love for my son as he ate up every bit of green pasta with eggplant and caper sauce. I delighted with glee as my friend took a second helping of the mushroom soup, which next time I swear I’ll make from scratch. Then I put my mind to serious political discussion of the Middle East — which somehow I’d never done with my son before — and I took delight in the beautiful way his mind works.

I think now that I will cook when I feel like it, when I want to or need to, and even maybe mostly enjoy it. I will cook for people I love or even for myself, maybe, with a minimum of fuss, or with a lot of relaxed, communal fuss, if the occasion arises. No big deal. But why deprive myself of the joys of chicken soup, of any part of my basic roots as a woman, or even the refined sophistication of cooking as an art, which my men friends are free to enjoy?

We women had to liberate ourselves from the slavish necessities, the excessive drudgery and guilt related to cooking in order to be able to now liberate ourselves from an excessive need to react against it. As for me, I’ve come out the other end of women’s liberation — to make my own soup.

Feb 082018

Today is the birthday (1810) of Éliphas Lévi Zahed, born Alphonse Louis Constant, French occult author and ceremonial magician. “Éliphas Lévi”, the name under which he published his books, was his attempt to translate or transliterate his given names “Alphonse Louis” into classical Hebrew. Constant was the son of a shoemaker in Paris. He attended the seminary of Saint Sulpice from 1830, studying to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood. However, while at the seminary he fell in love and left in 1836 without being ordained. He spent the following years among his socialist and Romantic friends, including Henri-François-Alphonse Esquiros and so-called petits romantiques such as Gérard de Nerval and Théophile Gautier. During this time, he turned to a radical socialism that was decisively inspired by the writings of Félicité de Lamennais, the former leader of the influential neo-Catholic movement who had recently broken with Rome and propagated a Christian socialism. When Constant published his first radical writing, La Bible de la liberté (1841, The Bible of Liberty), he was sentenced to an eight-month prison term and a heavy fine. Contemporaries saw in him the most notorious “disciple” of Lamennais, although the two men do not seem to have established a personal contact. In the following years, Constant described his ideology as communisme néo-catholique and published a number of socialist books and pamphlets. Like many socialists, he propagated socialism as “true Christianity” and denounced the various denominations as corruptors of the teachings of Christ.

Key friends at that time include, next to Esquiros, the feminist Flora Tristan, the eccentric socialist mystic Simon Ganneau, and the socialist Charley Fauvety. In the course of the 1840s, Constant developed close ties to the Fourierist movement, publishing in Fourierist publications and praising Fourierism as the “true Christianity” (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/charles-fourier/ ). Several of his books were published by the Fourierist Librairie phalanstérienne. He also embraced the Catholic traditionalist Joseph de Maistre, whose works were popular in socialist circles. An especially radical pamphlet, “La voix de la famine” (1846, The Voice of Famine), earned Constant another prison sentence that was significantly shortened at the request of his pregnant second wife, Marie-Noémi Cadiot.

In his “Testament de la liberté” (1848), Constant reacted to the atmosphere that produced the February Revolution. In 1848, he was the leader of an especially notorious Montagnard club known for its radicalism. Although it has been claimed that the Testament marked the end of Constant’s socialist ambitions, it has been argued that its content is in fact highly euphoric, announcing the end of the people’s martyrdom and the “resurrection” of Liberty: the perfect universal, socialist order. Like many other socialists, the course of events, especially the massacres of the June Uprising in 1849, left him devastated and disillusioned. As his friend Esquiros recounted, their belief in the peaceful realization of a harmonious universal society had been shattered.

In December 1851, Napoleon III organized a coup that ended the Second Republic and gave rise to the Second Empire. Similar to many other socialists at the time, Constant saw the emperor as the defender of the people and the restorer of public order. In the Moniteur parisien of 1852, Constant praised the new government’s actions as “veritably socialist,” but he soon became disillusioned with the rigid dictatorship and was eventually imprisoned in 1855 for publishing a polemical chanson against the Emperor. What had changed, however, was Constant’s attitude towards “the people.” As early as in La Fête-Dieu and Le livre des larmes from 1845, he had been skeptical of the uneducated people’s ability to emancipate themselves. Similar to the Saint-Simonians, he had adopted the theocratical ideas of Joseph de Maistre in order to call for the establishment of a “spiritual authority” led by an élite class of priests. After the disaster of 1849, he was completely convinced that the “masses” were not able to establish an harmonious order and needed instruction.

Constant’s activities reflect the socialist struggle to come to terms both with the failure of 1848 and the tough repressions by the new government. He contributed to the socialist Revue philosophique et religieuse, founded by his old friend Fauvety, wherein he propagated his “Kabbalistic” ideas, for the first time in public, in 1855-1856 (notably using his civil name). The debates in the Revue do not only show the tensions between the old “Romantic Socialism” of the Saint-Simonians and Fourierists, they also demonstrate how natural it was for a socialist writer to discuss topics like magic, the Kabbalah, or the occult sciences in a socialist journal. Constant developed his ideas about magic in a specific milieu that was marked by the confluence of socialist and magnetistic ideas. Influential authors included Henri Delaage (1825–1882) and Jean du Potet de Sennevoy (1796–1881), who were, to different extents, propagating magnetistic, magical, and kabbalistic ideas as the foundation of a superior form of socialism.

Lévi began to write Histoire de la magie in 1860. The following year, in 1861, he published a sequel to Dogme et rituel, La clef des grands mystères (“The Key to the Great Mysteries”). In 1861 Lévi revisited London. Further magical works by Lévi include Fables et symboles (Stories and Symbols), 1862, Le sorcier de Meudon (The Wizard of Meudon, an extended edition of two novels originally published in 1847) 1861, and La science des esprits (The Science of Spirits), 1865. In 1868, he wrote Le grand arcane, ou l’occultisme Dévoilé (The Great Secret, or Occultism Unveiled),published posthumously in 1898.

Constant resumed the use of openly socialist language after the government had loosened the restrictions against socialist doctrines in 1859. From La clef on, he extensively cited his radical writings, even his infamous Bible de la liberté. He continued to develop his idea of an élite of initiates that would lead the people to its final emancipation. In several passages he explicitly conflated socialism, Catholicism, and occultism.

The magic propagated by Éliphas Lévi became a great success, especially after his death. Spiritualism being popular on both sides of the Atlantic from the 1850s contributed to this success. His magical teachings were free from obvious fanaticisms, even if they remained rather murky; he had nothing to sell, and did not pretend to be the initiate of some ancient or fictitious secret society. He incorporated the Tarot cards into his magical system, and as a result the Tarot has been an important part of the paraphernalia of Western magicians. He had a deep impact on the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and later on the ex-Golden Dawn member Aleister Crowley. He was also the first to declare that a pentagram or five-pointed star with one point down and two points up represents evil, while a pentagram with one point up and two points down represents good. It was largely through the occultists inspired by him that Lévi is remembered as one of the key founders of the 20th-century revival of magic.

Constant not only developed his “occultism” as a direct consequence of his socialist and neo-Catholic ideas, but he continued to propagate the realization of “true socialism” throughout his life. According to the narrative developed by the occultist Papus (Gérard Encausse) and cemented by the occultist biographer Paul Chacornac, Constant’s turn to occultism was the result of an “initiation” by the eccentric Polish expatriate Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński. However, this narrative had been developed before Papus and his companions had any access to reliable information about Constant’s life. Also, a journey to London that Constant made in May 1854 did not cause his preoccupation with magic, although he seems to have been involved in practical magic for the first time. Instead, it was the aforementioned socialist-magnetistic context that formed the background of Constant’s interest in magic. It should also be noted that the relationship between Constant and the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton was not as intimate as it is often claimed. In fact, Bulwer-Lytton’s famous novel A Strange Story (1862) includes a rather unflattering remark about Constant’s Dogme et ritual.

Lévi’s works are filled with various definitions for magic and the magician. They are also replete with general wisdom which should see great light in my neverendingly humble opinion:

To practice magic is to be a quack; to know magic is to be a sage.

Magic is the divinity of man conquered by science in union with faith; the true Magi are Men-Gods, in virtue of their intimate union with the divine principle.

To be rich is to give; to give nothing is to be poor; to live is to love; to love nothing is to be dead; to be happy is to devote oneself; to exist only for oneself is to damn oneself, and to exile oneself to hell.

He looks on the wicked as invalids whom one must pity and cure; the world, with its errors and vices, is to him God’s hospital, and he wishes to serve in it.

When we love, we see the infinite in the finite. We find the Creator in the creation.

A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard.

Judge not; speak hardly at all; love and act.

There is nothing more to controlling demons than to do good and fear nothing.

Lévi believed that physical preparation for deep ritual was vital and diet was a key component. During the process he abstained from meat and ate simply. Being a vegetarian in France or England in the mid-nineteenth century was no easy task. There were, however, advocates of a diet that was supposedly healthier than normal. By modern standards the health benefits are questionable. This recipe is for a vegetarian version of British steamed pudding using mushrooms in place of meat. It comes from the Vegetarian Society of London which was founded in 1847.

Mushroom pudding

One pint of mushrooms, half a pound of bread crumbs, and two ounces of butter. Put the butter in the bread crumbs, adding pepper and salt, and as much water as will moisten the bread; add the mushrooms cut in pieces; line a basin with paste, put in the mixture, cover with paste, tie a cloth over, and boil an hour and a-half. It is equally good baked.

Sep 122015


On this date in 1940, the entrance to Lascaux Cave was discovered by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat. Ravidat returned to the scene with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, and entered the cave via a long shaft. The teenagers discovered that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals. The cave complex was opened to the public in 1948. By 1955, the carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and other contaminants produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings and introduced lichen on the walls. The cave was closed to the public in 1963 to preserve the art. After the cave was closed, the paintings were restored to their original state and were monitored daily. Rooms in the cave include the Hall of the Bulls, the Passageway, the Shaft, the Nave, the Apse, and the Chamber of Felines.


Lascaux II, a replica of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery located 200 meters away from the original, was opened in 1983, so that visitors could view the painted scenes without harming the originals. Reproductions of other Lascaux artwork can be seen at the Centre of Prehistoric Art at Le Thot, France.


Since 1998, the cave has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights and the presence of too many visitors. As of 2008, the cave contained black mold which scientists were and still are trying to keep away from the paintings. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions. Now only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave and just for a few days a month but the efforts to remove the mold have taken a toll, leaving dark patches and damaging the pigments on the walls.

The Lascaux valley is located some distance from the major concentrations of decorated caves and inhabited sites, most of which were discovered further downstream. In the environs of the village of Eyzies-de-Tayac Sireuil, there are 37 decorated caves and shelters, as well as an even greater number of habitation sites from the Upper Paleolithic, located in the open, beneath a sheltering overhang, or at the entrance to one of the area’s karst cavities. This is the highest concentration in western Europe.

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The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories: animals, human figures, and abstract signs. The paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Most of the major images have been painted on the walls using mineral pigments, although some designs have also been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, and others have deteriorated entirely.

Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. Out of these images, there are 364 paintings of equines as well as 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4 to 5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. Geometric images have also been found on the walls.


The most famous section of the cave is The Great Hall of the Bulls where bulls, equines, and stags are depicted. The four black bulls, or aurochs, are the dominant figures among the 36 animals represented here. One of the bulls is 5.2 meters (17 ft) long, the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. The bulls appear to be in motion.


Less known is the image area called the Abside (Apse), a roundish, semi-spherical chamber similar to an apse in a Romanesque basilica. It is approximately 4.5 meters in diameter (about 5 yards) and covered on every wall surface (including the ceiling) with thousands of entangled, overlapping, engraved drawings. The ceiling of the Apse, which ranges from 1.6 to 2.7 meters high (about 5.2 to 8.9 feet) as measured from the original floor height, is so completely decorated with such engravings that it indicates that the prehistoric people who executed them first constructed a scaffold to do so.


There are many speculations on the purposes of the art in the Lascaux cave, all suffering from lack of intellectual rigor. Religion and magic are commonly cited as underlying purposes, which is almost laughable given that “ritual object” is the common designation by archeologists for any artifact whose purpose is unclear. There is a common and, I believe, false assumption that prehistoric peoples were deeply superstitious, and that religion and magic derive from superstition. It is often hypothesized, for example, without any evidence, that primitive peoples believed that at the onset of winter the sun was going away and had to be appeased with fire and sacrifice to bring it back. This is a highly ethnocentric slur based on the assumption that primitive people are stupid (and we are oh-so-very smart). Don’t you think that after millennia of spring following winter, people would have caught on?

People have also suggested that the art was part of hunting ritual, analysis of star patterns, depictions of hallucinatory trances, classification of local fauna, and so forth. Has it not occurred to anyone with half a brain that it might simply be decorative art? I have no idea concerning the purpose or purposes of the art were, but, unlike others, I will not waste your time with hypotheses that have no hope of being tested.

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The outlines of hands are my favorites, because they signal to me a vital human presence. The graphic below indicates how they may have been done (by blowing powdered pigment over one’s hand).


Foods of the Paleolithic era have been of interest since the introduction of the so-called “Paleo Diet.” The idea of a Paleolithic diet can be traced to the work in the 1970s of gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin. The idea was later developed by Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, and popularized by Loren Cordain in his 2002 book The Paleo Diet, which has many, many imitators. In 2012 the Paleolithic diet was described as being one of the “latest trends” in diets, based on the popularity of diet books about it; in 2013 the diet was Google’s most searched-for weight-loss method. The diet is one of many fad diets that have been promoted in recent times, and draws on an appeal to nature and a narrative of conspiracy theories about how nutritional research, which does not support the paleo diet, is controlled by a malign food industry. I am not part of this “malign” industry; all on my own as a professional anthropologist I can see the flaws in the arguments of the diet’s supporters.

The central tenet of Paleolithic diets is that the modern human digestive system evolved in the Paleolithic era (unproven for starters), and has not evolved since then, although foods have – most notably because of the Neolithic revolution of the domestication of plants and animals, but also because of the relatively recent introduction of junk foods. Therefore, to be true to our bodies we should return to the diet of our ancestors, which means eliminating grains, dairy, excessive fat, carbohydrates, and alcohol, all of which are supposedly products of domestication. This is almost completely fallacious. While it is true that wild animals are leaner than domestic ones, and dairy foods are Neolithic novelties, there are plenty of edible wild grains, carbohydrates exist in wild tubers and other wild foods, and natural yeasts cause fruits, such as grapes, to ferment all by themselves if moistened and left alone.

Paleo diets are also high in meat, fish, and protein based on questionable assumptions about the balance in the average forager diet. Modern ethnographic data are not much help because contemporary foragers live in marginal areas such as the Kalahari and the Arctic north. Diets are completely dependent on what is available. When Richard Lee studied the !Kung of the Kalahari in the 1960s he estimated that about 20% of their diet was protein, whereas in that same period the circumpolar Inuit ate about 95% protein.

It is certainly true that modern people in general eat way too much fat, sugar, starch, processed food, and junk. This is hardly news. Cutting down on these foods is obviously beneficial. My own diet depends a lot on where I am living. I ate a lot of beef, vegetables, and fruit in Buenos Aires, and now, in China, I get a lot of rice, noodles, eggs and mushrooms. I am fortunate that in both countries a lot of the food is locally produced and, therefore, fresh. In southern England and downstate New York, I was very fond of gathering wild foods. There’s something very special about getting something for nothing. I’d always carry bags with me so I could harvest berries, nuts, greens, mushrooms, or whatever I found along the way. Wild mushrooms are a staple for me here in Yunnan province – the varieties available are amazing.


So I suggest a simple wild mushroom omelet using duck or goose eggs (readily available to foragers). The !Kung eat ostrich eggs which take a bit of getting into, but are huge – enough for a family of four.