Today, 10/6, is celebrated as Mad Hatter Day in honor of the Alice in Wonderland character who wears a top hat with a price ticket on it marked 10/6. It’s meant to be celebrated as a day of silliness, and of course I think that’s fabulous. But I especially like the holiday because it makes me think of hats. And hats are very dear to my heart.
My mother was a milliner so I come by my fondness honestly.
While we likely think affectionately of Carroll’s Mad Hatter, in truth, mad hatter syndrome was not a very laughable matter. Hat makers in the 17th and 18th century began using mercury extensively in felting hats and as a result of toxic exposure suffered neurological damage, often extensive and devastating.
While the element mercury needs to be handled cautiously, I think it’s rather amusing that on this particular Mad Hatter’s Day we’re also in the beginning days of this round of Mercury’s Retrograde. I suspect more than one person will be claiming some more-crazy-than-usual incidents.
I have a strong connection with Hermes/Mercury. And at some point, it occurred to me to wonder how the element mercury got associated with the god Mercury. Hermes/Mercury, fleet-footed messenger of the gods, wore winged shoes and a winged cap, and he travelled between the worlds. Both the world of the gods and humans, and between the outer world and the underworld. The element mercury is also known as quicksilver, because of its curious characteristic of remaining liquid under normal temperatures despite being a metal. If quicksilver is dropped it shatters into perfectly spherical drops, and then just as easily coalesces back into wholeness. Ancient alchemists were fascinated with mercury and believed it essential in transformation. And so the connections do make sense to me.
Of course one of the things that fascinates me about Hermes/Mercury is his winged hat. As far as chapeaux goes I have to call his a total winner.
But speaking of hats, today I was dusting off this dear friend.
While I didn’t necessarily mean her to look like a witch, that’s what most people think of when they see her. But when I looked at her today, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder if there was some connection between the pointed witch hat and a dunce cap. And what exactly was a dunce cap?
Praising the readily-available research capabilities of the internet, here’s the answer. There was a philosopher theologian contemporary of Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages named John Duns Scotus. He recommended the wearing of conical hats to stimulate the brain. Alas, as other of his theories were rejected in later times, Duns (dunce) became a pejorative which meant someone “who foolishly held on to outdated doctrine.” And from there it deteriorated into anyone who was considered stupid. And then of course the wearing of the conical dunce hat made its way into the educational system as a shaming tool. Of course, I like to think that those poor recipients of the dunce hat actually got a dose of brain stimulation and reminder that they too might actually be a wizard.
There’s a long history of wizards wearing pointed hats, although the first known ones were actually rigid and carved with astronomical symbols. Research also suggests that cloth conical hats were actually popular in cities at one point and eventually made their way into the countryside at the point they became out-of-fashion. And so the country women most likely to practice the herbal and magical arts, and most likely to be ostracized as not-mainstream were wearing these hats and identified as witches. I’m not sure about the accuracy of that, but again I like to think there was some delightful brain stimulation going on no matter what.
So in my way of thinking these conical hats are actually the thinking caps they originated as. And that leads me back down the circuitous path that once had me pondering that wisdom was really something that could be contained in a wise dome (one’s head) and that every wise dome required a decorative hat. Because that’s how it works in my world.
And here’s one of my favorite wise domes.
Happy Mad Hatter’s Day!
And now you’re it. Have something silly to share in honor of today? Are you a hat wearer? Love Hermes/Mercury like I do? Like the idea of brain stimulation? Do tell – you know I love to hear.
You’ve found me out: I adore Hermes. He’s been one of my favorite mythological figures since I was a kid. As for the history of conical dunce caps, I had heard this: Once, long ago, conical hats were all the rage among young women of class. They wore their cones swathed in tulle, or some other drafty fabric. Then, just like the dinosaurs, those cone hats were suddenly history. Here’s where the dunce bit comes in. It turns out that only dunces will wear hats that are as far out of fashion as cone hats became. Of course, everything old is new again, and soon you’ll see me ducking through doorways so as not to crimp the tulle-swathed tip of my cone.
Oh how fun to find another Hermes adorer! And I love the info about the conical hats – thanks! I expect we’ll have no problem recognizing each other in a crowd with our pointed hats. 🙂
Here’s to an excellent post and during Mercury Retrograde too. 😀 I love hats but rarely find ones that look good on me. I think I have hat envy!
Thanks Arwen. Here’s to finding hats that make you feel fabulous!
Oh I love that hat you’re wearing Deborah – and your lady with the pointy hat. Like Arwen, I adore hats, but they always look stupid on me 🙁 But I keep searching 🙂
Happy Mad Hatters Day 😀
Thanks Fil. I’m convinced the world is made up of two types of people – hat lovers and non-hat lovers. You can be a hat lover and not actually wear hats, but if you’re a non-hat lover you think every hat is silly and so are the people who wear them.
While preparing for the latest garage sale, my mother found an old knit cap with my name on it, still in good condition. It’s faded a bit so looks more pink than red in photographs.
Oh how fun!
Gotta say – your title drew me in! I was going to go and do the laundry after reading a couple of the other Inspired Blogging posts but then I scrolled down and saw your title. Got me! Tip of the hat to you Deborah. I’m curious. What is your friend made of? Papier mache? Ceramic? She is lovely – I didn’t think witch when I looked at her. As for your hat – it suits you beautifully. I love hats and find I am drawn to them when I am around people who wear hats. Montreal is a city of hat wearers I think, as is San Francisco. I bought a lovely knit number last winter in Montreal and am hoping it gets cold soon so I can wear it.
Oh I do love the idea of cities of hat wearers! And how wonderful you’ve found a hat you love. I’m just asking that you don’t wish us too early into the cold weather so you can wear it. 🙂
My pointy hatted woman is paper mache.
Love your hat, Deborah, and your post. One thing that caught my attention: I’d never associated “wise dome” and “wisdom.”
I do love always love a little word play! 🙂
In the tradition of Hermes, I’m commenting way past the appointed day, but then Hermes is like that, I do believe. One of the best things I ever heard about Hermes was from a professor who told us that unlike our common wisdom of Thou Shalt Not Lie, the wisdom from Hermes was Thou Shalt Not Be Lied To, putting the responsibility of insight clearly on the shoulders of the receiver and the wisdom of imagination with the teller. I like that. 🙂
Oh Linda – I’ve never heard that before, and I think it’s absolutely fabulous! I’m so delighted you shared this – thank you.