Today, October 6, is Mad Hatter Day and happens to be one of my favorite celebrations. Based on the Alice in Wonderland character who wears a hat with a price tag of 10/6 on it, the stated function of the day is to celebrate the silly and ridiculous. But I’m much more interested in the chapeau recognition. Millinery may not be in my current skill set, but it is part of my bloodline – my mother was a milliner at one point.
It was mercury poisoning that led so many “hatters” to become mad. Thankfully that isn’t an occupational hazard anymore. But it always seems a bit ironic that given the challenging association with hats and mercury, that Mercury/Hermes himself would happen to wear one of my all time favorite hats – his winged helmet. I have a great love for Mercury/Hermes – an affinity for all psychopomps really. I mentioned a few days ago that I’m deeply immersed this season in the journey of Persephone as Queen of the Underworld, and of course my beloved Mercury/Hermes plays a part in that story as well. He, as a traveler between worlds, was the one who brought Perspehone back up to join the world of the living.
This is one of my favorite images of Mercury/Hermes painted by Evelyn de Morgan in 1873, image courtesy of The Anthenaeum.
I also love this image – it’s exactly the kind of hat I imagine Persephone might wear during her above times. She may need to give up her crown as Queen of the Underworld for half the year, but I think perhaps she’d be happy to wear the pomegranate reminders.
The association between above and below – light and dark – is a theme that has always interested me. But I have to say I was utterly delighted when I found a hat connection as well. Billy Collins wrote a poem about Goya’s candle hat. Listen here to hear him read the poem, and you can find a photo of Goya’s famous self-portrait here. I’m in love with the idea of candle hats, and think they’d be fabulously fashionable headgear not to mention a great asset when traveling to the underworld. Don’t you agree?
Another project I’m working on has me referencing the tarot archetypes of Fool and Magician. As I’m pulling the cards from numerous decks, I couldn’t help but smile that the Fool from Tarot of the Trance and the Magician from the Joie de Vivre deck are hatted in rather delightfully mad ways.
I have a strong affinity with the Fool, and one of the journeys this archetype always opens for me is how much work there is to be done in reclaiming the positive aspects of what frequently gets judged as negative.
This pointy-headed woman is ages old, from a time when I was obsessed with paper mache. When I made her I was fascinated with the idiom “pointy-head” – the disparaging term meaning stupid, or alternatively “intellectual, especially in a self-important or impractical way.”
I wanted to reclaim pointy-head as wise – as reaching an upward pinnacle.
To perhaps even reclaim the dunce cap – that conical hat marker of shame – which seems not so different to me to than the pointy caps witches and crones are portrayed with. Middle Age depictions of witches don’t show these kinds of hats, but by the time of the Victorian Age these pejorative images appear regularly.
Reclaiming pointy-head as wise, I wanted to reclaim the pointy hat as a wise dome, and hence, one with wisdom.
And there you have it. I’ve taken you through a rather circuitous exploration of hats that delight me, and perhaps that’s a fitting journey for a Mad Hatter. You might in fact say this celebration is one of my vanities. But I’m going to guess that you think I mean something other than I do. Vanities is actually is a 15th century term for hats. And how perfect is that for today?
So what do you think – am I mad or am I vain? Hat’s off to you if you leave a comment – you know I love to hear from you.
Deborah ~ Absolutely, gloriously mad! Reading this was a pleasure indeed. I had no idea about 3/4 of the associations you weaved in this wonderful post. Thanks for sharing the madness and for giving me a great topper to my day. I am off, heading towards the rabbit hole to travel the road you just lit for me and explore a bit for myself. <3
Thanks for stopping by Danne, and for the kind words – a tip of the hat to you. I’m delighted to have inspired a trip down a rabbit hole – always one of my favorite journeys.
What a great trip down the rabbit hole here! I love hats but don’t think they look good on me, so I don’t wear them. We have some really cute Halloween type hats at Michaels so I may pick up one of them. They are more like tiny fascinators attached to a headband so I may be able to pull it off.
Hi Deborah – you really have taken us along a fascinating eclectic journey … always connected – I loved reading it … I didn’t know milliners suffered from mercury poison – nor that the name milliners probably stemmed from Milan. Wonderful to see the Evelyn de Morgan art work … her name rings out … as the de Morgan tiles are so vibrant. While Goya’s candle hat is extraordinary … worryingly so! Lots to think about … cheers Hilary
I’m glad you came along with me on this little journey Hilary. If we’d been actually meeting in person I might have provided some candle hats for us just for the fun of it. I suspect we’d probably want to tote along water buckets just in case though. 🙂
I absolutely love hats.I had a lovely blue when when I returned to university for my last year, it had a huge brim and I felt very glamorous wearing it. Mind you, my friends – who I hadn’t seen for a year as we’d all been abroad studying languages – thought I was barking mad! I’ve now got a smart purple (what else?) one like a stetston, a wide-brimmed pink one, and a pointy witch’s hat. And while I think of it, I was deep in The Glums when your birthday came around on 2nd July, Deborah, so a very belated Happy Birthday and bright blessings for the year ahead for you. Much love, Mo xx
Sounds like a perfectly wonderful collection Mo.
Thanks for the b-day wishes – they’re always fun to receive no matter when! I’m sorry you were deeply navigating The Glums, but I’m so happy you’ve resurfaced and claimed your vibrancy once again. Yay you!
Well, I don’t think you’re either mad or vain. I rather enjoyed this post about hats, mythology, and wise women. I saw an article a while back on the history of pointy hats on women, but I can’t recall enough of it to be useful. Had I seen it now after your post, I probably would have paid more attention to it.
Are you aware of the Swedish holiday Lucia? It involves a candle hat (or crown would be more accurate) and pointy hats!
Oh goodness, yes – I’d forgotten about Lucia! A most excellent example of a candle hat/crown. And now you’ve got me thinking about holiday headware Sara. Maybe I need to get some twinkly lights and wrap my head and call it good. 🙂