Monday, October 31, 2011

WtMoM: Making and the Sacred

It is curious that on this night we revel--at least symbolically--in the final annual orgy of evil but do nothing tomorrow, on All Hallows Day, to express our gratitude that darkness has been vanquished and order restored to the world. In other words, we celebrate the profane but we don't celebrate the sacred.

Most of us would define sacrifice as giving something up, but the word literally means, "to make sacred." Now, at a personal level, by handing a lamb over to the priests you are, in fact, giving up your control over it. But in a broader sense, by making a thing sacred you've set it apart and it can no longer be used for normal purposes.

That which is sacred becomes priceless--not in the sense of being worth more than you can imagine, but in the strict technical sense that its value cannot be determined because it is no longer part of the economic system.

You may object that we know what other things like it cost, so we know the price. Users would agree because insofar as they are concerned, everything has a price and nothing is sacred.

For makers, almost everything has an element of the sacred because the act of making sets the thing made apart from others. You may have a ream of blank paper, but the sketch on one sheet gives it a completely different significance than any of the others. And that's the fundamental difference: making imbues the made thing with non-economic significance. As a recent series of credit card commercials pointed out, some things really are priceless.

Lest you think me an irredeemable curmudgeon, with all this talk of the sacred, I'm not here to denounce Halloween. Part of the appeal of Halloween comes from the fact that it continues an ancient tradition of celebrations in which the normal order of the world is turned upside down. During the holiday or carnival, common social constraints are relaxed and people can be something other than what they are the rest of the year. It is a collective way to let off steam and diffuse social tensions.But as you traipse about as some otherworldly creature, extorting candy, you might use the temporary inversion of sacred and profane to take stock of what you hold sacred, and, more importantly, what you are willing to make sacred.

Image: Bill Longshaw /