SEPTEMBER FOCUS

Every day of every month marks something remarkable, something to celebrate, something to be aware of. I’m not up to tracking daily events; instead, I like to look at whole months.

Of course, International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th is worthy of being studied and celebrated all month long!

So here, for your information, entertainment, and possibly seasonal scenes in your fiction, is the September summary.

Books/Education

  • Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month
  • Library Card Sign-Up Month
  • Sea Cadet Month
    • (The Sea Cadet program is similar to the ROTC, run by the Navy and Coast Guard.)
  • International Strategic Thinking Month

Food

  • Eat Chicken Month
  • Great American Low-Cholesterol, Low-Fat Pizza Bake
  • Hunger Action Month
  • National Honey Month
  • National Mushroom Month
  • National Rice Month
  • National [Milk]Shake Month
  • Whole Grains Month

Health and Safety

(Make sure the baby is wearing a helmet before she rappels off the roof.)
  • Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Month
  • Baby Safety Month
  • Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
  • Gynecologic Awareness Month
  • International Speak Out Month
    • (For those who suffer from a fear of public speaking) 
  • Mold Awareness Month
  • National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
  • National DNA, Genomics, & Stem Cell Education and Awareness Month
  • National Head Lice Prevention Month
  • National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Recovery Month
    • (To support recovery from substance abuse, addiction, and mental illness)
  • National Skin Care Awareness Month
  • Healthy Aging Month
  • Sports Eye Safety Month

Pets/Animals

  • AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Month
  • Happy Cat Month
  • National Service Dog Month

Relationships

  • Intergeneration Connection Month
  • International Women’s Friendship Month
  • One-On-One Meetings Month
    • (In the workplace)
  • Pleasure Your Mate Month
  • Subliminal Communications Month

And Then There Is…

Bottom line: September has something for almost everyone! But if none of these are for you, look forward to next month (or back to last month).

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: GRIEF

Funeral for a victim of the Siege of Sarajevo
photo by Mikhail Estafiev

Grief, deep sorrow at the loss of someone/something important, comes to everyone in one form or another, at some time or another.  According to healthline.com, grief is personal, not necessarily linear, and doesn’t follow timelines or schedules. Everyone grieves in his or her own way.

People usually recognize when someone is grieving the death of a loved one. But other deaths—other losses—any change that alters life as one knows it—can cause grief. What might cause your character(s) to grieve? Loss of . . .

Refugee woman, circa 1945
  • Job/career
  • Marriage
  • A love relationship
  • A child
  • Loss of child custody
  • A pet (or pet custody)
  • A close friend
  • One’s home
  • Reputation
  • Faith
  • Physical ability
  • One’s youth
  • Treasured object
  • …and others?

How Would Your Character(s) Grieve?

In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published On Death and Dying, based on her years of work with terminally ill people. Subsequently, it was applied to other losses as well.  Because grief is so complex and personal, various numbers of stages—from two to seven—have been posited. The original model had five stages:

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is another model of possible progressions of grief.
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Models with seven stages include the following three after depression:

  • Upward turn
  • Reconstruction and working through
  • Acceptance and hope

Important to note: Stages can vary in order, can overlap, or can be skipped altogether. The duration of any given stage can vary widely, from days to months to years

What Would Your Character(s) Grief Cycle Look Like?
  • Straight line?
  • Bowl of spaghetti?
  • Immediate start?
  • Delayed?

Expressions of Grief Reflect One’s Personality

For example, people who express anger physically will continue to do so while grieving, very different from those who express anger verbally. Grieving can be self-destructive, triggering harmful eating, drinking, or risk-taking behaviors. Some might grieve by intellectualizing (finding out everything possible about the causes, prognosis, etc.) or compartmentalizing (confining conscious grieving to certain times or places).

BOTTOM LINE: What causes feelings of loss and how your character(s) respond are rich sources of adding depth and feeling to your plot.

TATTOOS: CONVICTS AND STREET GANGS

Japanese Yakuza

If you aren’t in a prison or a gang, who cares? More people than you might imagine! Think self-preservation and decision making—not to mention writing realistically.

  • Prison employees
  • Parole officers
  • Social workers
  • Police officers
  • Medical providers
  • Those new to the neighborhood/prison
  • Border patrol
  • Anyone living or travelling in Eastern Europe or Russia

Indeed, an extensive list of tattoos, with pictures and meanings, has been produced for the Canadian Border Patrol. It’s available online at publicintelligence.net (search tattoos and their meanings).

Another good source is corrections1.com.  

There is an abundance of on-line information about the meaning of prison tattoos, and it’s generally consistent. But keep in mind, there are varied meanings, and context is important.  One example here would be playing cards, typically found on the knuckles. In Russian prisons, the suit chosen have meanings. In other settings, this type of tattoo may indicate someone who likes to gamble, or who sees life as a gamble. (See below.)

The Nature of Prison Tattoos

Overall, prison tattoos tend to look dark and crude. Inmates tattoo each other using whatever equipment they can gather, such as staples, ballpoint pens, paper-clips, improvised needles, molten rubber, styrofoam, etc. 

Sometimes the “artist” will draw a picture on a wooden plank, place needles along the lines of the design, cover the needles with ink and stamp the whole tableau on the prisoner’s body. Another method is to slice the image onto the skin with a razor and daub the cut with indelible ink. When prisoners manage to get an electric shaver and a syringe with a needle, they can jury-rig a tattooing machine.

One of the least horrific photos I could find of an infected tattoo

Ink is hard to come by, so for dye, they can use pen ink. Also, they  can burn the heel of a shoe, and mix the ash with the prisoner’s urine – a practice superstitiously believed to reduce the chance of infection. Research has revealed a connection between tattoos and high rates of hepatitis C among prisoners.

Tattooing is typically slow and nearly always painful.  Conditions are inevitably far from sterile, so infections and complications are common.  Suffice it to say that what prison tattoos convey is important to the wearer.

Not All Tattoos are Voluntary

The most famous instance would be during the Holocaust when concentration camp inmates were tattooed with an identification number. Also see the section on gender below. Any tattoo that stigmatizes a prisoner, or invites abuse by other inmates, is likely to have been applied involuntarily.

White Supremacist Gang Tattoos 
  • KKK
  • Neo-Nazism
  • Arian Brotherhood (AB)
  • Family Affiliated Irish Mafia (FAIM)
  • Sacramaniac
  • Number tattoos
  • General white supremacist symbols
    • For example 1488 (or 14 or 88) found anywhere on the body identifies white supremacists/Nazi inmates.  There are a variety of tattoos associated with the Arian Brotherhood, important to identify, for they make up 1% of the prison population but commit 20% of inmate murders.
  • FAIM members sometimes wear a shamrock as well, signifying affiliation with the AB—but this is only allowed with permission of the AB
Russian Prison Tattoos

In the Soviet Union, particularly during Joseph Stalin’s time, non-political prisoners (thieves, murderers, arsonists, etc.) in the Gulag system were often given preferential treatment by prison guards. Tattoos told the guards as well as other prisoners how to treat a prisoner, including what labor assignments they got and whether to assign prisoners as enforcers. Eventually, non-political prisoners gained so much power within the Gulags that the Vor v Zakony (Thieves in Law) essentially ran many of the prison camps. Today, the Vory is one of the most powerful mafia organizations in the world. In many areas within the former Soviet Union, anyone with visible tattoos is assumed to be affiliated with the Vory or pretending to be.

  • Star
  • Manacles
  • Epaulette
  • Birds on horizon
  • Barbed wire
  • Symbol of the cross
  • Crowns and rings
  • Scarab beetle
  • Playing cards
  • Cat
  • A cat tattoo represents a thief.
    • One cat = the prisoner worked alone
    • Multiple cats = the prisoner was part of a gang of thieves
    • A cat tattoo (think stealthy as a cat) is considered good luck for a thief
    • If worn on the chest, it also signals a dangerous criminal who hates law enforcement 

Playing card suits carry specific meanings: spade represents a thief; clubs symbolize criminals in general, diamonds label stoolpigeons and informants – and was probably applied by force—and hearts imply that someone is looking for a romantic partner in the prison, which may also be forcibly applied.

The knife through the neck tattoo, in Russian prisons, means the bearer is a murderer—and proud of it. Much has been written about Russian prison tattoos. If interested, you can find information specific to Japan, Australia, France, Italy, etc.

Street/Prison Gang Tattoos

MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha)
  • Mara Salvatrucha 13
  • Black Guerrilla Family
  • Red Blood Dragon
  • Gangster Discipes
  • Santana
  • Mexican Mafia
  • Mexikanemi
  • Texas Syndicate
  • Almighty Latin King Nations
  • 18th Street Gang
  • Sureños
Crips
  • Norteños
  • Texas Chicano Brotherhood
  • Border Brothers
  • Hells Angels
  • Bloods
  • Crips
  • Indian Warrior
  • Laotian Boyz (LB)
Common Symbols
  • Tiger
  • Spider web
  • Tear drop
  • Three dots
  • Five dots
  • Angel of death
  • Clown faces/masks
  • Vida loca
  • Barbed wire
  • spiderweb, typically representing a lengthy incarceration, is commonly found on the elbow or neck. 
  • Teardrops can mean a lengthy prison sentence, that the wearer has committed murder, or that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and the tattooed one is seeking revenge.

According to corrections1.com, “One of the most widely recognized prison tattoos, the teardrop’s meaning varies geographically. In some places, the tattoo can mean a lengthy prison sentence, while in others it signifies that the wearer has committed murder. If the teardrop is just an outline, it can symbolize an attempted murder. It can also mean that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and that they are seeking revenge. The teardrop has been popularized recently by rappers and other celebrities, but still remains a staple in prisons. Those who are newbies behind bars with a teardrop tattoo will make a lot of enemies, fast.”

Alternatively, Mental Floss says, “There are many stories about why a prisoner would have this tattoo, but the most common is that an unfilled teardrop might symbolize the death of a loved one, while an opaque one might show that the death has been avenged.

Three dots representing “my crazy life” (vida loca) refers to the gang lifestyle, but no particular gang; typically applied at the corner of the eye or between the thumb and index finger. Sometimes three dots, like three crosses, represents the holy trinity of Christianity. 

Five dots between the thumb and forefinger represents time done in prison. It’s found internationally. Located elsewhere on the body, this design may mean association with the People Nation gang.

A clock with no hands represents doing time and a lot of it. Ditto watch without hands or an hourglass.

Barbed wire tattoos are fairly common and many have no specific meaning. Sometimes each barb represents a year served in prison.  On the forehead, such tattoos typically mean serving a life sentence.

Laughing and crying clown faces/masks often means “Laugh now, cry later” attitude of the gang lifestyle.

Gender As a Factor in Prison/Gang Tattoos

Although there is much online discussion of convict tattoos in general, most of the images shown feature men. From this, with an overlay of gender stereotypes, one might conclude that tattoos among female inmates are rare.  But I found one research paper to the contrary.

“This study confirmed that there is a high frequency of tattoos among female offenders, but disproved the hypothesis that the frequency would be higher and more aggressive among violent offenders in comparison to non-violent offenders. Based on these findings, non-violent female offenders were more likely than violent female offenders to have a tattoo or tattoos, to have multiple tattoos, and to have aggressive or masculine tattoos. However, offenders convicted of violent crimes like robbery and assault or battery had the most visible tattoos, primarily located on the hands, face, fingers, and wrists.” 

(Sullivan, Megan, “Crimes Committed By Tattooed Female Offenders and the Significance of Body Art Content and Location” (2011). All Regis University Theses. 48 (.https://epublications.regis.edu/theses/483

I found no indication that the images and/or their meanings differ by gender. 

And according to Wikipedia, “Forced and enslaved prostitutes are often tattooed or branded with a mark of their owners. Women and girls being forced into prostitution against their will may have their boss’ name or gang symbol inked or branded with a hot iron on their skin. In some organizations involved with the trafficking of women and girls, like the mafias, nearly all prostitutes are marked. Some pimps and organizations use their name or well-known logo, while others use secret signs.  Some years ago, the branding mark was usually small, only recognized by other pimps, and sometimes hidden between the labia minora, but today some “owners” write their names in big letters all upon the body of the victim.”

Bottom line: Tattoos can carry a lot of meaning. When deciphering that meaning, tread carefully.

TATTOO!

Quick: what’s the first thing that came to mind?

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the 1963 film of the same name
Vladimir Franz, a candidate for the Czech Presidency in 2013

Last week, a woman said to me (approximately), “People  think permanent make-up is a new thing, but Cleopatra’s famous eyes were tattooed on. Soot was applied with knives.” I’d never heard such a thing, and I’ve actually been to Egypt. I always assumed her face was painted. As with anything that pricks my curiosity, I googled it. Lo and behold, it’s a much more complicated topic than I ever considered.

Bontoc Warrior with Chaklag Tattoos

Basically, any time an indelible design is created by inserting pigment under the epidermis, the result is a tattoo. Tattooing has been practiced in various cultures over centuries.

How Many Centuries? 

Ötzi the Iceman

As for bodily evidence of tattoos, for a long time the oldest known examples were Egyptian mummies, dated about 2000 BCE. However, Ötzi the Iceman, found on the Italian-Australian border in 1991, pushed that back. His mummified skin has at least 60 tattoos and was carbon dated a thousand years earlier, making him 5,200 years old.

This pre-Cucuteni figurine was made sometime between 4900 and 4750 BCE, with what look like evidence of cultural tattoos.

If one considers non-body evidence such as figurines and and paintings, then tattooing was practiced in Egypt in the Predynastic period, around 3100 BCE.

Tattooing Was Everywhere 

Moana was also the first Disney film to feature characters with tattoos!
Tätowierung Inuitfrau, an Inuit woman painted by Jens Peder Hart Hansen, circa 1654

The word tattoo started as the Polynesian word ta, meaning to strike. It evolved into the Tahitian word tatatau, meaning to mark something. As seen in the animated film Moana, these traditional tattoos were applied by means of rapidly striking a bamboo rod to drive an inked thorn into the skin.

A marriageable girl of the Koita people of Papua New Guinea, who had new tattoos added every year since she was five years old

In nearly every ancient culture, such as those in Greece and Rome to Native Americans, Japanese, sub-Saharan African, Australian Aboriginal, and Innuit, evidence has shown that tattooing was and most modern cultures tattoos were and are everywhere.

But Why Tattoo?

Preserved skin of a British military deserter, tattooed with a D
  • A cultic symbol dedicating the wearer to a specific god or belief
    • For example, Amunet was a priestess of the goddess Hathor.
  • As a brand signifying servitude/slavery/shame
    • For example adulterers marked with an A, T for thief, etc.
  • As a professional identification (e.g., prostitute, priestess)
  • As a permanent amulet seeking protection
    • Sailors having anchor tattoos or miners with lamps tattooed on their foreheads were trying to bring good luck.
    • The patterns of tattoos on Egyptian women’s abdomens and thighs seem to have been for fertility and for protection during pregnancy and childbirth. 
Japanese prostitute of the Kansei Era (circa 1888) painted by Tsukiok Yoshitoshi
  • Tattoos may have been a therapeutic tool, similar to acupuncture. 
    • The Ice Man had tattoos on his hands, lower back, and feet in areas that showed signs of stress damage.
  • As a declaration of group membership (think Marines, college fraternities, or Nazis)
  • As a visible means of intimidating the enemy (think Maori warriors) or showing bravery or success in battle
  • As a personal symbol of a meaningful event (e.g., birth of a child) or belief (sayings of Jesus or Buddha), or tribute to a beloved person
  • And, of course, as pure body art/decoration
  • Tattoos used by gang members and prisoners are often extraordinarily complex and will be covered in a separate blog post of their own.
    • The tattoos used by the Nazis in concentration camps were a form of branding, not in the same class as voluntary markings prisoners have chosen to put on their bodies for various reasons.
  • Tattoos to repair or restore
    • Today, plastic surgeons often work with tattoo artists to cover scars, burns, the effects of alopecia or vitiligo.
    • Many women get tattoos on their breasts after cancer surgery.
      • Along with her other artistic work, Amy Black (Pink Ink Fund) is a tattoo artist well known in the Richmond, VA area, for creating realistic-looking nipples or other art for women who have had cancer surgery. 

Permanent Make-Up, the Daughter of General Tattooing  

The goal is to look natural, or like externally applied makeup, enhancing colors on the face, lips, eyebrows, and eyelids. This type of tattooing (also known as cosmetic tattooing, dermapigmentation, micropigmentation) is also older than one might think.

Tattooed Eyebrows and Eyeliner

The first documented permanent makeup artist was Sutherland MacDonald, in the U.K. in 1902! His specialty was “all-year-round delicate pink complexion”—i.e., rouged cheeks. By the 1920s, it was popular in the U.S. The tattooist George Burchett wrote about beauty salons that tattooed women using vegetable dyes without their knowledge under the rise of “complexion treatment.” (Personally, I can only imagine that those women were willfully ignorant, given that tattooing is generally an uncomfortable procedure with visible aftereffects, such as temporary scabbing.) 

Mrs. M Stevens Wagner, 1907

As with all matters of fashion, popularity varies over time. During the 1960s and 1970s, the popularity of tattoos took a sharp uptick. According to one article (the guardian.com) in 2016, a US poll revealed that 29% of people had a tattoo, up from 21% four years earlier. Of people born between 1982 and 2004, 47% have at least one.

General Considerations 

Whang-od Oggay is the last Mambabatok (master practitioner of the traditional Kalinga tattoo method) of the Butbut people of the Philippines.

Do multiple tattoos create a different impression from a single one? And if so, in what way? What difference does the reason for the tattoo make? What about the nature/content of the tattoo?

But Back to Cleopatra 

Retrato Femenino: Fresco of a woman believed to be Cleopatra from a villa in Roman Herculaneum, circa 1st Century CE

According to accepted academic evidence, in Egypt—unlike most cultures—only women were tattooed. The tattoos most often seemed related to fertility and childbirth, or identifying the woman as high ranking. However, I found nothing specific to Cleopatra’s face. Bummer.

Bottom Line

Permanent body decoration serves psychological and/or practical purposes for the tattooed one. In addition, body decorations send out a range of social signals—intentional or not. Think about it.

WHAT MODE OF TRANSPORTATION SAYS TO OTHER PEOPLE

Like other accouterments of our lives—housing, clothing, pets—how we get from Point A to Point B communicates to those around us—and not everyone draws the same conclusions! The following observations are some of the most common (or loudest) I’ve come across; different countries and time periods have had varied observations about modes of transportation. Like most stereotypes and public perceptions, the following are of varying degrees of truth.

As general background: when users have to decide which mode of transport to use (private car, public transport, cycling, walking, etc.) gender is often a more robust determinant than age or income!

Shank’s Mare (A.K.A. walking): the Oldest Mode 

If only we could see what was on the other side!
  • Seldom chosen as the primary or only way to get around
  • People on long pilgrimages (Hajj to Mecca, walking cross country to raise awareness for a cause, Gandhi’s march to the Sea)
  • Depending on other info, may indicate poverty or health awareness

Bicycle: Impressions Depend on Model, Condition, Etc.

Many cities in China have more bicycles than cars.

Bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles are almost always two-wheeled vehicles driven and steered by one rider. The distinctions are, like almost everything else, varied around the world and prone to blurring. A bicycle is powered entirely by the rider pedaling; a moped has a small motor attached to assist with pedaling in especially difficult environments. Bicycles are relatively easily modified for people with physical limitations, compared to cars and motorcycles.

  • People are in the best mood when riding bicycles
  • Can be inexpensive or very expensive, depending on type of bicycle and riding gear
  • Environmentally friendly 
  • Difficult to park securely in many places
  • Primarily for physical fitness
    • In fact, the vast majority of regular bicyclists in the US ride for transportation as they cannot afford a car and do not have access to public transit
  • Limited passenger capacity
    • Not as limited as most in the U.S. assume.
    • In Copenhagen, “’Cargo-bike moms’ are gentrifying the Netherlands.”

Scooter Impressions

Scooters are powered entirely by an engine, with a foot well for the seated rider’s legs. Unlike a car, all engine controls are in the handles.

Ambulance scooter with a sidecar for patients
  • Easy to drive
  • Cheaper and slower than a motorcycle
  • No safer than motorcycles 
  • Popular on very rural country rides for teenagers
  • More popular abroad than in the U.S.
  • Easier to maneuver and store in crowded areas
  • Driving permit requirements are often different from those of a car or motorcycle
    • Many areas don’t require permits at all
    • Iran and Saudi Arabia (among others) are questioning whether scooters fall under the same laws forbidding women to drive

Motorcycle Rider Stereotypes

Motorcycles and scooters are very similar, but a motorcyclist sits astride the seat. The engine of a motorcycle is generally more powerful than that of a scooter.

Bessie Stringfield rode her motorcycle from one end of America to the other, and as a dispatch rider in World War II.
  • Violent
  • Gang members
  • Harley riders are elitist and only care about brand; Other riders are effeminate
  • Reckless behavior
    • Stunt hooligans on the road
    • Prone to road-rage
    • Have a death wish
      • Emergency Response personnel sometimes refer to motorcycle riders as “Organ Donors,” but that is more because of the lack of safety gear than specific behavior patterns
  • Car haters
  • Uneducated rednecks
  • All young riders prefer sports bikes
“Dykes on Bikes” motorcycle club at a Pride rally
  • Physically tough appearance
    • Men have long, unkempt beards
    • Tattoos are common
    • Women dress provocatively
    • Lots of black leather, chains, spikes, gang markings, etc.
    • Gear is chosen to look tough rather than for practicality
  • Many of these perceptions are based on Hell’s Angels and other “outlaw motorcycle clubs”

Multi-Passenger Public Transportation

Public transport is much safer than automobiles (the above photo is an exception).  For example, bus and rail travelers are 20 times less likely to die en route than drivers. Even if self-driving and safety technology could reduce car by 90%, fatalities per passenger mile would still be twice as high in private automobiles.

Dogs ride free, right?
  • World-wide, the largest share of public transportation users are women
  • Bus and train riders experience the most negative emotions
    • Bus: poor people who cannot afford a vehicle/gas;
      • homeless/mentally ill people seeking temporary shelter from the elements.
    • Subway: city-dweller
    • Train: long-distance commuters;
      • More common in Europe and Asia, where train systems are much more comprehensive
    • Plane: long-distance (business or pleasure) travelers of means

Individual Cars

Private automobiles are especially dangerous if they don’t obey the laws of gravity.
So happy! He knows he’s going to the park.
  • The second happiest people are car passengers, followed by car drivers
  • Carpoolers: cut down air pollution
    • Lessen expenses of gas/parking
  • Private chauffeur
    • Renting a limousine or similar
  • Driver alone: not sociality responsible
    • Selfish or ego-centric
  • Taxi/Lyft/Uber: short distance trips for those valuing convenience
    • People who cannot drive for whatever reason (inebriation, tourist, moving larger than normal cargo, etc.)
    • Consider the possible conflicts between traditional taxi services and Lyft or Uber style companies, or even the conflict between drivers and management within those companies
  • Car drivers are so common that to dig into assumptions, it’s necessary to get into make and model

Other

Other methods of transportation are more common outside the US. Extreme climates, different resources, and distance have made what we might see as extraordinary into the everyday.

Ferries are common in highly populated areas on the water.
  • Dog sled, snow mobile, cross-country skiing
  • Bush plane
  • Tuktuk, marsrhutka, or any other kind of informal minibus system run by individual drivers
  • Horseback or horse-drawn vehicle (or donkey, mule, camel, etc.)
  • Canoe or kayak
  • Hitch-hiking
  • Rickshaw

BOTTOM LINE for writers: consider your choice and the reason for it!

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: MONEY

I have to work very hard not to spend all my money (and time) one books.

Money, money, money! It touches nearly every aspect of a person’s/character’s life—and deserves conscious decision making.

Does owning an entire city count as filthy rich?

How much money?  These are not scientific or economic terms, rather, the sorts of terms people use to describe themselves and/or others. The actual dollar amounts associated with the descriptors may vary. What would you/your character say? Point of information: people tend to make finer distinctions closest to where they peg themselves, lumping the extremes into bigger chunks.

Being penniless isn’t so bad when there are open barrels of food everywhere.
  • Penniless
  • Poverty stricken
  • Poor
  • Lower middle class
  • Middle class
  • Upper middle class
  • Well off
  • Rich
  • Filthy rich

*I’ve also seen income level defined by preferred fast food options. The scale ranges from Going to AA Meetings for Coffee, through Taco Bell and Chipotle, all the way up to Whatever the Private Chef Makes.

Social attitudes toward shopkeepers often depends on the quality of merchandise.

Source(s) of income: Note that respect for various sources of income varies widely. This often translates into treating people differently.

Musicians playing in a bar are often treated differently from musicians playing in a symphony hall, though their incomes are often almost identical.
  • Begging or panhandling
  • Gambling
  • Theft of various sorts, with or without another source
  • Illegal activities
  • SSI disability
  • Medicare/Medicaid 
  • Hourly wage
  • Entertainment, anything from a classical pianist to an exotic dancer
  • By the job/ piecework
  • Having multiple jobs
  • Salary
  • Salary plus bonuses
  • Stocks/bonds, dividends/interest
  • Trust funds
  • Family loans/gifts

Stability/predictability/security of income: Obviously, stability has implications for mental health and life stress. Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly makes achieving stability somewhat easier.

Some people value experience and travel more than money, making a living on the road, feeling the wind in their fur… er… hair.
Assassins are generally exempt from income and property taxes, though sales tax may still apply.

Thoughts on taxes: This could be the modern IRS, but the same questions could just as easily be applied to citizens providing magic spells or Zygloxans giving helium globules to the Grand Tyrant on Planet YT-3H81.

  • Taking fewer payroll deductions than allowed in order to assure a tax refund vs. planning to owe and have the use of the money in the meantime
  • Being willing to pay taxes or looking for ways to avoid paying them
  • Finding quasi-legal or outright illegal methods to get out of paying taxes
  • Carefully accounting for every expenditure or estimating
  • Moral objections to the use of taxes (such as Thoreau)

Attitude toward money: Not necessarily related to amount of income.

Making everything at home is a way to save money and ensure quality.
  • Always more where that came from
  • Easy come, easy go
  • Best to save for a rainy day/unexpected expense
  • Sacrifice now for a secure retirement/college tuition/whatever
  • Always live below your means
  • Clips coupons and shops sales
  • Shop resale/garage sales/etc.
  • Buy quality, not quantity
  • Budget every penny and then figure out which bills will have to remain unpaid

Money by comparison: Source(s), level, etc., of income, especially compared to family and friends.

Relationships can get really complicated if your friends sell you off for scientific experiments.
  • Similar
  • Comparable
  • Much above
  • Much below
  • Changed over your/your character’s lifetime
  • Income disparity causing conflict

Where the money goes:

  • Religious tithes
  • Charitable contributions
  • Necessities only
  • Whatever strikes one’s fancy
  • Luxuries, with or without guilt
  • Whatever is most visible to elicit praise, admiration, or envy from others
  • Hobbies (what?)
  • Supporting family or friends who need a hand
  • Pets
  • Back into a business
  • Stocks/bonds
  • Sponsoring people on social media as indirect advertisement
Partying with demons is surprisingly expensive.

How money is handled:

If these characters offer a loan, running away is probably the best response.
  • Cash only
  • Charge everything possible
  • Pay by debit card whenever possible
  • Pay bills as soon as one arrives
  • Have bills paid by bank debit
  • Pay at the last minute, sometimes incurring late fees
  • Tip lavishly or stingily?
  • Bank account
  • Checking account
  • Savings account
  • Needing to take payday or title loans
  • If having to choose food, rent/mortgage, utilities, gas/transportation, which?

Bottom Line: What other ways is money a lynchpin in the life of you / your character?

No matter how carefully one budgets and saves, it can all be taken away at any time when a horde of dragons comes by.

WORDS FROM WAR

In last week’s blog, I discussed nom de guerre, literally war name, that in current French usage has come to mean any pseudonym. Like any other in-group, soldiers develop their own jargon—which often lingers in subsequent slang, often with a morphed meaning.

This blog will showcase just a few such words/phrases.

US Army poster from WWI (Gordon Grant)

A.W.O.L. (Absent Without Leave) Even before the Civil War, this meant a soldier who has gone off without permission. Now business executives, teenagers, spouses—virtually anyone—can be AWOL, pronounced A-wall. The unexplained or unexcused absence is often trivial.

S.N.A.F.U. (Status Normal: All F*cked Up) The Marines are usually credited with this particular acronym, which originated during World War II. There is some evidence that radio operators came up with the phrase to give humorous meaning to a commonly used set of letters from coded messages. In modern usage, this acronym has essentially the same meaning, lacking only the cynical mocking of commanding officers. (S.U.S.F.U. [Situation Unchained: Still F*cked Up] was coined as a follow-up, but it has largely fallen out of use.

F.U.B.A.R. had several variations of meaning, though “F*cked Up Beyond All Repair” pretty much covers it. Occasionally, it was defined as “F*cked Up By A**holes in the Rear” to express frustration with military command issuing orders from the comfort and safety of their offices well out of harm’s way. Like SNAFU, it originated as military slang during World War II, and it has retained its original meaning in modern slang.

Ambulance Dogs in WWI were sent with medical supplies to find wounded soldiers who could not be otherwise reached. They were also called Mercy Dogs because, very often, all they could do was comfort the dying.

Basket case is used in a fairly lighthearted way today (often describing someone who repeatedly makes stupid mistakes, or who crumbles under pressure), but it has a strange history. Shortly after World War I, rumors circulated of multitudes of soldiers who had been so badly injured that they had to be carried from the battlefield in a barrow or basket, usually having lost all four of their limbs. This belief was so strong that it persists in the public imagination today despite direct evidence to the contrary. In 1919, the Surgeon General of the Army made a public statement that this was not the case, and only one quadruple amputee from the war is known to have survived. Ethelbert Christian lost all four limbs at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, but he learned how to walk on prosthetics and lived what appears to have been a full and happy life.

Blue-footed booby
In Spanish, “bobo” is a clown or a fool.

Booby-trap has been in use since the mid-19th century for a fairly harmless prank or practical joke. A “booby” was used in English slang to mean a stupid or gullible person as early as the late 17th century. But in WWI, it morphed into meaning an explosive device deliberately disguised as a harmless object. The English journalist Sir Philip Gibbs (1877-1962) said, “the enemy left … slow-working fuses and ‘booby-traps’ to blow a man to bits or blind him for life if he touched a harmless looking stick or opened the lid of a box, or stumbled over an old boot.”

As a nickname for body lice or head lice, cooties first appeared in trenches slang in 1915. It was presumably derived from the coot, a species of waterfowl known for being infested with lice and other parasites. Today it’s a children’s term for an imaginary germ or a repugnant quality transmitted by obnoxious or slovenly people.

In the 19th century, dingbat was used like thingamajig or whatchamacallit as a  placeholder for something or someone whose real name the speaker couldn’t come up with at the moment. It came to be used for a clumsy or foolish person during the First World War, before morphing to mean shell-shocked, nervous, or mad. Now it’s used for a stupid or eccentric person.

In British English, “to be in a flap,” meaning “to be worried,” dates from 1916. It was originally a naval expression derived from the restless flapping of birds, but quickly spread into everyday English during the First World War. The adjective unflappable, meaning unflustered or imperturbable, calm in the face of crisis, appeared in the 1950s as a reference to the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Son of a Gun is generally held to originate as a euphemism for the child of a military father away on a lengthy deployment (and thus somewhat suspicious paternity). In current usage, it is an epithet similar to “son of a bitch,” with positive or negative meanings depending on the speaker.

Brainwashing is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase xi nao, to wash the brain. During the Korean War, military reports estimated that 30% of American prisoners of war collaborated with their Korean and Chinese captors. To explain how this was possible, the media created the term brainwashing: systematic, intensive interrogation techniques and indoctrination procedures used by hostile forces to change allegiances of prisoners of war. The term gradually came to be used to label any change of opinion or allegiance—though it still implies unsavory, unfair, or unethical methods!

Skedaddle, meaning to run away or desert from military service, became popular during the American Civil War. Now it means to leave quickly or hurriedly, to run away. In true American fashion, the etymological origins of this word are a mix of many possible languages or perhaps none at all.

OMG (Oh My God!) is very often used as an abbreviation in electronic communication. The first appearance of OMG was in a sarcastic letter Lord Fisher, a retired Naval Admiral, sent to Winston Churchill in 1917, complaining about the number of knighthoods being bestowed upon Naval officers. It has become so common that people sometimes use it as an acronym when speaking aloud: “ohemgee!”

Kilroy or Kilroy Was Here might be considered a bit of visual military jargon that has made its way into common use. James Kilroy wrote his name on sections of Navy ships under construction to certify that he’d personally checked the welding. Because his name seemed to be everywhere, British and American service members took to writing it on every surface imaginable in Europe and Asia, most likely as good-luck totem. (The origins of the accompanying long-nosed, bald man are unknown, but it may have started as a British cartoon.) Kilroy is still one of the most commonly graffitied images in the world today, with or without his name.

Bottom line: Word meanings are fluid, so be aware of timeline and context in order to truly understand what the speaker is trying to communicate.

FIVE WOMEN WHO SHAPED PSYCHOLOGY

Share of female researchers by country: 2013 or closest year
Source” UNESCO Science Report towards 2030 data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Like so many professions, psychology has been male-dominated. Asked to name a psychologist, men like B. F. Skinner, John B. Watson, Stanley Milgram, and Sigmund Freud are likely to be mentioned —even though Freud was actually a medical doctor who founded psychoanalysis. But many of the most important movers and shakers in psychology were women. Here—in no particular order—is a brief introduction to just a few of them. I’m not including references; they are available on line in many forms.

Anna Freud 

(3 December 1895 – 9 October 1982) 
Anna Freud was born in Vienna, the sixth and youngest child of Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays.  She is reported to have had an unhappy childhood, and she did not have a close relationship with her mother.  Her older sister Sophie was the family beauty; Anna the one with brains.  She may have suffered from depression, and she went to health farms to rest, exercise, and gain weight, implying eating disorders. At the same time, Anna was a lively child with a reputation for mischief.

Contrary to other members of her family, she had a close relationship with her father—something both of the psychoanalytic Freuds must have had thoughts about!  Anna made good progress in most subjects, apparently mastering English and French and basic Italian easily.

Anna left her teaching career to care for her father. Sigmund Freud was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw in 1923. He underwent many operations and required long-term nursing assistance, which Anna provided. She also acted as his secretary and spokesperson, notably at the bi-annual congresses of the  International Psychoanalytical Association, which her father was unable to attend.

Ultimately, she followed in her father’s footsteps into psychoanalysis. Alongside Hermine Hug-Hellmuth and Melanie Klein, Anna Freud may be considered the founder of psychoanalytic child psychology. She is credited with expanding interest in child psychology.

Anna expanded on her father’s work. Although Sigmund Freud recognized the id, ego, and superego, Anna’s work emphasized the importance of the ego. Among her many accomplishments, my favorite is her development the concept of defense mechanisms.

Anna Freud never married. Her only partner of record (as far as I know) was Dorothy Burlingham.

Mary Salter Ainsworth

(December 1, 1913 – March 21, 1999)
Mary Dinsmore Salter Ainsworth was an American-Canadian feminist, army veteran, and developmental psychologist who specialized in child psychology.  Ainsworth devised an experiment called the “Strange Situation” in reaction to John Bowlby’s initial finding that infants form an emotional bond to its caregiver.

In Ainsworth’s experiments, the infant was placed in scenarios with or without the mother as well as with or without a stranger. The child’s behavior was observed in these “anxious” conditions. Ainsworth stated that infants react in 4 different attachment patterns (secure, ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized) based on the extent of their bond to their primary caregiver.

The “Strange Situation”

The eldest of three daughters, Mary Dinsmore Salter was born in Ohio to Mary and Charles Salter.  Although he possessed a master’s degree in history, her father worked at a manufacturing firm in Cincinnati.  Her mother, who was trained as a nurse, was a homemaker. Both valued education highly.  In 1918, her father’s manufacturing firm transferred him to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where Salter spent the rest of her childhood.

Salter was a precocious child. She began reading by the age of three. Similarly to Anna Freud, she was close with her father, who tucked her in at night and sang to her. Also like Anna Freud, Salter did not have a warm relationship with her mother.

Mary Salter excelled in school, and decided to become a psychologist at the age of 15.  She began classes at the University of Toronto at age 16, where she was one of only five students admitted to the honors course in psychology. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1935, her master’s degree in 1936, and her PhD in 1939, all at the University of Toronto.

Salter’s dissertation, “An Evaluation of Adjustment Based on the Concept of Security,” shaped her subsequent professional interest. Her dissertation stated that “where family security is lacking, the individual is handicapped by the lack of a secure base from which to work.”

In 1942, Salter left teaching to join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. She left the military in 1945 with the rank of Major.  She married Leonard Ainsworth, a graduate student in psychology, in 1950. They divorced in 1960.

While working at Johns Hopkins, Ainsworth did not receive the proper treatment considering her skills and expertise: she was paid less and had to wait two years for an associate professor position even though her qualifications surpassed the job description.  At the time, women and men had to eat in separate dining rooms, which ultimately meant women could not meet powerful male faculty members in the same informal way men could.  

She eventually settled at the University of Virginia in 1975, where she remained until her retirement in 1984. As a professor emerita she remained active 1992.

Ainsworth received many honors, including the G. Stanley Hall Award from APA for developmental psychology in 1984, the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Child Development in 1985, and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association in 1989. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.  She died of a stroke on March 21, 1999 at the age of eighty-five.

Mamie Phipps Clark 

(April 18, 1917 – August 11, 1983)
Mamie Phipps was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas and died  of cancer in New York City in 1983. She was the first Black woman to earn a degree from Columbia University, and the second Black student to earn a doctorate (after her husband Kenneth).

She entered Howard University in 1934 to study math and physics.  While still an undergrad, she met her future husband. Kenneth Clark was a master’s student in psychology and urged her to switch to psychology. Both her B.A. and M.A. degrees were from Howard. After graduating magna cum laude, she worked in a law office for a time before matriculating at Columbia.  Before graduating in 1943, she had had two children!

While working as a testing psychologist at an organization for homeless Black girls, Clark noted how limited mental health services were for minority children.  In 1946, Clark and her husband founded the Northside Center for Child Development, which was the first agency to offer psychological services to children and families living in the Harlem area of New York City. Mamie Clark served as the Northside Center’s director until her retirement in 1979.

In her now-classic experiment, the Clarks showed Black children two identical dolls, one Caucasian and one Black. The children were then asked a series of questions including which doll they preferred to play with, which doll was a “nice” doll, which one was a “bad doll,” and which one looked most like the child.

The researchers discovered that not only would 59% the children identify the Black doll as the “bad” one, nearly 33% selected the white doll as the one they most resembled. Her research was central to demonstrating that separate is not equal.

A mother and daughter celebrating Brown vs. Board of Education

Yes, she faced prejudice based on both her race and sex, but she went on to become an influential psychologist. She developed the Clark Doll Test as a tool for her research on racial identity and self-esteem. Her research on self-concept among minorities was ground-breaking. She played a role in the famous 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case.

Clark’s work on racial discrimination and stereotypes were important contributions to developmental psychology and the psychology of race. Her effort on the identity and self-esteem of Blacks expanded the work on identity development.

Clark is not as famous as her husband. It has been noted that she adhered to feminine expectations of the time and often took care to “remain in the shadows of her husband’s limelight.” She often seemed  shy. She achieved professional success while maintaining a fulfilling home life. She received a Candace Award for Humanitarianism from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1983.

Leta Stetter Hollingworth

(May 25, 1886 – November 27, 1939, of abdominal cancer)
An early pioneer in U.S. psychology, Leta Stetter Hollingworth made her mark by her research on intelligence testing and giftedness. In particular, contrary to her contemporaries beliefs in genetic determination, she believed that education and environment were important factors.

Important as that work was, I admire her especially for her research on the psychology of women! At the time, women were believed to be inferior to men, and their intellect and emotions were at the mercy of their menstrual cycle. Hollingworth’s research demonstrated that women are as intelligent and capable as men, no matter where they are in their monthly cycles.

When her mother died giving birth to her third child, her father abandoned the family. The children were reared by their mother’s parents for a decade, until her father reclaimed the children and forced them to live with him and his new wife.  Stetter later described the household as abusive, plagued by alcoholism and emotional abuse. Her education became a source of refuge.

Stetter left home when she graduated high school in 1902, at the age of 16, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Leta completed her bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in 1906 and married Harry Hollingworth in 1908. She moved to New York so that her husband could pursue his doctoral studies.  Originally she planned to continue teaching, but New York did not allow married women to teach high school at that time!

As a prime example of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” she enrolled at Columbia University and earned a master’s in education in 1913.  Leta Hollingsworth took a position at the Clearing House for Mental Defectives where she administered and scored Binet intelligence tests (testing for IQ).  She completed her Ph.D. in 1916 and took a job at Columbia’s Teachers College, where she remained for the rest of her career. 

She is also known for her work in the first two decades of the twentieth century that contributed in a small way to changing the views toward women that led to women having the right to vote in a nation that had too long denied them that right.  One of her students who became well known is Carl Rogers.

Although she died at age 53, her influence on psychology has been impressive.

Melanie Klein

(30 March 1882-22 September 1960)
Melanie Klein was a psychoanalyst who was pivotal in developing play therapy. Working with children, she observed that they often utilize play as one of their primary means of communication. Play therapy is commonly used today to help children express their feelings and experiences.  Young children aren’t able to participate in some of the more commonly used Freudian techniques, such as free association. Klein used play as a way to study children’s unconscious feelings, anxieties, and experiences.

Note: This was a major disagreement with Anna Freud, who believed younger children could not be psychoanalyzed.  Today, Kleinian psychoanalysis is one of the major schools of thought within the field of psychoanalysis.

At the age of 21 Melanie Reizes married an industrial chemist, Arthur Klein, and soon after gave birth to their first child; subsequently, she had 4 more children. She suffered from clinical depression, and these pregnancies taking quite a toll on her. This and her unhappy marriage led Klein to seek treatment. She began a course of therapy with psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, during which she expressed interest in studying psychoanalysis.

In 1921, Klein moved to Berlin and joined the Berlin Psycho-Analytic Society under the tutelage of Karl Abraham. Even with Abraham’s support for her pioneering work with children, neither Klein nor her ideas received general support in Berlin. As a divorced woman who did not even hold a bachelor’s degree, Klein was a clear outsider within a profession dominated by male physicians. Nevertheless, Klein’s early work had a strong influence on the developing theories and techniques of psychology.

As I said in the beginning, these are just a few examples of women who deserve more recognition and credit. There are many. 

For example, Mary Whiton Calkins attended Harvard without being formally admitted. Although she had completed all of the requirements for a doctorate, Harvard refused to grant her the degree on the grounds that she was a woman. Even so, she became the first female president of the American Psychological Association in 1905.

Similarly, Christine Ladd-Franklin studied at John Hopkins and completed a dissertation, but the school did not grant women Ph.D.s at the time. Finally, in 1926, nearly 44 years after completing her degree work, John Hopkins awarded her a doctorate.

Bottom line: Choose any profession that interests you, look for members who made significant contributions to that profession but are under appreciated, and you will find women! 

Editor’s Note: One of the reasons women are under appreciated for their work is that they are missing from the historical record. To correct that problem, Suw Charman-Anderson declared the second Tuesday of every October to be Ada Lovelace Day, an opportunity to raise the profiles of women in STEM fields. One of the ways everyone can participate is by creating or improving the Wikipedia pages of significant women who are not as well-known as they should be.

UPENDING RELIGIOUS HISTORY

You may be aware by now that March is Women’s History Month. This year, it is also Lent in most Christian faiths, nearly Passover by the Jewish calendar, and almost Ramadan in Islam. I thought it a good time to focus on a female scholar of Abrahamic religious history who has had a great deal of impact on me (and on the entire field of religious study: Elaine Pagels (pronounced Pay-gulls).

I grew up in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, but by the time I reached high school science courses, I had concluded that the entire King James Bible couldn’t be literally, factually true. In addition, I resisted many biblical teachings about women and women’s roles in the world and in the family. And I started doubting that the words of the bible were the words of God.

I first became aware of Elaine Pagels (pronounced Pay-gulls), née Elaine Hiesey, by reading her book The Gnostic Gospels. This groundbreaking book examines the divisions in the early Christian church, and the way that women have been viewed throughout Jewish and Christian history. 

  • Gnostic
    • Adjective: relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge.
  • Gnostics
    • Noun: focused on eradication of ignorance.
Saints Athanasius and Cyril, believed by many to be responsible for establishing the “official” contents of the Bible at the Council of Nicea in 365

I came away with many questions, some of which I haven’t resolved to my satisfaction to this day:

  • What role did the patriarchal cultural and political structures of the time affect which of the various early Christian” books” would be brought together to become “the Bible”?
  • How many women were among the early followers and disciples of Jesus?
  • To what extent are the names attached to the books of the Bible accurate? (Except for Paul, little is known about any of the presumed authors.)
  • How much do the English translations of the Bible truly reflect the original language?
  • When whole panels of historians and scholars gather to make a revised Bible (e.g., The New Revised Standard Version),  how can people believe that the Bible isn’t open to interpretation?

Modern Library named The Gnostic Gospels as one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century.

Elaine Pagels, née Hiesey (born February 13, 1943), is an American religious historian. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Pagels has conducted extensive research into early Christianity and Gnosticism.  She started to learn Greek when she entered college, and read the Gospels in their original language.

She was part of the International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices, a team studying the Nag Hammadi Library manuscripts, also known as the “Chenoboskion Manuscripts” and the “Gnostic Gospels.” The thirteen papyrus codices were found sealed and buried outside the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. They contained several works written by members of the early Christian church and directly contradicted parts of the Bible that had been officially accepted doctrine for centuries.

Pagels received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981 for her work with the Nag Hammadi research and how it related to the development of early Christianity. With archaeological evidence, she demonstrated how controversies over scriptural interpretation relate to certain social and political situations. She has published widely on Gnosticism and early Christianity, and continues to pursue research interests on topics that include sexuality and politics, visions, and the origins of Christian anti-Semitism.

Facsimile of a volume of the Nag Hammadi
from the Coptic Museum of Cairo
Nag Hammadi Codex II
from the Coptic Museum of Cairo

Elaine Pagels’s most recent book is very different from her publication. Why Religion? A Personal Story is a description of her own relationship with religion and how it changed over time. She discusses what originally led to her questions of faith in 7th grade and how studying religion helped her get through the loss of her young son and husband. With her own story, Pagels confronts questions of religion’s place in modern society and how religious traditions shape personal experiences.

In 2013 she received an honorary law degree from Harvard University, her alma mater. Elaine Pagels was awarded the National Medal for the Arts by President Barack Obama in 2016.

Pagels deserves attention during Women’s History Month because she has led so many to separate scholarship, belief, and doctrine, and to examine the role of each.

PSYCHOLOGY OF CULTS

Cults are nothing new. Indeed, if asked to name a cult, you could probably name a few. In ancient Greece and Rome, a cult was simply the care owed to a deity, the rituals carried out at a shrine or temple. A mystery cult was a religious group that celebrated a minor god or goddess or a lesser-known aspect of a deity’s history. The word “cult” has different connotations today.

Janja Lalich, Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico, is a big gun in cult research.  Her website, Cult Research, provides extensive information about the mental mechanics involved in cults. She has also included resources for recognizing signs of a cult and how to help others who may have been impacted by a cult.

Modern Cults

There have been too many cults to count throughout history, but the vast majority have been small and soon forgotten. A post on Insider.com listed the six most notorious cults in history. (These cults have been extensively discussed and researched by people who were kind enough to share their findings online.) 

  • The (Charles) Manson Family famously murdered seven people over the course of two nights. Their stated intention was to start a race war. The Manson Family was formed in the late 60s.
  • Members of Heaven’s Gate were told that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus, that God was an alien, and that the end of the world was near. In 1997, 39 members died after ingesting barbiturates and putting plastic bags over their heads. It is the largest mass suicide on US soil.
  • The Children of God was founded in 1968 as a system of communal living under the strict teachings of preacher David Berg. Multiple former members have testified that the church used prostitution as a recruitment tool and engaged in widespread child trafficking and sexual abuse. The organization later rebranded to The Family of Love International, and it is still active online.
  • Jim Jones founded The People’s Temple in Indianapolis in 1955 but moved the band to Guyana, and called the place Jonestown, in 1977. Reports of member abuse followed the group from place to place. In 1978, Jones instructed all of his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. More than 900 people died. This is the origin of the slang expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” meaning a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea.

From the Wikipedia entry on cults:

“In modern English, a cult is a social group that is defined by its unusual religiousspiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or by its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. This sense of the term is controversial, having divergent definitions both in popular culture and academia, and has also been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.  The word ‘cult’ is usually considered pejorative.”

Cults are attractive because they promote a feeling of comfort, and because they satisfy the human desire for absolute answers.

Characteristics Common to Cult Leaders 

Lists of characteristics vary in inclusiveness and contain both personality and behavioral characteristics.

Personality
  • Narcissism shows up on every list
  • Charisma is an essential quality
  • Personal proclivities that shape what’s expected of group members
  • Need for control/maintain power imbalance
  • Psychopath
  • Often delusional, believing their own teachings 
Behavior
  • Offer tantalizing promises
  • Be unpredictable (reactions, appearances, next demands)
  • Organize “love bombs” for new recruits
  • Promote an us vs. them mentality, feelings of superiority
  • Isolate members from family, former friends
  • Public humiliation of established members
  • Demand detailed acknowledgment of individual fears and mistakes
  • Repeat various lies and distortions till members can’t recognize reality
  • Promote paranoia: a group, family or government is out to get members
  • Encourage members to spy on each other

Writing in Psychology Today in 2012, Joe Navarro, M.A., presented his personal list of 50 clues to identifying cult leaders.  Listed below are several of his items.

  • A grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve
  • Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance
  • Demands blind, unquestioned obedience
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement or power
    • Expects to be treated as special at all times
    • Expects to be able to bend rules and break laws without repercussion
  • Arrogant and haughty
  • Hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others
    • Is highly dependent on tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments
    • When criticized, lashes out with rage
    • Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy”
  • Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly; often reacts with rage
  • Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy
    • Habitually puts down others as inferior
  • Ignores the needs of others, including biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs
  • Frequently boastful of accomplishments
  • Needs to be the center of attention 
    • The word “I” dominates his conversations
  • Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated, or exploited for personal gain
  • Is deeply offended by signs of boredom, being ignored, or being slighted
  • Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong, nor does he apologize
  • Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems
  • Works the least but demands the most
  • Sees self as “unstoppable” and perhaps has even said so

Characteristics Common to Cult Members

  • Female: world-wide, 70% of cult members are women
    • Explanations for this vary
  • Generally average sorts of people. No trends in location, income, etc.
  • Suffer low self-esteem, making them especially susceptible to love bomb (compliments, etc.)
  • Many have rejected standard religions
  • Intelligent
  • From sheltered environments
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Strive for perfectionistic goals
  • Often have no idea they are in a cult!

Characteristics Common to Religious Cults 

  • It opposes critical thinking
  • Isolates members and punishes them for leaving
  • Emphasizes special doctrines outside accepted scriptures
  • Seeking inappropriate loyalty to leaders
  • Devalues the family unit
  • Crossing boundaries of behavior (especially sexual) set in accepted religious texts
  • Separation from the main religious structure

Common Recruiting Tactics 

  • Target people who are stressed, emotionally vulnerable, have tenuous or no family connections, or are living in adverse socioeconomic conditions.
  • People who were neglected or abused as children may be easily recruited because they crave the validation denied them in their childhood
  • High school and new college students are good targets for cult recruitment since they’re still forming their identity and (in the case of college students) have recently been separated from their families
    • One old (1980) study of 1000 high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 54% reported at least one recruitment attempt by a cult member, and 40% reported 3 to 5 contacts
  • I can only imagine that the rise of various social media platforms would have exploded those numbers.

Damage to Cult Members 

Various research has established that former cult members suffer long-term negative effects. Dr. John G Clark, Jr, of Harvard University works with former cult members and their families identifies the following 

  • Increased irritability
  • Loss of libido or altered sexual interest
  • Ritualism
  • Compulsive attention to detail
  • Mystical states
  • Humorlessness
  • Heightened paranoia

Because these are symptoms similar to temporal lobe epilepsy, it’s reasonable to assume that membership in a cult is a brain-changing experience. 

Bottom line: There is much we can and should learn about cults—possibly in our lives, certainly in the world around us. Many of these qualities and behaviors are present to some degree in people who aren’t actual cult leaders or members. Still, they provide fodder for compatible/consistent constellations of attitudes and behaviors. Think character creation!

Hot Fuzz, in addition to being a great movie, provides an example of two cults working against each other and destroying individuals in the way.