In the old days our ancestors often appealed to a set of household gods to help them “magically” achieve one tricky task or another — to make sure, for example, the fire burned, the bread rose, and the beer bubbled. These domestic spirits are the boggarts, brownies, dobbies, hobgoblins, and pucks of British folklore (and Harry Potter).
It’s clear this belief in household gods persists to this day, only now we call them household brands. Like household gods, household brands vary from family to family and are part and parcel of your cultural background.
In my case, the brands that spring to mind are: WD-40, Arm & Hammer baking soda, McIlhenny Co. Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce, and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. To me these all share a certain “magical” quality, and somehow I don’t feel quite right unless I have them in my house.
I can also think of two brands that are in danger of losing their household god status: Morton Salt and C&H Pure Cane Sugar. I no longer feel quite so compelled to have these on my pantry shelf, and it may be no coincidence that I’ve become intrigued by gourmet salts and sugars — you often want to replace one bit of magic with another.
So, what are your household gods?
The recent brouhaha over the Burning Man trademark got me to thinking about the role of the Otherworld in pop culture. One common feature of Indo-European mythology (as well as of many other cultures) is the concept of an alternate world — existing side by side with ours — where the conventions of “our” society are flouted (or even reversed) and which can be entered into only at special times or places. The Welsh land of Annwfn, the Breton city of Ys, Arthur’s Avalon, and the Lord of the Rings’ elvish realm of Lothlórien are all descendants of this very rich mytheme.
I suspect this age-old tradition continues to play a major role in modern American society, exemplified by such cultural touchstones as “escapist” entertainment (In A World Where … ), Las Vegas (What Happens In Vegas … ), Disneyland (The Magic Kingdom), and Halloween (when the worlds of the living and the dead intersect). The Burning Man festival, of course, has quickly become the countercultural event par excellence (note the literal meaning of the word counterculture). If it’s creators want it to keep that unique status and not be replaced by something else, they need to tread very carefully. The Otherworld is by its very nature ephemeral and not to be trifled with!