Dita von TeeseToday I went to see Dita von Teese at a book signing. I was quite disappointed. In the flesh, she’s just another normal person – albeit with a more interesting sense of fashion and plenty of makeup. Another fantasy bubble popped. I often forget how the camera distorts reality – when I see a celebrity I’m often surprised at how unlike their media image they are.

The concept of ‘glamour’ appears a lot in traditional European witchcraft. It is one of those terms that seems to have both a general meaning and a specific one. In general, a glamour is any spell cast over another person. In particular, it seems to be principally concerned with perception. The ability to employ glamour is the ability to appear to someone in a way other than the way you really are. Austin Osman Spare claimed to have been taught by an old witch who, despite being a haggard old lady, could make herself appear to be a beautiful young girl.

In Old Norse soul lore, a distinction is made between the ‘hamr’ and the ‘lík’. The lík is the physical, corporeal body. It is the real blood and guts of which we are all made. But the hamr is the idea of our physical self. It is the way that we appear to be. When one first learns to see through the hamr and perceive the lík beneath, it can come as quite a surprise to realise that most of the time people do not see each other’s real bodies but rather see the idea of their bodies. This is a useful skill to develop, not just because it allows you to see through other people’s projections of their self-image but also because it allows you to manipulate your own. The hamr is plastic – that is, it can be moulded into the shape that you desire. This idea appears in the Old Norse literature when the magician lies still, as if he is asleep or dead, and then appears elsewhere (usually in the form of an animal) to engage his enemy. It is his lík that lies still while his hamr is projected by the force of his hamingja. A more obvious phenomenon that fits into this category is that of shape-shifting. The magician does not physically change shape – his lík remains the same – but he wills his hamr into a different shape and it is the hamr that most people perceive.

A vaguely similar idea, which really is only vaguely similar, is the theory of morphogenetic fields proposed by Dr Rupert Sheldrake. Although his theories have been largely discredited by the scientific community, they can be of some use in exploring the idea of glamour even if they don’t correspond to scientifically measurable effects.

I only got a brief glimpse of Dita von Teese but I got the distinct impression that her glamour is the result of talented photographers rather than her own personal presentation. Or maybe I just saw through it.

Published in: on April 24, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good points here. Regarding hamr, there is truth in the saying “fake it til you make it”. But it is not an easy art. What comes to celebrities, it is indeed seldom of their own making.

  2. I had the pleasure of accompanying a friend to one of David Attenborough’s book signings. His warmth and enthusiasm came across as strongly in person as projected on screen. Perhaps authenticity is the key to prolonged appeal.

  3. well, i think dita is a product and decidedly so, so i personally wouldn’t be too disappointed if the glam of her pics didn’t shine through. it’s a distinctly pale and evocative (“put your fantasy into me”) kind of glamour anyway, i think, possibly why it works for so many.more glamour comes from photoshop than from real people, that’s for sure. but occasionally one gets lucky and meets someone with a healthy and powerful hamingja. very few know they have one, though, or have any idea what to do with it or how. to change shape most just take to the Eye or something Green. ;)

  4. I’d never actually seen much of Dita before but I read an interview with her in which she seemed to be saying interesting things about glamour. I got the quite probably mistaken impression that she wasn’t just another media product.While I was there I had a look at the book she was promoting and was distinctly unimpressed, both by her writing and the photos. Anyway, it gave me an excuse to write something about glamour.

  5. that’s very interesting. i’ve noticed i sometimes see things about people that aren’t actually there – an ill man looked totally grey for a few seconds, then when i looked more closely his hair was brown again, etc.i think a lot’s to do with the way people move, which isn’t generally represented in photographs. It’s maybe easier to fake a look in stasis.

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