Putting a Bell on the Cat — The Principle of the Silver Headed Cane

by Jake Block
Most children learn the tale of the mice who put a bell on the cat so that they would be aware of his presence and they could guard against attack.  We put bells and beepers and brightly colored  signs on things that are dangerous, or likely to harm us if we get too close for our own good.   People respond well to symbology, like the skull and crossbones, long used to indicate that some substances were poison and not for human consumption, or the lightning bolt warning against shock, or simply the word DANGER, in whatever language is most likely to be read by workers and/or passersby.

In the olden days of the traveling carnivals, there were often times when the carnies might be running a somewhat less than legitimate “game of chance” in which the house odds were such that the player never had a chance to win.  This could be anything from marked cards to serving alcohol in a dry county, to some of the girls “working strong” (dancing topless or nude), or prostitution going on in the caravans while the sideshow attractions kept the rubes busy.  As you might imagine, there were always those from the local police, or politicians eager to bolster their careers by shutting down illegal gambling and other vices.  So, the carnival owners did their due diligence, and found out who in the community might be their biggest headache and keep them from making an extra buck or two when visiting their town.  They needed a way to see their enemy before he could see what was happening around them.  The tradition of the silver headed cane was born.
“Carnival canes” have long been a tradition in the numerous carnivals that criss crossed the heartland of America in the 20’s 30’s and 40’s.  They were cheaply made bamboo canes from the orient, usually with a papier mache or cheap glass head of a clown or animal.  Quite collectible today, at the time they were throw-aways that people would spend $5.00 on in chances, hoping to get the expensive top shelf awards that nobody ever won.  So, it would not be unusual to see hundreds of people carrying canes… they were everywhere.  But the lowly carnival cane became a distinct warning to carneys who were in the know with the addition of some silver paint, a few garish ribbons and glitter.  Some carnivals even had “KING or QUEEN of the MIDWAY” banners that they would bestow ceremoniously upon their adversary.
“Keep this with you at all times when you’re on the Midway,” they said.  “As King of the Midway, all your rides and food are free!  Bring your family and their day is on us too!”  The bell was around the cat’s neck and he had been neutralized as a threat.  Whenever the mark, be it Mayor, Chief of Police, etc. carried his cane and wore his sash, his wife and kids in tow, they were visible to the carneys running the games and the women dancing and “entertaining,” and what they took in freebies was minor, compared with the profits to be made.  For their show of good will, the carnivals generally received less scrutiny than they would if they just operated as usual and hoped they didn’t get caught.
In the early days of the Church of Satan, there was a special code that was placed on the back of membership cards for people who were “problematic.”  It wasn’t used often, so when someone in authority, an Agent or Priest saw the code word, they automatically knew that the person had made them self enough of a problem to be noted at the Central Grotto level.  They effectively became persona non grata, and were pretty much excluded from anything important within the Church or social functions of an affiliated Grotto… IF any Grotto would even take them in the first place.  It was the silver headed cane on a world wide basis, activated simply by the presenting of one’s identity card.
In today’s internet world, the silver headed cane is still visible but, for the most part, people bestow it upon themselves through their boorish behavior and disruption of websites to which they belong.  It isn’t long before people simply get tired of their antics and freeze them out.  Their handles become recognized and the deeds that they do precede them like lightning before the thunder’s crash.  Just knowing they are in the area sets those who call the sites home on edge… the back channels buzz between members and soon, when the aberrant one shows their true colors on their current target web, they are quick to be recognized and stratified; rendered irrelevant and left to wither on the vine like grapes that might have an interesting quality by themselves, but when introduced into the harvest pressing, prove to be too acidic for general consumption and fail to make the grade.
There are those who might say that the principle of the silver headed cane is a form of censorship and discrimination.  That could well be, but site and page owners have are simply using the tools at their disposal to purify and enrich the quality of their membership through the exclusion of people who contribute little of substance and inject behavioral problems into their groups.  Online groups are not democracies and are not required to entertain those whose purpose is to disrupt and/or insert their personal agendas into the fabric of their communities.  Welcome to the MIdway, friends and neighbors!  Enjoy the rides and attractions there are to share.  But if you find yourself being awarded a silver headed cane, you have no one to blame but yourself.

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