The word ‘trivia’ has an interesting etomology. It origins lie in ‘trivium’ – a place where three roads meet – a place of passing, a place of crashing. It doesn’t sound entirely comforting. No wonder crossroads have a bad reputation. Another (slightly more prejudiced and no kinder) interpretation has it that it might mean the equivalent of a street corner where gossip and chit-chat and ‘low’ debate prevailed. The adjective form ‘trivailis’ meant open or public space. ‘Public’ of course implicitly suggests ‘people’ particularly from those of a certain class of people who aren’t particularly trustworthy with perhaps vulgar opinion. Perhaps suitably the Goddess Triva, was a Roman Goddess who haunted crossroads and graveyards whose approach was heralded by the barking of dogs. She was known as the Queen of Ghosts (and perhaps ancient Roman blues guitarists). She was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Goddess Hecate, the Goddess of the three-way crossroads, the harvest mood and who of course is well known in witchcraft history.

At any rate it suggests a Babel of voices, an unimportance of opinion though conversely during medieval times, a liberal arts education from a university consisted primarily of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, called a “trivium”.  After the trivium was completed, students would then be commonly taught the quadrivium, consisting of geometry, astronomy, music, and arithmetic. [1]

Crossroads were also said to be the place where the barrier between this world and other different dimensions or even the next world was at its thinnest. Hence devils, demons and ghosts were able to break through and offer certain deals with mortals in exchange for usually their soul or the like. Imagine it as ancient midnight spam coming from the Devil rather than Nigerian Princes. Send me your soul and you’ll be a sure-fire hit on the guitar and with the girls… Not so different from today. There’s always a wolf.

The wolf of course was also intimately associated with Rome. The city’s mythical founders, Romulus and Remus (the sons of Mars or possibly even Hercules and Rhea Silva, a Vestal Virgin) who had been thrown into the river as infants by King Amulius and were saved by the river god, Tibernus who calmed the river and rescued by a female wolf who looked after them until a herdsman found them.

Mostly wolves however were cast as tricksters and murderers, especially in myth and folk tales. They were used either as a warning or as a method of subtle (or not so subtle) control of girls and young women. The following came with the first edition of Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé, or Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose stories) by Charles Perrault, published in 1697:

Children, especially attractive, well-bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say, “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.

In Perrault’s version of the Red Riding Hood tale there is an explicit warning as to the fate of young girls in particular with dark hints of seduction and even child abuse. It is noticeable that the wolf doesn’t just eat Red as she comes through her grandmother’s cottage front door but asks her to get into bed with him and eats her then. Perrault was part of the court at Versailles at the time of Louis VIX and no doubt was witness to the many scandals that occurred within and near the Royal household. Perrault was not however an aristocrat but had risen from middle-class origins therefore he had first hand knowledge of the lower classes. It is significant that Red is a peasant country-girl. It is likely he was aware of instances where young peasant girls had been taken as mistresses by the aristocracy then cast aside when they became pregnant.

The story became very popular with versions appearing throughout Europe, with the wolf sometimes being changed to an ogre for instance in Rome, where the wolf was seen more positively as indicted above. Inevitably someone decided that the ending was inappropriate and required a ‘happier’ denouement. That someone was Charles Marelles, who in “The True History of Little Golden-Hood,” assured the children that Red lived and the evil wolf died.  Perhaps he had something slightly feminist in him. More likely he didn’t realise a morality tale with a happy ending is pretty pointless.

In fact it is possible that Perrault may have adapted a much earlier story called The Grandmother’s Tale which details female rites of passage and the ‘traditional’ female occupations of sewing and seam-stressing. In this tale the young girl (without red hood or cloak) meets a werewolf at a crossroads which splits off to the Path of Pins and the Path of Needles. The werewolf asks her which path she will take to her grandmother’s house and she chooses the Path of Pins. He then races via the Path of Needles to her grandmother’s cottage and kills and eats most of the grandmother apart from some of the body and blood. When the girl reaches the cottage, the werewolf persuades her to eat the body and drink the blood (sounds familiar perhaps to those with a Catholic upbringing!) and then come to bed. The girl recognising the wolf pretends to go to the toilet but escapes with the werewolf in pursuit. She meets some laundresses at a river who help her across by making a bridge from cloth. The werewolf moments later meets the same women who agree to help him across but when he is half way across the women let go of the cloth bridge and he drowns.

The Grandmother’s Tale can be seen as a type of female rites-of-passage metaphor. Pins and needles were widely used as symbolic elements representing sexuality in oral folktales especially those written by women or set in the female work environment. In villages in France at the onset of puberty girl were sent to seamstresses for one winter. Yvonne Verdier wrote extensively about this:

Writing about a village in the Châtillonnais, she noted “This had less to do with learning to ‘work,’ to sew and use needles, than with refining herself, with polishing herself and learning to adorn herself, to dress up. The seamstress expressed this by saying of her young apprentices, ‘They have been gathering pins.’ When they reached the age of fifteen, both the winter with the seamstress and the ceremonial entry into the age group consecrated to St. Catherine signified their arrival at maidenhood (la vie de jeune fille), that is, permission to go dancing and to have sweethearts, of which the pin seemed to be the symbol. It was by offering them dozens of pins that boys formerly paid court to girls; it was by throwing pins into fountains that girls assured themselves a sweetheart.” [2]

The cannibalistic elements in the story may refer to the cycle of life in which the young replace the old and in turn are replaced themselves and it seems more pagan in spirt than Christian, even if symbolically they are similar to the Eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church. In this tale it is noticeable that the wolf is not just a wolf but a werewolf, a lycanthrope. In other words, a human most of the time. This might explain the glaring objection to the story of Red and the wolf in most versions of the story. How could anyone mistake a wolf for a (possibly) elderly women? Terri Windling in her excellent article on the subject comments that:

Marina Warner points out in her fairy tale study From the Beast to the Blonde — it’s odd that the granddaughter can’t tell the difference. Perhaps, Warner suggests, it’s because there’s a similarity between the wolf and the crone. The grandmother lives apart in the forest — an unusual place for a helpless old woman, but a common dwelling for wise-women, witches, herbalists, and other femmes sauvage. Warner writes, “In the witch-hunting fantasies of early modern Europe they [wolf and crone] are the kind of beings associated with marginal knowledge, who possess pagan secrets and are in turn possessed by them. Both dwell in the woods, both need food urgently (one because she’s sick, the other because he hasn’t eaten in three days), and the little girl cannot quite tell them apart.”  [3]

The Brothers Grimm also chose a happier ending albeit Red and her Grannie still got eaten but swallowed whole by the wolf so rescuable by a passing huntsman.


We still like happy wolf stories. We even like wolf stories that are fake. A recent photo (above) on Facebook depicted a wolf-pack walking in single file through the snow with an accompanying text:

A wolf pack: the first 3 are the old or sick, they give the pace to the entire pack. If it was the other way round, they would be left behind, losing contact with the pack. In case of an ambush they would be sacrificed. Then come 5 strong ones, the front line. In the center are the rest of the pack members, then the 5 strongest following. Last is alone, the alpha. He controls everything from the rear. In that position he can see everything, decide the direction. He sees all of the pack. The pack moves according to the elders pace and help each other, watch each other. 

Though the photo above is real its context has been sentimentalised and trivialised as a kind of feel-good message for the Facebook generation.

The Photo actually depicts:

A massive pack of 25 timberwolves hunting bison on the Arctic circle in northern Canada. In mid-winter in Wood Buffalo National Park temperatures hover around -40°C. The wolf pack, led by the alpha female, travel single-file through the deep snow to save energy. The size of the pack is a sign of how rich their prey base is during winter when the bison are more restricted by poor feeding and deep snow. The wolf packs in this National Park are the only wolves in the world that specialize in hunting bison ten times their size. They have grown to be the largest and most powerful wolves on earth. [4]

There even seems to be a debate as to whether ‘alpha’ wolves actually exist within lupine society. At any rate whilst the photo is real (a still from a BBC documentary) it is a sign of how we need to andromorphise animal society. We have to believe they have ‘human’ traits and a common decency so they can fit in to our scheme of things. We have to de-animalise them. We have to convince ourselves that nature isn’t all tooth and claw and is in fact merely a part of some higher self that we have. This of course in once sense quite harmless and even cute. Nobody really cares if you give your cat a stupid name. However for example:

Despite the physics-based explanation for smoke shapes after an explosion, many saw Satan’s face in the smoke after Flight 175 crashed into one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. When president George W. Bush later said “Today our nation saw evil,” this image served for many as literal proof. [5]

That’s the other side of this ‘inspiration’ society, a desire to see spurious agency in everything, a negation of the real and an obsession with the trivial. In a way we haven’t progressed that much from the likes of Salem where the devil was a useful device to get rid of people you didn’t like and an excuse for when things went wrong, why the harvest failed, why that women didn’t marry you etc etc. As is pointed out:

When it comes to explaining these seemingly random occurrences, physics, meteorology, engineering, and neuroscience can provide factual explanations for all. But these answers are complicated and, frankly, most of us aren’t willing to invest time in understanding them. However, “the presence of a mind provides an intuitive explanation for all three without any advanced degrees,” Epley writes. “Desires and goals describe why an agent starts and stops…[and] beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and emotions all help to describe the direction and nature of an action.” However imprecise and inaccurate ascribing these mental states on inanimate objects may be, it provides us with functional, accessible explanations for events we don’t understand. (Ibid)

It seems to be hard-wired into us to make up a story even when the stimuli are minimal and abstract:

In the 1940s, Heider and Simmel made a silent cartoon animation in which two triangles and a circle move against and around each other and a diagram of a house. Virtually all people (except for autistic kids) make up a social plot in which the big triangle is seen as an aggressor. Studies have shown that the movements of the shapes cause automatic animistic perceptions. The movement of the shapes is very social and natural looking. When we speed up or slow the animation, or run it backward, the illusion of humanlikeness disappears. [6]

Of course the stories are mostly to our advantage or to blame someone else. It rarely occurs to people that she didn’t marry you because you’re a jerk. Especially in this ‘be yourself’ society. This is not an age of self-reflection which is ironic as this is the age of the ‘selfie’. The other side of the coin of the anthropomorphic is dehumanisation. For all the inspiration message and cute kitten videos the internet in particular is quite dehumanisation particularly in regard to women and to perceived ‘weakness’ of any sort.

There is little need to name dogs and cats other than to create a sense of ownership and a pseudo- ‘family’ situation which admittedly is apparently valuable to the mental and physical health of isolated and lonely people. And of course there is little harm in naming your cat and photographing its every move on Facebook, even if the latter is particularly annoying.

Abridged lately has been exploring the age of the inspirational and the age of anger. It’s not a surprise that both are two sides of the same coin: the age of bullshit. We’ve been flooded with so much trivia that we’ve come to place our hope in it and then when it inevitably fails we need someone to blame – though that someone is rarely ourselves. The ‘truth’ is now trivial. It doesn’t actually really matter if what is said is true or not. Which wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t a US President who has realised that if you muddy the waters so much you no longer can see what is verifiable and accurate:

The lies are the root of all this evil. It not only impedes normal functioning and normal processes, it has destroyed a common basis on which to operate. The presidency is being used as a tool of degradation rather than uplift. [7]

Of course politicians have lied forever but for the most part they would if they were in a democracy eventually resign or be forced from office. Getting caught was considered a bad thing and lying had an ultimate goal of concealing something or incriminating someone. Now at least on the (very) meta Presidential level it doesn’t seem to matter if statements are bullshit. Also reality and the real are no longer the same. We have reality ‘stars’ (one now the most powerful person on Earth) as if we aren’t all starring in reality: Our reality has been diminished. Utopian narratives of all sorts ignore reality or twist it to their own ideals:

Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear. He has prepared his story for public consumption with a careful eye to making it credible, whereas reality has the disconcerting habit of confronting us with the unexpected, for which we were not prepared. [8]

This is the age of instant retaliation as we’ve pointed out before and to steal from Hunter S. Thompson there is a cold war type propaganda going on. Youths in the Bogside decry the mainstream media when they’re building a bonfire as much as Trump supporters do at one of his rallies. In a way this is the logical outcome of the 1960s counter-culture: nobody (not just the hippies) now really trusts the mainstream, the establishment. Everybody now seems to be alone against the world.

And this is a lonely world. Even more so. People are now, if they wish to be, awash with trivia and outright lies telling them that black people for instance are destroying their culture or migrants are taking their jobs. ‘I Want to Believe’ was the famous poster in Fox Mulder’s X-Files office. It was then a kind of joke of the desperate and lonely man in search of conspiracies and aliens. Now the conspiratorial has gone (somewhat ironically) ‘mainstream’ propagated by blogs, newspapers and television.

The lonely are the shock troops of conspiracy. Research has shown that social exclusion creates a feeling of meaninglessness and that the need for meaning leads people to search for and perceive patterns in randomness. This maybe isn’t that surprising. The disgruntled outsider is a staple of almost every non-war mass shooting there is particularly in the USA. It used to be Post Office workers that were candidates for gun-toting maniacs but now it’s high-school kids and younger – we covered the infamous ‘I don’t like Mondays’ kid Brenda Spencer in the last essay.

Loneliness breaks down facts and fiction. We create fairy-tales and a BIG BAD WOLF of some description is the lead character along with a list of never-weres and could-have-been-ifs. Arendt describes it brilliantly:

Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist. [9]

We’ve had the stereotypes of the angry loner for centuries but of more importance is the lonely crowd (so to speak). If you’re reading Dictatorship for Dummies there is probably a section that has the subheading ‘Getting the Lonely Onside’. That’s the disenfranchised poor, the nervous middle-class and the bored rich. Loneliness isn’t all about being alone. Cultural loneliness is a real thing. I grew up and live in a council estate. The percentage of people I know who aren’t white Irish/British is probably less than one percent and then only because I got involved in ‘the arts’. It wasn’t a deliberate choice. Then there were very few ethnic minorities on our streets or in my schools. I do remember one confused Asian kid scrawling NF (National Front) on a gable wall but generally Derry was very mono or duo cultured. You can see now that new communities are moving to NI how paramilitaries and criminals are using a perception of cultural isolation and the fear of difference within established communities to carry out hate-crimes against newly arrived people. Arendt recognises this trait, something that totalitarian regimes use:

Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result. This isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together…; isolated men are powerless by definition.

She goes on to state that totalitarianism ‘bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.’ [10]

Weirdly whilst the internet has offered itself as a platform for the sharing of stories what happens when there is a sea of stories that will never and can never be heard? A whole groundswell of frustration that is ignored or dismissed. These stories become fairy-tales and conspiracy myths. It is often said that people believe the stories they can connect to even if they are untrue or sometime patently ridiculous. There is still in existence a flat-earth society. People still spot werewolves. There are still exorcisms and the murder of ‘witches’.

The loneliness and isolation often surfaces in the form of a stark and often dangerous misogyny as has been the case throughout the ages:

In the early 18th century, Dublin was teeming with speculation that Grizell Steevens, a wealthy spinster, was a pig-faced lady. Rumours about pig-faced women date back to the 17th century and have never been credibly verified. They all follow a similar storyline: a rich single woman has everything – a lovely figure, clothes, money, jewels, servants – everything except beauty. In each of these tales, the woman desperately seeks a husband only to be turned away by even the lowliest of suitors. [11]

Likewise it was rumoured that Catherine the Great had died whilst having sex with a horse. This was spread most possibly by the French and those that didn’t think women should be anywhere near power other than as a wife or mistress. More recently, the Superbowl performance of Lady GaGa was apparently designed to initiate her as a servant of Satan:

“The organisers of the Super Bowl are deciding to defile America and break our will by having us bow down to this.

“She’s reportedly going to be on top of the Super Bowl stadium, ruling over everyone with drones everywhere, surveilling them in a big swarm to condition them, that I am the Goddess of Satan, ruling over them with the rise of the robots.

“In a ritual of lesser magic, they have to tell you what they’re planning in the future, so they’re saying, the rise of the machines is here, you are broken and fallen and I squat on top of you and basically piss all over you. [12]

Where there’s a psychotic misogyny, racism isn’t often far behind. There has long been a conspiracy theory spanning the centuries that essentially claims the world is ruled by a shadowy Jewish cabal. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were a text supposedly documenting a Jewish plan for world domination. In fact it was a forgery created in Russia in the early 1900s. It was outed as a forgery in 1921 by the Times of London which didn’t stop Henry Ford distributing 500,000 copies throughout the USA during that decade. It is still available and widely spread on the Internet.

It may be thought that these old myths and forgeries have no place in our fact-checked world but as facts disintegrate in the face of pure emotion they re-emerge in new re-packaged forms. When Trump and his ilk talk about global elites and international bankers running and ruining the world the Alt. Right (and the far Left) as they are called now see it as a useful way of still saying a Jewish cabal secretly runs the world without using the words Jew or Jewish and the condemnation that inevitably brings along with it.

Conspiracy theorists have an almost forensic ability to read meaning into the most abstract of trivia and are like attack dogs in defending their theories from critique. Conspiracies have to exist at a crossroads, peddling an impending sense of doom, offering other  apparently truer realities and claiming we exist in some Matrix type of generated reality. There is most always a political rationale behind conspiracies waiting to trap the lonely, the frustrated or the simply aimless and lost. Coincidentally (or not – as we’re in conspiracy mode) It has been claimed that Roman crossroads were often game paths and that hunters would spread their traps there catching accidentally (and sometimes not so accidentally) unwary travellers and perhaps accosting or robbing them whilst they are caught.

‘We’re engaged in creating dreams’ sang the Band of Holy Joy in pre-internet 1990 [13] and we still are. However those are still the same dreams of power and domination that Mankind (and it’s usually men) has dreamt of for aeons over those different and those female. They’re probably still made up of the same gossip, rumour and outright lies as were told at the Roman crossroads. They eventually become nightmarish.



[1] (


[3] Ibid







[10] Ibid