A PanTimes breather. Things to think about and to open the imagination.
Shoes are more important for humans than we might have thought. They both bind and yet free our feet to carry us without suffering. They have always been items of importance and value, materially, socially and religiously. In Biblical times, they have signified the legal transfer of authority in business, and a husband ‘took ownership’ of his wife by giving her a pair of shoes. God tells Moses to remove his shoes when he stands on holy ground. One must remove shoes, and wash ones feet, before entering a mosque or Hindu holy site. The same was true in synagogues until the Middle Ages. On Yom Kippur, Jews are forbidden to wear leather shoes.
Footwear has been part of folklore and folktales for centuries. They are often the single most important item necessary for power, transformation, and initiation. Stories include Cinderella, The Red Shoes, The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, Puss in Boots, The Shoemaker and the Elves and more.
Shoes are transportive. They take us on trips. The God Hermes travelled between seen and unseen dimensions in his winged sandals. Cinderella’s glass slippers gave her access to any otherwise exclusive world. Dorothy’s ruby slippers took her on a journey of initiation.
They may also signify the erotic. The western stiletto or the lotus shoe of the bound foot of China connote the sado-ecstasy of another’s pain. After a wedding, there is the custom of tying a pair of shoes to the departing car of the betrothed to signify sexual union. Thigh-high boots can mean sexual dominion over another.
They can represent agency, status or authority. If I were in your shoes; To fill someone’s shoes; to wait for a dead man’s shoes is to wait for entitlement achieved by someone’s death. An expensive pair of shoes is a status symbol second only to the “it” bag for those who see value in such things.
Contrarily, shoes that are worn-out evoke pity. You’ve lost agency over your life and wealth. There’s the image of the tramp with his toes poking out, exposed to the elements and cruelty of fate.*
The journey of shoes in the imagination and bodily lives of humanity will take us to every place and to all times that people and gods have lived. Here are a few footprints to follow. Walking with these images will lead you onto many paths, and off the beaten track.