Thursday, 3 December 2015

Why Hippies Are Sometimes Called Bohemians We often find the terms “Hippies” and “Bohemians” used interchangeably. Why is that so? And what is the link between flower children of the 60s and people from Bohemia? 

For someone residing in Venice Beach a Bohemian neighbourhood full of Hippies who is jokingly called a Bo-Bo, I was keen to know the answers.

Let us first begin with the definitions.

In its literal sense, Bohemian means someone from Bohemia, the region in the Czech Republic.

The secondary meaning of Bohemian, the one we’re interested in here, is: A socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in arts and its various forms; a writer or an artist living an unconventional life, usually in colonies or communes with others. 

The synonyms of ‘bohemian’ in Oxford are: Nonconformist, unconventional person, beatnik, hippy, avant-gardist, free spirit, dropout, artistic person.

Informal: Freak.

In Merriam Webster, Bohemian is a vagabond, wanderer; especially: gypsy.

According to Wikipedia, Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.

So what or who is a hippie? 

In Merriam Webster, a Hippie (or Hippy) is defined as someone who is usually young and who rejects the mores of established society by dressing unconventionally or favoring communal living and advocates a nonviolent ethic, especially in the 60s. 

A slightly more stereotyped definition of a Hippie appears in Oxford, and it is: A person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.

Synonym: Flower child, bohemian, dropout, free spirit, nonconformist, unconventional person; (hippies) flower people.

And according to Wikipedia, a Hippie is a member of a subculture, originally a youth movement which started in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. 

Now let us review the history and origin of ‘Bohemian’.

Bohemianism first emerged in France in the early nineteenth century when artists and creators began moving to the lower class, lower-rent Romani neighbourhoods; first it was the Latin Quarter then expanding to Montmartre. Bohémien was a common French term for Gypsies and Romani people of France, who, in fact, were mistakenly thought to have reached France in the 15th century via Bohemia — the only protestant and therefore heretic country among Western Christians at the time. 

Among English-speaking people The Romani are widely known by the exonym “Gypsies” (or “Gipsies”), which some people consider pejorative due to its connotations of illegality and irregularity. What I further found is that the origin of the name came from the time when they entered Europe between the eight and tenth centuries C.E; they were called “Gypsies” because Europeans mistakenly believed they came from Egypt.

‘Bohemian’ then took the meaning of an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, withdraws from conventionality in life and arts. Though many participants regarded Bohemia as a state of mind rather than an actual place.

Terence McKenna had another view on why freaks are called Bohemians, and it goes back in history into the 17th century. In a 1996 Talk held in Mannheim, Germany, McKenna shares that Frederick The Fifth, who was King of Bohemia for only one year (1619-1620), and his wife, Elizabeth Stuart (Queen of Bohemia), the daughter of James the 1st of England and Ireland — also King of Scotland as James VI had plotted a revolutionary alchemical renaissance. 

They were the center of a movement of alchemical reformation and revolution, that sought to take the Protestant Reformation an enormous leap forward into a new world of spiritual freedom, and to my mind, a very sort of psychedelic world.”

Despite the fact that this short-lived revolution didn’t end well for Fredrick and his wife, it had indeed triggered the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, which has later reshaped Europe. 

Since that time, ‘Bohemians’ meant outcasts with marginal political position involved with bizarre sexual practices, strange drug use, and ‘funny’ ideas.

After finding out that “Gypsy” originates from Egyptian I can now confidently introduce myself 
as a Bohemian Hippie Gypsy

The use of the modern sense of the word ‘bohemian’ first appeared in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalised and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political and social viewpoints, which were often expressed through free love, frugality, drug usage, and, in some cases, voluntary poverty. 

Bohemians rejected the comfortable bourgeois lifestyle and the strict moral values it embodied. They equally rejected materialism and the pursuit of money by leaving their middle class lives behind, having no permanent residence, and by living solely for the sake of art and literature. Living carefree, indulging in drugs — mainly hashish and opium — and alcohol, and adopting sexual freedom was their way to rebel against the status quo.  ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀

In some cases, they were associated with a more economically privileged, wealthy, or even aristocratic circle, which was sometimes referred to as Haute Bohème or conveniently, High Bohemians — we could call those the High2.

By 1850, the term began appearing in America when Bohemian nationals started to arrive to the country. In 1857 New York City, a group of some 15–20 young, cultured journalists flourished as self-described ‘Bohemians’ until the American Civil War took place 1861. Similar groups were also born in other cities, like the Bohemian Club in San Francisco.

Mark Twain, for one, was one of those American writers who self-identified as Bohemian; while Oscar Wilde was known to have attended the Bohemian Club in America as a guest speaker.

Much more about Bohemianism can be found on this informative Website.

The story of how “hippie”came to mean what it does is equally captivating. 

It all began in the early 1900s with the word ‘hip’ — also ‘hep’ — which then meant “aware and informed” or “in the know”. Their exact origin remains unknown. 

There are speculations suggesting that it derives from the word ‘hipi’ from Wolof, a language widely spoken in Senegal and The Gambia; its meaning is “to open one's eyes”. The problem with this theory, according to lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower, is that Wolof does not use the letter ‘h’ and said word is actually spelled ‘xippi’.

By the late 1930s and early 40s with the rise of counterculture movements like the Beatniks then the Hipsters, — also called Hepcats — ‘hip’ replaced ‘hep’, and the more modern sense of ‘hipster’ was developed; it meant “stylish and currently fashionable”, “up-to-date”. ‘Hipster’ was commonly used among African American Jazz musicians.

At some point, the word ‘hippie’ made an appearance as a variant of hipster; and it was first meant to describe those who were not genuine hipsters, or hipsters wannabes.

However, ‘Hippie’, in the counterculture flower children sense, came to the limelight in mid 1965 as a Haight-Ashbury slang word. 

Interestingly, ‘Hip’ lived on in the subculture world when it made it to Hip-Hop in the late 70s. Today, ‘hipster’ is back into the lexicon and it usually depicts a young educated bohemian.  

More on the history of ‘hip’ can be found on this OxfordWords Blog.

A colourful circle of Hippies

Now that we know the history of Bohemians and Hippies, we realise that the abundance of common similarities between both counterculture movements, and participants, makes it easy for an outsider to confuse both terms… as well as both groups of people.

Substantially, both Bohemians and Hippies consist of free-spirited nonconformist individuals who lead unconventional, alternative lifestyles — nefelibatas. Both do not conform to the accepted societal norms and advocate hedonism. Both hold beliefs and values which often come in conflict with the social mainstream and its established paradigms and exhausted ideologies. And both challenged the comfortable, bourgeois lifestyle by adopting a lifestyle of arts, drug usage, and sexual freedom. 

When it comes to appearance, both Bohemians and Hippies rejected the conformity of fashion and mocked the mainstream culture. They fancied wearing a mixture of odd, colourful clothes and mix-and-match different fashions together. Though the final outcome remains different.

Back in the late 50s & early 60s, the anti-establishment counterculture ‘wave’ were the Beat generation — the Beatniks. Being a later manifestation of the original Bohemians, they were often referred to as Bohemians. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs are the famous names that come to mind when pondering said years.

In general, The Beat was a literary movement whose participants led unique artistic lives where self-expression is the highest value. Whether it’s writing, acting, poetry, singing, dancing, or painting, they are centred around art and literature which are the main focus of their lives. The Beats used these focus points to rebel against the authority and the status quo.

The Hippies generation then followed in the 60s, also promoting an alternative lifestyle. Naturally, they were inspired by the older Beats and many ideas and ideals were borrowed from Bohemianism. Hippies were more into sexual experimentation — “free love” — vibrant psychedelic music, LSD and pot, gender and racial equality, peace and anti-Vietnam. They looked up to Timothy Leary and read up on Zen Buddhism. Many were vegetarians who dreamed about living communally and about traveling to India or Tibet. Hippies used their music as well as their appearance to rebel against authority and to define a whole generation.

All that said, Bohemians and Hippies had a significant influence on culture. Though I think that Bohemians may encompass the hippie lifestyle with their wider, more eclectic range of different tastes in music, fashion, art, and literature. Bohemians may be more sophisticated than hippies because part of being bohemian is to travel around and wander into unknown territories.
Perhaps this is the case because the movement itself — and its ideologies — has been around for much longer.

Also, Bohemians are usually creative artistic people, which is not necessarily the case for Hippies. Music was still a big part of the Hippie movement, but as participators, they were not all into the arts as much as the Bohemians. 

In summation, Bohemians and Hippies, the counterculture movements, may have died out by the mid 70s. As lifestyles and ideals, however, both remain alive and well to this very day. This simply shows how ideas, all ideas, never die. For they always leave us with an everlasting impact on art, philosophy, music, morality, literature, fashion, and lifestyle.
 And when you consciously and wholeheartedly embody certain ideas, they become a mindset which ultimately shapes reality... ours and others’. 

“The Hippies... recall the Bousingos of the 1830s. The takers of LSD descend perhaps from the Hashish-eaters of the 1840s. The modern student demonstrations sometimes recall the battle of Hernani and the wilder excesses of the Jeunes France. The behavior is similar, for the background is much the same.”

— Joanne Richardson, The Bohemians

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  1. Thanks for sharing this! I enjoyed reading it and actually learned a few things. I was wondering how "BoHo" or so-called Bohemian fashion I see now looked like a just different form of Hippie fashion - now I know!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Christine. There are many similarities but they remain different things.

  2. Hi I found this article interesting and informative. Only one error that I noticed is perhaps not of any consequence, you say something about a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth 1of England. Elizabeth was the last of the Tudors, never married and childless. Hence, she had no grandchildren at all. The trouble with finding even an inconsequential error is that it makes the whole article questionable. So sorry! It's a good article.

    1. Hi Diane, thank you for your reply. 

      I truly cherish the input. As mentioned, I had copied it from a transcript from a T.M talk , and you are right, she was childless. So after reading your comment, I further looked at the family tree and found the following (Wikipedia):

      “James VI and I (19 June 1566 – 27 March 1625) was King of Scotland as James VI, and King of England and King of Ireland as James I. He was the first monarch to be called King of Great Britain. He ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 until his death. He ruled in England and Ireland from 24 March 1603 until his death.

      His reign was important because it was the first time England and Scotland agreed to have the same monarch. He was the first monarch of England from the House of Stuart. The previous English monarch had been Elizabeth I. She had died without any children, so the English agreed to have a Scottish monarch because James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, thus the closest relative Elizabeth had. By being king of both, he created a personal union.”

      So Elizabeth Stuart (Queen of Bohemia) was his daughter and not the grandchild of Elizabeth I. 

      I corrected it in the article and, please, do read more through the blog and let me know whenever you find any mishaps. I do love to be corrected. 

      Once again, a big warm thank you. And Happy New Year.