Historically speaking, walking sticks were symbols of strength and riches. We’ve all seen the movies where the big important man stalks around the fancy looking house with a majestic stick in his hands. They were often very decorative and seen as a fashion accessory in the upper classes. In regards to the stick being a symbol of authority, it generally followed the rule that the bigger/stronger/more influential the man, the bigger and fancier the stick. It would be a way for others to judge how important and/or rich a man was just by looking at his fashion accessories. In the case of very prominent men, like kings or monarchs, the walking sticks would be covered in jewels and intricate drawings, ensuring that the public would know that they were of great importance.
These beautiful walking sticks were often seen in the portraits that were commissioned. Some famous examples of “bedazzled” walkings sticks are the King Tut Cobra Head Sword Cane, a black stick with a silver or bronze detailed carving of a cobra. This one is famous in movies, such as the character of Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, though it is a variation. Another example is the King Solomon Walking Cane, a wide knobbed stick that is full of celtic-like patterns etched in silver or brass, all centering around the Star of David. Lastly, there are the many variations on the King Solomon Walking Cane, a narrow cane with a detailed etching in silver or brass of a wolf’s face and neck. All different, these walking sticks represented famous and influential people throughout history.
As sticks became more popular, they would be turned into weapons, by adding small blades or sharpened rocks to the ends in case of an attack. In tribes, these would also be useful in hunting if a weapon was lost, or in cutting a way through the forest. The walking sticks used by various tribes tended to be more simple in their materials, but just as exquisite and fancy in their appearance. Made of wood, artfully decorated in bold paints and every inch full of detailed carvings, these sticks were impressive on all levels. Only the leaders and high-ranked members of the tribes and clans had these decorated walking sticks and they were carefully crafted with much symbolism and reverence. It was clear that those who owned the sticks not only deserved them, but that they held a very important standing in the tribe and they could share that information with others by carrying the stick around.
In modern day, walking sticks have become perceived as something that only invalids use to get around. They no longer have the prominent decorations or carvings, or even paint. Instead, they are metallic, have a rubber foot on the bottom for practicality and the colours are muted: greys, blacks, silvers, occasionally a few tints of blue. Gone is the connection with royalty, importance and power. Instead, they have become something to be ashamed of and hide. Walking sticks have become new symbols, ones of weakness and ridicule. Thus, the need or want to decorate them has disappeared, and now they are seen practical, used only when necessary.
Though their original purpose was for getting around and ensuring the sick and injured had the literal help they needed, the decoration and symbolization of them became a fad, one that lasted amongst many civilizations for many generations. In the recent stigma that has started with walking sticks, the once popular and a fashion accessory to be proud of has faded: They are now obsolete and are more like a ball and chain than a fashion accessory. Oh, how the world has shifted.
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