Posted tagged ‘Paganism’

Ann Hides Her Bush

November 4, 2010

Ann works in her autumn garden while her husband, Buddy, along with their son, Bud Junior, and his school chum, Mickey, are out in the now empty grain field playing ball games. And that’s how she likes it. She would rather see the men out there playing with their balls than hanging around the house fighting, which are the only two things they seem interested in doing, or watching others do.

Her garden provides her with a unique natural sanctuary. Lined with trees to the north, it’s rimmed all around with selected vines and bushy vegetation. Working alone, she builds a fire, burning dried twigs and branches in a crudely constructed rock pit. In a small kettle of boiling water, she steeps leaves freshly picked from a bush she keeps hidden in a protected area of the garden. She drinks the tea warm, sipping slowly, enjoying its sharp, bitter taste on her lips and tongue, mixing it with saliva before swallowing.

Her consciousness expands to include an immediate perception of eternal time and infinite space. Earth is alive and speaks to her of knowing. The material world transforms through stages into its ethereal essence until she is pure thought in a universal mind of cosmic consciousness.

When the men return hot and sweaty, she has their favorite beverage waiting. It’s a fermented mixture of grains from the field along with herbs and spices from her garden, made with pure water from the flowing well. Buddy’s a big man with a big thirst. Throwing back his head, he empties a large foamy mug with one long, pulsating gulp. The two younger men sip from their foamy mugs and laugh, shaking their head to acknowledge Buddy as the winner in that category of competition, if none other.

Ann drinks with the men before serving dinner but she prefers her beverage made from fermented grapes. On the kitchen table there’s a tossed salad of garden greens topped with an oil, vinegar, and herb dressing. There’s butter and cheese to go with fresh bread still hot from the over. And there’s a thick soup of mixed beans, turnips, onions, and sweet basil.

Ancient Inspiration

March 31, 2010

Johnny had become famous by listening to Rosemary and following her directions but it was time for a change, and he said: “I’m serious about this, Rosemary. During the world tour, while outwardly following your directions, I became a silent observer on the inside, and the theatrical aspects of human existance became increasingly intriguing to me. Now, I want to create my own character, write my own dialogue.”

“I like that idea as long as you agree to build your new character on my original theme, avoiding contradictions. That’s all I ask.”

“I’ll try,” Johnny replied: “But I want to go back to the ancients for my inspiration. And, instead of touring, I want to operate a permanent festival, somewhere around here, with a primeval orientation, celebrating the cultivation of herbs and vines. There will be ritualistic utilization of intoxicants, along with music, dance, and other trance inducing techniques, removing inhibitions, liberating participants, to a more primal, natural state. Then, as its central event, the theatrical performance of tragedies. And, of course, comedies.”

“What role will you play in all this, Johnny? It sounds like you want to start a new pagan religion.”

“Or continue with an old one. Whatever, it’s psycho-therapeutic for me to contemplate it. The actual realization of it will also prove therapeutic, I believe, for me and for many others, just as the ancinet festivals were therapeutic for their participants.”

“You’re not expecting to recapture that same spirit today, are you? People have changed, Johnny.”

“They haven’t changed that much, Rosemary. They’re still human, all too human, formed in the fusion and confusion of opposing elements, the Dionysian and Apollonian dicotomy, as expressed by the early Greek playwrights and the epic poets, going back to Homer, and beyond. A good tragedy, or comedy, which honestly mimicks human nature, can still be medicinal to the human spirit. Especially if the audience participation aspect can be recaptured. When audiences see things too soberly and too rationally, they become passive, observing instead of participating. Their insight into the mythical, into the emotional value of human suffering, is lost.”

“The emotional value of human suffering?”

“I’m stressing the insight factor here, derived from the total audience experience. Every individual attending the festival will participate in a workshop preparing them for the music, dance, and theatrical events to follow. Everyone can have a role to play in the final drama, where, traditionally, everyone suffers in the end, in one way or another.”

“Tell me more about the ritualistic utilization of intoxicants to remove inhibitions. How will that work?”

“That’s really up to the individual, everybody’s different. During the workshops we’ll screen for problems. Potentially abusive individuals will be given special treatment. What that will consist of is impossible to say, but we’ll try to avoid violence, using armed security only when necessary to contain it.”

“That sounds too dangerous to me, Johnny. Where would they allow you to hold such a festival around here?”

“I have an already existing, nicely isolated, mountain valley resort in mind. I’ll keep it relatively small at first, by invitation only, making it exclusive and therefore desirable. Outwardly, we’ll be celebrating the grape plant, its harvest, and its consumption as wine. Yet other natural intoxicants may be included in the rituals, marijuana in particular. Of course, let’s be clear about this, people should already understand how these intoxicants can be used effectively, along with music and dance, to remove inhibitions, to liberate themselves to a more natural, primal state for the theatrical performance. We don’t want them falling down drunk or stoned out of their minds. Not too many of them, anyway.”

“How will you choose who to invite?”

“Different ways. I’ll experiment. To begin with, I’ll invite scholars, playwrights, actors, students of drama in general, shooting for a representative crosssection of humanity, or something like that.”

After a short silence, Rosemary abruptly exhaled, and said: “This is a big change from our previous characterization of you, Johnny. The tour presentation spoke to the average person’s social, economic, and political needs. Now, a festival, with a primeval orientation, celebrating the cultivation of herbs and vines? How should the world interpret this?”

“I don’t see anything inconsistent about going back to our origins for inspiration. Along with social, economic, and political needs, the so called average person has an even more primal need to directly experience a higher purpose in their life.”

“Higher purpose? Higher than what? This is beginning to sound too much like a primative religion. You’re moving into dangerous territory, Johnny. I think we should stay focused on basic needs, on a human scale.”

“I think you’re missing the point here, Rosemary. This is human scale stuff. Let me tell you about the first production. We’ll begin with Euripides, The Bacchae. It’s about the god-intoxicated female celebrants in the ecstatic retinue of Dionysus. They carry long wooden sticks wrapped in grape vines and leaves. They strike rocks with their stick, water gushes forth. They scratch the earth, wine bubbles up. They draw milk from the stream, honey trickles from the stick.”

“You call that human scale?”

“Let me finish. They wear snakes girded to their hips. They suckle deer fawns and wolf cubs like infants, at their breasts simultaneously. Weapons of iron cannot wound them. Fire does not burn them. The snakes harmlessly lick the sweat from their heated bodies. Now, imagine yourself playing such a character in this theatrical production.”

“You want me to imagine myself playing a Nymph?”

“The women associated with Dionysus were called Maenads. But, yes, they were a lot like Nymphs, I believe. Do you find that offensive?”

“A group of young Nymphs for yourself? Is that what you’re looking for? When do I start rehearsing the part, now?”

“I must admit I have thought about that. But, no, don’t do it for my sake. Do it for yourself, or not at all. Anyway, there are plenty of other characters to play. Write your own character. Be a goddess. However, personal insight, derived from participation in the drama, should be our ultimate goal for everyone attending the festival.”

“You seem bound and determined to go through with this, Johnny, so I’ll stop badgering you, for now. Tell me what you need to get it going and I’ll help you with the money end.”

The mountain valley land purchase went smoothly. Business had never materalized for the resort previously located there because of the area’s isolation, with a long winding road leading in, and nothing else along the way. But that suited Johnny’s purposes, perfectly. He quickly had the resort’s remaining facilities back in order and functioning, including running water, electricity, and central heating.

Knowledge of the festival spread quickly throughout the academic and theatrical communities. As the number of applications accumulated, Johnny found it neessary to hold a public lottery to determine the first two hundred and fifty participants. He had hoped to control the selection process; but the randomness aspect also intrigued him.

When he closed the road leading into the valley, limitting passage to employees and the selected festival participants, a disappointed crowd gathered outside the security checkpoint. Some turned and drove away; while others parked their car in a nearby vacant field and then found a place to camp in the hills overlooking the valley.

On the first morning, the two hundred and fifty official participants were organized into workshops to study the play’s cultural background. Traditional musical instruments, the aulos and the lyre, were distributed. The aulos were of a tubular nature, ranging from simple flutes to elaborate single and double reed instruments. The lyre were stringed instruments, ranging from common folk variety to professional quality. Exercises for the aulos consisted of just a few notes and rhythms. A chorus of aulos simultaniously sounding a note for any duration could be brutally intense and distracting to the other workshops, especially to the dance workshops, where instructors were choreographing the ecstatic frenzy. As with the music, dance exercises consisted of a few basic movements. Some of the dancers also played a musical instrument, further limiting their dance moves. Posture, carrage, and timing were emphasized in simple, hypnotic, trance inducing repetitions. As the play progressed, and the music intensified, the dancers would become liberated and uninhibited, according to the script.

Since a reasonable level of intoxication varied for each individual, Johnny instructed his security staff to remain alert and offer assistance whenever necessary. He attempted to limit the rate of intoxication by ritualizing the consumption of small quantities of wine and marijuana in the various workshops. By mid-afternoon, workshops were completed, and everyone gathered for an outdoor feast.

Johnny stood before the gathering dressed as King Pentheus, and said: “From Euripides’ play, we know that Dionysus, after traveling throughout the eastern world, returns to Thebes disguised as a blond stranger to vindicate his mother, Semele, whose family refuses to believe that Dionysus is a young god, the son of Zeus. And, as the play progresses, Dionysus punishes his cousin, King Pentheus, the whole royal family, and all the people of Thebes, except for one blind prophet. He punishes them all because they will not worship him or give him libation. Well, I’d like to make a major change in the play by creating the possibility of having the king and his people relent. In doing this, we can, perhaps, avoid all the destructive scenes and focus on god-intoxicated ecstatic frenzy.”

As he ceremoniously poured his goblet of wine on the ground, Johnny chanted: “In the name of King Pentheus, I welcome thee, oh living god, and I give thanks to thee for thy presence here. You bring joy and ecstacy to our celebration.” While a majority of the participants repeated Johnny’s libationary gesture, a significant number did not.

Participants gathered by late afternoon on the expansive outdoor set, one large group to become the population of Thebes, one smaller group to become the cult of female worshippers. The participant chosen to play Dionysus, an olive skinned young man with blond hair, took his place, and the play began. In accordance with the script, as the Dionysian retinue entered the city, their music and dance overwhelmed the local female population, driving them into a wild ecstatic frenzy. Even some of the men joined in with them.

In the castle setting, off to the side of the main set, King Pentheus, played by Johnny, had the young blond stranger brought to him by soldiers, and he said: “If you are a god, then play a tune on your flute to calm the women folk and the men who have gone running after them. If you can’t do it, I’ll do it with my lyre. And we’ll see who is the god around here.”

When the blond stranger filled the valley with flute music, his cult worshippers immediately stopped what they were doing to listen. Theban women, however, continued to dance in a wild ecstatic frenzy. “Give your lyre a try,” the blond stranger said: “Let’s see what you can do.”

King Pentheus’ music proved unable to accomplish the task of calming the Theban women; and the blond stranger, Dionysus in disguise, said: “I’m having such a good time, I’m going to forgive your hubris, cousin.” And when he proceeded to play his flute again, even the king began to dance.

Campfires in the foothills surrounding the valley floor stood out in the darkness as sunlight disappeared beyond the western horizon. Entranced by the spectacular flute music, the campers also joined in the dance. Other musicians followed the flute and, as the evening progressed, their harmonious droning helped to create a blissful collective consciousness throughout the area.

In the days following the event, comments from participants and observers were mostly favorable. The music received particular praise. Yet the young man with olive skin and blond hair who played Dionysus claimed he had never studied the flute or played it that well before. He attributed the accomplishment to being intoxicated with the spirit of Dionysus.

Purists, however, criticized the lack of fidelity to the original tragic plot. “You don’t mess with a god,” one critic said: “That’s the moral of Euripides’ play. But there are no tragic consequences here. It’s more like a hippie love fest. Maybe it’s too much marijuana. Or maybe it’s not enough alcoholic arrogance, I don’t know. What happens next? Will it be more of the same?”

Johnny took note of the critical comments but, from a participation standpoint, the event exceeded his expectations. When interviewed by the press, he said: “Fidelity to the play itself will always be a secondary consideration. It’s a harvest festival, mainly for the grape. It will always be a Dionysian ritual, first and foremost, giving people an excuse and an opportunity to become ecstatically intoxicated, to step outside of themselves, to experience a different time and place. Music, singing, dancing, acting-out, that’s what it’s all about. However, yes, the theatrical presentation should still have an important part to play in the overall event. And I expect that aspect of the festival to improve in the future, as we gain more experience at planning ahead.”

Rosemary remained sceptical of the festival’s future. Although she did publicly admit to having had a good time at this initial event. In a conversation with Johnny, she said: “It’s not something I do very often. Once a year at harvest time would be enough. Solstice, equinox, and moon phase celebrations seem excessive, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t,” Johnny replied: “In fact, that sounds about perfect, with a few special events here and there. If you’re not up to being a part of it, you can stay informed through your media company. They’ve been contracted to record the next event, including the backstage preperations.”

“I don’t see where you’re going with this, Johnny. You’ve alienated too many people. They see it as paganism. Christians, Jews, Muslims, all find it offensive.”

“They’ll get over it.”

“No, they will not get over it. And neither will the people who belived in you and followed you, who listened to your speeches and learned from your discussion groups.”

“Like I told them from the beginning, it ain’t going to be no personality cult with me. The organization is in place and the ideas are out there. Let somebody new step forward into the leadership role and become the face of the reform movement. It will be to the benefit of all concerned. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my retirement and looking forward to a new career as master of ceremonies at a variety of festive events.”

Owners of properties surrounding Johnny’s previously isolated mountain valley tried to have the festivals stopped, pointing to trespassers parking and camping on their land as their main objection. Johnny attended a meeting with the owners and came away with leasing agreements on several adjacent parcels of land overlooking the valley, enough to create an organized parking and camping area, which he agreed to enclose with a cyclone fence. Since Rosemary had decided to hold off any further financial support until Johnny could demonstrate the festival’s ability to make a profit, Johnny used his personal savings to make the initial lease payments; then he used his credit to have the properties enclosed and a surface parking lot constructed.

Anticipation grew among the many would-be participants as they awaited news of the next event. To take advantage of the widespread interest, Johnny decided to hold an auction this time instead of a lottery, saying: “The cost of operating the festival has gone up dramatically. Participation in this next event will go to the highest bidders. The Bacchae will serve as script, without the destruction and violence, as before. In the battle between King Pentheus and Dionysus, the young god easily wins with wit, intelligence, intoxicants, and good music. To insure the same good music, by popular demand, the same young man will play the lead flute. He now calls himself Dion Day, or DD. And he will again appear in the play as the blond stranger, Dionysus in disguise.”

During the auction, one bidder purchased twenty five of the two hundred and fifty contracts purchased. When asked how she would use them, she said: “Anywhere I party, I always come with friends. That way, I know I’ll have a good time. And this is my kind of party. An opportunity like this might never come again. I got to take it while I can. That manchild playing the flute, he’s some kind of god alright, he sends me to heaven. I mean it.”

The auction’s success reduced Johnny’s financial and emotional pressure, allowing him to concentrate on the creative dimension. As the event got underway, he noticed a much higher level of professionalism among the current participants over the previous random sampling. They approached the workshops more seriously, with far less use of intoxicants. The costumes, the sets, the music and dance, all came together by mid-afternoon.

Again dressed as King Pentheus, Johnny gave the same speech to the participants gathered at the afternoon feast: “From Euripides’ play, we know that Dionysus, after traveling throughout the eastern world, returns to Thebes disguised as a blond stranger to vindicate his mother, Semele, whose family refuses to believe that Dionysus is a young god, the son of Zeus. And, as the play progresses, Dionysus punishes his cousin, King Pentheus, the whole royal family, and all the people of Thebes, except for one blind prophet. He punishes them all because they will not worship him or give him libation. Well, I’d like to make a major change in the play by creating the possibility of having the king and his people relent. In doing this, we can, perhaps, avoid all the destructive scenes and focus on god-intoxicated ecstatic frenzy.”

He then poured his goblet of wine on the ground as he ceremoniously chanted: “In the name of King Pentheus, I welcome thee, oh living god, and I give thanks to thee for thy presence here. You bring joy and ecstacy to our celebration.” Again, a majority of the participants repeated Johnny’s libationary gesture, and yet a significant number did not.

Rosemary watched the event from her media company’s control booth, observing only, as a team of her best people worked to record the unfolding drama from several different perspectives: in close and far away. Without the tragic ending of the original play, the new script seemed easy to follow: be ecstatically happy while singing and dancing and giving praise to Dionysus. Yet she marveled at how orderly and coordinated the activities were in comparison with the first event. The set looked like a gigantic Broadway stage with hundreds of professional singers, actors, and dancers in coordinated harmony. The music also seemed more professional to her, with more vocal music and fewer instruments: although Dion Day did again highlight the late evening, Rosemary felt, by transporting the participants to another plane of experience with his spectacular flute music.

“We’ve got some great footage here,” she told Johnny when he finally got up out of bed and entered his kitchen, where she waited, around lunchtime the next day.

“Oh, so now you’re a part of it,” he replied, laughing as he placed a pot of oatmeal on his kitchen stove.

“I don’t now how much a part of it I am. I’ll take it a step at a time. This last event will be difficult to duplicate. The footage we have here would be even more remarkable, and valuable, if there would never be another one.”

Without turning his attention from the stove, Johnny interjected: “There will be another one.”

“I don’t think you should even try to duplicate this. You should come up with something fresh next time.”

“This script is a long way from being stale, Rosemary. There are thousands of people waiting to bid on contracts and reservations to participate in the new Bacchae. I don’t want to video record it every time, no. And we may never see it performed as well again but, who knows until we try, it might prove endlessly successful.”

Rosemary thought of all the time and effort she had expended rehabilitating Johnny, and now that he was thinking independently, she couldn’t determine exactly why it irritated her so much.