Ehrenreich begins: The enemies of festivity have argued for centuries that festivities and ecstatic rituals are incompatible with civilization. In our own time, the incompatibility of festivity with industrialization, market economies and a complex division of labor is usually simply assumed, in the same way that Freud assumed--or posited--the incompatibility of civilization and unbridled sexual activity. In other words, if you want antibiotics and heated buildings and air travel, you must abstain from taking hold of the hands of strangers and dancing in the streets.
The presumed incompatibility of civilization and collective ecstatic traditions presents a kind of paradox: Civilization is good--right?--and builds on many fine human traits such as intelligence, self-sacrifice and technological craftiness. But ecstatic rituals are also good, and expressive of our artistic temperament and spiritual yearnings as well as our solidarity. So how can civilization be regarded as a form of progress if it precludes something as distinctively human, and deeply satisfying, as the collective joy of festivities and ecstatic rituals?
In a remarkable 1952 essay titled "The Decline of the Choral Dance," Paul Halmos wrote that the ancient and universal tradition of the choral dance--meaning the group dance, as opposed to the relatively recent, European-derived practice of dancing in couples--was an expression of our "group-ward drives" and "biological sociality." Hence its disappearance within complex societies, and especially within industrial civilization, can only represent a "decline of our biosocial life"--a painfully disturbing conclusion.
Perhaps the problem with civilization is simply a matter of scale: Ecstatic rituals and festivities seem to have evolved to bind people in groups of a few hundred at a time--a group size at which it is possible for each participant to hear the same (unamplified) music and see all the other participants at once. Civilizations, however, tend to involve many thousands--or in our time, millions--of people bound by economic interdependencies, military exigency and law. In a large society, ancient or modern, an emotional sense of bonding is usually found in mass spectacles that can be witnessed by thousands--or with television, even billions--of people at a time.
Ours is what the French theorist Guy Debord called the "society of the spectacle," which he described as occurring in "an epoch without festivals." Instead of generating their own collective pleasures, people absorb, or consume, the spectacles of commercial entertainment, nationalist rituals and the consumer culture, with its endless advertisements for the pleasure of individual ownership. Debord bemoaned the passivity engendered by constant spectatorship, announcing that "the spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep."
She continues: The aspect of "civilization" that is most hostile to festivity is not capitalism or industrialism--both of which are fairly recent innovations--but social hierarchy, which is far more ancient. When one class, or ethnic group or gender, rules over a population of subordinates, it comes to fear the empowering rituals of the subordinates as a threat to civil order.
For example, in late medieval Europe, and later the Caribbean, first the elite withdrew from the festivities, whether out of fear or in an effort to maintain its dignity and distance from the hoi polloi. The festivities continued for a while without them and continued to serve their ancient function of building group unity among the participants. But since the participants are now solely, or almost solely, members of the subordinate group or groups, their unity inevitably presented a challenge to the ruling parties, a challenge that may be articulated in carnival rituals that mock the king and Church. In much of the world, it was the conquering elite of European colonizers that imposed itself on native cultures and saw their rituals as "savage" and menacing from the start. This is the real bone of contention between civilization and collective ecstasy: Ecstatic rituals still build group cohesion, but when they build it among subordinates--peasants, slaves, women, colonized people--the elite calls out its troops.
In one way, the musically driven celebrations of subordinates may be more threatening to elites than overt political threats. Even kings and colonizers can feel the invitational power of the music. Why did 19th century European colonizers so often describe the dancing natives as "out of control"? The ritual participants hadn't lost control of their actions and were in fact usually performing carefully rehearsed rituals. The "loss of control" is what the colonizers feared would happen to themselves. In some cases, the temptation might be projected onto others, especially the young. In the fairy tale, the Pied Piper used his pipe to lure away the children from a German town. Rock 'n' roll might have been more acceptable to adults in the '50s if it could have been contained within the black population, instead of percolating out to a generation of young whites.
She points out that: While hierarchy is about exclusion, festivity generates inclusiveness. The music invites everyone to the dance; shared food briefly undermines the privilege of class. As for masks, they may serve symbolic, ritual functions, but, to the extent that they conceal identity, they also dissolve the difference between stranger and neighbor, making the neighbor temporarily strange and the stranger no more foreign than anyone else. No source of human difference or identity is immune to the carnival challenge: cross-dressers defy gender just as those who costume as priests and kings mock power and rank. At the height of the festivity, we step out of our assigned roles and statuses--of gender, ethnicity, tribe and rank--and into a brief utopia defined by egalitarianism, creativity and mutual love. This is how danced rituals and festivities served to bind prehistoric human groups, and this is what still beckons us today.
So civilization, as humans have known it for thousands of years, has this fundamental flaw: It tends to be hierarchical, with some class or group wielding power over the majority, and hierarchy is antagonistic to the festive and ecstatic tradition. (Whether this is an inherent feature of civilization, we do not know, though advocates of genuine democracy can only hope that this is not the case. Contemporary anarchists and socialists differ on this point, with some proposing complex methods of grassroots democratic planning that would presumably abolish hierarchy of all kinds while preserving modern means of production. Michael Albert proposes such a system in his 2003 book Parecon. Others, most notably the anarchist thinker John Zerzan, argue that the problem goes much deeper, and that we cannot achieve true democracy without eliminating industrialization and possibly the entire division of labor.) This leaves hierarchical societies with no means of holding people together except for mass spectacles--and force.
Contemporary civilization, which, for all its democratic pretensions, is egregiously hierarchical along lines of class and race and gender, may unite millions in economic interdependency, but it "unites" them with no strong affective ties. We who inhabit the wealthier parts of the world may be aware of our dependence on Chinese factory workers, Indian tech workers and immigrant janitors, but we do not know these people or, for the most part, have any interest in them. We barely know our neighbors and, all too often, see our fellow workers as competitors. If civilization offers few forms of communal emotional connection other than those provided by the occasional televised war or celebrity funeral, it would seem to be a rather hollow business.
You know the fish who discovered that she'd been swimming in WATER alll this time? The man who was delighted to learn that, all unknowing, he'd been writing PROSE his entire adult life? That's how I feel having a name to give to this, this, this, this THING that I've always known was wrong but couldn't name. I've been living for 51 years in the the "Society of the Spectacle," while longing for communal festivals. I hate the fact that, as Ehrenreich says, we "absorb, or consume, the spectacles of commercial entertainment, nationalist rituals and the consumer culture, with its endless advertisements for the pleasure of individual ownership." As she notes, it leads to an incredible "passivity engendered by constant spectatorship." It also leads to credit card bills with no hope of ever being paid off, no savings, overconsumption of the Earth's resources, and the inability to ever question the power structure for fear that your own financial situation will come crashing down -- and you'll be all alone.
I think one of the joys that I find in Wiccan ritual is the chance to break out of the Society of Spectacle and back into the Society of Communal Festivals. Celebrating the 8 Sabbats and the 13 Moons each year allows me to be active, to be in community, to touch something that my great, great, great, many-times-great grandmothers may have touched, to be an active part of my world. I don't think it's possible to do magic with someone and not care about her, not be connected to her. Maybe it is, but I don't see how.
A smidgen of Celtic blood swirls around in my veins and I love quite a bit about Celtic culture. The art. The poetry. The men in kilts. The bravado in the face of a long history of being pushed all the way from India to the rocky edges of Western Europe. The poetry. The men in kilts. The poetry.
So, on March 17th, I'm happy to take a day to celebrate things Celtic.
But I spit on St. Patrick. I piss on him. I give him the evil eye. I never celebrate the man who took away Ireland's own pagan religion and replaced it with, what became, one of the nastiest most mysognistic forms of xianity anywhere. Sure, the English had a lot to do with the pauperization of Ireland, but anyone who doubts that the Irish have been longing for their lost souls for the last 1500+ years simply isn't paying attention.
"...again, there is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution. There's a prohibition against taking it away. ... I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas. Doesn't say that."
-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
(at a meeting of the Judiciary Committee, 01/18/2007)
The forest is the heartland of my soul and the grove is my holy temple, with ceiling of sky and floor of earth and walls of living wood, every aspect in a constant state of change -- the clouds above, the wind in the trees, growth and decay, night and day. At times it is all enclosed by the forest canopy, sunlight flickering through the leaves, and at times it is bare branches, silver and black in the frosty night, Yet it is always filled with certainty.
I knew when I took Matrilineal off my wall and gave it to D-i-L for her Aquarian B/Day that something was coming along to replace it, but I had no idea. Nine Ravens is all over it. Goddess guard my checkbook.
I admit that the essays at Witchvox often don't impress me, but Violet Sound has one up today that I think gets it just right. You should read the whole thing, but here's a taste.
What’s important? The beat, baby. It’s got to make you move. It’s got to make you groove. It has to be repetitive, but it can’t be so boring that you want to sit back down with your drink and wait for something better to come on. Not being musically inclined, I can’t tell you the magic equation that induces trance (although I’ve heard it’s 4.5 beats a second*) – I can only tell you to get out there and shake it until your thoughts fall away and the only thing that is left is The Beat, The Pulse, The Rhythm.
Go on, I’ll wait.
Dance as a sacred expression is not a new idea. (Walk like an Egyptian.) There are schools of dance that can trace themselves all the way back to temples, or to a bunch of drunk peasant folk boogying down to make the crops grow. And I am not the first person to feel that when she hits the dance floor she is GOD [sic] in platforms. I’m not the first person to invoke GOD [sic] in platforms, either. I remember dancing in utter exaltation of a certain deity, and then suddenly feeling His touch upon me, gently nudging my ego aside. I moved with Him, and He with me, and I wished it would never end.
“I offer this to you,” I’ve said, “as an expression of love.” And then I speak with my body.
Under the flashing strobe, surrounded by the pulsating mass of your fellow man [sic], you can feel Shiva’s dance of destruction through the floor. You can hear the raised voices of a thousand shamans in the background wail of an electronic track. You only have to open yourself to the idea.
Magic isn’t something you take out of the closet for special occasions. It isn’t present only in dark rooms with pentagrams chalked on the floor and pervy old guys in robes mumbling ‘ancient’ incantations and it isn’t solely in the undefiled glory of Nature; magic is alive and around you no matter where you are and whether you notice it or not. (Hint: it’s the noticing part that makes you a magician.)
So magic is in the disco. It’s in the raves held way out in the cornfields, in that gay club you dragged your conservative cousin to just because you felt like watching a dude dressed as Cher hit on him, in that concert you attended that made you feel like you were dying, in your basement when your stereo is cranked up to max volume and you’ve polished off a bottle of Jaggermeister.
Hell, magic could possibly be in a country and western bar, but I’m not brave enough to try and find it there.
Why should Gonzales resign? Because he is at the center of a widening scandal over the firing of several U.S. attorneys -- firings we now know to be political. These attacks on the impartiality of the federal government's prosecutors are a genuine threat to the foundations of our justice system.
It's so bad that one U.S. attorney in Arkansas was fired to make room for a former aide to Karl Rove.
Gonzales's chief of staff has already resigned over the firings, but the attorney general himself is ultimately responsible for what happened. Join me in asking for him to resign now.
Gonzales isn't the only one who needs to answer for this scandal. President Bush and his staff must come clean about their involvement in these politically motivated firings. I've joined the call for a full and thorough investigation to determine all the facts.
But it is time for the attorney general -- who repeatedly and falsely claimed the firings were based on performance -- to step down. He has clearly forgotten the difference between his current job as America's top law enforcement officer and his old job as President Bush's personal attorney.
Maybe it's because my Sun is in Pisces, the sign that rules feet and ankles, but one of my life's greatest pleasures, and I mean this seriously, has always been going barefoot.
To me, there is something just incredibly sensual and luxurious about feeling the floor, or the dirt, or the grass, or the sand, or the ceramic tiles, or the wood of my deck, or the bricks of my walkway under my feet. It's like making love to the world, over and over and over -- moment, by moment, by moment. It's as if the nerves on the soles of my feet are connected directly to my hips, to my red chakara, to my deepest core. A large part of my practice is being "grounded" and bare feet are the best way that I know to practice that, well, practice as a moment-by-moment meditation.
Walking barefoot through the surf is a huge religious metaphor in my life, a symbol to me of being so blessed by the Earth that you're almost completely unaware of how blessed you really are, the waters of life rushing and flushing and gushing around your ankles, over and over, step by step, never stopping.
Sadly, as I've gotten older, I've also become very sensitive to having cold feet, although I'm still good for a few runs out in the snow or out onto the freezing ceramic tiles of my screen porch every winter, just to remind myself, through the pain, that my feet are alive and can touch the ground. But, most of the winter, I wear warm socks and slippers, cuddling my feet, but denying them what they want most -- contact. Having broken my ankle badly a few years ago (not an uncommon injury for a Pisces), I wear boots with a heavy tread and Yaks Tracks every time there's even a hint of snow or ice. For me, it's like walking around with blinders on or ear plugs that muffle everything.
Which is all a long way of saying that I went out back this afternoon and spent an hour picking up twigs and sticks that have blown down over the winter (my yard was spic and span last Fall, but living in an oak grove has its good points and its disadvantages) barefoot. Every twig and stone and dried up holly leaf "hurt" in some sense, but the sensation of contact with the wet, muddy Earth, the ability to stand with my back pressed tight to the maple tree and feel its roots thrumming and sucking through my feet was almost more pleasure than I could bear (or bare; pun intended). And, then, I came inside and walked barefoot on my old wood floors, through which I can feel so much of what's gone on in this cottage during the 51 years before I came to live here and in the 3+ years since I've been here, as well.
Miss Thing looks at me quizzically; she gets to go barefoot all the time. For me, though, it's an April through October pleasure. And I adore it.
What is it that you love most about the warming of the Earth?
Despite evidence that the planets are aligned in his favor, local pagan Jeff Birch, 27, said Monday that he would "rather have a peaceful weekend at home" than attend his family's Vernal Equinox celebration on March 21.
"I realize it's supposed to be a festive time of conception and new growth in the womb of Mother Earth and all," Birch said. "But I just know that within an hour of arriving, things will get so bad that I'll be reverting to my 12-year-old self, hiding in the rec room downstairs, wearing my Iroquois false face mask and fingering my runes for comfort. It's not worth it."
. . .
"Talking to Mom the other day, it was the same old manipulative 'You're coming home, right?'" said Birch, referring to a recent phone conversation with his mother, Freyja Birch. "If I hesitate for even a second, she piles on the guilt—like how this may be the last year Nana Hippolyta can perform the garden fertility ritual, or that without my masculine energy, the yin-and-yang balance will be thrown off—until I finally give in."
. . .
Besides the usual maiden-mother-crone conflicts, the strained relationship between Birch's sister, Pythia, who recently converted to Wicca, and his father, a devout Dionysian, is another source of tension, according to Birch. "Last year, Pythia brought her covenmate home, and Dad's still having a hard time with it," Birch said. "It's obvious that he doesn't approve of her lifestyle. He's always asking her why doesn't she find a nice warlock to settle down with, or telling her maybe what she really needs is a good old-fashioned bacchanalia. Are other pagan families like this?"
Pythia isn't the first family member to stray from the fold. Fifteen years ago, Birch's uncle Jack married a Presbyterian and has raised two children in the faith. While he is still included in family celebrations, his eccentric monotheism is the source of much awkwardness, Birch said. Two years ago, the black-sheep uncle almost didn't get invited back.
"Having a celestial deity worshipper in our home angered the Goddess Eostre and she punished us with an April freeze," Birch said. "My mom was barely able to salvage her herb garden."
It's funny because my circle is experimenting this year with doing a few rituals that include our families. The first was Yule and the next, probably the last for this year, will be Eostara. K, one of our "new" members, is planning a ritual that she calls a "Gigglalia." I kind of love the idea of G/Son growing up complaining about "having" to go to his crazy Nonna's Spring Equinox ritual.
Today, while I was at work, the sun shone on the crocuses in my front flower bed and they bloomed! Purple, gold, and white; they're the most welcome things that I've seen in such a long time! Other things are beginning to poke their heads up through the dirt to soak up the sun, day lillies and daffodils and some parsley.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."