“Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.”
- Elwood P. Dowd, Harvey (1950)
“Its dirty towers glow... I am compelled to worship this extraordinary presence that has silted into existence at the conjunction of two rivers.”- China Mieville, Perdido Street Station.
“When I start roaming around among these bonfires, I find myself quite put off. Almost all of them stark naked, and only one here and there with a shrift on. The sphinxes utterly indecent, and the griffins brazen too.”
- Mephistopheles, Faust: Act II, Part II.
In two nights, all across eastern Europe, the bonfires shall be lit beneath the incandescent moon; Luna sitting high in the sky and grinning down at the world as the age-old party kicks into high gear. I've been told by a lovely female living in Slovenia that they still eat, drink, smoke, fuck and make merry as if the “Old Ways” never ended.
In America, the neo-Pagan population tends to favor the more “Celtic” oriented Beltaine. But, as anyone calling themselves Faust ought, I've always favored the more Germanic version. It is on this night that Goethe had the demon Mephistopheles take Faust on a classical thrill-ride to the ancient and half-forgotten battlefield of Pharsalia, where the armies of Greece and Rome thrashed it out over who would become the Empire of a Dying Age. In it, Goethe has the specter of Erichtho say: “Bonfires are blazing red. The soil exhales the shadow of blood once spilt. And, drawn by the rare beauty of this shining night, mythical figures of the Greek world are here in multitude.”
Do you know how to party like the Daemons of Old? It's the last party for the forces of winter, joined by the spirits and powers of spring and summer, before the onslaught of dreaded heat. One last chance to get down and remember, deep inside, stirring atavisms breathing life and death with each swing of the pendulum...
The boy emerged from the shadows just beyond the tree-line with a leisurely gait. Still under five feet tall, he was in no way imposing except for the fact that he was there, emerging from beyond and shifting from unseen to seen. Powder blue sailor-suit; well polished black, leather shoes with miss-matched white and black laces, heterochromatic green and blue eyes focused on the path: what is it that walks the path between two pillars into the wilderness just outside civilization?
The dog came before him; like a living shadow, red eyes flickering in the moonlight. It's shape and shadow dwarfed the boy's, seeming to fill the dirt road on which they walked.
Ahead there was a darker and taller form, dressed in all black standing just beyond the place where two roads came together and formed a T-shape. Man in Black at the cross-roads, place where Hermes and Hecate dwell; man with the book. Master of the Tower. He-of-many-names, and many traits, who gives out virtuoso guitar skills and peddles the wares of things past and long forgotten.
No time to chat with He-who-knows-one's-Name; the dog pushed ahead, leading the boy past the looming presence of a very, very old thing. “Glass, where are you taking me?”
Incredibly, breaking all laws of normality, the dog spoke: “Despite the name, you have never seen anything like this before, boss.”
“Like what?” The boy asked, perplexed. He could feel the ache of their legs; even in this place, some things remain. Still the Boy-King smirked slightly. Who doesn't enjoy new things?
“You'll see. Keep quiet and keep your eyes open for now. We'll be approaching the bonfire soon enough. They've dragged themselves out of the decaying halls of their brughs...” The dog paused, and then suddenly broke from the road, moving into the woods again. The boy, a bit uncertain, followed suit.
The sound of laughter first; and then the glow of the fire lit. The slope of a hill as they ventured up toward the top. A circle of stones; half-fallen, path and roads forgotten. And the forms: the slender, incandescent females, all voluptuousness with their curves highlighted by the fire and bodies filled with an immutable glow; the goat standing on the rocks above them, and the smaller but stockier males. All nude; all gathered and dance around the fires, hand in hand, switching from back-to-back and front-to-front.
“Fuck it, Glass, let's dance,” the boy mumbled with glee.
All eyes were turning toward them, then, but the dance hadn't stopped yet. They weren't intruders; they were both there to join in on the fun and everything before them seemed to simply be filled with knowing on that account. Finally the dog spoke again: “Can't dance, boss. But I'll talk to the goat and see if he can help with any of your present tasks...”
And now for the profane:
But then, on the other end of the spectrum, is something which does indeed annoy one. A certain sense of superficiality that can intrude on the reverie of the spectacle; a certain sense of the profane that can suck out all the joy from the event.
A friend of mine writes: “It's nearly Beltane - Nothing says 'SPRING IS HERE!' like a bunch of soccer moms dressed in ill-fitting Renaissance Faire costumes, wrapping a giant phallus in ribbons.”
It isn't any of that which bothers me: indeed, the Horned Guy? He almost always sports a giant, raging phallus. It just goes hand in hand with the territory; life and death, and all that. No, no. That's not what irritates me.
It's the way that having a phallic symbol at the center of one's ritual can breed a certain... childishness. Just because we're discussing a phallic symbol does not constitute the need for an individual, sometimes even over thirty years of age, to become reduced to the mentality of a five year old: “Hehehe! Giant penis!”
Nothing is more disruptive to the reverence of such an occasion, be it in a circle or at a larger public event, than that breed of mentality. Having observed it on more than a few occasions in various places, it became evident to me that for some people the point of the occasion was lost. And that point is worship, the acknowledgment of nature and our place in it. The conception of the divine, and pleasurable, aspects of the natura natura (“nature that is born”) and natura naturans (“nature that gives birth”). Over the last century, there has been a tendency towards non-spiritual materialism; the statement of which I mean to imply that our conception of the world being alive and vibrant, rather than a dead husk or shell to be raped and pillaged without end, has faded.
A few years ago I made a presentation at Fresno's Pagan Pride Day about the practices of post-modern magick and the transitions of consciousness, and relativity of sanity, in the practices of such. One of the arguments I recall making (I ran out of ink and couldn't print out what I'd written, so I had to throw some notes down in a notebook and present from that: so I have no idea what exactly I said besides the words “bug-fuck crazy”) was that to embrace magick, and nature as spiritual, was a radical break from the norm that our culture was still struggling to conceive of. In a materialist/rationalist culture you can be assured to be allowed most of the freedom you need to practice whatever religion you wish. That said: the cultural assumptions many of us have been raised with present certain re-occurring issues such as the fact that many people have trouble believing in literal gods, literal spirits, or nature being awe-inspiring.
I consider the practice of religious witchcraft, which is not to say all witchery, to be part and parcel of a quest to understand the divine in the chthonic (of or relating to the earth; earthly, and subterranean), and the atavistic (to throw-back, or re-occurring; to revert to ancestral form – think witch-blood). In this mentality there is plenty of room for humor, but there's much more room for error. If the reverence is broken, then the deed of the day isn't accomplished. And we're out to drag out gods from the past and into the present, so that they might shed light on the paths before us in the future.
So can the penis jokes. Yes, it's a giant fucking cock defying the sky. Get over it and get down, people. There's plenty of room for fun in other ways. It is, after all, a pagan holiday. Plenty of room for the sex, drugs (legal, of course), and rock'n'roll. Or, if you live out in the boonies, at least break out a banjo or slide guitar. The blues and the “mojo,” as they say, go hand in hand.
Be seeing you,Jack Faust
“Child of the Black Sun.”
Sacramento, California. Walpurgis, 2010.