Monday, February 04, 2008

Beatin' the MidWinter's Bluez
Oh, the secular call it "Groundhog's Day," and the Catholics, "Candlemass." The Celts called it Imbolc, a 'cross-quarter day' on the Solar calendar celebrating lambing-season and the first signs of Spring. In my Tribe, however, we call February 2nd MidWinter's Day, and we've been celebrating it pretty continuously for 27 years. HOKAH-HEY! as we like to say.

There are neo-pagan elements to our gatherum and celebration, but the fact of the matter is, it's a party in the mid of Winter to shake of dem Bluez that Seasonally Affect us, to ritually get beyond last year's karma, and to be forward-looking (once the fuzzy heads have cleared).

How'd this all come about? Well...

Twenty-seven years ago my best friend and I had just ended relationships with our mates, and were feeling kinda down. It was cold, and the days were short, and would it ever be warm and light again, and could we throw off that funk?? And I recollected an event that my elder cousin had created sometime in the middle 1960's : he'd discovered this book by Finnish author Tove Jannson called "Moominland Midwinter." The Moomin were cutesy trolls who hibernated through the Winter, but one young Moomin woke up to discover an alien, icy land that had transformed the familiar landscape into a realm inhabited by people of the night. And on one grand evening, they would kindle a bonfire to chase away the Winter and beckon forth a new Spring!

My cousin, the Ur-father to us now, but an awkward adolescent then, wrapped a gas-soaked rag on a stick for a processional torch, and used a cardboard tube as a trumpet, and he held a private ceremony in his back yard. And so it lay fallow for fifteen years!

But my buddy the Artificer and I assembled a circle of friends - much of the core of our current Tribe - to light a bonfire, consume intoxicants, play a little music, and generally make merry. It was several years before we got the bonfire quite right, a brightly burning pyre rather than a smoldering, smoking, heap. But, from those clumsy beginning, a ceremony has evolved, attracting sometimes as many as fifty people, with sometimes an international flavour, from France, and Brazil, and Czechoslovakia. Come Together! Chase the Winter! Hokah-Hey! (That cry actually seems to mean something in Lakota Sioux, but Iself cribbed it from a comic book, "Tales of the Beanworld.")

The Ceremony was not written as a script, was accrued from bright ideas over the years. In fact, I am of the opinion that is you throw together enough props, people will naturally do something with them. And, they have! These are not done at each and every ceremony, but may be ritually acted out at many:
  • the Gatherum : eat, drink, and socialize! don't forget to sign the Register!
  • the Search for the Sunbearer: who will don the Garb, and light the First Torch? Virgins and Noobs especially valued!
  • the Reading from the Book of Moominland MidWinter!
  • the Procession to the (unlit) bonfire:
  • calling forth the Sunbearer to Light the Circle of torches, then unto the pyre!
  • chanting, singing, ringing bells. pounding on drums. wishing well and burning karma. general silliness and milling about.
  • the Passing of the Bread and Cheese.
  • the Attack of the MidWinter's Beast! calling forth a Warrior to save us! a battle! mayhem! and with the Head of the Beast, he comes gallumphing back. Much celebration!
  • Wax Magic! a fiery ceremony challenging the Winter Spirits with demonstrations of fuel-air explosives!
more feasting, more intoxicants, and slow farewells, until the next gathering...

And so was our experience just two days past. The days are lengthening, and a hint of Spring is in the air. Success! Give Praise unto the Most High for the turning of the Seasons! So, let us reflect on those Finnish lines, read by the Ur-father himself:

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