by Angeliska on February 23, 2013
I’m still slowly editing all my photos from Mardi Gras, so in lieu of a much belated post from me, I wanted to share a peek into the magic of that day while the memories are still fresh, and the music is still echoing in my mind… It was a grey, drizzly day, but it only dumped down on us once or twice, and the Indians made it out after all. New Orleans photographer and sculptor Christopher Porché West of A Studio On Desire captured so many wonderful images of my beautiful friends and beloved strangers on my favorite day of the year, I felt moved to show some of the ones that I loved the most here. His photographs really serve as a beautiful reminder that Mardi Gras morning is for everyone – regardless of their age, race, gender et cetera. I think it’s really what I love most about that celebration: that you see old ladies shimmying down the street with old men dressed as old ladies, and families with kids in wagons, tiny babies cradled lovingly by their beastly-bedecked mamas, mariachis, strange bejeweled birds, and all people who haven’t slept in days debauching extravagantly past the front stoops of those who chose not to masque, but peer curiously out their front doors at the revelry in the street. All on a Mardi Gras Day. It is so, so beautiful. There is truly nothing else like it.
Mardi Gras morning starts with the Skull & Bone Gangs clattering and banging on trashcan lids with bloody cow femurs, making a frightful racket to wake up the living for the big day of misrule and wildness. I’m always occupied with my costuming, so I’ve never seen the bone boys doing their thing at dawn, but maybe one year they’ll come bang on my door, saying, “Wake up, wake up, do not be late. It’s Mardi Gras Morning. Go celebrate! Young and old got to go. Make your move to change your life now, or else you will become like me. YOU NEXT!”
If the Bone Gangs get you up and at ‘em, you can go out and chase some Mardi Gras Indians, first thing. This year the Young Seminole Hunters were looking very pretty indeed. Don’t know what that’s all about? Check out this piece I wrote a few years back: Who are the Mardi Gras Indians?
Here’s the full set of Porché West’s Mardi Gras 2013 photographs.
“Mardi Gras Skeletons” Royce Osborn
Dr. John, the Night Tripper – Mardi gras day
by Angeliska on February 6, 2013
I’m opening a time capsule into a Mardi Gras day of yore that I never got around to writing about – I have a few of those stowed away in my dusty attic of an archive, and it’s just not right. It always seems strange to write about it when the season isn’t upon me, so I wait and stash these caches of jewel-like memories from my favorite holiday away until another Carnival season takes me by surprise. I’m going to do my best to share more of them here, because they really are so special, and I honestly can’t really think of anything else right now.
Fat Tuesday morning dawns in a flurry of last minute costuming: bustles being strapped on and wigs pinned down tight before heading over to Clouet St. where the Krewe of Sainte Anne has traditionally gathered. Marcus Fraser is an antique dealer (and owner of Le Garage) who has opened his exquisitely appointed home and magical garden to the revelers to meet up at before parading forth into the bright day. There is no better backdrop to photograph your costumes in first thing (before the threat of anything going awry or major fashion malfunctions have the chance to strike!)
The lavatory was decorated with an amazing collection of medical antiques long before that theme came into vogue…
Mateo Hinojosa as a splendiferous phoenix.
Allyson Garro as an electric Valkyrie
My full set of photos from the day can be found here: Mardi Gras 2009
I also had the honor of being featured in National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s article about Mardi Gras I need to sit down and scan the original issue, but here’s the Dutch version:
Photograph by Krista Rossow
Here’s an excerpt from the article by Janelle Nanos, from the January/February 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler:
My bearings are off. It feels as if I’m in a maze of fun house mirrors. I’m standing at an intersection in New Orleans and before me is a blue-skinned Vishnu, the Hindu protector of the universe, none of whose many eel-like arms seems to point me in the right direction. Behind me, a rooster crows. I turn and realize it’s a man wearing a gold beak and blood-red cockscomb. Above, ribbons dance like spotlights against a bright blue sky, and people perched on wrought-iron balconies flap their arms like sparrows. A masked woman—or is it a man?—rides by on a dragon. This is Mardi Gras? I wonder. It seems like an alternate universe.
This parade—put on by the Society of St. Anne—is not the boozy, Bourbon Street Mardi Gras you hear so much about. It’s an unofficial event held in the Bywater, a bohemian enclave—one of 16 distinct neighborhoods in the Crescent City—that’s a world apart from the throngs in the French Quarter.
“Laissez les bon temps roulez,” reads Marie Antoinette’s hat. Jenny Singsaas of Burbank, California, has made her costume for the five years that she has attended the Society of St. Anne parade. “The most wonderful thing happens on that Tuesday,” says Singsaas. “There are people you only see once a year, that day, in costume, but you recognize each other and are great friends.”
Wandering into Marcus Fraser’s backyard in the Bywater neighborhood on Mardi Gras morning is a little like falling down the rabbit hole. Costumed revelers mill about, catching up with friends and complimenting each other’s elaborate ensembles before the Society of St. Anne parade begins to wander down Royal Street towards the French Quarter.
And finally, some videos from the day from Jenny Singsaas-Straus + Jonathan Straus of House of Straus:
This little dog named Underfoot was trying to fight my fox head. He was so confused by it!
Frenchmen St. – Mardi Gras Afternoon
“Things to note in this video: Angeliska & Underfoot obviously – what lovers. Adorable Pandora, nuff said. I’m starting to feel my alcohol as my laugh has morphed into a chicken cluck & brawwwwk and I’m unconsciously moving like a chicken to whatever music is playing. Jenny caught James spanking people with his fox’s gloves – which he giddily discovered and then undertook as a civic service to everyone who passed. And lastly the gorilla that first notices the camera and then apes for it. No video is complete without a gorilla. “Qui pe resist un gorille?”
Go, go, go, you hot struttin’ coq!
by Angeliska on January 6, 2013
Pandora Gastelum of The Mudlark Confectionary and The Mudlark Public Theatre lovingly created this incredible art doll of the Two-Faced Goddess Perchta for my birthday last year, and I’ve been meaning to share both images of her creation and her story ever since:
Perchta – Derived from an early Germanic word meaning “bright or “glorious”. Perchta is famed for her dual nature. Her grim aspect is known as “Perchta the Belly Slitter”. Perchta is alternately described as kind or violent, as a monstrous hag or a willowy maiden.
Perchta is typically veiled and clothed in white and is often portrayed with the horns, shaggy fur and hooves of a goat. The Medieval Church wrote of “sinners” who would leave food for Perchta in the “Night of Perchta” to obtain prosperity and well being in the coming year, as well as commanding the people to surrender their belief in “Frawen Percht”, and complaining of locals who would rather chant of “Domina Perchta” than say their prayers to the Virgin Mary.
Perchta is associated with the spindle and with spinning. When the shepherds brought flax to her in the summer, she blessed their flocks, and they would often see her walking along the steepest slopes around twilight, with a golden spindle in her hand. The spindle is strongly associated with fate and fortune and is central to traditions of girls’ puberty initiations. Perchta oversees the timely completion of the season’s spinning – if you don’t get it done on time, Perchta might curse you with bad luck in the next year, or even cut open your stomach, pull out your entrails, and refill you with rubbish!
Perchta is associated with the Wild Hunt in folklore and is often said to be the one leading it. The Wild Hunt is held by the Forest Gods in the deep winter months, and may be dangerous to humans; being in the path of it can be deadly. Perchta’s victims are typically portrayed with their bowels trailing behind them. This symbolic evisceration implies a profound examination of the self.
Perchta is a major figure in the winter holidays throughout the alpine world. She is widely held to be the female counterpart to the devilish Krampus, and will often accompany him on his hunt for naughty children on December 5th. Perchta is particularly associated with Epiphany, starting the night of January 5th and going on to January 6th. This holiday is sometimes referred to as “Perchtentag”, meaning Bright Day, Perchta’s Day, or Perchten’s Day.
“Perchtenlauf is an ancient Pre-Christian ritual where young men dress in costumes with frightening “Perchta masks” going from house to house frightening away the evil spirits of Winter that wander the countryside seeking to harm humans. This procession was traditionally done on the winter solstice. This is the longest night of the year where the sun shines the least. It is also the beginning of when the Sun begins its return trip and shines for longer periods bringing the warmth of Spring. Perchta was summoned on this night to frighten away the long cold winter and make room for the brightness of spring. Hundreds of years ago when the threat of death during the cold winter months was very real for the Teutonic tribes people, it was necessary for people to be given hope of the coming spring. Perchta was the goddess who fought back against the darkness of winter not only in the external world but in the hearts of humans. The ritual of Perchtenlauf no doubt has roots extending into pre-historic ice age shamanic rituals of the proto-Teutonic people. Surprisingly, the ritual of Perchtenlauf has been continuously practiced in the Alps up until the present.
Perchta shows dual faces at this time. To the faithful, she appears as a beautiful goddess of light who blesses humans with health and prosperity. To the evil hearted, deceitful and wicked, she appears as a ferocious demon with horns and fangs. In this depiction, she is strikingly similar to the east Indian goddess Durga who alternately appears as the nurturing mother of all and the frightening Kali Ma who devours demons and drinks their blood.”
…”the Krampus was believed by alpine Germans and Austrians to accompany Saint Nicholas on his rounds, but rather than just stuffing lumps of coal in a naughty child’s stocking, the Krampus – who, by the way, was depicted as a very tall, very shaggy, goat-like man — would inflict corporal punishment on the boy or girl with a cluster of sticks. If the child was particularly naughty, he or she would simply be thrust into a basket and taken away, one supposes, to whatever horrible place the creature came from — a place we can be quite sure was not Christmastown. Such a fate must have been one of the more effective threats leveled on a badly-behaved medieval child by his angry parents. Better than the ‘no presents’ approach, certainly. (Although in fairness, one must wonder exactly what presents a poor village child would have been expecting. Perhaps imagining terrible punishment from an other-worldly goat creature, and the avoiding of the same through good behaviour, was simply a natural anthropological response to having no upside at Christmas.)
Unfortunately, surviving the time of the Krampus would not get your family off the hook for the season, for it was also believed that during the twelve days following Christmas, a goddess would make her rounds of the countryside, inspecting homes and spinning rooms for any signs of disorder or laziness. This was, to the northern Germans, Frau Holda, an almost entirely benevolent divine being who taught humans the household arts of spinning, weaving, and reaping, but who was no softy: she was believed to ride with Wotan’s ghostly army (into which host the spirits of unbaptized infants were incorporated when they died), and was fond of setting on fire the spinning distaffs of any girls she thought had been unproductive and slothful that year.
Frau Holda‘s wrath, however, was mild compared with that of Perchta, the south German variant of the same goddess. On her festival day, she expected celebrants to eat only fish and gruel, which was considered fasting fare. The penalty for failing to do so, wrote Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Myths, was ghastly: ‘whoever has partaken of other food on her day, she cuts his belly open, fills it with chopped straw, and sews up the gash with a ploughshare for a needle and an iron chain by way of thread’. In Swabia, her role was believed to similar to that of the Krampus – though more lethal — as ‘with hair all shaggy she walks round the houses at night, and tears the bad boys to pieces.’”
Masked figures from the ‘Wilde Jagd’ Christmas folklore festivity in Salzburg, Austria. These festivities originate through the Perchtenlaufen custom, a period when the fearsome witch Perchta, who envies happily married couples, roams the villages. Processions of horribly masked figures armed with sticks and clubs meet throughout the festivity to chase the witch away.”
This picture is from Masks, Face Coverings and headgear by Norman Laliberté and Alex Mogelon
These headdresses are maybe the most captivating examples of folk ritual costume I have seen – in a long time. I would love to see them in person, in color. There’s got to be some crazy alpine museum in the mountains where some of them still exist, wouldn’t you think? I must find this place.
I discovered this amazing article via the marvelous digital history project. It was originally published in the Wide World Magazine, September 1908. I’m reposting an excerpt here, but the whole thing really is just too fascinating, so please do go read all about it.
The Perchten Dancers of Salzburg Austria Tyrol Pinzgau
By MRS. HERBERT VIVIAN.
Amongst the mountains of the little Austrian Duchy of Salzburg dwell peasants who still mingle religion and mythology in a curious jumble and observe many remarkable customs. Perhaps the most extraordinary of their festivals is the Perchten dance, which is performed only at very infrequent intervals. Mrs. Vivian was fortunate enough to witness the latest celebration of this unique function and secure a set of striking photographs.
The Perchtentanz is named in honor of Perchta, another name for Holda or Freya, Woden’s consort and the mother of the gods. Although banished from many of her ancient haunts by rude civilization and unbelief she still clings to Salzburg and parts of the Tyrol, where the peasants not only believe in her, but fear her. Perchta means the Splendid, the Magnificent One. She may be seen, they say, wandering through the great fortress of Salzburg at dead of night. Towards the beginning of the year, in the guise of a tiny, wizened witch, with gleaming eyes, long hooked nose, and wildly tangled hair, she lurks at crossroads, waiting for travelers. When one approaches she greets him, with her friendliest smile, and holds out to him a black cloth. If he takes it he is done for, and will certainly not survive the year; but if he brings out his crucifix and says, “Dame Percht, Dame Percht, throw the cloth on the earth,” then every joy and blessing will come to his house.
If Perchta shows herself in a stable, sickness and death are sure to follow, unless the careful peasant hangs up a bunch of consecrated St. John’s wort, a potent herb in these lands. On other occasions the goddess gathers all the un-baptized children round her, and sweeps through the country at the head of the band. At Christmastime a spoonful of every dish used to be placed on a fence, or a gate, outside the house as an offering to this much dreaded lady. One of the strangest things about Perchta is that she has a double nature. Sometimes she is the soul of goodness and charity, at other times she is full of hate and malice to mankind. Men are fascinated by her, but their feelings are mixed, and fear is mingled with longing fear on account of her un-canniness, and longing because of her wondrous powers.
Perchta has her troops of followers, strange beings half-way between mortals and immortals, These do not live among the children of men, but appear amongst them at such times as Advent and the Feast of the Three Kings. Like Perchta herself, they are divided in disposition, for some are good, kindly creatures, such as the “beautiful” Perchten (Schiin Perchten); while. others, like the Schiachen Perchten, are wild, irresponsible, malicious things. They are more felt and heard than seen. In swarms they come down on men’s dwellings, and are recognized by their weird screams and laughter. They love to draw men into danger by alluring sounds and spells, and to punish undiscovered crimes. The Perchten dances originated among the peasants of the mountains, who desired to imitate these mythological beings, but of late years the performances have seldom been seen.
Presently there was a stir. The “beautiful” Perchten were arriving. Nothing could. be more fantastic than the appearance of these gentlemen. The pictures describe them far better than any words of mine can do. The lower part of their costume is unobtrusive, and all one’s attention is centered on their heads, which are crowned with what surely must be the most immense and eccentric head dress in the whole world. Two diamond. shaped boards, in all some ten or twelve feet high, are covered with red velvet. On them are fixed dozens of silver watches and chains and every kind of ornament the Perchten have been able to collect or borrow – looking glasses, artificial flowers, pictures of the Virgin, bracelets, necklaces, and coins. At the top comes a crown, above that a moon, and then again a star.
In their right hands the “beautiful” Perchten clasp a naked sword, and with the other they lead their partners – young men dressed as women. The latter were disguised so skillfully that it was almost impossible to tell whether they were really women or not, for of course there were many wives and daughters of the Perchten helping with the preparations. I remarked on this to my guide, so he immediately seized hold of the first person in woman’s garb he saw, and inquired:
“The English lady wants to know if you are a man or woman. Now, let’s hear which you really are.” As a matter of fact, the victim was a very shy girl; and there were blushes and giggles, accompanied by squeals of delight from the crowd.
The noblest of the “beautiful” Perchten wear bird head dresses. These are large pieces of moss covered board, and on them are fixed every rare bird that has been shot in the neighborhood by the Perchten and their friends. The “tafel,” as they are called, are really most striking and artistic. On the top comes a large bird with outspread wings, in this case a huge peacock with a gigantic tail. Naturally these head dresses are of a terrific weight; and have to be supported and steadied by an iron rod which is fastened to the back at the waist. I should think the poor fellows suffer for being beautiful, as the strain and the heavy load must conduce to violent headache. The back of the erection is usually covered with canvas and painted with a pastoral scene, such as the Almfahrt. A good part of the toilette of the Perchten had to be done in public, and it was rather amusing to see their wives fussing round them doing up buttons and tying strings.
This song isn’t really related to Perchta, and is Finnish rather than German, but I’ve become obsessed with learning it, and have been playing this entire album all through the winter holidays. It was only recently that I discovered the meaning of the lyrics, which are quite bleak. I love how happy and lilting this little lullaby is, only to have its deeper meaning revealed – if you can understand Finnish… A dual natured kantele seems fitting for Frau Perchta.
Eriskummainen kantele (The bizarre kantele)
Ne varsin valehtelevat, (Those indeed tell lies)
tuiki tyhjeä panevat, (are saying just empty words)
jotka soittoa sanovat, (those who judge the playing)
arvoavat kanteletta (claiming the kantele)
Väinämöisen veistämäksi, (being crafted by Väinämöinen)
Jumalan kuvoamaksi, (woven by the God)
hauin suuren hartioista, (out of a great pike’s shoulders)
veen koiran koukkuluista. (from the crooked bones of a water dog)
Soitto on suruista tehty, (But no, music is made from grief)
murehista muovaeltu: (and moulded from sorrow)
koppa päivistä kovista, (– its belly out of hard days)
emäpuu ikipoloista, (its soundboard from endless woes)
kielet kiusoista kerätty, (its strings gathered from torments)
naulat muista vastuksista. (and its pegs from other ills.)
Sentä ei soita kanteleeni, (Therefore my kantele will not play)
ei iloitse ensinkänä, (nor will rejoice at all)
soitto ei soita suosioksi, (music will not play to please)
laske ei laatuista iloa, (give off the right sort of joy)
kun on huolista kuvattu, (for it was fashioned from worries)
murehista muovaeltu. (moulded from sorrow)
by Angeliska on January 4, 2013
It is with great excitement and shivery anticipation that I bear news of the rebirth of a very old tradition here in my hometown: a cadre of dear ladies and myself have joined forces as Krewe du Bisoux to bring the celebration of 12th Night to Austin. Our inaugural parade and fête will feature a decadent Kings and Queens Ball, with king cake (bien sûr!), our favorite marching band, and lots of glitter and revelry!
There’s a great article about what we’re putting together at The Gay Place:
12th Night Austin Rolls Out – The official, traditional kickoff to Mardi Gras comes to town
The celebration of Twelfth Night dates back to medieval England, and marks a turning point between the midwinter festival that begins with Halloween and ends as the Carnival season begins to fire up. Carnival means “farewell to the flesh”, and is a time of wildness, indulgence and celebration leading up to the final day of ultimate decadence before the austerity of Lent: Mardi Gras Day! Saturnalia and Bacchanalia were both celebrated in pagan Rome as lusty and decadent free-for-alls that involved excessive quaffing of wine, rich dishes, costumery, and all sorts of naughtiness. The darkest part of the year, in ancient times, required much merrymaking and fun to keep spirits bright during harsh winters that often brought much hardship. The twelve days of Christmas begin with Christmas day, and end on the Twelfth Night, or Epiphany. The end of the Winter Solstice season is ideally celebrated with a sense of triumph – that we made it through, that we survived to see another year! What better excuse for dressing up and dancing in the streets? Eat, drink, and be merry was their motto – and we’ll be trying our best to celebrate by that maxim, along with the Cajun French phrase you hear around Mardi Gras time in Louisiana: Laissez les bons temps rouler! – or: Let the good times roll!
In New Orleans, Twelfth Night is celebrated with king cake parties and, on a larger scale, Masquerade Balls. It is the night that the big Mardi Gras Krewes crown their King and Queen. On a scaled down version, house parties celebrate their own “king,” depending on who finds the plastic baby hidden in their slice of king cake. Tradition has it that the person to find the baby in their cake is rewarded with good luck for the year to come, and also is obligated to host the next king cake party before the season is over. Before plastic babies came into vogue In times of yore, a bean or a pea was hidden in the cake – the Bean King and the Pea Queen preside over the year’s festivities. It was custom for this day to be a time for everything to be turned on its head: to crown the peasants as kings, and for the royalty to run rampant in rags. On Twelfth Night, the Lord of Misrule dictates that everyone must come as they are not – the practice of dressing up in costumes or hiding one’s true face behind a masquerade mask is really a kind of ritual mummery that is practiced in ceremonies and magical rites in many cultures. When we dress in costume, we are given the freedom to become someone else – to enact fantasies, totems or characters from the deepest recesses of our psyches. It may seem to be nothing more than frivolity, but in truth, mummery can be a powerful form of catharsis for our spirits. Also, it really is a whole lot of fun!
Parades and processions have long been part of this celebration – taking to the streets in wild ensembles with noisemakers, instruments, pots and pans to bang on, (or even better – a marching band!) is another symbolic way of turning our every day sense of reality around. Houses and businesses that we might walk or drive by on any normal week are suddenly made more mysterious and special when we dance and frolic past them in a wild parade. It’s a form of reclaiming public space, of taking back streets and sidewalks that are usually only used in typical workaday fashion, and celebrating there. There’s something very magical about gettin’ down to a brass band in the middle of the street – a certain kind of freedom that’s not quite there in an enclosed space, or a venue dedicated to that purpose. We want very much to share that experience with Austin, and create a new tradition to help us all bring a bit more magic, dazzle and joy into our city!
I’ve been reading Dancing in the Streets – A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich, which is a wonderful look at the history of parades and public celebrations through the ages. Parading is such a huge part of the way I love to express my lust for life: I am fascinated by the history of festivals, costumed processions and ritual mummery, and this book really delves into why we, as humans have always felt the need to celebrate in these ways.
I discovered the artwork of Harvey Dinnerstein via Matthew D. Innis’s excellent art blog, Underpaintings, and I am so grateful to him for introducing me to Dinnerstein’s work. I bought both books of his paintings after reading that article! Also, Innis has collected some of my favorite paintings with a processional theme in his post – the Alma-Tademas and James Gurney dinosaur parades I adore especially. One of Dinnerstein’s masterpieces, Parade, was painted in 1972, and I have found myself completely captivated by it.
Of creating Parade, Dinnerstein said, “I had in mind a processional image, somewhat like the reliefs of Roman sarcophagi, related to Reubens’ development of similar themes. I have a memory of an experience viewing Delacroix’s Death of Sardinopolis at the Louvre. When you place yourself at a distance from the painting, so that the range of your vision encompasses the width of the image exactly, there is a dazzling effect of movement, and I hoped to arrive at some of that kind of energy in my painting.
With his work, Parade, Dinnerstein sought to emulate the grand allegorical paintings of the Renaissance, but from the Naturalist viewpoint which made up his training. He found in the political demonstrations of the sixties, a use of symbolism and myth by the protesters from which he could create his own epic image. From his own notes and sketches made during his personal observation of that tumultuous time, Dinnerstein engineered this spectacular piece.
A parade is a reminder to sing and dance while we may! I plan on doing as much of that as I can in this life, and I can’t think of a better way to ring in a new year and the start of Carnival than by celebrating 12th Night! If you’re in Austin, please do join us, and if not – well, get yourself a pan to bang on, a banner and a band and start your own parade wherever you may be!
by Angeliska on December 31, 2012
The turning of year draws close, we pause, here at the limen between what’s done and what’s to come – the snake’s lips meet its own tail and we ride the circle, blind and naked as babes. The reflexive curl inward, a protective gesture towards completeness: to be a whole and finished being, perfect and inviolable. But I’m not. There is so much left undone and unresolved that I have to just accept – to keep rolling onwards into the new dawn as calmly as I can, trusting that in time I will find a way to mend the broken things, understand the heart’s riddles, knit together what’s unraveled and do the rest of the work. That process is never really completely done though, I think. Nothing’s ever as tidy or as comprehensible as we might like, and I want to be able to sit with that as much as I can: to move forward into the unknown trusting somehow in that essential unknowableness. The ouroboros is the end and the beginning, alpha and omega. I always associate it with the final card in the the tarot: The World, which symbolizes the completion of the journey of The Fool, the moment when he dissolves and becomes one with everything. Solve et Coagula. When the Fool is reborn, the journey begins again – not with one, but with zero. Another circle, a goose egg, an ouroboros. This loop is everything, our eternal return, our journeying that is never finished, always beginning. I feel like I’m starting over like The Fool this year, my arms open, ignorant of what the future holds or what I might encounter on this strange journey. I’ve lost so much this year: so many beloved people and relationships, structures, ideas, belief systems I had constructed and held fast to – more than anything, I’ve lost things I thought were concrete, permanent, lasting. But nothing is. Nothing at all. There is only this moment, and this one, and this one. This process has of course been painful and confusing in the extreme: but I have come to the point where I’m finally resting against the snake’s mouth, the place where I can see the end of the tunnel and start to grasp some of the major lessons this intense cycle has brought me. It will take time for me to work through it all, and as much as I might like to be able to sum it up perfectly right in this moment, I am forcing myself to sit still, to not push, to wait and do the work as it comes. I can honestly say that this has been absolutely one of the hardest and most brutal years of my entire life, in terms of loss and hard lessons. It’s also completely true that I’ve grown exponentially in relation to a lot of that hard change, and that I am working hard every day to be the best possible version of myself. I’ve also gained many treasures – in the form of amazing friends, family and all the people I know who are constantly inspiring me to try and be kinder, wiser, and gentler. I am deeply grateful. Even for the hardest parts – because I am learning so, so much. There is so much I still have to process about this year – I think it will take a long time to express it all the way I want to, but I do intend to try. Right now, I just want to come full circle. I want to go back to the place where my people come from, to the place where my bones will rest when all that I am is gone, I want to bring gifts of fire to the twisty black witch-oaks that burst up through the cracks in pink granite, and as best I can – honor all this change, this turning, the dark road behind me, and the shining one up ahead.
This year was a fierce thing: it burned away everything that could not last.
I am asking for a more tranquil time: to focus on fluidity, on being open, on peace.
Dragons and snakes, circles and ladders, mountains and pits, shadows and stars.
Come, let’s light the foxfires.
A Japanese woodblock print of Hiroshige from 1857 depicts fox Fires on New Year’s Eve at the Garment Nettle Tree at Oji. According to Japanese legend, trickster fox spirits gather once a year at night at an old tree at the Oji shrine, bearing torches, to receive their orders for the following year. One of the two trees depicted can still be seen.
The Ouroboros or Uroborus is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail.
The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end (compare with phoenix). It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished. The Ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism, but has also been frequently used in alchemical illustrations, where it symbolizes the circular nature of the alchemist’s opus. It is also often associated with Gnosticism, and Hermeticism. Carl Jung interpreted the Ouroboros as having an archetypal significance to the human psyche. The Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann writes of it as a representation of the pre-ego “dawn state”, depicting the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child.
“The armadillo girdled lizard possesses an uncommon antipredator adaptation, in which it takes its tail in its mouth and rolls into a ball when frightened. In this shape, it is protected from predators by the thick, squarish scales along its back and the spines on its tail. This behavior, which resembles that of the mammalian armadillo, gives it its English common name. This behavior may have inspired the mythical creature Ouroboros.”
“Plato described a self-eating, circular being as the first living thing in the universe — an immortal, mythologically constructed entity.
‘The living being had no need of eyes because there was nothing outside of him to be seen; nor of ears because there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he created thus; his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form which was designed by him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle. All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet.’
In Gnosticism, this serpent symbolized eternity and the soul of the world. The Gnostic text Pistis Sophia describes the disc of the sun as a 12-part dragon with his tail in his mouth”
I want to sleep and dream in the crook of the changing tree. I’m ready to become a different kind of bird. I feel like this coming year is already sparkling and crackling with possibilities.
The egg symbolizes the belief in the Greek Orphic religion that the universe originated from within a silver egg. The first emanation from this egg, described in an ancient hymn, was Phanes-Dionysus, the personification of light. In Greek myth, particularly Orphic thought, Phanes is the golden winged Primordial Being who was hatched from the shining Cosmic Egg that was the source of the universe. Called Protogonos (First-Born) and Eros (Love) — being the seed of gods and men — Phanes means “Manifestor” or “Revealer,” and is related to the Greek words “light” and “to shine forth.” An ancient Orphic hymn addresses him thus: “Ineffable, hidden, brillian scion, whose motion is whirring, you scattered the dark mist that lay before your eyes and, flapping your wings, you whirled about, and through this world you brought pure light.”
This year, I’m headed back out to Lone Grove, to the place where I traditionally prefer to ring in the New Year.
My dear friend Chip Warren is a wonderful photographer who captured so much magic during our celebration in 2011 –
he made this fantastic video to give you an idea of what it was like that year.
His full set of New Year’s Eve 2011 photos are here:
Lone Grove New Years 2011
More words of wisdom from my comrade Dr. Caraway: Ambling in the new year
Some musical mixes from myself and from Lau to honor the turning of the year:
More to read from New Year’s Eves of yore:
✶ FUCK THE PLAN 2012
✶ AN EPICALLY EPIC AND FAIRLY TARDY YEAR IN REVIEW – OR, HOLY SHIT: 2011!
✶ A Bright Blue Wish
✶ New Year’s Redux
✶ Stargazer Honey
✶ Blue Moon
✶ Lone Grove New Year
✶ Pink Moons
✶ The New Year
✶ Lucky Stars and Garters
✶ La Nouvelle Année