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Sunday, June 20, 2010

There are rituals and there are rituals


When I write blog posts, they are often typed in Wordpad (because we're still on dialup) at fourteen point size (because I don't see very well) and I like to compose in Palatino, a very civilized font. When the text is ready for publication, I copy and paste into the Blogger editor and go back through, after running the spell checker, for checker-proof errors and sensible sentence structure, adding italics in the way my spoken voice would add them, because, y'know, blogging is a conversation. I'd pour tea for my imagined readers, but then there's arthritis hand, y'know -- wouldn't want to dump the virtual tea into those expensive virtual keyboards.

So here we are at the solstice and still no summer in the PNW. It's actually too cold out for me, so I've unjacked the Toshiba and retired with it beneath the blankets in the big bed to whine.

Not really. For one thing, not everyone has a big bed to retire to.

For another, last night was pretty nice. But the rest of this shouldn't be in Palatino. Maybe runes (cue mysterious music).

A friend was visiting and we got to talking about a family favorite read, I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (better known for One Hundred and One Dalmatians).

The author was living in the U.S., during World War II, and missing her social milieu in Britain, so she wrote a fictional journal by a precocious sixteen-year-old in a strange but congenial family, living in poverty in the semi-ruins of a castle. The plot is a twist on that of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with Cassandra as the Elizabeth figure. There's a bit of Sense and Sensibility in it, too.

The central incident in the story is Midsummer's Eve, which was a tradition in the family, but, for the first time, only Cassandra is available to keep the tradition alive. So she's setting up the bonfire ceremony when the love interest, an American -- an Older Man, shows up, wanting to know more about such doings. So she trains him in the family's way of doing the bonfire, which is quite ritualistic and pagan.

This leads to her first kiss, but, hey, read it! Or netflix the movie, which is a reasonable facsimile.

So we decided, albeit two days ahead of schedule, to reproduce the bonfire ceremony in the book.

Risa, being appointed high priestess, gathered wildflowers and set them in a large pitcher of water; made up a cup of salt, a cup of wine, a little brownie cake in a covered dish, a small tumbler of veggie oils and spices, and a candle, and took them out to the "barbecue pit" in the front-front yard, the one by the driveway that is near the street (there being no better spot on the place). She made a tipi of two-foot-long sticks -- mostly cottonwood, oak, and plumwood. And she brought three resin chairs for folk to sit on.

Beloved and Good Friend returned from eating out, with a doggie bag for Risa (not dalmation!), and at about 9:30 (everyone being a bit old for midnight revels) we lit a lamp and filed out to the pit. No, not chanting anything. The candle was already lit, imparting a golden glow to the surrounding maples and cottonwoods.

It was really chilly out, so everyone was wearing velvet robes and woolen caps.

Risa shucked her cap, robe, and shoes.

"'K, I'm priestess, so I gotta go barefoot."

"What's the orange light? Is the fire already lit?"

"That's a candle. Supposed to rub two sticks together to make 'needfire' with which to light the 'goodfire' but a candle is supposed to be better than matches."

She lit the fire, which blazed up nicely with a libation of spiced oil.

"Now we pour out the wine and show the fire the 'cake' and then eat it." Everybody poured wine and nibbled the brownie.

"And I'll throw on the salt." A nice blue shade appeared among the red and orange flames.

"Last we divvy up the wildflowers and each throw them on the fire with a wish."

"Aren't we supposed to sing and dance now?"

"That's what Mr. Love Interest asked in the book, too! But I'm thinking not; the people walking down the street out there look wierded out enough as it is. Don't want to be burned at the stake come TEOTWAWKI, now, do we?"

"Uhhh, no."

It began to rain. A few drops, then quite heavily. We gathered ourselves up, with the dishes, to return to the house.

Risa picked up the pitcher and poured the contents over the blazing sticks and embers. Steam rose among the dark branches of the surrounding trees.

"What's that part?" asked Good Friend in hushed tones.

"Water. Good Girl Scout/Puts all fires out."

We cracked up.

There are rituals and there are rituals.

"And then you dance round the fire?"
I told him I was much too old for that.
"Not on your life, you're not," said Simon. "I'll dance with you."
--Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

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