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Ruminations on Zen's Cows  

Part 9: Equinox, Solstice and Good Excuses to Celebrate

by Ming Zhen Shakya, OHY
Page 1 of 3

The situation is most peculiar... kind of pathetic, really. It ought to be a grand occasion, one ready-made for the "Par-tay!" cheer. But funerals have more zing to them.. at least thereís a certain spontaneity about funerals.

Cleverly designed invitations come in the mail. New Agers or Wiccan devotees request that you help them celebrate the winter solstice - December 21st.

The revelers meet, in big groups or small, indoors or out, to hail the sunís return. The days will lengthen now! Or so they assume. Unfortunately, thereís a better than 70 percent chance the solstice will occur on a work day and the revelers will have to hold their soirees in the evening. The object of veneration, pleading an early morning appointment, seldom cares to show up. Add to the uncomfortable absence of the guest of honor, the dreary weather of the northern hemisphere and the strain of trying to ignore the impending Christmas celebrations, and it all tends to make for somber moods. But in these times of halogen and smog, nobodyís really clear about what it is thatís being celebrated, anyway. One winter day is pretty much like the rest.

At the time of Christ, however, owing to the earthís precession, the solstice occurred on December 25th, and the great feast which celebrated the Sunís reversal of fortune, the Saturnalia, was universally observed. Saturn, being the slowest of the then-known planets - it took twenty-nine and a half more years than the earth took to circumnavigate the sun - is the very personification of Time, itself. Cronos. Old Father Time gets out his scythe and mows down the old year just in time for an eager humanity to spank into existence the squalling new one.

Whenever a significant change is to take place in the grand scheme of things, the human psyche requires that some kind of ritual observance, some formal, precise rite of passage put its imprimatur on the alteration of status. Of course, to the casual observer, there often doesnít seem to be anything remotely ritualistic about the proceedings; but there definitely is.

In order for there to be cosmos there must first be chaos. Itís as if peace can be declared or enjoyed only after a war has been officially won - as if peace ceases to be meaningful if it merely persists beyond contrastís reminder. So chaos has regularly to be recognized and overcome in order to give value to peaceful law and order. Evil spirits must first be brought to heel or chased away. We look at the native ceremonies on, say, Borneo and think such initiation rites are uncivilized, the machinations of primitive minds. A group of pubescent males are abandoned in the jungle for a few days. To add to their fears, adult males don horrific masks and make scary noises and feed intoxicating substances to them, inducing hallucinations and vomiting. The boys are physically abused. And then, when itís over and theyíve made the cut, they join the tribe as full-fledged members. We think that this is a rather strange procedure. Itís not politically correct to call it savage.

But the high-jinx of Mardi Gras are more than colorful fun. To solemnize the sober meaning of Lent (Fasting), there must first be a great, drunken fattening. In order that the world be secured in its rightside-up outside-out position, it must be turned upside-down and inside-out. A commoner is crowned king. Society matrons of the highest pedigree, shamelessly bare their breasts to earn a trinket which the king tosses in appreciation of the gesture. Slaves or servants may kiss their masterís wife or sit in his honored place at the head of his table. There are costumes and masks and noisy parades to scare away evil spirits, and everybody gets drunk and disorderly. But then midnight arrives, and those who are still ambulatory, repair to the church to get the penitentís ashes smeared upon their foreheads. Lent has come and the world is now properly prepared to receive it.

In the upside-down world of the Carnival, men can become pregnant.

Itís the same with bachelor parties and fraternity hazing, the latter persisting despite strenuous administrative efforts to end or to curtail it. Fraternity pledges are subjected to the worst sort of abuse - to which they willingly submit - because they know that in order to take their place in the organization, as full-fledged members who have proven their obedience and loyalty, they must suffer through the indignities of chaos. It all seems to be worth the drunkenness and the humiliations because they know that in the morning theyíll be secure within the organizationís structure. They have proven how much they value their new position in the societal order. Cosmos. Order. The Peace and Relief of being connected, integrated into society as deserving members.

New Yearís Eve celebrations evidence the same rationale. Everybody wears funny hats or masks to disguise himself from evil spirits - those whom he has failed to scare away with noisemakers - and gets drunk and is perfectly at liberty to kiss anyone within range of the sound of the midnight bells. Cronos is portrayed as Old Father Time with his scythe and a diapered fellow, a tad more drunk than the rest, runs around trying to make everyone believe that he is the old manís legitimate heir. And when itís all over, people return to their beds comforted with the thought that they will probably sober-up enough to watch the morrowís football games in peace. Only the designated drivers will have qualms about the future.

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Last modified: July 11, 2004
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