I’m revisiting my explication of 3 Old Men in terms of Ronald Grimes’ Beginnings in Ritual Studies.
: Ritual objects :
What, and how many, objects are associated with the rite? … Of what materials are they made? … What is done with it? … What skills were involved in its making?
Back in March, I talked about the staffs and the skirts and indeed those became the major ritual objects, but there’s a lot more to discuss now that we’ve actually done it.
When we met in September for our technical runthrough/final dress rehearsal, it was clear that the four of us had had a wonderful time designing and making our staffs. Mine was the simple blue staff with the rings of wire and the copper lizard. Craig’s was hand-carved with a serpent surmounting it. Michael’s was a spiral-cut wooden curtain-rod which he had painted and trimmed along the spiral grooves. Joe’s was this phantasmagoria of styles, a different look-and-feel every foot or so, ending up with a steampunk top into which he could insert a glowstick. (We also had a fifth one for volunteer Old Men; Michael made it and I’m afraid I don’t have a firm memory of it.)
The staffs became therefore a focus of our own particular energies and styles. I’m sure none of our participants paid the slightest attention, but it made a difference to me.
One thing we did not use the staffs for was to lay out a central octagon for the labyrinth. It was completely unnecessary: we measured the space so that we’d have room for the entire thing, then staked out the center, aligned the points of the compass, and then used the triangle to place the stakes. I did use the markings on my staff to place the stakes at the appropriate distance from either side of the short “blue” rope, so that was both useful and necessary.
The skirts were particularly fine as objects: they set the Old Men apart as Other in a really beautiful but undefinable way. Together with the staffs they left the viewer with no choice but to understand that these men were figures of power.
Back in March I posited creating stands at the four exits, one for each of the four elements, but Black Rock Desert’s windy environment wouldn’t permit it. They would have been superfluous, as it turns out.
I did whip up a stand for our bowl for the body paint, and that turned out to be very effective. We moved it around from exit to exit until we settled on the north side, which was the side by the road—almost literally by the road. By creating a place for the body paint, it gave the ritual itself a beginning and ending in space. Once or twice participants used the body paint themselves, and that was nice. (Only one, a much younger man who had spent some time chatting with us about the whole thing, stripped and painted himself before walking the labyrinth. I thought we’d have more.)
At the dress rehearsal, Craig suggested that I bring my gong/bell from the labyrinth, and that was an amazing addition. As the weekend progressed and we actually developed details in the ritual, the bell became an important part of that. (See the discussion on ritual action in a couple of days.)
Craig also built a little altar in the center for people leave and take ritual items, and by Cthulhu that worked! People seemed to know without being told what to do—or maybe that’s a universal dirty hippie freak thing.
Finally, the labyrinth itself was fabulous. We could if we wanted make the construction more ritualistic, but it didn’t feel to me as if that were a problem. The tawdriness of the materials—the fluorescent orange and yellow in particular—might be problematic in establishing the sacred nature of the space (well, it is for me), but I keep coming back to the basic issues of visibility and safety. I don’t know that it bothered the audience.