Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rosh Hashanah, The Road to Hell and Me - Part 1

Fair Warning - This is a long post that includes a bunch of religion.

Sunray was the very first Poppet that was mine.

She lives in the ceremonial bowl and plate that we use at Rosh Hashanna, and during the year that plate sits on the silver platter etched with the signatures of people we love who shared my wedding day.

Rosh Hashanah, my wedding, poppets. Hmmn. I'm not sure how much more symbolic it can get. Let's look at some art history - I'm sure it could get more symbolic - for instance in the early Middle Ages when actors were playing someone dead they wore yellow. But currently the color is associated with creativity and intellect. Yellow is considered a color of wisdom, however in 10th century France it got a bad rep because it was used to identify where criminals lived.

Different symbols - new associations - apples and honey for Rosh Hashanna and the Fiona Apple song Criminal . . . . I am getting ahead of myself and it's dangerous to invite you all too far into my fevered, struggling brain, attached to my fevered struggling soul, which is trying to hold together my tattered self. This is about Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Days of Awe, and for it to mean anything outside of my head there needs to be context.

So we'll go back to Poppets - a common context for people who know me now or met me here.

I accquired Sunray because I was Time Travelling, taking a step back to a world I had been a part of as a favor to a friend. And while I was there I saw a piece of art in an ad for Lisa Snelling's called "Brave New Soup".

I knew immediately that it was a skilled and professional thing and that it was going to be even better in real life. I showed the ad to anyone who would listen to ask about the artist, because it was very unusual for an ad to be in an event like that without the artist being present.

I needed to see the artist's work. The blue balloon with the one little being on the end, I can't even put it into words what it makes me feel. But while I was infatuated I wasn't obsessed. Not until dinner.

I showed my program and the ad to the friend who had brought me back to this time and place, explaining the effect the sculpture had on me, how compelling the little beings were. Had he seen anything like this here? He took out one of the little beings from his pocket and put it on the table.

"You mean this?"

My brain exploded as the Poppet sat in the middle of the table changing the negative space and the dimensions around it. I was 6 years old playing in my room. I was 9 years old looking at Hello Kitty for the first time trying to understand the impelling pull of the offputting Cute, that now has a name of it's own in Japan ("moe" for those who don't know), I was 15 staring into a fire, I was 33 in art school putting my life back in place learning the formal names for things I had been doing my whole life learned at my mother's shoulder, because I watched her at a distance and from behind.

If this is what crack does to you, I might understand addiction better now. I did manage a coherent sentence.

"You mean they come in component pieces?!"

It was a Little Red Poppet - Here he is.

The rest of that story is for some other time. But the end result is that only some of Lisa's work was where I was, but everyone I was involved with there knew her or had a Poppet. I knew I was hopeless and desperately thought that perhaps if I could just get a Poppet of my own I could manage to behave like a normal human being for a while. Sunray was the Poppet I could get without depriving anyone else of a Poppet. It did work, I felt the grip of addiction fading. It's almost like I was afraid that without tangible evidence, the artist, her work and what it was doing to me would disappear, and it was in that moment that there was a part of me honestly aware that I was well into the process of disappearing too. I had been for some time.

Time Travel, in case you are not aware, is very dangerous.

When I brought Sunray home she needed a place to live, I let her choose and she told The Boy of the House and the Girl of the House finished the job by arming her with the Honey Wand. So the first Poppet in the house was also the first Poppet to choose to live in one of our ritual objects.

As more Poppets came in they tended to settle by our other ritual objects and although they are most certainly outside of religion, I cannot comfortably explain to you how Judaically inflected my Poppet Experiences have been. Of course that might also be because of the connection to Peter S. Beagle's story in Strange Roads and the conversation he and I both had about growing up with family members who were artists in New York during a certain era. Same weekend. Different story.

The Reds, when they were 4 decided that they were going to live by the Boy's Shofar.

That's the Most Adventurous Red up there in the Shofar itself. After he got his first chip. This picture is less than a year old. There are more Reds in the Shofar now. If you were wondering why the Reds don't live in Poppetropolis, it's because they like to visit but they prefer to hang here.

You know one of the things that come with Poppets is the saying "Wake Up!". The purpose of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is also "Wake Up!" The Shofar lives in the dining room and we see it every day, because we share our meals there. The Reds, I think like to be there because it's the thing in the House that is closest to their nature.

So now that I've given some background on the Poppet angle I will provide some background on the religious angle.

What the heck are you talking about when you say "Days of Awe?"

Most people know about Yom Kippur which is the Day of Atonement, but many people don't know that it's the end of a holiday period and not the beginning of one. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the new year of the Jewish Calendar - Happy New Year - have a great 5770!

Actually, it was last weekend on Friday night, but it takes a little while to process things. We run autumn to autumn on our calendar for two reasons, one is that it's harvest based and two is that we're a lunar calendar. Rosh Hashanna begins the period of time where we are supposed to spend the next 10 days making sure everything is together and set up right for the next year. It's the reset button. It's the closest thing we have to confessional. It's our renewal and the same way the Western World celebrates their new year with Champagne and parties we celebrate with apples and honey. We do it to symbolize the hopes for a sweet and fruitful year.

I've mentioned we're about food and fire right?

Sometimes we're about noise, that's why there's a Shofar.

We also blow the Shofar. What the heck is that? Well it's a ram's horn and if you remeber the story of Joshua blowing down the walls of Jericho you may think that it was a miracle, but the rabbis themselves will tell you it's more the kind of miracle that helps you win a battle today than the kind where God waggles his pinky fingers and the walls fell.

Have you heard a Ram's Horn? It's pretty awesome really. But it's a communication device and a military signal. If your read the book of Joshua you will see that he was waging a very sophisticated psychological battle both with Jericho and with the future Israelites. He built up to that moment. It wasn't a David and Goliath kind of thing, and he had a pretty big army, a cadre of ram's horn blowing priests and he waited until the seventh day to add the peice de resistance - having the entire nation in waiting of Israel shout at the same time the horn blew. "And the walls of Jericho came down flat" which is a military description, my friends.

That shout was not the "YOP!" from Horton hears a Who. That shout was the battle cry CHARGE! from an extremely successful desert general of a dispossessed people that had NEVER been slaves.

Hell yeah the walls fell flat - he'd sent and army up against them from the outside, spied on their condition from the inside and scared the hell out of the population on the other side. Joshua gave them so much warning that he was coming for them that I'm sure they were tunneled under by the population of Jericho who were trying to get out before Joshua's crew got in.

But most people think God did it. Or that Joshua did it. Or modern people think it proves that God is a meanie because he had Joshua completely and utterly destroy the population of the city. But it's not that simple 3 or 4,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent where life is cheap but water is not. By destroying the "impenetrable" Jericho, Joshua was able to avoid unnecessary warfare later. By protecting and keeping his word to Rahab, a woman who had no claim to him other than his personal honor, he was also announcing to all future foes that he would stand by his agreements. That's more than a lot of other warlords then or now can say. It's not a miracle, it's excellent strategy though, and a lesson in how not to let necessary destruction become the excuse for unnecessary destruction.

And it is part of the call of the Shofar. Sometimes when I hear it I can smell outside air and see armies. It is heart stirring, and adrenaline rushing. If you are a peacenik hippie liberal Jew and you can still deny that the warrior culture is part and parcel of our past, along with our agrarian and tribal culture you are not just willfully blind, you are probably also not being honest with yourself about other things. A culture, and a religion are not just made up of the parts you like, they are made up of all the parts, good and bad, perfect and imperfect, experienced and aspired to. Otherwise they would just be a series of fables instead of something you can't escape from.

If you can't accept that it's OK, but please don't try to tell me how to be religious, because I would rather work my way through the troublesome one than the one that is always apples and honey. If you need God to be the one who knocked down the walls then you might also be the one who ignores that Jericho was destroyed. If you can't accept that Jericho was destroyed for a larger strategic purpose you might also mistake God for the type of thing that you pray to for a new puppy instead of the thing that is unquantifiable and insists that you be a full human being.

The rabbi in our very modern world will call out the shofar blasts and then the horn will sound.

Here is the service by a cantor in Skokie Illinois, if you are going to play this don't have your volume up loud. If you want to hear it the way it sounds to us in the room when someone is calling, crank it to 11 baby!

If you are Jewish and can stand in Skokie or Alaska or NY and hear this, and not feel some sort of sense of urgency, then by all means, stay asleep. If you can hear this and not feel the passage of time, the acknowledgement that in this world of electronics and light and mechanization that our religion and our culture is MUCH, MUCH older than the way we think of it, by all means stay dunderheaded. If you are confused by it . . . . good. That's a much better start.

Then when you get all settled into understanding the warrior of it all, you should also remember that the shofar was also used for shepherding. It was the communication tool that you used when you were very far away from your settlements with your flock to let them know where you were, whether you were safe or in danger. It was used so that when you were all alone with no one but sheep, someone could hear you and respond.

The Shofar is not just a symbol of our call to action but it is also a symbol of our call to the world and beyond when we are alone. It's never "YOP" but sometimes it is indeed "We are Here! We are Here!"

It is the same item, for wartime or peacetime, a shofar doesn't change. The purpose it is being used for does. People who are using it do.

Hearing the shofar makes me cry very, very complicated tears.

So does Brave New Soup.

Back to the House

Of all the Poppets who come here alone or in groups until recently Sunray was alone, none of the other Poppets were really part of her temperament or story until this Spring, shortly after Passover.

Last year, she alone celebrated the holiday with us. She was given a place of honor at the table and included in all of our observances. Her "Wake Up" is a different tone and we appreciated her last year when I had a crowd of family and friends over for the holiday.

This year the family was by itself but Sunray had friends. It was an inversion of a sort.

The bowl is filled with honey, it is completely appropriate for Sunray and her friends who have not yet told me their names. Although the blue one may be Chibi. The Boy picked Wildflower Honey instead of Clover Honey. We will see what it means for the year.

The blessing said over the apples and honey is "Blessed are you Ruler of the Universe, may it be your will that we are renewed for a good and sweet year."

Tradition is that every year during the Days of Awe, God is opening the Book of Life and writing out the things that will affect our lives over the next year. Who will live, who will die, who will be born, who will fall sick. We greet each other during this period of time with the words "L'shana Tovah" which means "for a good year" but it's shorthand for a longer greeting that works out to "May you be written in for a good year"

If you are a non-religious person reading this, allow me to reassure you that we don't really believe in a bearded white magical sky fairy with a giant book that sounds like Santa Claus. It's a metaphor and an allegory. It's a way to deal with the things that are unknown in life and it makes the concept of predetermination or of an omnipotent god meaningless.

Even God is bound by Time in Judaism. God doesn't map out your whole life before you're born. You can't predict what is going to happen to you because it hasn't been decided. Only your span of days is decided, even that can change year to year.

The Book of Life, if you needed to believe in that Magical Sky Fairy isn't much of a comfort because you still can only make the case for each year. Even if God is doing the accounting, you are still the one responsible for filling the coffers to make the case. Every year baby, no get out of sin free cards.

God is thinking about you during these ten days so that you think about you. If the book were real, what would it say? Is it a story you would like to have read if it were your last entry?

Right. That's what the Days of Awe are for. A chance to reflect and decide what you would like to be written next year, and what you would like to edit from this year.

This year, we got double whammied. Rosh Hashann also started on Shabbat. So we had a special meal on top of our special meal.

So I got to use some more ritual objects.

And we serve round foods to show the eternal wheel of Time and the cycle of seasons. Also it's full of raisins and there is nothing wrong with that. We usually have two loaves of braided egg bread on Shabbat to symbolize the double portion so we got to use two round loaves instead.

Pomegranates are Strange, which is important to the holiday as well. Pomegranates were used as holy symbols on lots of things including the priests robes. Sukkot is a big pomegranate holiday - it's after the High Holy Days.

The thing to remember about religions is that they are really mnemonics for how to be an awake and aware, decent, human being. They are referred to by some people as the opiate of the masses, however many of the same people who would use that term to denigrate religion would also advocate the use of such substances to alter their states of consciousness for creativity.

I do not disagree with either position actually. Opiates are multilayered. They can help heal, they can deaden, they can be used recreationally with little impact, they can destroy your life, they can open your mind, they can prevent any coherent thought. They can prevent you from wanting to kill yourself, they can kill you.

This is the background of my Days of Awe, the poppets and shofars and apples that informed the beginning of my mandatory self evaluation. It's complicated, like opiates, like religion, like art.

The Required Questing. Next I will stop dancing around events and tell what happened this year. Confession in Judaism is public, not private. It's not a shocking story at all, just a private and struggling one and best understood if you know the holiday and it's symbols.

Until then L'shana Tovah.


funnyhatsyd said...

And, as I had a friend to write down for me this morning, G'mar chatima tova! (I hope that's right.)

DataGoddess said...

Thank you for writing this up, I love to hear about religion and rituals from people who share what the symbolism and ritual means to them. And I love how the Poppets enhance the ritual.