Ready??? On your mark...get set...go!
Fat Tuesday is the cultural advent of one of my favorite city's in America, New Orleans (though there are a number of states today that hold their own versions). If you're lucky enough to live in "Nawlins," or are able visit at this time of year, you'll find parades put on by different "krewes," or groups that sponsor individual celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras. The first parade for Mardi Gras was held in 1857 by the Mistick Krewe of Comus. Comus is the oldest krewe in New Orleans; it introduced floats and marching bands to the parade. After Comus's historic contributions to Mardi Gras, thousands of revelers began traveling to New Orleans to see the spectacle of torches (or flambeaux), music, and "rolling" floats. Comus was started by a small group of businessmen from the French Quarter who were part of a secret society. Secret societies were big in Victorian culture--think Skull and Bones at Yale University (started in 1832). "Comus" is actually the Greek god of festivals, revelry and (sexual) affairs. The son of Bacchus, Comus essentially represents the personification of Chaos. But the Mistick Krewe's true inspiration came from a masque written by John Milton (1608-1674). The irony, of course, is that Milton wrote his masque in honor of chastity--the last thing you'd associate with Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras was originally a Creole-Catholic celebration; Louisiana was once a French territory and France was a Catholic nation. If you find yourself in Jackson Square in the future, be sure to visit the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis (est. 1720), a gorgeous church named in honor of King Louis of France, that rises up in front of the square; behind it is the French Quarter. When you wander the French Quarter at night, one of the most striking moments is seeing the shadow of the Christ statue project up and out at you, as if Jesus himself were there. Yet, Comus was started by Anglo-Protestants in reaction to the Creole-Catholic revelry. Today, both traditions have blended into one of the most magical experiences you'll ever have. The Mistick Krewe of Comus even holds a ball every year that is highly selective; the tickets are works of art in and of themselves.
Mardi Gras is sometimes considered a late winter holiday for singles in lieu of Valentine's Day, another Americanized holiday with Catholic roots. V-day was declared a holiday by the Church in the fifth century by Pope Gelasius; this may have been an attempt to replace the pre-Roman pagan holiday of Lupercalia, which took place between February 13-15th each year in honor of Lupercus (or Pan), the god of fertility. Men would sacrifice and skin dogs and goats and then, wear the skins and run around the city half-naked beating women with those same skins to purify them and make them fruitful. The skins of the goat were called "februum" from the word "februare," which meant "to purify." Hence the name "February." The Greek poet, Ovid (43 BCE-AD 17), wrote about the ceremony at length. I'd wager that when Julius Caesar first instituted February 24th as the one day each year women could ask men to marry, it was in response to possible prolific activities during Lupercalia that may have resulted in pregnancy. The reach of Roman tradition was such that it even stretched to Northern Europe and the island-country of Ireland, where legend has it St. Patrick (5th century) made February 29th the date women could ask men to marry at the request of St. Brigid (451 AD-525 AD), who was the embodiment of an early Celtic goddess named Bride (how "Brigid" is spelled in Irish). Bride or Brigid is the goddess of fire, unity, childbirth, home, and hearth. Today, there are holy wells dedicated to St. Brigid all over Ireland, but the "real" deal is built around 6,000-year old megalithic stones that mark an underwater spring. Probably one of the original reasons why St. Brigid's Day or Imbolc (one of four Irish fire festivals) is associated with spring itself. Nothing new can grow if you can't water your crops!
Before France, Switzerland and Luxembourg were known as those individual countries, it was a region called "Celtica." The people from this region began spreading into what we now know as the British Isles, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Scotland. The Grange Stone Circle in Limerick, Ireland is one of the oldest stone circles of its kind in Europe, dating back nearly 10,000 years. The people who built it were "Gauls" from what is modern France today. But before Julius Caesar (100 BCE-44 BCE) dubbed Celtica "Gaul," people from that region were called "Celts." You may recognize the word "Gaelic," meaning Irish, from "Gaul." "Gallia Celtica" was Latin for "the region of Celtica in Gaul." Gaelic is one of the Goidelic languages that create a kind of linguistic continuum between Ireland, The Isle of Man and Scotland--the history of which is rooted in the Tower of Babel and even includes an Egyptian princess named Scota! And yes, if you see "Scotland" in "Scota." you'd be right.
Because Ireland is an actual island, it's likely the Celts that landed on those green shores were able to maintain more of their language and culture because they were harder to get to than say, Britain--where you can still see Celtic influences at places like Stonehenge in Glastonbury.
Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day are essentially connected through the evolution of post-Constantinian efforts to retain the Christian traditions put into place to justify anti-Semitic legislation by the first Holy Roman Emperor (February 27, 272-May 22, 337 AD). Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" because people would feast (and fuck) to excess before having to make sacrifices for Lent, which now only requires the "sacrifice" of not eating meat on Fridays until Easter. But at one point, fasting (and abstinence) was more central to Lent. This was similar to the period of abstinence (and frankly, recovery) after celebrating Lupercalia in pre-Christian Rome.
The month of February is steeped in ancient traditions of purification and sacrifice in order to be closer to God. It's no coincidence then that in Astrology--which permeated pre-Roman cultures around the world--the last week of February is considered "the week of sacrifice." That is the week the Pisces Zodiacal sign begins (2/20-3/21). It's the 12th sign of the Solar Zodiac and though it is often seen as one of the more intuitive signs, it's also associated with deep insecurities and fear. Judas Iscariot was a Pisces. As was Constantine. Both Judas and Constantine betrayed the Jewish people, building the foundation for a global anti-Semitic movement that fell like dominoes for nearly two millennia, culminating in the Holocaust. Countries that were once under Roman or Constantinian rule watched in silent consent for nearly a decade, that is, until Hitler began running out of Jews. That's when the Nazis started their invasions of other countries. Then, and only then, did the world suddenly become incensed by the atrocities. By the way, the Nazi party was officially formed on February 24, 1920.
It's interesting to note how love and worship became intertwined with sacrifice and purity through virginal "brides" giving themselves to a man--first through Lupercalia, then Valentine's Day--one of the most popular days people get engaged to marry around the world. "Bride" is of course the Irish word for Brigid, considered one of the Tuatha de Danaan or "tribe of the goddess Dana," believed to be a supernatural race that lived in ancient Ireland. The Tuatha were "gods" because of their ability to live through things other humans couldn't. Brigid was associated with fire (or passion), poetry, the home, childbirth, and unity. Valentine's Day celebrates unity and passion through poetry, which often leads to (and strengthens) building a home and family. Mardi Gras is the modern version of Lupercalia--the equivalent of Valentine's Day for singles. Instead of being beaten with goat skins, men and women pelt each other with Mardi Gras beads during the revelry leading up to a period of sobriety, ending in a resurrection or rebirth.
Humans...such a creative species. Especially resourceful when it comes to constructing distraction and destruction, weaving narrative-tapestries of pain and deceit. The great lie is that we are somehow different from one another. Superior, if not to each other, than to other life forms, like animals. When, in fact, we're all just a collection of atoms. Whether a creature has opposable thumbs or not, everything that breathes on Planet Earth is equally valid and valuable. Yet, the human need to use religion or God as an excuse to hurt and hate persists. But I suppose that's what karma is for...or, if you prefer, Chaos.
We've now come full circle. In perhaps more ways than even I had imagined.
Laissez les bon temps rouler....