Jun 22, 2011

I ran into my old friend Bernard coming out of Java Beach this morning. He looked exuberant. He had coffee in hand and was singing something. We said hello. I asked what he was singing.

He went right into it. “We all come from the goddess. And to the goddess shall return, like a drop…. of rain, flowing to the ocean….”

He sang it again —a little too loudly for that time in the morning, but that’s Berns — and when he got to the word “drop”, he made a conductor’s gesture, with thumb and forefinger, as though to enunciate the word. “‘like a drop’, then hold it a beat. ‘of rain.’ ”

What’s that? I asked.

“A little pagan thing.” He sang it through still again.

“Catchy tune. I didn’t realize you'd gone back to your old pagan ways”

“Trying to,” he said. “Last night was the summer solstice. There was a little ceremony down on the beach at Taraval.”

We sat down, he told me about it.

“Three, four hundred people. Circle around a fire. You sing songs. Pray for a good crop. Acknowledge the four corners. Make a wish. The idea is to clear stuff out. Make room for the new. That kind of thing.”

“And the wreath goes around”, he added.

What’s that?

“Symbol of the cosmos. Universe, atom. We’re all electrons, right? Earth around the sun. Circle of life. The seasons. I suppose you could say ‘the vagina’ as well. Although that’s more my interpretation.”

‘Blessed be’. I said.

“You always have to be sarcastic. But I understand.”

I defended myself but he waved it aside. He doesn't like it when you don't take his interests as seriously as he does. He also considers himself somewhat of an expert on the subject. Many years ago he wrote a story for the New York Times Sunday Magazine about pagans. But the piece never played. If you have about 10 hours Bernie could tell you his whole sordid history with The New York Times and why they wouldn’t take a piece they’d assigned on Neo-Paganism and on which he’d spent about six months. He always claimed that was when he realized the true distance between New York and California.

“Was there a lot of wild sex?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“It’s not about that,” he said marmishly. And a little disingenuously considering the tales he’d told me of pagan annual gatherings up at Harbin Hot Springs. He’d once caught a bug in his privates after being in a pool full of coupling couples. His wife has always assumed he went biblical with some of the witches but he assured me that was not the case. “Do you think I would jeopardize an assignment with The New York Times to get laid by people I was interviewing? Plus the really voracious people were not pagan. You want to steer clear of those. There's a lot of pretenders in the pagan community.”

“Well what then? Did people take off their clothes at least?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Of course. I would say there were between 50 and 100 people who went into the ocean.”

"Last night? In that cold?"

“You feel better,” he said.

“Did you do that?”

“No, my wife did though.”

“Just took off all her clothes and dove right in.” In appearance, his wife looks not unlike the Woman of Willendorf. But blonde and very funny.

“Up to her waist”, he went on. “Mostly women went in the ocean. All shapes, ages. A few men. Who were mostly older. The men were definitely older.”

“But not you.”

He shook his head.

“How did your wife like it?”

“I don’t know you’d have to ask her. But I think she would tell you that it was very cleansing.”

I never understand how metaphor can be so powerful, how people can walk into 55-degree surf and think they’re cleansed of anything except their wits. I said that.

“I know,” Bernard said. But that’s you.”

And then he went off on the sociology of the evening.

“Starhawk wasn’t there. None of the old guard. That was sad. And what was her name who used to live down in Santa Cruz, who was always railing against Christianity, wondering why anybody would want to worship 'a little dead man on little dead sticks'. Her name won’t come to me. But anyway Starhawk’s the best, of course. Nobody knows more about this stuff than she does. No one is more talented in teaching ‘the ancient ways’.”

Bernard paused. “I don’t know what’s happened to her. It’s just mostly a lot of kids now.”

He went on.

“Explain to me what it does for you again,” I said. “What’s the appeal?”

“Oh,” he said with a sigh, as though if you have to explain it you’ll never understand. “Of course, it’s all silly and serious at the same time. It's not about ideas, that's what I like. You don't have to pose or be cool or be smart or be whatever you're being at the moment....I don't know it's really just about giving up everything...." He paused to let somebody get by.

"But I have to say when we were standing there, all the naked bodies in the firelight, skin the color of limestone, and everyone is singing, just a single note really. And as you start your voice automatically synchs with the voices around you, high C, was it, you're all on the same note and there’s something very interesting about that. It’s just for a moment but I found that very interesting.”

“Connected to the universe,” I said.

“I suppose.”

Bernard was anxious to go. But he wanted to add something.

“Apropos of nothing,” he said. “Or everything. Every once in a while I look down, I’m on a wire at the very top of the tent, and it’s just so far above the crowd and you could fall, there’s no net, and you’d be done for, but you don’t even care about that. You don't care about anything. With all that's happening. You know what I mean? You're just losing touch with life, you can sense the other side and suddenly you lose your drive, your appreciation, and that’s when the pagans can help you. They’re sweet people, the ones I’ve known. It’s all much simpler. You don’t have to be anything. That's what it is, you just don't have to be anything.”

He made a little moue, shrugged his shoulders and turned away, back humming his riff.

1 comment:

Anjuli said...

interesting- this is why I love reading your blog- I learn so many new things.