The Cremation of Bob
I knew that the 1999 Mabon Festival at Cerren Ered was going to be different; I had every intention of making it so.  First, I got my reservation in early enough so I wasn't worried about being turned away at the gate.  Second, I was packing three pounds of wieners along.  Okay, so the classic American "tube steak" isn't what a lot of people think about as Pagan festival fare, but then they've never been to a festival with my kids.  Silverwing and Willow have, at past festivals, roasted and eaten every hotdog I've packed before I had a chance to work up a good appetite, so this time I was taking no chances.  Three pounds of wieners, three packages of buns, mustard. We were ready.

Our departure was delayed as usual, but this time last-minute car repairs played no part.  The old "festival buggy" was running flawlessly, apart from the chronic starter problem that developed several months ago but hasn't gotten bad enough to fix yet.  Perhaps it was the magick of being prepared for once that rubbed off on the balky starter motor, for the engine spun over and roared to life  every time I turned the key during the trip.  [Okay, in this case it's more like rattled to life, but artistic license counts for something here too, you know?]  No, the culprit this time was a combination of my not getting off work until 5:00 plus the grueling schedule of procrastination I'd forced myself into during the previous few days in order to ensure nothing would be packed when it was time to leave.  (Don't you just love "Pagan Standard Time"?)  At any rate it worked, and as a result we arrived at about half past pitch black.  As this is a fairly common occurrence with us we're well practiced in setting up the tent under these conditions, so with everyone pitching in we were able to have our entire camp ready for habitation long before the full moon crested the treetops and bathed the field in sufficient light to read by.

That evening was spent talking to old friends from the last time we'd attended a gathering there and browsing the few merchants that had already set up their wares.  The wieners remained untouched that night, as the kids made a raid on our neighbor's marshmallow stash.  Amber and I made a trip or two up to the castle, but were driven away from the drum circle by the presence of someone's stereo system set up in the dining pavilion directly behind the fire pit blasting rap "music" into the night: "Jus' DO it..." *Grunt-grunt* *TWEET-TWEEET* "Jus' DO it..." *Grunt-grunt* *TWEET-TWEEET* *Zoopa-zoopa-ZOOPA-zoopa-zoopa-zoopa-zoop...* You get the idea.  Maybe I'm showing my age here, but I really don't consider rap to be music.  Sure, it fits a few of the various definitions listed in the dictionary, but then so do dentists' drills and jackhammers.  Anyway, the energies by the fire pit were just too weird so we settled in by the fire back at the field and talked with some other Pagan parents long into the evening before retiring to the tent.

Saturday morning we awoke to the glorious sounds of... nothing.  The rest of the campers in our immediate vicinity were also just waking up so the morning was still.  The kids had fortified themselves with a half-dozen wieners and thus recharged, were over at the castle shaking down, er, bargaining with the merchants.  They were making the rounds, stopping to "ooh" and "ahh" over various trinkets until they happened to find things in their price range.  Generally, this means "free".  Silverwing picked out jewelry and came home with a silver toe ring, a bracelet and some stickers, for which she pretty much paid the prices marked.  Willow, on the other hand, turned on her charm and got some amazing bargains, trading the approximately $1.25 and a handful of incense sticks she'd brought with her for more stuff than she could carry, including a $13 purse, a $2 bracelet, a handmade set of lace "fairy wings" that had been marked $20, a quartz crystal roughly the size of an egg, later charged with healing energy and given away to someone she met who wasn't feeling well, a silver beaded wire hair clasp and I don't know what else, and still came home with almost four dollars in change.  I know, but I've given up trying to figure it out.  I do think I may let her pick the numbers next time I buy a Lotto ticket, though.

After a couple of gallons of coffee and a trip to the facilities, we joined the girls behind the castle and spent the rest of the day talking, shopping and meeting new friends.  Amber picked up several books and ceramic garden ornaments there, as well as some beautiful pieces of jewelry including an amber necklace and a pendant made by a street artist who works with "found" material, forming such trash as broken windshields and empty cans into wearable art.  We milled around the castle area for most of the morning and were still there when "Bob" was brought to the fire pit.

Bob was the name given to the main course of the evening feast, perhaps being short for "Bob B. Cue".  Bob was approximately 150 pounds of prime pork all dressed for a Hawaiian luau.  By "dressed", I don't mean he was wearing a grass skirt; instead, he proudly displayed his "USDA" stamp on his hip but wore nothing else, although someone did remember to stuff an apple into his mouth before he went into the pit.  The roaring fire from that morning had by then mostly burned down into a hot bed of coals.  The remains of the flaming logs were raked aside and Bob laid into them.  Well, that's not quite accurate; what really happened was, four guys bearing Bob on a large piece of wet fabric inched as close as they dared to the searing heat of the firepit without losing any eyebrows and sort of gave Bob a toss, then poked and prodded at him with shovels and poles until most of his legs didn't stick up.  Then the coals were raked back on top of him and more logs piled on, and Bob began to cook.

Now, I've never been to a Hawaiian luau, but have read something of the process of pit-cooking a pig.  It involves a deep pit with a hot bed of coals in the bottom, onto which is placed a layer of sand, then wet leaves and/or fabric, to keep the dirt off the meat, the pig itself, more leaves, and another layer of sand.  A fire is built on top of this to keep the whole thing going, and the pig slowly cooks for 12 hours or so to later be dug out and brought to the feast table all golden brown and steaming, a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.  Never once have I heard of just building a fire on top of a pig.  So, as Bob popped and sizzled in the fire, shrinking unevenly to cause more parts to stick out where they could burn away faster, I sighed and turned back to the shopping, hopeful that there would at least be plenty of bread and salad to go around that night.

Afterwards we returned to the meadow and had a bit of lunch, during which we discovered that although we'd brought enough wieners to more than tide us over, the buns were about 100 miles away, still home in the freezer.  Fortunately while packing the cooler I'd noticed a package of flour tortillas in the 'fridge that I'd thought might come in handy, so we made do just fine.  We chatted with the neighboring campers for a short time, then took a nap.  When we woke, the shadows were getting longer and I was beginning to get hungry again, so we made a couple of trips to the merchants' tents to pay for the items being held for us, witnessing the charred remains of Bob being lifted from the fire in the process.  Bob was no longer recognizable as a pig.  In fact, Bob hardly even bore much resemblance to food.  From what I could see, Bob's head, legs and tail, as well as one side, had burned away leaving a slab of blackened meat that was about 1/4 of the original volume of the porker that had so unceremoniously gone into the inferno seven hours previously.  Bob was carefully removed from the coals and placed on a board, coals, ashes and burning embers swept away, and taken to the castle kitchen so forensic chefs could perform their evaluation of the remains.  Although doubtful that there would be much in the way of protein that evening, my hopes were bolstered by the stricken faces of the more squeamish of the mourners watching this process;  I realized that there would be considerably lighter appetites crowding around the pork platter that night, should there be any edible meat left.

We went back to the tent with our purchases, almost requiring two trips, refreshed our drinks and cleared the cobwebs from our heads, if not our tent, while chatting with our friends.  A bit later someone showed up talking about how good the soup had been at the feast, which was my first indication that dinner was ready.  Amberflame had pretty much lost her appetite after witnessing the waste of so much food in Bob's funeral pyre, so the girls and I grabbed our feast gear and headed down to the castle to see if anything was left.

Fortunately, what they lacked in dinner bells was more than compensated for by the sheer volume of food prepared for this event:  There were stacks of rolls and bread, slabs of cheese, about 20 gallons of garlic soup and mounds of fresh salad in bowls the size of washtubs.  Several cakes and varieties of cookies had been placed at the end of the table, although I knew I wouldn't have room for any after I saw what I'd already selected before spotting them.  Bob was nowhere to be seen, so figuring that after the burnt parts were scraped off someone probably made a sandwich out of what was left, I loaded up on soup and salad and made my way out of the throng to go eat at our campsite in the meadow.  As I stepped out of the pavilion where the feast had been set up, I saw an amazing site:  There, on a bench on the other side of the fire, was Bob the pig, or at least what was left of him.  Bob was being carved up by one of the Kitchen Witches, and an amazing amount of him had been spared the fire.  Never one to dishonor an animal by allowing good meat to go to waste, I lined up and managed to make room on my plate for a couple of chunks myself, then went back to the campsite to eat and enjoy the company of my family and friends.  The soup was not only delicious, composed of a thick slab of garlic bread with cheese melted over it by the steaming garlic broth, but I can honestly say I didn't see any vampires that night.  In fact I think it helped hold the mosquitoes at bay, too.  The soup, salad and roast pork made for a sumptuous meal, and if I ever get the chance I'm going to try to see if I can get the recipe for that broth.

Thankfully, the rap music that we had been subject to the previous evening never resumed, so we were entertained long into the night by the sounds of the drum circle as we chatted around the fire in the meadow.  We skipped the ritual that night, as did several others.  I noticed that more people stayed behind than usual that night, probably also disturbed by the strange energies the previous night's clash of modern angry noise and the sounds of the drummers had produced.  Hopefully this won't happen the next time, as it bothered so many of the folks I talked to afterwards.  Besides, if I want to listen to canned music, I can do that at home.  Give me a circle of drummers any day!

We finally retired to the tent and bedded down, lulled by the sounds of the drums in the distance, and awoke refreshed the next morning as can only happen when you sleep on the cold, uneven ground, too full to breathe.  Before breaking camp I went back up to the castle to make one more loop past the merchants.  While there I noticed that little of Bob was left on the board from which he'd been served, and that it appeared that most of the edges of the board on which he lay had been licked clean.  I also noted  that the local dogs and the black castle cat were nowhere to be seen, no doubt still sleeping off their portions with distended bellies and dreaming of some carnivore paradise where meat is cooked and left lying around for the taking.  Content in the knowledge that we'd bought all we could afford and that Bob's sacrifice had not been in vain, I went back, broke camp, and we loaded the car.  After a short delay to round up Silverwing, who had disappeared to go play in the creek with a friend, we managed to say our goodbyes and head for home.  It's always sad leaving a festival, but we'll be back again.  I just hope next time they don't cremate Bob.

Oakdancer 10/2/99


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