Posts Tagged ‘joie de vivre’
Laissez les bon temps rouler
Mardi Gras has come to mean many things in contemporary society: a celebration of excess, a sinful party, pure decadence prior to an austere period of fasting, etc.. But let us briefly look at it for what it really is: the closest mainstream celebration to those practiced in the ancient world.
By this I do not refer to what Mardi Gras may or may not stand for, I refer more directly to how it is celebrated. Be it the famous North American Mardi Gras of New Orleans, the wild Carnivale of Brazil, or one of the parties of continental Europe: the festivities center on a decorative parade featuring costumed, often masked participants who throw offerings out to the crowd. This format is echoed time and time again through history, though Mardi Gras and perhaps nominally the Thanksgiving Parades are modern societies closest remnants of it. The ancient cultures of Mesopotamia would parade their gods through the city in lavish displays which culminated in a large feast and concerts for the entire population. The Greeks and Romans would celebrate their religious holidays and military triumphs with decadent exhibits, veiled dancers, and costumed or masked participants.
The idea of the ‘mask’ is of particular anthropological and magickal significance in ancient and modern societies. The use of mask in ritual is believed to be one of the most ancient knowable elements of these long-forgotten and mysterious events. The painted masks, carved wooden masks, and animal hide masks of the documented hunter-gatherer societies of the past two hundred+ years are strong indicators of its ancient use. As are certain elements of Upper Paleolithic cave art, which depict mixtures of animal and man which could be masked ritual-goers. The psychology of the ‘mask’ is telling in this regard. The mask creates a concept of mystery, of anonymity. It makes the wearer something ‘Other’ than themselves. Be this the animals of the wild, a representative of something Divine, or merely something outside of known society –it creates a visual disparity which is somehow recognized at our most basest and primal level of understanding. This masked person is not the same as the unmasked person. And in that change we see something metaphysical.
The use of the mask in festivities has continued throughout the ages, from our primeval origins to the present day and its associations with Mardi Gras. Most notably, the idea of the mask is associated with the grand masquerade ball of continental Europe. These masquerades were often high society events celebrating anything from a noble’s birthday to the anniversary of the city and beyond. They, like modern Mardi Gras, were periods of relaxed social customs, particularly with regards to the role of the female in society. Unfortunately this has perhaps led to some negative connotations, at least for modern Mardi Gras, but such over-excess should not completely defame the permitted excess of the event.
The parade and its associated pageantry were joyous occasions of community and a wide-spread appreciation of life and its good things. They could be adapted toward any specific religious event. And while the its modern primary incarnation as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday does indeed celebrate a very specific Christian ideology, the joy of life or joie de vivre of the event should not be diminished because of this doctrine. Any such celebration should be embraced by the Neo-pagan and Wiccan communities et al, for they are celebrations of the good things in life ~ a message that speaks to all.
Happy Mardi Gras everybody! Laissez les bon temps rouler!! (Let the good times roll!)