2011-12-09

Cult of the Green Fairy, Part III

Having firmly established that the absinthe ritual is indeed a ritual properly so-called, let us continue with our consideration of the third tier of Rappaport's hierarchy: rules of conduct.

This level represents the meat of what is commonly recognized as religious practice. The third order can contain actual rules (along the lines of the Ten Commandments, Hindu caste restrictions, or any monastic regulations), but more broadly is an enunciation of how specifically to enact, support, or simply abide by the cosmological order of the world described by the second tier.

Specific rituals fall into this category partly because the prescription to carry them out constitutes a sort of rule. More significantly, the rituals themselves also encode a sort of information about how to live and behave. (A deeper explanation of that point will wait until the already promised post on ritual performativity.)

In any case, in our hypothetical absinthe religion the preparation of absinthe is obviously the most important third-tier item. Beyond the simple 'thou shalt prepare thy absinthe thusly', the ritual will likely contain a good deal more characteristically third-tier information or rules that have considerable bearing on the character of the Green Fairy's cult in practice.

For instance, the aforementioned professors of absinthe (expert absintheurs who staffed Belle Époque cafes to prepare the drink or teach patrons how) could conceivably be cast as a kind of clergy, administering the elixir as a sacrament and contributing to the formation of a genuine church. Alternatively, the preparation could remain a strictly personal ritual to be performed individually as an act of sacred self-expression. Absinthe professors in this case would less resemble the institutional model of Christian clergy, but serve instead as mystic initiators and guides.

I tend to think the latter characterization would be more likely and more in line with the cosmological axioms suggested above for the absinthe religion. However, much like the second tier, the specifics at this level are wide open. Particular accidents of historical circumstance or effects of deliberate design could give rise to either variety of the absinthe cult, or to something else entirely. As we touched on before, the third-tier rules could enjoin adherents to constant drunken revelry or to moderation and personal responsibility, or to some of both. The absinthe ritual contains the seeds of both sorts of behavior: the care taken to prepare the drink characterizes mindful, disciplined conduct; yet the powerfully intoxicating nature of it invites surrender to the Green Fairy's Dionysian influence.

This duality could manifest in the difference between mundane affairs and celebratory periods, which some have highlighted as profane and sacred orders of time. Regular absinthe drinking could be taken as an example of self-discipline and a meditative centering activity that reinforces the order of the world. However, occasional festivals informed by cosmological structure and appropriately framed by ritual could accommodate inversion or overturn of regular order, and whatever saturnalia rightly accompany such occasions.

I can only imagine what a wonder a great carnival of absinthe would be.

Aside from the absinthe ritual, possible festivals, and generally living according to the cosmological prescriptions of the second tier, whatever else might come to be included in the practice of the Green Fairy's religion would depend largely on the adaptive pressures her developing tradition encountered. Those influences constitute Rappaport's fourth tier, and will occupy our attention in the final installment of this series.

No comments:

Post a Comment