I have a bunch of pagan friends, and while someone might think I am being clever in some double entendre way, I mean that literally: I have friends who practice the collective religions known as paganism. Most, sadly, are not the fun naked nymphs who flutter about in bad movies made by the English; they are mostly a motley collection of... well, people who look like me. How I found these people is a side story of its own, worthy of a novel, but suffice to say that a lot of people in the world have no idea the number of people who practice pagan rites that have government jobs and everything. Suffice to say they are the most disorganized fun bunch of weirdos I have ever had the pleasure of hanging out with from time to time; I'd trust them more with children than most Christian leadership, that's for darn sure.
So, shortly after takayla and I were married, some pagan friends had a huge gathering at our apartment. As I recall, it started because we were conveniently geographically central to everyone coming for the gathering, and we said "sure." Like most pagan rituals, no one had a serious agenda, but it was decided on that there would be a gathering, then some ritual involving a circle, blessings, candles, food, followed by general disorganized talking about the sorts of things one usually talks about at parties. Except we'd be wearing robes.
You have to have robes at pagan gatherings. I don't know why. I guess it's because most pagans are fairly portly people, and robes are the mumu of the colder climates. But this is preferable to "skyclad," where people are naked. Sensibly, skyclad ceremonies are held outdoors in isolated areas during the summer. Non pagans who think seeing naked people outdoors is akin to de-scrambling the Playboy channel would be woefully disappointed at the collection of government workers that would roam about like buffalo, smiling as if they had no idea that they had such a hairy belly. The men are even less self-conscious about it. I would suggest anyone take a good look at a statistical sample of the people who visit the local grocery store, and imagine them all naked, eating overripe organic fruit without the benefit napkins. Truth be told, many pagans don't like seeing this, either. So robes it is. Even in 90+ degree weather.
Which brings me back to our apartment. Once about two dozen assorted candles were lit, the apartment began to get rather hot. We had one bathroom, so those that didn't come in their robes (and there were some that were) changed one by one into an assortment of garments one usually only finds in a Halloween shop or the Pyramid Catalog. A few may have once been bedsheets, but pagan folk have an unusually high amount of people with sewing thread in their veins, and can turn a boring bedsheet into a faithful reproduction of a 11th century wedding gown. Or know someone who will. Whether you asked them to or not.
"I knitted this entire coif for your 8 year old daughter, since I heard she likes Disney princesses and might be very thrilled to know she's wearing something I made from a collection of color illustrations from my tattered copy of MODES ET COSTUMES HISTORIQUES. It goes well with a male doublet, too, and is reversible from maroon to royal blue. Hand wash only. Yes, that's real turkey feathers and ivory! You're welcome!"So imagine a one bedroom apartment filled with 20 people in sweaty robes, quasi-medieval garb, re-purposed bed linens, and one very large man in a pastel rainbow kilt. No, not me, *I* was wearing a black robe I used to wear at science fiction conventions when I went as a priest of Cthulhu; the rainbow kilt was worn by a very large man named, ironically enough, Tynie.
A friendly man with a huge beard and carrying a large sword, Tynie was not as rotund as he was tall, but he was getting there. I would say he was about a full head higher than I was, which would put him at about 6' 10". He was carrying the sword as his part of being "guardian of the circle," which will play an important part later in the story. So why did we need one of those? And what clan of the Moors wears the pastel plaid? I can answer the first one: the circle is "drawn" on the ground in pantomime to show where you stand. It's part of the ritual, which I won't get into, because some of you fell asleep when I mentioned words like "coif" and "doublet." But imagine it like some kind of huge teacher's pointer saying, "you go here, stand inside of this place, and LOOK OUT FOR THAT CANDLE!" The symbolism of the sword is also to protect against bears that used to roam into Druidic circles and munch on drunken pagan folk. Of course, that doesn't happen anymore, except in certain areas of Dupont Circle where bear attacks mean something else entirely. Which leads to the second part about the rainbow kilt: I really can't answer that with any confidence, except to say perhaps that members of the clan walk a little funny... hand-in-hand in the fields of heather.
Even though there were almost two dozen of us hungry folk smelling the cooling bread, pies, and roast in our small galley kitchen, we could not eat yet because the ritual had to come first. The ritual always comes before the food, it is said, to prevent us from being sluggish and grounded. I suspect it's to keep the ritual short, as some priests and priestesses will go on for quite a long while about spirits and gods and birds and fruits and grains and the meaning of the holidays and how we should all be mindful on what we trod on and LOOK OUT FOR THAT CANDLE! Food keeps our focus back to what's important. But we couldn't start the ritual because important guests from afar were not there yet. This was in 1989, before everyone had a cell phone, so once you got started on a car trip, you had no way to be contacted except if you stopped at a gas station pay phone. So our two late guests were holding everything up, and there was much discussion over the sound of growling stomachs if we should hold the ritual anyway. Was that fair? And as some paranoid gossip started to spring up that maybe they weren't coming at all and surely we would starve to death and how awkward a crime scene would that be? Robe-clad skeletons amid melted wax and a rainbow kilt? As the host of the gathering, I was merely an observer, but after one of my cats nearly knocked over some candles into the fish tank, it was decided to hold the ceremony anyway. One of the guests was a priest, but we had more than one person would could fill in for them.
People assembled, and the priest and priestess put everyone where they should stand. Everyone grounded themselves, and assumed various yoga like poses. The ceremony was to begin. One of the priests asked for friendly spirits to guide them, and right away there was a knock at the door.
Our guests had arrived! Or so we thought. Tynie had to "cut a door" in the circle to let them in, which was right next to our real door. Trying to impress our guests, Tynie threw open the door, raised his sword, and shouted, "HAIL AND BE WELCOME!!"
"We have been expecting you, where have you been..." trailed off another person as it became clear to us that the two people in blazers at the doorway were not the guests we expected.
In the 1880s, a man by the name of Charles Taze Russell founded a group of revisionists that led to the formation of Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society. Not content with a name that was probably difficult to remember and was probably confused with the Lion's club, in 1931, the name was changed to something inspirational from the bible, specifically Isaiah 43:10-12. Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no savior. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God. The old term for God was "Jehovah," and those that witnessed the testimony were, you guessed it, Jehovah's Witnesses.
Maybe 2000 years ago, the sight on people in robes surrounded by candles in a dimly-lit room wouldn't have batted an eye, unless you were Roman, and the need for one of the men, rainbow kilt and all, to carry a sword might have made even more sense. But since 1931, I doubt any Zion Revisionist who was worth their weight in Watch Tower magazines would have been adequately prepared of the sight of a flaming gay Hagrid looming over them. And welcoming them, with a weapon, to a room full of candles, people in robes, a large pentacle, and smelling of meat and fresh bread. The comment, "We have been expecting you, where have you been...?" was also not helping.
The most awkward of pauses hung in the air like a balloon net filled with bowling equipment.
"Um..." said a young woman at the door, breaking the silence. I recall she was wearing a navy blue blazer and an expression on her face that suggested a beach before a tidal wave, with the color draining from her face just before a wave of fear washed over her. "I see we have... interrupted... something." The young man standing with her was turning pale, his life flashing before his eyes, possibly wondering if his last mortal thought would be, "I thought devil worshiping was a metaphor!" Both backed away, nodded politely, and left.
Tynie quietly closed the door, and there was only a brief moment of dead silence that ended with a mass eruption of peals of laughter.
There is a second part of this story, which sadly only lies in the minds of two young missionaries. Did they tell anyone of what they saw? Did it drive them deeper into the warm and sheltering fold of their religion? Or did it drive them away, mad into the streets? We shall never know. They never came back.
To this day, I wish I could summon such a group to my door when solicitors arrived.