Yesterday Catholics and Protestants burned palms leaves and smeared the ashes (mixed with olive oil for fixture) across their foreheads in a sign of penance for sins committed during the previous year. Some smeared the sign of the cross while others simply had an ashey mess slopped on their brow.
Regardless of the shape or density of the penance plaster, everyone looks like a bonafied koo-koo cultist with that mess on their face. Who came up with this idea? It can’t be good for your skin.
Speaking of skin care. I own the most delicious smelling facial scrub in the world. My cutey-patootey stylist Enrique is always turning me on to new skin care regimens. His latest concoction is a chocolate scrub that smells like Cocoa Krispies! I’m beyond tempted to eat a fistful of it every morning in the shower.
However I won't eat my facial scrub because temptation is bad. Rather I'll rub ashes on my face. I wonder if St. Patrick’s Cathedral has a year round ashes and oil stand for us critical cases in need of constant retribution?
Every year I’m so very impressed by the dedication some of my co-workers show taking time away from work to go, repent and have an old priest smear putty on their faces. The cynic in me, however, does see a bit of a double standard. This is a religious holiday, granted, but why are they allowed such vigorous leeway to portray their beliefs via makeup and costume? Come this Pride, I’m showing up to work dressed as Cher.
Just you wait. Which takes me to the story of Maslenica the Butter Woman.
Maslenica (Mah-sweh-NEET-sa) "the Butter woman" is both a feminine idol from Slavic pagan history and a time of games and contests. The name is derived from the word Maslo which means butter.
Originally it was practiced at the Vernal Equinox but later was celebrated the week before lent. Maslenica, was a celebration of the returning light of Spring. Several of the contests included horse racing, fist fights, sliding and mock battles. It was a time for protection and purification rituals and also a time of gluttony, obscenity and dissolution. Sounds like fun.
There were two means to represent the Butter Woman. Either a life sized corn doll would be made as a personification of the holiday (the doll would be invoked and welcomed by the proper name Maslenica) or, my favorite, a drunken peasant was chosen and dressed in woman's clothing sewn all over with bells. His face would be smeared with soot and he would be seated on a wheel resting on a pole within a sledge. I think a sledge is a contemporary wheel barrow.
The fun doesn’t stop there.
Wine and pastries would surround him and as many Slavs as could would accompany him in other sledges. Crowds would follow on foot, laughing, dancing and singing ritual-songs. Corn "Maslenicas" were also driven around in barrows, wagons or sleighs accompanied by crowds of celebrants.
I think I was a Butter Woman once with the Radical Faeries in 2002. I honestly can’t remember, too much wine and pastries, however this Slavic pagan holiday certainly rings of aspects of Mardi Gras and the following period of atonement, lent.
The word lent is depressing. Lent. I simply can't say it with enthusiasm. Lent.
But not Maslenica! You can't help but smile when you say Maslenica "the Butter Woman". Maslenica reminds me of Pride but without the atonement, well there is purification tossed in there, but who cares when you have a Butter Woman as your parade's emcee!
Maybe Cher is our people’s Butter Woman. Maybe instead of elaborate floats and muscle boys dressed in feathered masks, all we need is a drunk dressed in bells sitting in a wheel barrow and some laughter.
All we need for that ashey forehead is a little cocoa butter.