Peggy McLauren was still a newcomer to the City when she died, in 1835; she had only been in Buentoille for three months, but in that time she managed to found the Buentoilliçan University of Spiritualists and paint thirty six paintings. Where she originally hailed from before her civil life began is unclear, though the University states that it was the Isle of Myantre, in the northern Outer Sea. Little is known about this enigmatic island, except for its tiny size and strong oral tradition; somehow, despite the fact that less than a hundred people live there, a large number of folk songs have been carried from the island to Buentoille over the oceans.
Today the University will hold a festival of remembrance for the influential woman who they refer to as their ‘Shadowed Mother.’ They will hold an exhibition of her paintings in their gallery on Whitlap Street in the south west of the City, where they will also advertise the courses they offer. In the adjoining rooms, members and graduates of the University will also offer their services as ‘spirit painters’, for a fee. Instructive literature will be on sale throughout the gallery, and a few talks will be held that hope to explain the methods of the University, and to tell the story of the life of their ‘Shadowed Mother’. The event is generally well attended, as all University members and graduates are required to attend to maintain their degree status. A few hundred new prospective students also pass through the doors today, a number that may be higher were it not for the protesters outside.
Those paintings that line the walls of the Gallery today are rarely brought out of storage, and are an object of fascination for many Buentoillitants, University members and bystanders alike. A number of students from the more established universities are also known to attend the festival today in order to study these paintings. Each painting is a portrait of someone who has died, and were dead at the time of painting, and there is a wonderful sense of character to them; McLauren managed to capture extremely well the personalities of people she never met. It is not immediately obvious, but the canvas of every painting is in fact a mirror. Here and there the reflective surface shows through, especially in those works where the background is less fleshed out.
Each painting was commissioned by a different affluent Buentoillitant who wanted to commune with the spirit of their loved ones. They would give the artist a picture of their dead relative or spouse, or perhaps a lock of their hair or a tooth, and with that McLauren would be able to ‘look into’ the mirror and find them in the ‘spirit realm.’ Then she would merely paint over the image of their face as she saw it, fixing it for everyone else to see. The practice of ‘looking into’ the mirror requires a trance-like state to be reached through the administration of a number of narcotic substances that are burned as incense. There are other ‘tricks’ to inducing this state, but they, along with the exact formulation of substances burned are a closely guarded secret of the University’s. Because of this, nobody is allowed to be in the room during a ‘spirit painting’ session but the painter. According to the University, these paintings must then be ‘read’ by a trained professional in order for the ‘message’ from the spirit to be fully understood. This ‘reading’ takes in to account such things as the position of the spirit’s hands, their expression, and the items or background around them.
Next to all thirty six paintings by McLauren there are lengthy explanations about the spirits they depict, and the message that each spirit was trying to convey during the painting. One is of a young girl, about thirteen years of age, who is looking decidedly away from the viewer, instead focusing her rather grumpy attention on a white mouse in a bowl that she is holding. According to the University, this is Helios Emmar, the daughter of a gold merchant who tragically died when she leant on a rotten balcony railing too hard. She is apparently conveying through her pose that she cannot rest, and wants to be avenged. In another painting an old man looks directly at the viewer, anger clear on his face. He has bunched fists, and is wearing a rather silly hat. In the background an eagle is killing a deer with a spear. According to the University this is Unfar Solitherd, a farmer who died in his sleep. He is trying to convey the anger he felt that one of his pallbearers was a sister who he hated.
At either end of the street today, members of the Free Spirit Society, a religious organisation said to have ties to the Chastise Church, will protest the festival with flyers and placards. Whilst it is illegal for them to attempt to physically stop people from attending the festival, they do their damnedest with the other methods at their disposal. The Society was founded shortly after McLauren’s death, when Edquard Yartin saw an exhibition of her works and apparently ‘felt the spirits calling out to me, woeful, desperate.’ The Society’s central belief is that these paintings trap the spirit they have painted, keeping them against their will in the world of the living. They claim that evidence for this entrapment can be seen in the ‘small changes in the posture or expression of the spirits’ that (they say) can be seen across the years. With little access to the paintings, and no empirical evidence to prove their assertion, the Society has pointed to the varied ‘readings’ that the University has produced about the same paintings over time. Many of the scholars attending today who are studying the paintings will look for these changes to verify or disprove these claims, and whilst not enough evidence has been gathered for a conclusive statement one way or the other, the working theory is that the changes in ‘readings’ are simply down to misinterpretation on the part of the ‘reader’.
The festival today will conclude at midnight, when the most well thought of ‘spirit painters’ will attempt to paint an image of their beloved Shadowed Mother, who died of a heart attack on this day at the age of 78. Whilst this ritual is repeated every year, none has ever managed to find Peggy McLauren in the spirit realm. ‘It is as if she has somehow disappeared, or hidden herself from us,’ they often complain. Perhaps this year will finally yield results?
Other festivals happening today:
- Unlock Your Soul with His Key
- The Festival of Foraging’s First Spring Outing
- Ted Ternwall’s Rave of Technically Just Techno