For those Buentoillitants who have dedicated their lives to the Order of the Immortal Snail, today is a very holy day; today the Snail is awoken from its winter hibernation and given free range of the Shell, the building in which the Order is based. It will be offered a number of gifts of food it favours by the acolytes, but not before it has replenished its moisture in a ceremonial bath.
The Shell is, as one might expect, an odd sight from the outside, even amongst the relatively varied architecture of Buentoille. It is shaped like a huge conical snail shell, modelled on the shell of the Immortal Snail. The Shell’s coil direction is anti-clockwise (or sinistral), and it is made out of large sections of beautifully glazed ceramics, which have an iridescent sheen that catches in the sunlight. The windows are small, random spots of stained glass that let in a dappled, colourful light to the twisting interior. Each day the acolytes walk the spiral staircase to the top of the shell and back down again, reciting prayers and incantations as they go.
For the winter, the Snail has been kept in an exquisite mother-of-pearl box, along with a covering of hay. It is placed inside the box as soon as it begins to seal itself inside its shell with a protective layer of hard mucus. Precisely six months on from that date (which last year was the 6th of October) the Snail is once again ‘awoken’ from its slumber by being bathed ceremonially, a process which softens and breaks the mucus seal. This bathing process requires three people; two who lift the snail (which is very large and heavy – the shell is about 70cms from tip to opening), and one who slowly and carefully washes it with specially-prepared holy water which contains a mixture of minerals essential for the Snail’s health.
Once it has begun to emerge, the snail is placed in the Grand Terrarium, a huge glass dome in the centre of the Shell which is climate controlled to be as moist and warm at all times. It contains a number of lush green plants that the Snail finds delicious, but today there will be an additional feast of lettuce laid out on its floor as a gift to soften the shock of being so rudely awakened. This is the 324th time that the Snail has been awoken by the Order, although they do not know how long it lived before as it was fully grown when they received it from a group of Outer Sea traders. The traders claimed to be from Dolamon, in the very far south, where the snails (known there as the ‘Giant and Tasty Snail) are eaten as a delicacy, and where the oldest known snail (one half of a breeding pair) allegedly lived to 5692 before it was killed by a parasitic infection.
Extensive research has been carried out by the group, which seems to suggest that the Snail is, as they claim, biologically immortal. There seem to be two stages to a Dolamon snail’s life: the first, growth stage, can last up to sixty years, in which time the snail goes from egg to its fullest size, which is usually similar to the Immortal Snail. After this, the snail reaches sexual maturity and stops growing, yet does not seem to age at all. The Order have observed no slowing of cell regeneration in the Snail, nor have they noticed any other differences in health or appetite in it since it came to live with them. So long as they continue to feed it, water it and keep its environment free of disease or violence, it will presumably live forever. According to the traders, Dolamon snails with dextral (clockwise-coiling) shells seem to only live to eighty years of age.
The Order of the Immortal Snail believes that the particular shape of the Snail’s shell (far longer and more pointed than a common garden snail) is key to its immortality, along with its ability to be content to remain the same forever. According to them, the Snail simply stopped growing when it reached a size of shell it was happy with, and decided to maintain that size forever. Similarly the Order’s ideology states that to live longer humans must find contentment in what we have, rather than constantly attempting to seek out more. Obviously the Order has not been successful in replicating the Snail’s apparent immortality, but their members do seem to live abnormally long (usually around 120 years). Whether this is down to the lack of stress their lifestyle entails, the magical properties of the shape of the Shell in which they live combined with the daily prayers they make, or some other, unknown factor, is not clear.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Day of Lowing to the Cattle
- The Festival of Opal Light
- HOW MANY ORANGES CAN YOU JUICE IN 20 MINUTES?