May 10th – The Dance of Saint Astre

There is a concrete amphitheatre on the edge of Dimitri’s Park of Bathing that’s been there for some time. It’s not much to look at, just a semicircle of seats leading down to a small stage space painted with a number of intersecting circles; it seats maybe 100 people comfortably. It gets used by amateur dramatic societies and for historical re-enactments throughout the year, but tonight it reveals its true purpose.

Saint Astre was born (with the name Tria Encart) in the City in 1841 to wealthy parents, allowing her to study history at de Geers university. Her particular interest was ancient folk ritual at superstition, although she concealed this from her father who was under the impression that she was studying the lives of the monarchs; he had always hoped that she would go on to become the court historian as her grandfather had been, a well paid and (at the time) respected position.

Astre had been a follower of the Chastise Church her whole life, although she had always found the Church’s dogmatic focus on Attunement through individual effort and solitude to be somewhat disheartening; she loved the feeling of togetherness she felt through collective worship at church and didn’t see why Attunement had to be so detached from that feeling. It was shortly after having a particularly heated argument with her priest on the subject that she came across a 12th century text in the Hidden Library which described a pseudo-religious ritual that supposedly granted its many participants ‘inner sight.’ She became obsessed.

Astre had a great deal of trouble gathering enough churchgoers to perform the ritual. The Church is usually open to new ways of achieving Attunement; experimentation is considered a fundamental part of the progression of humanity towards divine understanding of the world. Yet usually this is personal experimentation, and the clergy were deeply suspicious of old rituals and communal attunement. It all sounded too much like occultism, a practice considered to be a dark subversion of the Church’s wisdom at the behest of the Waylayer. The debate became heated, and Astre’s father threatened to cut off her university funding if she did not back down.

Eventually, Astre took matters into her own hands, and paid a number of actors and dancers to help her, alongside a few faithful followers who had been swayed by her argument for a more communal, interconnected Church. A rebellious deacon, Ignatious Watcher, oversaw proceedings. It was he who later reported back to the Church authorities and advocated for this new method of Attunement which he termed the ‘Way of the Dance.’ The Church had steadily begun to lose membership, and Watcher sought to reverse this by embracing the power of communal worship. His observations are recorded in the newest book of the Sanctotemporal Index:

‘First, five white circles are painted on the ground, each intersecting with its two neighbours. Next to these two large sticks are planted in the ground like a gate. Through this gate the dancers walk, holding hands but walking in single file. They then take their places around the circles, standing on their outer edge. Around them a group of singers stand, holding hands in a large circle. They wait there, poised, until the full moon rises between the two sticks, at which point the singers start a hymnodic chant; no words just deep bass tones. The dancers begin to dance, twirling in gracefully on the spot whilst simultaneously traversing their way around the lines, somehow never breaking contact with their neighbours. They continue this until they have traversed the circles five times. Around a third of the dancers reported an experience which sounds very much like Attunement, although further study will be carried out to ensure it isn’t some kind of confusion brought on by dizziness.’

The original text that Astre had found specifically said that the ritual must be carried out on the night of the May full moon, and indeed very few people seemed to report anything other than dizziness on any other night. Whether this is down to the action upon the human brain of some peculiarity of the gravitational pull on this night, or if it is just a placebo, is currently unknown. It took three years until the Way of the Dance achieved official status, and since the Revolution it has become one of the Church’s most popular aspects. In 1941, the 100th anniversary of Astre’s birth, the amphitheatre was built. It has two tall columns that face the seating through which the dancers will enter, holding hands tonight.

Whilst only a set amount of (properly trained) people can actually participate in the dance, the amphitheatre ensures that it can be witnessed by many more. There is talk of building another (or several more) such structures in order to meet the demand, but the ritual still regularly elicits a large amount of debate and criticism within the Church, and nothing has been agreed as of yet. The most recent bubbling of discontent was from a number of Attunement purists who felt scandalised by comments published in Religious Observer Monthly about the nature of the Attunement experienced by a Church acolyte:

‘It is different, definitely, from when I’ve Attuned before. The understanding, the clarity was there as before, when I had my first Attunement through normal means, but it was joined by something else. A feeling of connectivity, of oneness, that I knew how everything I saw was all part of a greater whole. And beneath that this voracious love towards my fellow dancers; like I wanted never to be parted from them, I wanted to look deep into their eyes and never look away.’

Be sure to get there early if you want to watch the dance tonight. It will begin as that white orb, the moon, rises between the amphitheatre’s two columns, as it does every May, its light the only thing illuminating the concatenate mass of dancers as they twirl and flow seamlessly as one.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Yellow Hammer Exhibition Day
  • An Explosion Undone: A Festival Célébrée
  • The Festival of Counting Matchsticks