July 4th – The Festival of Ceramic Mystery

In 1979, Gregor Asheater was digging in his garden, when he found a ceramic pot, and then another, and then another. At the end of the day he had a very large hole in his garden and 30 pots. By the end of the week he had three hundred and thirty three, and a larger hole. Each pot was intact, had been sealed with a bung and red wax, and was marked with a number, or to be more precise a date.

Asheater was not a trained archaeologist, and may have missed a number of important clues in the excavation which could have pointed to the reason for their existence. As it is, nobody is entirely sure, although most theories point towards some form of witchery. This is primarily because of the contents of the jars: mandrake roots, a staple feature of witchcraft in the public imagination, preserved in a vinegary red wine. According to Asheater the wine tastes ‘absolutely vile,’ an opinion he developed over more than one tasting, apparently.

Shrotly the first pot was opened and its contents examined by the several scientists who were asked to come see the ceremony by Asheater, the Buentoilliçan covens were all informed, but none of them wanted to claim ownership, with the Infused Sisterhood and the Coven of Irah vociferously denying any involvement. Mandrakes are useless, seems to be the general consensus. They might be associated with witches in Buentoille, but no self-respecting witch would actually want to use them. Just because the roots look like a person doesn’t mean they are magical or hold any power over a person besides symbolic meaning.

The hole has now been filled in once again, more soil brought for the purpose, and with the extra-deep soil, Asheater is growing liquorish. He still has the pots, now all lined up in his garden shed, which has been specially extended for the purpose with several long shelves that line the walls. The pots are all displayed with their dates, cut into the clay before they were fired, facing outwards. Each date is written in the form of day, month, year. The days vary a lot, and the months are all either June, July or August. The years are all in the future.

This last small detail is perhaps the most fascinating thing about the pots. What does it mean, to put a future date on a pot and then fill and bury it? After he had dug all the pots up and laid them all out in the back garden, Asheater noticed that the earliest date was 1982, three years into the future, at the time. He assumed they would be old time capsules, although they did feel a little heavy for that. It took a ‘tremendous deal of patience to keep from opening them early, three years is a long time to wait on a mystery like that,’ said Asheater, when interviewed on the day the first pot was opened, on the date written on its side. He was, understandably, a little disappointed when, a year or so later, the next pot turned out to contain the same thing.

In an attempt to understand what it all means, archaeologists have re-dug up the garden, but have found little other evidence, besides a couple of mice bones, the relation of which to the pots is disputed. They have also tried dating both the ceramics and their contents, but in the process created only more questions; it appears that the pots are significantly older than their contents, being made at some point in the first century, but not filled until about 300 years later. These results are consistent with the contents of each pot, which are now kept in glass jars in the Museum of Scientific Oddities, the pots being held onto by Asheater, who re-fills them with his own garden produce (beetroot, runner beans, potatoes) and spirit vinegar, after he has given them a good clean. He then re-buries them in another, less useful section of his garden. ‘It just seems like the right thing to do,’ he said, when asked why he thinks this is necessary.

Some groups are very suspicious of this yearly ritual, thinking that it is some Strigaxian long-form spell or enchantment, designed to use the Buentoilliçan sense of tradition and ritual against the City, that there will be some great catastrophe or misfortune when the last pot is opened. Others think of the suspicious pots as pseudo-wombs, that the little mandrakes will will come to life and cause mischief, or that they are magical totems, designed to influence the events of the days written on them. Less outlandish claims are that they are merely what they appear to be; preserved roots. Maybe the dates are just the day they will be ready to eat, the disgusting wine having broken down the poisonous compounds in the mandrake by then? Nobody has been brave enough to try eating one of the limbed roots to find out, yet.

In 1998, Asheater claimed that a young woman had come to him after the opening ceremony (a quick and quiet affair, often just Asheater, his neighbours and a couple of occult fanatics) and thanked him for ‘doing the right thing.’ She claimed to have been born at the same moment he opened that first pot, and apparently had within her head the memories of the woman who buried it. The identity of this woman has never been ascertained, and Asheater’s description of her is remarkably vague.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Kissing Your Friends
  • The Dark of the Third Cavern’s Open Day
  • The Festival of Pruning