August 10th – The Festival of Sole Concealment

You can tell a lot about someone by the way they walk. Do they high-step around, chin out and shoulders straight, or do they drag their toes on the ground as they go, hands in their pockets? Mood is one thing, but then there is temperament, personality. There are those who hold it as a fundamental belief that extroverts wear their boots down on the outside edge, and vice-versa for those who are introverted. Inward-pointing toes have long been seen as a sign of shyness, demureness, even. There are hedge-wizards and urbane seers who practice calceiomancy, a form of divination by which they can allegedly foresee the near future of the shoe’s wearer.

Perhaps it is because of the existence of these sole-reading oracles, who would once have met travellers on the roads outside the City, or accompanied bootblacks and shoe shiners in the concatenated alleys of the Warrens, that today’s festival exists. Although, whilst they were once generally driven out of more ‘respectable’ districts, the festival is observed Citywide. Nowadays you are more likely to see dedicated shops for these once-itinerant oracles, often with shop signs depicting a boot divided into several sections. In 1998 Divination Weekly recommended that anyone looking for ‘true’ calceiomantic services should avoid shops with fancy signage and black velvet drapes (the magazine claimed that these were owned by ‘trendy copycats’), instead opting for those which would appear to be just a residential home, were it not for the several pairs of old boots nailed to the doors and window frames, or slung over the washing lines outside, suspended by their laces.

There are certainly some similarities between the beliefs of calceiomancers and the beliefs that accompany today’s festival, The Festival of Sole Concealment; whilst there are some calceiomancers who will tell you anything you want to hear, if you pay them enough, traditionally they can only tell your future insofar as it involves the boots they are divining from. Once you stop wearing the shoes frequently then that is where their prophetic powers cease. Brand-new shoes, however, are all but useless to a calceiomancer as they are yet to be imprinted with the personality of the wearer; they do not yet bear the creased leather, worn soles, telltale marks and holes that act as divinatory signs. By the same token, those engaging in today’s festival see their old shoes as a kind of record of a past self, imbued with potentially perilous power.

There is a well-worn Buentoillitant saying that goes, ‘spend a day in your mother’s shoes and you will understand what it is to bear a child.’ Popular understanding has it that this phrase (which in modern parlance is used to provoke feelings of solidarity in the shortened invocation, ‘think of your mother’s shoes’) has its roots in an old Buentoilliçan practice of giving ‘pregnand shoes’ to expectant mothers, which would be blessed by a priest and worn up to the point of labour to ward off miscarriage and birthday complications. Because of the different gait that pregnant women adopt, the shoes wear rather differently to everyday ones, making them somewhat uncomfortable for non-pregnant women to wear.

Apparently, when any daughters expressed an interest in having their own children, their mother made them wear her pregnand shoes for a day, a small taste of the pain and discomfort that this choice would entail to ready them and test their resolve. In many of the writings about this practice there is another element of discomfort, other than the strange wear of the shoes and the presumable sizing issues, which is referred to in passing and would be incomprehensible to many non-Buentoillitants; the mother’s ‘vestige,’ or (less commonly) her ‘eidolon.’ Through this spirit-like memory of the pregnant mother, which is absorbed into the fabric and sole of the pregnand shoe, the daughter is said to experience something of the emotional and physical sensation of pregnancy.

It is this vestige that is being carefully stored away today, in The Festival of Sole Concealment. According to Buentoilliçan folklore it is not just pregnand shoes which have their own eidolons attached to them, but every shoe worn for a significant amount of time. Most Buentoillitants do not own more than one or two pairs of shoes at a time, only buying new ones when the old wear out. As such, each pair wears out relatively quickly, and tend to remind them of a particular time in their lives. If the folklore is to be believed, this is because they actually retain some sliver of their essence within their leather or cork and canvas (the most common materials used by vegans, who are populous in eastern Buentoille, especially). Anything extensively handled by Buentoillitants is said to pick up some of this essence, but, perhaps in the same way that they readily retain smells, shoes are thought to be a particularly potent vessel for a vestige or eidolon. It goes without saying that the homonym of sole and soul has not been lost on Buentoillitant poets.

It certainly doesn’t seem wise or natural to throw away one’s self, or rather, one’s former selves, and yet few have space in their homes for the retention of numerous broken shoes. Apart from an instinctual desire to retain these vestiges, there is also the possibility that someone else, perhaps a rogue hedge-wizard or a malevolent witch, could do something sinister with the shoes, that they could in some way use the eidolon against that which it once modelled itself upon. Nobody likes having their past come back to haunt them. So it is that today’s festival came about, wherein old shoes are sealed in the walls, beneath the floorboards and within the rafters of Buentoilliçan homes. There, out of sight and mind, they are thought to act as benevolent guardians to the home, driving off any foreign spirits through virtue of taking up all the available supernatural space.

The festival has been observed since at least 1253, when it was mentioned in passing by Siminam Platesweep, the Catrosondian philosopher who visited the City that year, in her memoirs. Little is know about why the 10th of August was chosen to be the day that shoes are stored in their nooks, but it is now considered supremely unlucky to conceal shoes on other days of the year. Platesweep seems to imply that there was some kind of shoe-based saint or deity connected to the practice, though this is a point of great contention within folkloric academia. There is perhaps more pertinent evidence to be found in some of the older Buentoilliçan buildings, which are presumably bursting at the seams with old worn-out shoes, but there seems to be a general moratorium upon removing them, even amongst Buentoillitants who do not count themselves as superstitious.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Hemichordate Study Day
  • The Festival of Mapstone Blue Synthesis
  • The Festival of Crime After a Fashion