November 14th – The Festival of Saint Etole

For a long time, Etole was a disputed saint, and whilst she had many who quietly celebrated her, it was an underground worship, not outlawed but certainly frowned upon by the Chastise Church authorities. She was originally canonised by Hierarch Rebbem, but has since been disqualified and re-confirmed many times; Rebbem is now generally considered to be forward-thinking for his age, but at the time he was embroiled in claims of sexual licentiousness, and was actually put on trial by his rivals in the Church, then imprisoned for the last half of his life. The saints that Rebbem canonised during his time as a Hierarch were therefore discredited along with him, Saint Etole in particular, due to the undeniable sensuality of her life and Attunement.

The exact nature of the sensuality that Saint Etole is said to have engaged in was long brushed over or avoided as a subject in less sexually liberated times than this, and as such she is often confused with Saint Hursuite, who Attuned with the world via orgasm. Whilst Etole’s method was certainly sensual, it was less overtly sexual than Hursuite’s, yet even now there is still a taint of the taboo that clings to the festival today, which may account for the fairly low turnout at the Trellow Walled Gardens where it is held.

Not a lot is known about the life of Saint Etole, probably due to the suppression her story faced over the years. It is known that she lived as a servant in the home of a rich Buentoillitant, and that she was a wrestler and possibly a woad grower, too. The specific type of wrestling that Etole, who’s original name has been lost, engaged in was a niche form that seems to have started in Tender Bract district when it was home to the City’s dying industry. Indigo was a popular and easily produced colour of fabric, and is made by processing the woad plant into a paste or liquid which the fabric is then bathed in. Woad is also excellent at dying skin, a fact that the workers producing it would have found out very quickly. Quite how these workers turned to wrestling as their main form of entertainment is a mystery (perhaps it all stemmed from an argument?), but eventually the sport became honed and developed until it resembled the form by which Etole gained her attunement.

Tender Bract wrestling, or Etoleian wrestling, as it is often known is performed naked or almost naked, by participants of all genders who have been intricately painted with woad in strange flowing patterns. Waves seem to rise and crest across the body, like ripples in a pool into which a stone has just been thrown, making way for strange symbols like eyes placed haphazardly across the skin. All of this serves to disguise the human form, obscuring its topography with a new, strange one implied by the lines. The actual wrestling is performed by four or five wrestlers, each painted in a similar manner, and it mostly takes place on the ground, the bodies entangling in such a way that it is difficult to tell where one ends and another begins. If you unfocus your eyes, the swirling implied topographies leap out, making some great seething ball of flesh, more similar in form to eels than humans.

It’s thought that there was once a complex rule set that accompanied this sport-cum-art-piece, but due to the suppression of Etoleian wrestling this has been lost by successive generations. The wrestlers who will perform outside in the bracing cold at the Trellow Walled Gardens today will be mostly trying to create a spectacle worthy of Saint Etole, rather than trying to ‘win’ the bout. To further aid the strange visuals that the crowds are presented with, a ‘pit’ of mirrored glass is constructed for the festival, with raked seating for the spectators circling it. The Gardens are the traditional home of this celebration, which had been happening in one format or another since the thirteenth century. This is possibly due to their ‘intimate’ feel, the high walls keeping proceedings fairly private, but also because the gardens grow many plants used for dying cloth, in particular the woad plant.

For what is now an official Chastise Church festival, there is a curious lack of Church iconography or ceremony on display, and indeed whilst the Church now provides some funding, it is organised by The Followers of Saint Etole, a once-persecuted group who’ve now been brought back into the fold. Since 1938 the Church sends the priest from the nearby Church of Saint Rabbole as their official representative, who performs a small, quiet liturgy and the start and end of the performance, mostly to themself, seeing as they are roundly ignored by most of the assembled spectators.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Symbolic Crust
  • The Festival of Deep Creatures
  • The Bitter Nose Festival