December 10th – The Festival of the Drowning Out

On any other day of the year, if you went to the Crocus Field Bathhouse you’d hear the drip of the taps, the calm sloshing of water, the hiss of steam, a quiet conversation, all reverberating atmospherically off the tiled walls. Unless you are in the dryroom, in which case you will hear the hot air whooshing past your ears, and the noise of the fans. There’s a reason they put sound insulation between the dryroom and the rest of the Bathhouse: an atmosphere of calm is what people are there for. If you go into the Bathhouse today, peace and quiet is not quite what you’ll get, although the sound of a few hundred people throat singing can in itself be calming.

Quite where the rumours initially came from has never been properly established, but many believe they began as malicious reports of a haunting, in an attempt to drive people away from the Bathhouse because of its reputation for being a popular hub for gay Buentoillitants. The aim was, presumably, to make it go out of business, but when this obviously didn’t happen, the rumour morphed into something closer to the festival today. In 1717 there was a piece in the Buentoillitant Prayre Manewalle that claimed ‘wateyre spirytes’ could be heard if you submerged your head in one of the hot baths, and by 1734 there were various oblique references to the ‘Crowcus Feld bathynge ghost.’

It seems likely that the idea that the ghost whispered evil words to Bathhouse visitors came about in 1783, at the same time that it became associated with this day of the year. At that point the entrance way was wallpapered, wallpaper which began to peel. The owners decided that renovation was in order, and all the wallpaper was removed and underneath the date 10/12/1627 was daubed on the wall in charcoal. Likely it had been put there by the decorators, alongside a signature which had been washed away by the damp, like a teenager carving their name into their school desk. Yet to those primed to see evidence of ghosts, it seemed far more sinister. It was around the time of this renovation that it became known that on this day each year, if you listen carefully, you can hear ghostly whispers bounce off the tiles.

There are various different theories about what happens if you listen to the whispers. Some say that they tell you secrets of maddening significance, facts about your life that somehow you know to be true taken out of context. ‘He wishes he could be rid of you,’ it might whisper, ‘your mother cursed the day she had you.’ Or perhaps they speak spells in some lost language, that make your ears bleed and your limbs work against you. Maybe they are just long-lost conversations, trapped in some kink of space-time, bouncing around there until today they somehow find their way back, hundreds of years after they were first uttered. Or all the thoughts that remained unspoken, voiced in ghostly, whispered form.

Whatever arcane danger contained within the whispers, it’s not worth risking your mind to find out. Or this, at least, is the approach of the two to three hundred strong makeshift choir that squeeze into the saunas and baths today, all appropriately attired in their towels. From the moment they walk in the doors of the building, throughout the time they spend in the changing rooms, and for the entirety of their bathing time, they deeply hum or throat sing in a warbling fashion, never letting up for a moment, lest they hear the whisper. The singers pair up, ensuring that when one of them takes a breath, the other is singing.

The idea of this odd experience is to make the space safe for the other bathers, but given that the baths become entirely full of warbling, humming Buentoillitants, they end up essentially muscling out those who they are nominally there to serve. Nobody seems to mind that much, even when they come out at the end of their singing shift (it goes on from open to close; 5am to 7pm; so the singers are divided into three and a half hour shifts) with ringing ears and a sore throat. Live might be being saved, who knows?

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Cherubic Smiles
  • The Longing Gaze Festival
  • Tendentious Form Day