With spring just around the corner, and with the sinister month February behind us, the beginning of March is a time for cleansing, of readying for renewal. The winter winds still blow cold, and the fact that warmer spring air is just around the corner makes them all the more biting; the constitution is in need of shoring up. Cleansing, for Buentoillitants, means a variety of different things.
One of the most public elements of today’s festival is the drawing of water from the well at the Monastery of Her Holy Word. The monks who reside in the monastery (despite being of varied genders they still insist on the term ‘monks’) will today offer cleansing baths to all who wish to partake; usually many do. The word ‘cleansing’ here denotes a spiritual aspect, as well as a physical, and there are accordingly various ritualistic requirements surrounding the manner in which the water is drawn from the well and treated once it has been drawn.
The well at the Monastery is renowned across the City for its health benefits, and is sold in bottled format each day at the gates by the monks. A recent scientific study concluded that the water contains a high concentration of doridium B – a mineral found to increase cell regeneration in elderly persons – this may go some way to explaining the extreme longevity of the monks. However, in order for the spiritual benefits to take effect, the water must be drawn in a silver bucket by hand, rather than via the rope as usual. This is because the monks believe that not a drop can be spilled on the water’s journey from well to bath, in order for it to retain its purity and cleansing power. As such, a brave young monk must descend down the narrow spiral steps that lead deep into the dark, taking care not to fall to their death from the slippery steps. If they spill even a drop on the way up, they must return to the bottom once again. The ascent and descent are made all the harder because the monk is covered in holy oil before they are allowed to enter the well, though they are permitted to chalk their hands and feet.
The process of filling the kettle begins at around one in the morning and continues through the day, ensuring that things are ready by dawn, when the first visitors are admitted for their baths. The kettle is a large copper basin that takes enough water for sixteen baths, and is heated from below by the burning of sweet cherry wood. To the water is added early-sprouting nettles, taken from the Monastery’s small garden, which are thought to help draw toxins out via the skin. The baths themselves are made of brass and are on wheels. They are wheeled over to a spout in the side of the kettle, from which the hot steaming water pours forth, and then wheeled back to the Monastery gardens, where the bathing takes place.
Whilst each bather has their own bath, the experience is communal and not separated by gender, and is not recommended to anyone easily distracted by such matters. Assuming you are comfortable being naked in the presence of strangers (most Buentoillitants are less squeamish in this regard than the inhabitants of other cities), the experience is said to be one of the most relaxing on offer, especially if you arrive for the dawn chorus of birds that frequent the Monastery gardens on account of the numerous bird feeders. Many of these birds are almost tame, and will eat seed out of your hands.
Outside of the monastery, Buentoillitants observe a number of other cleansing customs today. Eastern folks drink ginger teas and chew raw garlic, both ingredients supposedly driving away any evil spirits that still languish in the world of the living after February (Western folks joke that the garlic drives away more than bad spirits). Poultices of chilli peppers and vinegar are also used to ‘cleanse’ aches and pains from the body, and these methods are believed to be particularly effective today. ‘Impurities’ that are supposedly sweated out through this method are slaked off with oil and burned in lanterns on porches and by front doors.
In the west of the City, folk take showers in ritual oils, burning the effluence in a similar manner, usually in their gardens instead of by their front doors. The Fire of Saint Zaboth is another western ‘cleansing’ treatment, though not one favoured by all. The ‘Fire’ is actually an unpleasant smelling, brown purgative liquid that produces an extreme burning sensation on the drinker’s mouth and throat. After the inevitable vomiting that follows has passed, drinkers report feelings of ‘transcendent cleanliness,’ and a general light-headedness that lasts for a number of days.
Other festivals happening today:
- Garri Yellowstone’s Buzzard Tourney
- Unguent and Fromor’s Heart of Gold Festival
- The Union of Locksmiths’ Festival
- Municipal Heart Disease Awareness Day