Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Burning of Old Man Gloom

Old Zozobra circa 1938
via Zozobra 

Each year at the Santa Fe Festival, an Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom is burned, and today is the day of this year's celebration.

The Santa Fe Festival began in 1712, but it wasn't until 1924 that artist Will Shuster created the Zozobra effigy. Shuster drew from a variety sources for inspiration, including the Mummers parade in Philadelphia (in which participants would whip a scapegoat-type figure) and  the Holy Week celebrations of Yaqui Indians (they would lead a fire-cracker filled effigy of Judas around on a donkey before burning it).

"Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta!"
    —A.W. Denninger

The burning of the effigy at first glance seems rather violent and opposed to my general disposition to rehabilitate and recycle. But, I think there is a place for the symbolic destruction of burdens—the process of calicination in alchemical works is an important first step towards the goal of finding the Sorcerer's Stone. It's from the ashes of these burdens that the recycling can begin.

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