16 April 2006

Easter

In honour of the holiday, I offer you my favourite scene in Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods. The character Shadow is accompanying Wednesday—the American incarnation of Odin—in visiting the goddess Easter in my own San Francisco ...
They reached a sidewalk coffeehouse, went inside, sat down. There was only one waitress, who wore her eyebrow ring as a mark of caste, and a woman making coffee behind the counter. The waitress advanced upon them, smiling automatically, sat them down, took their orders.

Easter put her slim hand on the back of Wednesday's square gray hand. “I'm telling you,” she said, “I'm doing fine. On my festival days they still feast on eggs and rabbits, on candy and on flesh, to represent rebirth and copulation. They wear flowers in their bonnets and they give each other flowers. They do it in my name. More and more of them every year. In my name, old wolf.”

“And you wax fat and affluent on their worship and their love?” he said, drily.

“Don't be an asshole.” Suddenly she sounded very tired. She sipped her mochaccino.

“Serious question, m’dear. Certainly I would agree that millions upon millions of them give each other tokens in your name, and that they still practice all the rites of your festival, even down to hunting for hidden eggs. But how many of them know who you are? Eh? Excuse me, miss?” This to their waitress.

She said, “You need another espresso?”

“No, my dear. I was just wondering if you could solve a little argument we were having over here. My friend and I were disagreeing over what the word ‘Easter’ means. Would you happen to know?”

The girl stared at him as if green toads had begun to push their way between his lips. Then she said, “I don't know about any of that Christian stuff. I'm a pagan.”

The woman behind the counter said, “I think it's like Latin or something for ‘Christ has risen,’ maybe.”

“Really?” said Wednesday.

“Yeah, sure,” said the woman. “Easter. Just like the sun rises in the east, you know.”

“The risen son. Of course—a most logical supposition.” The woman smiled and returned to her coffee grinder. Wednesday looked up at their waitress. “I think I shall have another espresso, if you do not mind. And tell me, as a pagan, who do you worship?”

“Worship?”

“That's right. I imagine you must have a pretty wide-open field. So to whom do you set up your household altar? To whom do you bow down? To whom do you pray at dawn and dusk?”

Her lips described several shapes without saying anything before she said, “The female principle. It's an empowerment thing. You know?”

“Indeed. And this female principle of yours. Does she have a name?”

“She's the goddess within us all," said the girl with the eyebrow ring, color rising to her cheek. “She doesn't need a name.”

“Ah,” said Wednesday, with a wide monkey grin, “so do you have nightly bacchanals in her honor? Do you drink blood wine under the full moon while scarlet candles burn in silver candleholders? Do you step naked into the seafoam, chanting ecstatically to your nameless goddess while the waves lick at your legs, lapping your thighs like the tongues of a thousand leopards?”

“You're making fun of me," she said. “We don't do any of that stuff you were saying.” She took a deep breath. Shadow suspected she was counting to ten. “Any more coffees here? Another mochaccino for you, ma'am?” Her smile was a lot like the one she had greeted them with when they had entered.

They shook their heads, and the waitress turned to greet another customer.

“There,” said Wednesday, “is one who ‘does not have the faith and will not have the fun,’ Chesterton. Pagan indeed. So. Shall we go out onto the street, Easter my dear, and repeat the exercise? Find out how many passersby know that their Easter festival takes its name from Eostre of the Dawn? Let's see—I have it. We shall ask a hundered people. For every one that knows the truth, you may cut off one of my fingers, and when I run out of them, toes; for every twenty who don't know, you spend a night making love to me. And the odds are certainly in your favor here—this is San Francisco, after all. There are heathens and pagans and Wiccans aplenty on these precipitous streets.”

Her green eyes looked at Wednesday. They were, Shadow decided, the exact same color as a leaf in spring with the sun shining through it. She said nothing.

“We could try it," continued Wednesday. “But I would end up with ten fingers, ten toes, and five nights in your bed. So don't tell me they worship you and keep your festival day. They mouth your name, but it has no meaning to them. Nothing at all.”

Tears stood out in her eyes. “I know that,” she said quietly. “I'm not a fool.”

“No,” said Wednesday. “You're not.”

2 comments:

China said...

"Do you drink blood wine under the full moon while scarlet candles burn in silver candleholders? Do you step naked into the seafoam, chanting ecstatically to your nameless goddess while the waves lick at your legs, lapping your thighs like the tongues of a thousand leopards?”

I do Miniver. At dusk and at dawn. Every. Single. Day.

Jonathan Korman said...

If anyone could manage to produce a full moon every day to dance under it would be you, China.