An anthropologist friend of mine was telling me about an intriguing religious group that has been quietly performing its strange rituals for thousands of years, the most peculiar of which takes place during the autumn. It is a harvest related worship ceremony and my friend witnessed it here in London just a few days ago.
The first part of the ritual is a kind of journey where the people of the sect leave their homes and set up a temporary camp. This is not a long journey, in fact the camp is positioned no more than a few feet of their permanent home.
The shelter is notable for the fact that it is designed to let the rain in, the roofing material being a flimsily concocted collection of foliage and hanging fruit. The beauty of this arrangement is that if it does rain, the members of this sect are allowed to return to their permanent dwelling place.
Little else is know about the purpose of this practice. Even sect members have only a vague idea of why they do it. One interpretation is that it recalls a time when this ancient people was a traveling tribe.
Apart from the requirement to spend a week in the roofless tent the people of this sect undertake a quest whereby they must obtain various items: a strange inedible fruit and a collection of three different species of plant. This search is not physically challenging but can bring about shock and even heart palpitations when the cost of the items is discovered. Nevertheless, this is a people of deep and sincere faith and they go along with it all, carefully examining the items and even paying a premium for those considered to be the most perfect, because their Lord likes a nice piece of fruit.
The items are then arranged and handled in a specific way as prescribed by their ancestors. If any of the items are blemished or damaged they will be deemed unacceptable for the ceremony for which they are required.
As my friend related all this mumbo-jumbo I felt myself beginning to wonder if he was trying to wind me up, but he assured me that the crazy sect really did exist and went on to tell me about the ceremony that takes place with the four items. Starting out by facing east, the people, gathered together within their community groups, shake the foliage and fruit in the four directions of the compass as well as to the sky and the ground while marching in a procession and chanting a repetitive incantation for rain.
This probably also accounts for the requirement for the leaky roof. It seems that the prayer has been answered if the tent dweller finds that his bowl of chicken soup is still full after ten minutes of slurping.
There’s nowt so strange as folk, eh?