Welcome to February, which (in most years) marks the beginning of Lent. For the uninitiated, Lent is a 40-day period before Easter when certain members of the Christian population attempt to emulate Jesus of Nazareth’s 40 days of fasting in the desert (that was an “absolute fast,” BTW) by giving up chocolate, bacon, masturbating after every meal, or any other number of things they honestly indulge too heavily in.
The truly penitent also will give up meat (read: beef) on Fridays in observance of the animal product (all meats, dairy, eggs, seafood, etc.) fast that once lasted the entirety of Lent. This really is not a problem in the Gulf South. There are people selling on the side of the road freshly caught Gulf shrimp that could choke an orca. Seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and fried shrimp are luxuries in the rest of the country. You are hardly flagellating yourself in line at Piccadilly.
These old-school rites of devotion (updated for the modern world) should be more than adequate to appease any deity who demands you torture yourself.
For those of you who consider yourself devoted Catholics, might I offer an honest Lenten challenge? Perhaps an act of attrition that extends beyond forcing down a Filet-o-Fish at the end of the week? Granted, I’m a couple days late, but these old-school rites of devotion (updated for the modern world) should be more than adequate to appease any deity who demands you torture yourself to prove to his omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent self that you really, really (no, seriously, we’re totally BFFs) like him.
PISCES (Feb. 20-Mar. 20): Ritual Cleansing. In order to rid themselves of the feminine influence of their mothers, males of the Matausas tribe in Papua, New Guinea, jam wooden canes down their throats to induce vomiting, shove reeds up their noses to drain remaining excess, and then have their tongues repeatedly stabbed with tiny arrows. This ritual requires no modification and can be completed with household implements.
ARIES (Mar. 21-Apr. 20): Nanggol (bungee jumping). Vanuatu Island is the birthplace of bungee jumping. Of course, they use vines and require that the jumper’s shoulders touch the ground, but how else can you ensure a proper harvest? While it may be difficult to find a bungee jumping company now that the ’90s are over, it shouldn’t be difficult to hunt down an amusement park with one of those Skycoaster things.
TAURUS (Apr. 21-May 21): Scala Sancta. The 28 marble steps leading to the pope’s private chapel of St. Lawrence in Rome are climbed on the knees of pilgrims seeking plenary indulgence. You can do these slackers one better by climbing the 49 exterior granite steps of the Louisiana State Capitol on your knees. I’d suggest wearing jeans.
GEMINI (May 22-June 21): Magic Underwear. It is no secret that Mormons wear ritual undergarments (temple garments) as a reminder to separate themselves from the evils of the world. While purchasing them from LDS.org directly requires proof of membership in the church, you can pick up reasonable facsimiles from Wal-Mart or other fine stores.
This lovely device straps around your thigh, discreetly hidden beneath your clothing, and jabs metal spikes into your tender flesh all day long as a reminder of how much god loves you.
CANCER (June 22-July 22): The Cilice. While temple garments may be sufficient for Mormons to feel pious, remember that they also are staying away from caffeine, alcohol, premarital sex, and all sorts of other awesome things, so there’s not a lot of sin to purify. For a heathen like yourself, might I suggest the good old-fashioned cilice. Available in a wide variety at cilice.co.uk, this lovely device straps around your thigh, discreetly hidden beneath your clothing, and jabs metal spikes into your tender flesh all day long as a reminder of how much god loves you.
LEO (July 23-Aug. 21): Nudity. In the belief that their prophet, Mahavira, required neither food, nor sleep, nor water, nor clothing once he attained enlightenment, Digambar monks in India wander around naked with only a water gourd for sustenance. You may substitute a conspicuously placed Nalgene bottle, if you prefer.
VIRGO (Aug. 22-Sept. 23): The Okipa Ceremony. The boys of the Mandan tribe in North Dakota would enter manhood via four days of fasting (food and water) and lack of sleep. They would then be led to a hut, slits would be cut on either side of the pectoral muscles, and skewers would be inserted through the slits, from which the young man was suspended. Weights would be added and he was left there until he fainted. Afterward, he would present his left pinky to be chopped off for the Great Spirit, and then run a race around the camp with skewers and weights still in place. You may forgo all this by fasting for four days, getting your nipples pierced, and doing a 5K with ankle weights.
LIBRA (Sept. 24-Oct. 23): Made Snana. Translated as “taking a bath by rolling over leftovers,” the members of some temples in Karnataka, India, roll around in the discarded dinner of upper-caste Brahmins in the hopes that it will purify them and cure disease. You may either hop into one of the dumpsters behind Ruth’s Chris or roll across a full table at the City Club, which, outside of India, are the only places on Earth where people still believe in the caste system.
You may either hop into one of the dumpsters behind Ruth’s Chris or roll across a full table at the City Club, which, outside of India, are the only places on Earth where people still believe in the caste system.
SCORPIO (Oct. 24-Nov. 22): Self-flagellation. Christian flagellates in the Middle Ages were content with whipping themselves during pilgrimages. But Shi’a Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Mohammad’s grandson, Hussein, by whipping themselves with swords on the end of chains. No kidding. Yes, they bleed. Yes, the swords open massive gashes in their backs. Yes, there are medics everywhere, because this is insane and stupid. Yes, you can find videos on YouTube of all this. (cough cough youtube.com/watch?v=_JdEdAVVQWU cough) But for an infidel like yourself, the buckle end of a belt should do just fine.
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 23-Dec. 22): Kapparot. On the eve of Yom Kippur, some orthodox Jews practice Kapparot. That is, they wave a live chicken over the heads of the faithful, thus transferring their sins to the doomed fowl, and then slaughter the bird and donate its sin-laden carcass to the poor. You can probably get away with holding a bucket of KFC extra crispy over your noggin and then handing it out your car window to either a panhandler by the Essen Lane overpass or one of those people in orange vests with a bucket who are in no way sketchily and illegally collecting money “for starving children” on Siegen every weekend.
CAPRICORN (Dec. 23-Jan. 20): El Salto del Colacho. Once a year in the village of Castrillo de Murcia, Spain, newborns are placed on a mattress in the middle of the street and sprinkled with rose petals. Then a man dressed as the devil leaps over them as they are blessed by a priest. This makes them safe. For the right price ($20 should do it), you can get a street performer dressed as the devil in the French Quarter to jump over you a couple of times (doesn’t count unless it’s lengthwise).
AQUARIUS (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): The Nine Emperor Gods Festival. In this Taoist celebration in Penang, Malaysia, adherents walk across a bed of flaming hot coals. You’ve seen it done a million times on TV, and it’s honestly not that hard. Just keep going and you’ll barely notice the heat. If you want to step up your game, substitute broken glass (another trick: just make sure you pull the bottoms of the broken bottles out of the very tamped-down glass and walk flat-footed), roofing nails, or LEGOs.