It is no secret that ceremony and ritual are deeply fascinating and meaningful to me, which is an odd thing to say for someone who is…well, not an atheist, but not not an atheist; agnostic doesn’t really quite describe me, either, because my not knowing is a kind of belief of its own, a revelling in the mysteries that are greater than me, the structures unseen that leave their cryptic marks. It’s a something–an emotion, an intuition—based on what I can I observe through my five senses. (Five. That number. Again.) I look for patterns, for cycles, for what repeats and resonates, for what forms the cellars and walls and windows and decoration of time itself. To me, a ceremony or a ritual acknowledges this architecture, sometimes simply admiring what has been built before, sometimes building new rooms or knocking down walls or adding a storey. Sometimes there is a façade that seems familiar but the inside has been gutted and all has been made shiny or new. Sometimes we simply walk among the ruins and imagine the buildings that were once there and try to reconstruct them.
If time is a dimension, like the singularity, breadth, and depth, a fourth axis that we can depict only in its reflection, then the events of the past exist somewhen, and have a continuing reality. Just because we are in the attic does not mean the basement ceases to exist. But we also perceive time as a repeating cycle, where we visit the buildings that those who went before built. Sometimes we remember and build new structures in their image. Sometimes we can only see the ruins, or the faintest outlines, because we lack the senses to fully perceive what is past (and, it should be said, the future, because if the past is a reality, so, then, is the future, even if we cannot touch it.) Sometimes words, or music, or items wrought in gold or clay or iron, or bedecked in pigments, come to us over the days, years, centuries, millennia. Sometimes all that remains is puzzled in the bands of rocks or tree-stumps, and sometimes all that comes to us is light itself, spattered about the sky.
This time of year the cycles sing to me. For 27 years now, the rhythm of the summer has pulsed towards Pennsic, much as our medieval forebears in England moved towards the Feast of the Assumption and the times of the harvest fast approached. I have attended all but two of those years, and the ritual seems to have changed little, even though of course it has, slowly and imperceptibly. Faces once young now become lined with care, and new faces appear. The dates have moved earlier; has Pennsic not always started in July? The camps of my youth have vanished, replaced by camps that have always been there (until they will not). The streets rearrange themselves incrementally, but to back away is to see only permanence. That fort has always been there, has it not? (I once put pen to paper and wrote of its construction. This is just history now.) Once, just once, there were fireworks.
Others look on this place and write truths. They are not my truths, but they are true.
Once, in the marketplace, I came across an apparition—a band of Janissaries, marching in double turns, with drums and horns and cymbals—and I saw it only once, almost believed it had been a dream. But it was not, and this year, I will march with the Janissaries, and history will be recreated, although I will not perceive it ever again in the same way. Last year, I stood at the top of the field, paused, checking to left and right where two others, in tabards of their kingdoms, stood in wait, and then the three of us stepped forward, leading three kingdoms onto the field in long columns, and I spoke the words to herald in my King and Queen. I was the Voice of the Crown. This year, my only oath is to my people, my voice only for them, the tabard laid aside until my labours are complete.
One last time, the nineteenth time, I will labour as the sun sinks to record words—my own, and others’– that will be read and perhaps forgotten, but then, perhaps, not. I will send the words across the years. The fort has always been there, has it not? We were fifteen thousand once, if only in theory.
Each year, I look around, know that this could always—always be the last year. What will it be like, should I return, the next time? The future is out there, unknown as of yet, but inevitable, unstoppable. We cannot freeze the moment a little bit longer, but the snippets of a tune on the wind, the smell of fresh woodsmoke, the snap of a banner—I have been here before. The architecture of time is all around me, and words and music, sight and sound, adorn its walls. It is part of me, and I of it. The cycle continues.