Petty Gods: The Putrefaction of the Jale God

The Putrefaction of the Jale God

Among the rude folk of the mountainous regions, the festival of the Putrefaction of the Jale God is the primary celebration of the summer months. In some villages, the festival takes place near the summer solstice, in others on the last new moon of the season, and in others still on the first full moon.

On the eve of the festival, a stout young rowan tree is cut down, adorned with trinkets and garlands, and set into the earth.

On the first morning of the festival, childless women place a garment under the tree or on its branches and eat of the tree's fruit; on the second morning, if they find blood on their garments they know they will remain childless for another year.

The sick, aged, and dying go to the tree in the morning on the second day, place their hands on the tree and circle around it four times while singing "You will soon die but we will live" and then eat of the leaves. If they are still alive on the third morning, they know they will live another year.

But the main rite occurs on the third morning: young men go to the tree and spill their seed on the ground at its base. One man, called the Watcher, dressed from top to bottom in rancid rags and the untanned hides of animals sacrificed during the festival, throws handfuls of dirt at the other young men, so they remember they will soon return to the earth. Then the Watcher takes seven iron nails which have been laying in the milk of a pregnant cow for seven days and seven nights and hammers three of them into the rowan; the other four he hammers through his feet and into the earth. The men of the village then pull the nails from the rowan and bury them in an unmarked grave, covering them with dirt collected from the ground around the tree. Then the Watcher removes the nails from his feet and slaughters a young goat; he places the nails inside its belly, lashes it to the rowan, and sets both aflame. Finally, the men of the village beat the Watcher with stones and branches, driving him out of the village; he must sleep with the beasts in the field for two evenings before returning to his home.

In this way the villagers amuse the Jale God and avoid his gaze for another year.