Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Drawing Lots

The Black Box (inspired by Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story, The Lottery) – Antique wooden slide-top box, painted black; various dried flowers and plants; various stones; altered art pieces—lottery label, slips of hand-stained paper bearing town-folks’ names, slip of hand-stained paper bearing black dot

Fertility rites.

Pagan rituals.

Dances round the priapic May Pole.

The wheel of the year. The change of seasons—from excess to want.

Light to dark. Vernal to autumnal.

The golden Oak King reigns beneath the sun, abdicating his crown at the solstice to midwinter’s frost-bound Holly King.

Beltane to Samhain. Greenman to Wicker Man.

The eternal cycle of birth and death and rebirth.

Human sacrifices made to the gods. Rich, ripe, red blood seeping into the earth to ensure summer’s hale and hearty crops, an abundant harvest at the waning of the year, to see a community through the lean, dormant blight of snow and ice.

The stuff of legends; told and retold in history books, in supernatural fiction, in horror films…surely such practices have been relegated to the past; modern man—the so-called civilized man—has no need for those archaic, rural traditions.

But old habits die hard; old sins cast long shadows.

Hearsay tells of the celebration of these ceremonies lasting into the mid-twentieth century, at least in one small village in Vermont, a close-knit hamlet of only three-hundred; good, honest, staunch New England people bearing good, honest, staunch New England names—Summers, Warner, Hutchinson, Anderson, Jones, and Martin; from Adams, meaning progenitor, to Graves, man’s ultimate destination. There every June 27th, those ordinarily stalwart and steadfast townsfolk seem nervous, anxious…fearful. For upon the dawning of that day, daily chores are forsaken, mundane tasks put aside. Children are sent out to collect stones while a plain wood black box is taken down from a shelf, twelve months of dust blown from off its lid. The adults gather, slips of paper being placed inside that black box—all blank, save one.

Upon that one is a single black spot.

The head of each family steps forward, puts his or her hand into the wooden container, each making their choice of the chits within…

The lottery has begun.

The prize?

Whoever chooses the black spot is that year’s mactatus; a solitary life given up, offered up, so that the many may live.

And those stones—the most ancient and simplest of weapons—gathered that morn by the young, will soon be put to their ritualistic use.

Is there truth behind this tale; a skull beneath the skin, so to speak?

Once again, we must turn to the earth.

Northern Vermont.

Leaves browned and brittle as parchment; clods of dirt and clouds of dust, spikes of hay and kernels of corn, spider webs and beetle wings—almost an incantation in itself—the skeleton of an old barn, its timber bones soon to be reclaimed, resanded, recycled into flooring for a modern luxury condominium kitchen, the aged now a foundation for the new; antique knotty pineboard supporting new-fangled stainless steel appliances—reveals its secrets…

…a plain wood black box—almost a coffin in miniature.


Well…you can see for yourself.

"I do like it. The work is very strong and interesting." - Laurence J. Hyman, Shirley Jackson's son and literary executor