I didn’t do particularly well in university philosophy, so on the scale of depth, this will be closer to a stoner’s “what if this is all just someone’s dream, man” than to a real treatise…
The Allergic Pagan has a brilliant post called “Why I’m Boycotting Lughnasadh“. Reading the comments section, the response post from another Pagan, and the comments section on that post reminds me of why I don’t usually read comment sections; a lot of people seemed to miss the point of the post, or didn’t read it at all and were reacting to the title. The boycott article reminded me of articles about understanding Baudrillard using pumpkin spice lattes and FaceBook and the hyperreal.
To philosopher Jean Baudillard, a simulation is when a representation of something takes the place of the thing it originally only represented: where pumpkin spice flavouring take the place of real pumpkins, where digital representations take the place of real people, and where the grain festival mythology takes the place of what is actually happening in our backyard. These simulations act in the same way as the things they’ve replaced but they’re ultimately empty of substance, without juice or depth. According to Baudillard, there are four steps in the process of separating simulation from reality. To use Lughnasadh as an example:
1. First is a faithful image, where rituals of early August are created to reflect the weather and seasons of the local climate right in front of the creators.
2. Second is when images do not faithfully reveal reality to us, but hint at the real reality which the image itself is cannot completely include, such as when the early August rituals are labelled as “Lughnasadh” and created into a tradition that transcends the actual weather or activities in any given year.
3. Third is when the image pretends to be a reflection of reality, but it is a copy with no original, such as when those Lughnasadh traditions are exported wholesale into completely other ecosystems and eras.
4. Finally comes pure simulation, in which the image has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Images merely reflect other symbols, as where a ritual is constructed around the theme of sacrifice where the God of Grain dies in order for the wheat to be harvested… when there’s no actual wheat ready to be harvested where you are. Of maybe no wheat grows in your area at all, ever.
Our Pagan rituals are at risk of becoming mere simulations. It isn’t about faking connection; we may still be participating fully in our rituals, but as Emile Littre says “Someone who feigns an illness can simply go to bed and pretend he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms” but that doesn’t make them sick.
Baudillard continues to say that when simulations interact, they create a hyperreality – a web of interconnected simulations that separates us from reality. A simulation of the wheel of the year does not celebrate the changing of the seasons, but puts a layer between us and the real, sacred earth.
The Allergic Pagan says it well: “Bend down and touch the earth.” If it is around the beginning of August, you can call the result Lughnasadh, or Lammas, or first harvest, or nothing at all, but try to celebrate the actual dirt under your hands and not an image of a season from another place and another time.