Monday, March 01, 2004


In which Guji Takes a Bath and Firewalks, Author Misses Key Shot

After the prayer blaze got going real well, because he had to stand close enough to be responsibly sacerdotal the guji got a bit hot as he chanted and had to call in some fire controllers to splash some water on the fire so he could finish without bursting into flame; then when he had done and returned to his chambers the prayer managers took over, carrying out from the Shrine and throwing onto the high holy blaze the bundles and armfuls of the thousands and thousands of smaller written invocations written on waribashi (disposable chopstick)-sized pieces of cedar, which took quite a long while, then it was all let blaze freely.

The guji then reemerged, dressed coolly for that cold day in nothing but fundoshi and a short cotton coat for the water ritual in which he bathes and purifies himself for the firewalk to come, for he is to be the first to walk through the fire, as his ancestors have been doing for centuries. After sitting on a straw mat in nothing but the fundoshi, splashing himself thoroughly with water and praying toward the fire, the guji then dressed in white robes and stood before the fire barefoot, chanting to psyche up his feet for the heat to come, while the fire blazed down to coals and the fire managers hooked and towed away the large smouldering logs, leveling out the heat-shimmering embers into a level walkable area of embers some 30 cm deep, ringed with crowds who kept their distance from the heat.

Echo and I had by now managed to grab a seat on one of the small ceremonial stools the first priests had used, and I squatted beside her waiting for the key shot from the optimal angle, when the guji would walk barefoot across the flickering coals. This took a while, as the timing was everything; my legs were complaining as I angled for an even better knee-level shot of the imminent first step into the fire, my photomanic movements causing Echo to shift her stool slightly, such that one of the brass-tipped back legs came heavily to rest on the big toe of a suited fellow standing right behind, causing him to react loudly, necessitating seated/squatting bows of apology from us, and when I turned back around the guji was on the other side of the fire without the slightest sign of pain on his face, and all the lay firewalkers had begin to line up on this side of the fire, parchments in hand (upon which to impress their ash-black feet when they'd made it through the embers), bare feet waiting their turns, which all took place in Part IV.

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