“common enough among outwardly civilised folk in the moister climate of Europe”

Yesterday a climate scientist from Stanford University was interviewed on one of the local CBC programs. He was talking about the current biodiversity crisis known as the sixth extinction. I listened and found myself crying at the damage our species has done to this beautiful planet. And as if to drive his point home in the event anyone was still doubtful about the severity of this crisis, the scientist said, Well, look at what you’re experiencing in B.C. right now. A drought unlike any you’ve seen.

He was right. May and now June have broken the records for low rainfall. I remember one shower in May. We had a little bit last Thursday but nothing before, or after. Usually June is a wet month and we make a fire in our woodstove most mornings. But not this year. It’s supposed to rain today and there was a tiny bit of mist mid-morning which I suspect is the extent of it. We have a well and so far, so good. And we’re planning to set up cisterns to capture and store water off the roof when it does begin to rain again. (Thanks to urging from son Forrest in Ottawa who has two rain-barrels…) Such a system never seemed necessary before but now it does. It’s June 24 and already some of the tomatoes on the upper deck are beginning to ripen. I’ve gardened here for 30 years and tomatoes have never ripened before mid-July.

We’re preparing to leave tomorrow for a few nights with our grand-daughter in Edmonton. So that means a lot of watering today and the good graces of our neighbour Doreen who will come to water the tomato plants on Saturday. (They’re in big pots, about 20 of them, and they dry out quite quickly.) I had to stop at one point during the watering of the upper deck, though, because this corner (you can see my clumsy sign naming it Rose Corner) was so beautiful. A big swallowtail butterfly was pausing on the roses, a hummingbird was darting among them, and big bees were entering the throats of the nasturtiums and coming out with their pollen sacs laden. (Though when I came out with a camera, they’d disappeared…)

rose corner

A frog was crouched on a cane of honeysuckle under an eave, waiting for me to finish so he could find a cool place under the green leaves. These are things I love and to think of them in jeopardy makes me feel so helpless. A cistern against the drought? Too little, too late?

Is it silly to think of magic? To read Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough and think about trying some of these techniques at home? If you hear a loud hammering on a kettle tonight, it might be us.

OF THE THINGS which the public magician sets himself to do for the good of the tribe, one of the chief is to control the weather and especially to ensure an adequate fall of rain. Water is an essential of life, and in most countries the supply of it depends upon showers. Without rain vegetation withers, animals and men languish and die. Hence in savage communities the rain-maker is a very important personage; and often a special class of magicians exists for the purpose of regulating the heavenly water-supply. The methods by which they attempt to discharge the duties of their office are commonly, though not always, based on the principle of homoeopathic or imitative magic. If they wish to make rain they simulate it by sprinkling water or mimicking clouds: if their object is to stop rain and cause drought, they avoid water and resort to warmth and fire for the sake of drying up the too abundant moisture. Such attempts are by no means confined, as the cultivated reader might imagine, to the naked inhabitants of those sultry lands like Central Australia and some parts of Eastern and Southern Africa, where often for months together the pitiless sun beats down out of a blue and cloudless sky on the parched and gaping earth. They are, or used to be, common enough among outwardly civilised folk in the moister climate of Europe. I will now illustrate them by instances drawn from the practice both of public and private magic.
Thus, for example, in a village near Dorpat, in Russia, when rain was much wanted, three men used to climb up the fir-trees of an old sacred grove. One of them drummed with a hammer on a kettle or small cask to imitate thunder; the second knocked two fire-brands together and made the sparks fly, to imitate lightning; and the third, who was called “the rain-maker,” had a bunch of twigs with which he sprinkled water from a vessel on all sides. To put an end to drought and bring down rain, women and girls of the village of Ploska are wont to go naked by night to the boundaries of the village and there pour water on the ground.  (from The Golden Bough)

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