An annual spring fertility festival in Vietnam’s Phu Tho province is capped by a symbolic X-rated ceremony rendered G-rated by wooden standins. At midnight on the 12th day of the lunar new year, a man holding a wooden phallus-like object stands in total darkness alongside a woman holding a wooden plank with a hole in it, and the act is attempted. As the tradition goes, if the man is successful at penetration, then there will be good crops. Following the ceremony, villagers are ordered to “go and be free,” which, according to a February report by Thanh Nien News Service, means uninhibited friskiness during the lights-out period.
—In the remote state of Meghalaya, India, a matrilineal system endows the women with wealth and property rights and relegates the men to slowmoving campaigns for equality. A men’s rights advocate, interviewed by BBC News in January, lamented even the language’s favoring of women, noting that “useful” nouns seem all to be female. The system, he said, breeds generations of men “who feel useless,” falling into alcoholism and drug abuse. In maternity wards, he said, the sound of cheering greets baby girls, and if it’s a boy, the prevailing sentiment is “Whatever God gives us is quite all right.” The husband of one woman interviewed said, meekly, that he “likes” the current system — or at least that’s what his wife’s translation said he said. —Each year, the town of Chumbivilcas, Peru, celebrates the new year with what to Americans might seem “Festivus”-inspired (from the Seinfeld TV show), but is actually drawn from Incan tradition. For “Takanakuy,” with a background of singing and dancing, all townspeople with grudges from the previous 12 months settle them with sometimesbloody fistfights so that they start the new year clean. Said one villager to a Reuters reporter, “Everything is solved here, and after(ward) we are all friends.” —In a tradition believed to have originated in the eighth century, the village of San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain, marks each Jan. 16 with the festival of Saint Anthony, commenced in style by villagers riding their horses through large fires in the streets. As horses jump the flames, according to belief, they become purified, demons are destroyed, and fertility and good health result. (Apparently, no horses are harmed, and a priest blesses each for its courage.)
latest religious messages
Prophet Warren Jeffs, of a breakaway Mormon cult, is serving life (plus 20 years) in a Texas prison for raping two underage parishioners, but insists that his power has not been diminished. He was disciplined in December for making a phone call to his congregation announcing several decrees, including barring marriages from taking place until he can return to “seal” them and prohibiting everyone from having sex.
Jack Taylor, 18, of Worcester, England, was given a lenient sentence in January for an August burglary he admitted. He and another youth had tried to steal a resident’s motorcycle but damaged it in the process. Since he was remorseful, made restitution, observed a curfew and did community service, he was released by the judge when he secured full-time employment. (However, the employment, the court later learned, was as a slaughterman in Norway, where he was to take part in the culling of Alaskan baby seals.)