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The carnival season in western countries generally extends from Twelfth Night through Shrove Tuesday—interpreted as January 6th, the eve of the Epiphany, through the Tuesday before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the definitive Carnival in the United States and typifies the customary bawdy mirth. Interestingly, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to welcome in the New Year, there is a related less ribald fancy dress tradition of a Mummers Parade which because of in climate weather periodically takes place on or closer to Twelfth Night. Brazilian Carnival recognizes the start of Lent and is celebrated in different ways throughout the country. The Rio de Janeiro festival which incorporates elements from Europe, Africa, and the Americas is perhaps the most elaborate and best known Carnival worldwide.

The twelfth night after Christmas marks the end of winter festivals that begin on All Hallows Eve—Halloween. Today, it is observed with the public festivals of humorous and grotesque inversions, and moral un-inhibitions. Fasnacht, another pre-Lenten European festival, is traditionally three-days of evening revelry with parades of elaborate masks, sex reversal, lanterns, and fife and drum. While considerable Christian history is the basis of these galas, the manner of rejoicing is said to be very much rooted in ancient pagan festivals of political and social protests. Females standing against civil and moral laws are the historical initiators in the Roman Bacchus traditions. The original Bacchanalia are for women only and are secret. Grecian mythological counterparts are the female worshippers or the Maenad of Dionysus

Today, disguise in the form of masks, fancy dress, processions, wine, merrymaking, and the persistent influence of phallism are descriptive of all related celebrations. The masked face is a prop to facilitate the removal of social barriers or hide the persona to reveal an unconscious self—at least Carl Jung and followers think it so. The fancy dress may bring an exaggerated symbol of importance to the events. Processions reinforce the community’s forward movement—its future. Wine is the intoxicant bringing the altered state, the emotional high of ecstasy that releases ‘tensions’ and frees expressions. Music, and noise-making help awaken and shake loose restrictions and repressions. Phallos is the symbol for fecundity and assertiveness, alive-ness and independence as described by Eugene Monick in Phallos (1989). The entirety is a communal form of social therapy as Wole Soyinka advises in his Bacchae of Euripides.

Ancient notions of creation and parentage as in the father of mankind, grabbing the male’s upper thigh to swear oaths in the name of his prodigy help to access the influence and mystique of the phallus. In pre-dynastic Egypt there is the appearance of images to ithyphallic gods such as Min, Re, and Geb who are icons of procreation—the revered and mysterious act of engendering life, producing the community. Similar gods and sacred symbols arrive later including Osiris, Baal, Ogun, Siva, and Vishnu; the Ben Ben, lingam, and matzebah.

The Roman god, Bacchus who is first named Liber provides the root for Carnival and such terms as liberi, libations, libertine, liberty, libra, and library. Phonetic and psychic associations of book/s, liberty, libido, free, German frei, Frey and Bacchus are noted by Paul Kugler in a provocative discussion from his Alchemy of Discourse. Religious ideas surrounding the erect penis are discussed for better or worse in such works as Ancient Symbol Worship by Westropp and Wake (2nd ed. reprint, 1972), The Phallic Quest, and Hermes the Thief. It seems appropriate that the library should acknowledge Bacchanal in form and function with a list of books and a free library exhibit for your pleasure and to welcome this 2007 Carnival season.

This exhibit supports the Kutztown University Performing Artists Series' performance of DanceBrazil on Sunday, January 28, 2007.

Also see a bibliography of Rohrbach Library resources on this topic.