My sketch, 6 X 9 inches
One March, in the hilltop village of Venasque in Provence, while on an immersion trip with Valérie Guillet & the Language Exchange (click here to see this semester's French offerings) we were surprised by music & costumed villagers (des villageois déguisés) parading through the streets. It was le Carnaval de l'école (school children's carnival), which occurs each year on a Saturday about 40 days before Easter, just about the time that other cities are having Mardi Gras celebrations. Some people in the parade held signs that had messages like "No to war" (Non, la guerre) or "Neither violence, nor misery" (Ni la violence, ni la misère). The final destination of the parade (le défilé) was the square just outside of the rampart,
Photo taken by Jean-Paul Guillet, the father of Language Exchange's Director, Valérie
The villagers, especially the children had written messages about things they wanted to let go of. Perhaps they were wrongs they'd commited, perhaps they were cruel aspects of life, I didn't know for sure because they were written secretly & folded up. They were gathered & placed in the lap of la pieuvre maléfique. La pieuvre had a log (un bûcher) under it which would have been set on fire, so that all would be burned, except drizzly & windy weather didn't allow it (we heard it got done later in the week). This ritual's purpose was to chase away evil spirits (pour chasser les mauvais esprits).
You might ask: How much power can a ritual like this really have, be it Christian, pagan or any other religion? Well. I came to Venasque on the previous day with 3 mauvais esprits: a toothache, (mal aux dents), a backache (mal au dos) and broken out skin (une maladie de peau). By the next day, all 3 had disappeared! I'm not kidding (Je ne blague pas)!!
To my French readers, including Professeur Guillet: Please excuse any errors of French, &, as always, corrections are welcomed!