Parsifal: The Return of an IU Tradition for the Bicentennial

Guest Blogger : Erin Chiparo is the Public Services Supervisor and Stacks Coordinator at the IU Libraries, William and Gayle Cook Music Library. 

Richard Wagner is an excellent case study in the failures of moral absolutism. The nineteenth-century German composer, thinker, and conductor did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things – and his actions have had a lasting legacy, even here at Indiana University. In preparation for the Jacobs School of Music’s upcoming production or Wagner’s opera Parsifal, I examined a number of items from three different libraries on campus: the William and Gayle Cook Music Library, the Lilly Library, and the Indiana University Archives. What I discovered are a series of objects that tell a fascinating, and complicated, story about Wagner, his music, and their connection to IU.

Color stage shot showing the Knights of the Holy Grail
Parsifal, March 1966. IU Archives image no. P0026422

I went to the Lilly Library first. In 1850 Wagner published his now infamous essay under a pseudonym, and that essay was reissued with his true name in 1869. The Lilly’s copy of Das Judenthum in der Musik (“Jewishness in Music”) is a first edition and still lies within its original pale green wrappers. Perhaps it is all in my head, but the physical object seemed to project a wicked aura. Within it, Wagner expounds upon his notorious Anti-Semitic views, insisting that musicians of Jewish descent cannot possibly live up to the intrinsic creativity of German culture. He also denounces two well-known Jewish composers, Felix Mendelssohn and Wagner’s nemesis, Giacomo Meyerbeer. To this day, Meyerbeer’s reputation still hasn’t completely recovered from this defamation. Given this level of reprehensibility, I was ready to give up on Wagner. But I decided to look at another item – a first edition full score of Wagner’s Parsifal.

Piano vocal score front title page for Richar Wagner's Parsifal: ein Bühnenweihfestspiel. Includes the following information in german: Vom Orchester fur das Klavier ubertragen von Joseph Rubinstein
Parsifal: ein Bühnenweihfestspiel – Piano vocal score, 1883 ed. William and Gayle Cook Music Library

At the William and Gayle Cook Music Library, I examined an 1883 edition of the piano vocal score for Wagner’s Parsifal. The copy features an elaborate title page and marbled end papers. It is still possible to see the impressions where the nineteenth-century plates were pressed onto the paper. As exquisite as this score is, the music is even more beautiful. Wagner first conceived of Parsifal in 1857, but the work did not premiere until 1882, just a year prior to his death. Rather than referring to the work as an opera, Wagner called it ein Bühnenweihfestspiel or a “Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage.” Parsifal premiered at Bayreuth Festspielhaus and was performed there exclusively until 1914. The work tells the story of the twelfth-century knight, Parsifal the “pure fool,” who in his youth witnesses the rite of the Holy Grail. The young man, filled with compassion, eventually overcomes the villain, Klingsor, in order to ultimately redeem the Knights of the Grail. Musically, Parsifal is a triumph. It contains some of the most powerful moments in opera.

In addition to the beautiful piano vocal score, I viewed another full score that belongs to the Lilly Library. This was a particularly special copy because it was previously owned by Fritz Busch, a great German conductor. Busch actually conducted another of Wagner’s operas at Bayreuth in 1924. The beauty of this particular score lies in the myriad colored pencil markings throughout, which outline Busch’s personal interpretation of the opera. Interestingly, Fritz Busch was forced out of his position with the Dresden State Opera in 1933, five weeks after Hitler came to power, because he opposed the Nazi regime and because he was perceived of as having too many Jewish friends and acquaintances.[1]

Program with the following text : INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MUSIC Thirty-Second Season Parsifal: A Religious Music Drama in Three Acts by Richard Wagner An Indiana University Opera Production Palm Sunday, April 2, 1950 Act 1 - 4:00 pm Act 2 - 7:15 pm Indiana University Auditorium
IU School of Music – Parsifal program, April 2, 1950. IU Archives accn. 2001/031

But how does all of this relate to Indiana University? What impact have Wagner and his works had here? At the IU Archives, I found hundreds of photographs, concert programs, publications, and correspondence regarding Parsifal at IU. Beginning in 1950, the IU School Music performed Wagner’s Parsifal annually to correspond with the Lenten season. Dean Wilfred C. Bain, and director of orchestral music, Ernst Hoffmann launched a combined effort to spearhead the first performance. The two men felt that the opera was especially fitting for the IU Opera Theater stage because it could showcase the school’s strong wind section, strong tradition of choral singing, and mature male singers. Many of these students came to the school of music later in life as the result of the GI Bill.[2] Several of the original lead vocalists including D. Ralph Appelman, Margaret Harshaw, and Roy Samuelsen stayed on as school of music faculty. Fritz Busch’s son, Hans Busch, joined them as the IU Opera Theater Director for a number of years.

Red and black program with the following text "Indiana University Opera Theater - Parsifal March 19, 1967, 19th annual production"
Indiana University Opera Theater – Parsifal March 19, 1967 program

IU’s Parsifal became the first IU School of Music concerts for which tickets were sold. Some of the performances even included a Parsifal Supper so that audience members could come together for a meal at the Indiana Memorial Union between Acts I and II of the multi-hour production. IU students often performed the opera in English because according to Bain, “the only way to make it popular with large American audiences was to present it in intelligible English translations.”[3] The production received worldwide attention and accolades with reviews published in Opera News. The final annual performance ran in 1969, and the tradition ceased in order to save money and resources and in order to give music students the opportunity to experience a greater variety of repertoire.

Nevertheless, the impact of Parsifal is still palpable. The Jacobs School of Music is one of the best schools of music in the world and one of the finest aspects of IU. Perhaps some piece of that is because of Parsifal, in spite of Wagner’s questionable morals. In honor of Indiana University’s bicentennial anniversary, this November the Jacobs School will present its first production of Parsifal in decades. The opera, directed by Chris Alexander and conducted by Arthur Fagen, will feature a cast of professional vocalists and music students. No doubt it will be in interesting addition to IU’s operatic legacy. If you don’t have tickets yet, it looks like there are still some available!

To find out more about the history of productions of Parsifal on the IU Bloomington campus, contact the IU Archives.

[1] Michael H. Kater, The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 79.

[2] George M. Logan, The Indiana University School of Music: A History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 160-161.

[3] Ibid., 164.

Herman B Wells Speeches to Incoming Freshmen, during World War II and Today

When I think back to starting my freshman year of college (in enemy territory at Purdue University), I remember one main feeling: overwhelmed! Even though it has been more than a decade since then, I get butterflies in my stomach when I recall orientation activities, my first meals in the dorms, and meeting classmates for the first time. Though Purdue had a ton of welcome activities for incoming freshmen, the Indiana University traditions of Freshman Convocation and the Freshman Induction Ceremony are utterly charming. This year, the Freshman Induction took place August 21 at Skjodt Assembly Hall. We’ve covered the history of the Freshman Induction Ceremony in the past, so in this post I would like to focus on some wise words spoken at Freshman Convocations over the years. Specifically, this post will highlight Herman B Wells’ resolute and poignant addresses over the World War II years. His advice should be relevant for all freshman coming to Bloomington now, in an uncertain and overwhelming time.

Black and white photograph of Freshman convocation - a large crowd of seated students surrounds a central stage.
Freshman Convocation, September 15, 1938. IU Archives image no. P0031218

It is well known that our beloved Herman B Wells was a fantastic orator, so it is no surprise that his remarks are still impactful many decades later. During his 1937 speech to incoming freshmen, Wells reminded students of precarious conditions in America and the world:

“It is true that the world is beset with problems of such gravity that they sometimes challenge hope for the future. On the front pages of the newspapers almost every day reference is made to some of these problems—war, assault upon the democracies of the world by the rise of dictatorships, charges that the capitalistic system and the democratic philosophy of government are incompatible—in a word, questions that attack the very foundation of the institutions under which we are living.”

Pretty heavy words for the opening of a Freshman Convocation speech. He continued on to describe the depletion of natural resources and perilous state of natural conservation. He ended this section by saying:

“Wars, rumors of war, political unrest, dissipation of the vitality of our physical and human resources—certainly these create a dismal outlook for the future.”

Though these statements are grave, we can see obvious connections with our contemporary situation. Wells then placed the impetus for changing this outlook on the incoming freshmen:

“You need not be discouraged by the number and seriousness of these problems. They can all be solved, and they will be solved by our people if we are guided by an intelligent and informed leadership…And society, through government and through the sacrifices of individual families, has supported higher education generously in this country largely because we as a people believe that college-trained men and women offer us our best source of social, political, and economic leadership.”

One of Wells’ most extraordinary skills was to turn insurmountable challenges into inspiring moments of change. Against the backdrop of the rise of fascism (the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica occurred in April of that year), Wells acknowledged the frightening realities of IU freshmen while simultaneously encouraging them to lead the charge for change. I hope the incoming freshman class today can harness this same courage.

Black and white photograph of the Freshman Induction ceremony. Robed faculty and staff including President Wells stand on the front steps of the Student Building.
Freshman Induction (Herman B Wells can be seen just to the right of the microphone), September 19, 1940. IU Archives image no. P0033994

In September 1940, one year before the United States officially entered World War II, Wells emphasized the university’s role in defending democracy.  He outlined three types of defenses for democracy: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. After summarizing mobilization activities on campus such as Civilian Pilot Training at the Bloomington airstrip and IU’s R.O.T.C. unit, he spoke to intellectual and spiritual defenses:

“You cannot be intellectually lazy and be an effective citizen in democracy. There is no dictator to tell you what is socially desirable and undesirable. Questions of social policy must be thought through for yourself, and you must think with sufficient clarity and originality, if you aspire to be a leader, so that you can win your colleagues to your point of view.”

Although young people today often hear calls to independent thinking, Wells’ thoughtful consideration of how free thought fosters a democratic environment should be especially relevant today. As to spiritual defenses of democracy, Wells spoke these compassionate words:

“Democracy is a way of life in which we are responsible for each other, in which our human relations must be governed, in a very real and practical sense, by self-restraint and mutual respect for the rights of others.”

In an age of rapid-fire and divisive communications I think incoming IU students would do well to embody mutual respect and feel responsibility for one another. We can update Wells’ words to apply to fostering a democratic society online, too.

Black and white photograph of President Herman B Wells standing underneath the Service Flag. Uniformed male students stand in the foreground listening.
President Wells Speaking at Dedication of the Indiana University Service Flag, August 22, 1943. IU Archives image no. P0039468

As the United States officially entered the War, we see a shift in Wells’ tone for incoming freshmen. 1942 was a particularly devastating year—by September of that year mass extermination of Jews had begun at Auschwitz, Sobibór, Treblinka, and Belzec; thousands of lives were lost as Axis powers sunk Allied ships during Second Happy Time; and Executive Order 9066 authorized the United States military to incarcerate Japanese Americans in detention camps. Wells’ 1942 freshman address echoed an atmosphere of severity:

“We hear much just now about the necessity of maintaining morale on the home front. These are days of unusual stress and strain for all of us. Home front morale will depend in no small measure upon our courtesy to each other. Acceptable manners, both public and private, insure proper consideration for the convenience and rights of others. Therefore this subject of good manners, always timely, is of especial significance at the present.”

Even in a dark hour, we see that Wells highlighted freshmen’s responsibility to treat others with respect and dignity. And as we can see from his 1946 address to the incoming class, that attitude continued after World War II as well. That year he remarked:

“The nervous system of the human body is a complex mechanism consisting of millions of cells. Yet a single nerve cell can register pain or pleasure which is felt throughout the entire body. Each person in the campus body, from the youngest student to the oldest professor, has an essential role. Each is, as it were, a cell in the nervous system of the University community.”

Black and white photograph of President Herman Wells greeting students with suitcases in hand at the entrance to Bryan Hall.
Herman B Wells welcoming World War II veterans who lived in the board room / conference room of the Administration Building during the postwar housing shortage, October 1946. IU Archives image no. P0023889

Cooperation and mutual respect were truly central to how Wells envisioned a democratic society. As the IU Class of 2023 settles in, I hope we all can exemplify Wells’ ideals to each other on and off campus. Most all of us were overwhelmed and frightened freshmen at one point. If Wells could set an example of strength against the backdrop of World War II, we should be able to pass these virtues on to the Class of 2023.

To see more transcripts of Herman B Wells’ speeches, check out the finding aid for Collection C137 or contact an archivist.

Roy Sieber and Igala Masquerades

Roy Sieber, November 1972. IU Archives image no. P0078669

Roy Sieber was a historian of African art who taught at Indiana University Bloomington from 1964 through 1983.  He was the first person to receive a degree in African art in the United States, essentially founding the discipline of African Art studies in this country.

As part of his efforts to document the artistic traditions of West Africa, particularly Nigeria and Ghana, Sieber became well known for his photographs of African art and performance. The Roy Sieber papers at the IU archives, contains black and white photo prints and hundreds of slides of African artwork in use during ritual celebrations and on display in museums, as well as annotated bibliographies written by Sieber’s students providing historical context for specific ethnic groups. Sieber’s career spanned several decades, and the black and white prints in the collection were taken in two time frames: Sieber’s first trip to Nigeria in 1958, and his 1971-1972 trips to museums in various countries with large collections of African art.

While the photographs in this collection depict many different ethnic groups in Nigeria and many different types of art and performance, two particularly striking series of photos document Igala masquerade dances. The Igala people live in the Benue River Basin and a number of Igala villages appear in this collection. While masquerade traditions appear throughout Nigeria and in other parts of West Africa, the style of the mask and dance and the oral narratives associated with those traditions vary widely between regions and ethnic groups. Scholars have suggested that Igala masquerades, much like other parts of their culture, reflect a complex history of conflict, trade, and cultural diffusion with other communities and ethnic groups.

The interactions that have shaped these traditions make it difficult to isolate a uniquely Igala masquerade style, and the many different iterations make it challenging to find information about particular villages’ masking traditions. However, it is evident that as with the masquerades of other ethnic groups, most Igala dances are celebrated on two festival days, one during the rainy season and one during the dry season. These festivals honor ancestral figures and celebrate the agricultural cycles. Additionally, many of these masked dances reflect and reinforce the social and political hierarchies and historical narratives of a particular community.

In the first series of photos below, taken in Okpo village, the caption clarifies that the dancer is wearing an “Egu” mask called “Egodoji,” and that the drums being used are “okelegu,” meaning they are beat with two hands. The text also notes that the mask is Janus-faced and made of painted, carved wood, while the rest of the costume is cloth. In this context, “Egu” refers to the type of festival as well as the mask and dancer; the word has been translated various ways, but scholars have translated it as “spirit” or “dance,” and is associated with annual festivals to honor ancestors and the history of a particular ethnic group.

“Egodoji” jumps as part of the masquerade dance for the Egu festival
The “Egodoji” mask with the “Okelegu” drums (‘beat with both hands). Mask is carved wood with paint and cloth.
Rear view of the Janus-faced helmet mask “Egodoji”
“Egodoji” dances as part of the Egu festival masquerade
“Egodoji” dances as part of the Egu masquerade festival

The second series of photos were taken in Inye village, and the three masks seem to depict potential roles within a marriage. The caption states that the largest mask represents the husband, and is called “Ikonyi,” or “big mouth too big,” while the mask representing the older wife is named “Odomodo,” or “too big,” while the mask representing the younger wife is “Ikekemede,” or “quarrelsome woman.” Sieber notes elsewhere that the husband, Ikonyi, is performed in a “threatening manner” and restrained by a rope around his waist. The three masks always appear together, and seem to constitute a humorous engagement with the practice of marriage and the conflicts produced by that relationship.

“Odomodo,” (older wife, ‘too big’) on the left, “Ikekemede” (young wife, ‘quarrelsome woman’) on the right
Odomodo on the left, Ikekemede on the right
“Ikonyi,” the husband or ‘big mouth too big.’ Carved wood with paint and red seeds at the mouth.
Odomodo on the left, Ikekemede on the right
“Ikekemede” (i.e. quarrelsome woman. Ikonkyi’s young wife); carved wood with paint and bark cloth costume

While Sieber does not provide more context about the spirit in which these masks are intended or received, it is apparent that they are important enough to be performed consistently. Masks are often passed down from one owner to another and can last many years. The mask called Egodoji is a Janus-faced helmet mask, a style that appears in both central and west Africa. Helmet masks are associated with depictions of local ancestry and royal lineages. The masks of the husband and wives, on the other hand, are “horizontal masks,” which often have animal attributes and are associated with “potent sorcery and spirits.” Considered together, these two sets of photos suggest that the masquerades may be used to associate marital responsibilities and the identity of ancestors or royal figures with the attributes of spirits, animals, or the natural world.

Josephine Grima: IU’s First Mexican Student

Photograph of Josephine Grima in nurse's uniform
Josephine Grima, 1917 IU Arbutus yearbook

The year 1917 saw the first class of nurses graduate from the new IU Training School for Nurses, part of the School of Medicine in Indianapolis since 1914. Among those five women was one who could claim another “first”–Josephine Grima (1892?-1993), the first student to enroll at IU from Mexico.

Born around 1892 in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, Grima was apparently encouraged by members of a Society of Friends mission from Indiana to return home with them to complete her medical training. After nine months of preparatory work, Josephine entered the three-year graduate nurses program in the fall of 1914.

During their three years of training, which mainly took place at the Robert W. Long Hospital, Grima and the other nursing students experienced a rigorous routine of “full-time duty in the wards and classrooms.” Types of courses ranged from the preliminary classes on biology, anatomy and physiology, hygiene, sanitation, and household economics to senior term lectures on obstetrics, children’s diseases, mental diseases, and social service.

Photograph of student nurses working in a laboratory
Students at the Training School for Nurses during the 1916-1917 academic year. From the 1917 IU Arbutus yearbook.

As Grima was finishing her final semester, the United States declared war on Germany, officially entering what would be known as World War I. Soon after graduating, she joined the U.S. Army Nurses Corps as a reserve nurse. While she never deployed overseas, she nevertheless saw her share of action during the devastating flu pandemic of 1918. She was first stationed at the army hospital in Markelton, Pennsylvania, before being transferred to Camp Devens near Boston, Massachusetts, in September 1918. At the time, the training camp was in desperate need of medical personnel: with over 10,000 cases in less than a month, it was the site of one of the largest influenza outbreaks in the U.S.

As part of the IU Alumni Association’s War Service Register project, Grima described her experience at Camp Devens. Although brief, it underscores some of the most basic challenges that Grima and her fellow nurses faced in a camp overflowing with patients:

…We report [sic] at the Base Hospt. where we had 15000 of cases of Pneumonia and Influenza where we had to suffer bad accomodation [sic] and bad prepared food. We were on duty [illegible] hours and had to stand in line three times a day for our meals, our beds consisted during the epidemic of straw tikets [tickets], two O. D. [olive drab] blankets and a sanitary cot. There were no place [sic] to accomodate [sic] 750 nurses that answer [sic] the call of the epidemic and for that reason we had to use for bedrooms the garage, the farmhouse, etc. We had a great diel [sic] of work and responsability [sic]…

Segment of Grima's IU War Service Register entry.
Introduction to Grima’s IU War Service Register form. View entire entry

Grima continued her nursing career for a time after the war, working at the Marine Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, before marrying and starting a family. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1922. One of her daughters, Dorothy Comstock Riley, became the first female justice to serve on the State of Michigan’s Court of Appeals (1973) and the first Hispanic woman to be elected a supreme court justice in any state (1985).

 

How to Train a Dragon in Indiana

From “Nine Dragons” (jiǔlóngtú; 九龙图) by Chen Rong, 1244, located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

Dragons are my favorite supernatural creatures. Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that I found a way to research them as part of my new job working for the University Archives. As part of IU’s 2018 Themester, which focused on the relationship between human and non-human animals, I started researching animal folklore in the IU Folklore Institute student papers, and quickly ran into Henry Gaidoz’s massive collection (GR55.G35 H46) in the related IU Libraries’ Folklore Collection. This French folklorist and mythologist collected texts about everything from Zoroastrianism to cannibalism, including an entire box of writings on dragons. At the bottom of that box, I found Marinus Willem de Visser’s 1913 missive The Dragon in China and Japan (Box 24, Item 568). This book contains hundreds of pages of descriptions of Chinese and Japanese dragon beliefs and traditions, including instructions on how to summon a dragon to make it rain.

M.W. de Visser, like Gaidoz, had a range of interests. He was a Dutch scholar who studied Chinese and Japanese folklore, but his works have become particularly well known in the field of cryptozoology, the study of supernatural creatures. In The Dragon in China and Japan, he chronicles the ways that dragon beliefs and rituals moved between India, China, and Japan, drawing along the way from Taoism, Shintoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. His book begins by describing beliefs that came from India, then moves into the way those ideas were absorbed into existing traditions in China and Japan. As I read, I realized what a vital role dragons play in eastern Asian traditions, particularly as water gods capable of starting and stopping rain.

Much of the western literature I had previously encountered depicted dragons as embodied metaphors for the human qualities of greed, violence, and wisdom. In China, however, dragons have been worshiped as deities, used as symbols of national identity and political authority, and are still seen today as figures with the potential to bless a community with rain or stop a flood. I was interested in these practices because of my love for all things dragon-related, but also because my home state of Utah was at the time suffering from drought and a series of terrible fires. I decided to combine some of the things I learned from Visser’s text with my own traditions and ask a dragon to bring rain to my home town.

Title page for M.W. De Visser’s The Dragon in China and Japan, Henry Gaidoz Collection, Box 24, Item 568

Chinese and Japanese beliefs in dragons are complicated and emergent, and they are not my area of study. However, based on Visser’s work as well as other texts, I identified what seemed to be some key aspects of these traditions. Ancient Chinese beliefs about dragons describe them as “enormous light-giving mountain gods” who helped create life and have power over the weather as well as other aspects of the environment (62). These long-standing beliefs combined with Buddhist and Hindu influences to form contemporary dragon worship practices, including the widespread belief in Dragon Kings. Dragon or Serpent Kings are local gods that live in specific lakes or rivers and can be petitioned to create or stop rain. Many are depicted as having bodies that are part serpent and part human.

“The Dragon King of the Four Seas” 1801-1850, located in the British Museum.

It is difficult to delineate how and where specific parts of dragon worship in China originated, but Visser outlines several examples of asking dragons for rain that come from Taoist and Buddhist traditions. In general, there are two types of strategies for communicating with dragons, both of which rely on knowing what the dragon either likes or dislikes. The first is performing a ritual to ask the dragon for help, which involves praying, providing offerings, and reciting sutras or sacred texts. These rituals often include images of specific dragons and items that are the color blue (the color of one of the most important dragons), and are done while facing the direction of the particular dragon you are trying to summon (often east) (30-32). The second strategy is to agitate the dragon to cause it to move, which can involve pulling small statues of the dragon in and out of the water, making loud noises near the shoreline, or throwing items the dragon dislikes (often iron and the Wang plant) into the river or lake (69).

My version of summoning the dragon was based on the two types of rituals described in Visser. First, I read about the Great Cloud Circle (or Wheel) rite. This Buddhist petition must be performed in an open space, under a blue canopy and a blue banner and on a blue seat facing east. There are additional instructions for who can perform the ritual and what they must be wearing, as well as the offerings that should accompany the performance. In this ritual a religious official or influential lay person recites the sutra or dharani of the Great Cloud Circle for one to two days while others play music and sing for the dragon. Then they burn offerings, including a paper figure with a message in his hand asking for rain. The act of burning this figure is supposed to allow him to take his message to heaven (32).

The second strategy I drew from is a practice associated with the dragon boat festival (such as this one in Washington D.C.), an annual celebration in which people race dragon boats and place dumplings wrapped in leaves and tied with five-colored thread in the water. There are many different versions of the story behind this festival –one of the most common is that it commemorates the poet K’uh Yen, a loyal man accused of treason who committed suicide, and the race of the villagers to save his body from being eaten by placing other food in the water. However, Visser and other scholars suggest that this celebration comes in part from an earlier festival which may have been intended to worship dragons. Visser suggests the act of racing symbolic representations of dragons and placing food wrapped in leaves of a plant that dragons would not like in the water were intended to make the dragons race or fight each other, causing a rainstorm (68).

After reading about these and other ways to communicate I wanted to respect these traditions but also perform my own ritual in a way that was personally meaningful, so I combined these ideas with what I had on hand. Part of the problem was that I was not asking for rain where I currently was–Indiana had plenty of water–so I spoke to Tam Iverson, a graduate student at the University of Tartu, Estonia, who is familiar with beliefs about rain summoning in many cultures. He suggested that I use a fulcrum, or something that emotionally connected me to the place where I was asking for it to rain. I knew my Dad was coming into town that weekend, so I waited for him to arrive and planned that we would figure out the materials and fulcrum together. Coincidentally, the day we planned was also the day of the fall equinox, which according to Visser begins the period in which dragons begin a period of hibernation (66).

Photo by Jessie Riddle

That weekend, we picked a stream near my house and I found a blue scarf given to me by my grandmother to act as a “blue banner.” My Dad and I wrote messages on pieces of paper and brought matches to burn them. I didn’t have dumplings or the specific leaves mentioned by Visser, so I wrapped a cookie in the leaves I found near the stream and tied it together with five colors of thread. We brought a blue umbrella as the blue canopy, and as the fulcrum and a text to read, I brought a childhood story book with a blue cover. I read the book out loud, we placed the cookie wrapped in leaves and thread in the water, and then burned our messages. It was raining while we did this in Indiana, but the forecast for Utah was no rain for the next week.

The next day my Dad flew home to Utah, and sent me this video, which includes the sounds of light rainfall in Provo, Utah:

I have no idea if we summoned a dragon, and if that was possible whether that dragon would listen to anything we had to say. But I learned about beliefs I would never have otherwise, and I felt strongly the importance of having personal rituals that allow you to communicate with the world around you. Also, I don’t know that it didn’t work. So thanks, dragon.