The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

pounding on the rocks

leave a comment »

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In accordance with habits cultivated, your humble narrator spent the lunar maximum visiting the vast garden cemetery complexes which adorn the Greater Newtown Pentacle during the waning of October. Surveys of these necropolitan complexes often reveal surprise and delight, and figure prominently in the rambling narrative which regular readers of this journal have grown accustomed to. Extant clues to the deep history of our communities can often be found carved into the nitre dripping monuments and grave markers which adorn and define the cemetery belt.

St. Michael’s Cemetery is found in Astoria, a charming victorian affair which has a surprisingly diverse roll call of interments.

from St. Michael’s

St. Michael’s Cemetery is situated in the borough of Queens in New York City. Established in 1852, St. Michael’s is one of the oldest religious, nonprofit cemeteries in the New York City metropolitan area which is open to people of all faiths. It is owned and operated by St. Michael’s Church, an Episcopal congregation located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The original property for St. Michael’s Cemetery was purchased in 1852 by the Rev. Thomas McClure Peters and occupied seven acres. Over the years St. Michael’s gradually acquired additional land to its present size of approximately eighty-eight acres. Because it was Dr. Peters intention to provide a final dignified resting place for the poor who could not otherwise afford it, areas within the cemetery were assigned to other free churches and institutions of New York City. These areas are still held for the institutions they were assigned. As a service to its diverse constituency, St. Michael’s continues to this day provide burial space for individuals and families from all classes, religions and ethnicities. St. Michael’s reflects the demographic and historical trends of New York City. Walking through the older sections of the cemetery, you will find burials representing the 19th and early 20th century immigrants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not so far from Newtown Pentacle HQ that it can’t be reasonably accessed, traversed, and returned from in a timely interval, my frequent strolls through the place are always intriguing. At 88 acres, it’s not the monster that the Olivette/Lutheran or Calvary/Zion objectives represent, and my proximity to it offers me the closest thing to true parkland in this section of Astoria (which does not have two enormous steel bridges spanning it). September and October of 2010, of course, were remarkable for the severe weather that swept across Queens (including an actual Tornado), and the toll taken on the ancient arboretum cemeteries during those days of angry skies is apparent to even casual notice.

from wikipedia

Cemetery authorities face a number of tensions in regard to the management of cemeteries.

One issue relates to cost. Traditionally a single payment is made at the time of burial, but the cemetery authority incurs expenses in cemetery maintenance over many decades. Many cemetery authorities find that their accumulated funds are not sufficient for the costs of long-term maintenance. This shortfall in funds for maintenance results in three main options: charge much higher prices for new burials, obtain some other kind of public subsidy, or neglect maintenance. For cemeteries without space for new burials, the options are even more limited. Public attitudes towards subsidies are highly variable. People with family buried in local cemeteries are usually quite concerned about neglect of cemetery maintenance and will usually argue in favour of public subsidy of local cemetery maintenance, whereas other people without connection to the area often argue that public spending comes from their taxes and therefore should be spent on the living in the district rather than being “wasted” on the dead.

Another issue relates to limited amount of land. In many larger towns and cities, the older cemeteries which were initially considered to be large often run out of space for new burials and there is no vacant adjacent land available to extend the cemetery or even land in the same general area to create new cemeteries. New cemeteries are generally established on the periphery of towns and cities, where large tracts of land are still available. However, people often wish to be buried in the same cemetery as other relatives, creating pressure to find more space in existing cemeteries and are not interested in being buried in new cemeteries with which there is no sense of connection to their family.

A third issue is the maintenance of monuments and headstones, which are generally the responsibility of families, but often become neglected over time. Decay and damage through vandalism or cemetery maintenance practices can render monuments and headstones either unsafe or at least unsightly. On the other hand, some families do not forget the grave but constantly visit, leaving behind flowers, plants, and other decorative items that create their own maintenance problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Osage Oranges, Maclura Pomifera if you might, have dropped onto the ground in accordance with their nature. A detailed posting on St. Michael’s atavist vegetation was offered nearly one year ago- “Things you learn from being a Ghoul“- which discusses the fruit, my discovery and identification of it, and various empirical theories about the enigmatic and quite prehistoric cultivar. I am keen on acquisition of an Osage wood staff, and fashioning a camera monopod from it, but “one must never remove anything from a graveyard” is one of the commandments etched into my iron road and I shall obey my maxim.

from wikipedia

The trees acquired the name bois d’arc, or “bow-wood”, from early French settlers who observed the wood being used for war clubs and bow-making by Native Americans. Meriwether Lewis was told that the people of the Osage Nation “esteem the wood of this tree for the making of their bows, that they travel many hundred miles in quest of it.” Many modern bowyers assert the wood of the Osage-orange is superior even to English Yew for this purpose, though this opinion is by no means unanimous. The trees are also known as “bodark” or “bodarc” trees, most likely originating from a corruption of “bois d’arc.” The Comanches also used this wood for their bows. It was popular with them because it is strong, flexible and durable. This tree was common along river bottoms of the Comanchería.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A shame, for the Osage Oranges are actually highly prized as natural pesticides, and sell at a per piece price at major online auction sites. Offered at 6 for $5, such a harvest might find a hearty welcome here at NPHQ, which is underfunded and is a place where belts continue to be tightened and teabags used thrice.

Any reading this missive interested in alleviating the wicked poverty which approaches a humble narrator might wish to purchase the first Newtown Pentacle bookNewtown Creek, for the Vulgarly Curious– which can ordered by clicking this link. It’s available as a nicely bound paper book which will be shipped out to your choice of address, or in a downloadable ebook format (which is HIGHLY discounted)– I would add.

from wikipedia

Osage-orange, Horse-apple, Bois D’Arc, or Bodark (Maclura pomifera) is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, typically growing to 8–15 metres (26–49 ft) tall. It is dioeceous, with male and female flowers on different plants. The fruit, a multiple fruit, is roughly spherical, but bumpy, and 7–15 cm in diameter, and it is filled with a sticky white latex sap. In fall, its color turns a bright yellow-green and it has a faint odor similar to that of oranges.

Maclura is closely related to the genus Cudrania, and hybrids between the two genera have been produced. In fact, some botanists recognize a more broadly defined Maclura that includes species previously included in Cudrania and other genera of Moraceae.

Osajin and Pomiferin are flavonoid pigments present in the wood and fruit, comprising about 10% of the fruit’s dry weight. The plant also contains the flavonol morin.

Recent research suggests that elemol, another component extractable from the fruit, shows promise as a mosquito repellent with similar activity to DEET in contact and residual repellency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

But… Mitch… -you ask- St. Michael’s? Wasn’t that the place with the weird ritual site that you posted about in “City of Marble and Beryl“, “Effulgent Valleys“, and “Strange Prayers” a few months back? What the heck, man, you just kind of dropped the whole thing after promising to keep us posted on it?

Actually, I’ve been making it a point to be in St. Michael’s after the full moon since then, but you’re just going to have to wait till tomorrow for all that…

from wikipedia

Magical rituals are the precisely defined actions (including speech) used to work magic. Bronisław Malinowski describes ritual language as possessing a high “coefficient of weirdness,” by which he means that the language used in ritual is archaic and out of the ordinary, which helps foster the proper mindset to believe in the ritual.  S. J. Tambiah notes, however, that even if the power of the ritual is said to reside in the words, “the words only become effective if uttered in a very special context of other action.” These other actions typically consist of gestures, possibly performed with special objects at a particular place or time. Object, location, and performer may require purification beforehand. This caveat draws a parallel to the felicity conditions J. L. Austin requires of performative utterances. By “performativity” Austin means that the ritual act itself achieves the stated goal. For example, a wedding ceremony can be understood as a ritual, and only by properly performing the ritual does the marriage occur. Émile Durkheim stresses the importance of rituals as a tool to achieve “collective effervescence,” which serves to help unify society. Psychologists, on the other hand, describe rituals in comparison to obsessive-compulsive rituals, noting that attentional focus falls on the lower level representation of simple gestures. This results in goal demotion, as the ritual places more emphasis on performing the ritual just right than on the connection between the ritual and the goal. However, the purpose of ritual is to act as a focus and the effect will vary depending on the individual.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 5, 2010 at 3:43 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: