When I moved to the Midwest I was relieved to discover there are rednecks here. I can sip shiraz, discuss modern art, and enjoy avant-garde plays, but at my heart I am a woman who lights up when she hears “Hey y’all, watch this!”
Don’t let your Beltane bonfire get out of hand, y’all.
Some of my ancestors were well-off, and there are a few high-brow folks in my family, but mostly I come from a culture of pickup trucks, dirt roads, and fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes that drip juice all down your arms as you bite into a summer sandwich. I joke that in Minneapolis everyone listens to the same music: anything but country. Yet for all my Andrew Bird records, Jo Dee Messina, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless make me incredibly happy.
So it’s probably no surprise that from all the festivals I’ve attended and private rituals I have been invited to that the Redneck Ritual at Pagan Spirit Gathering is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Sure, it’s supposed to be a “joke ritual” born off bad jokes and stereotypes, but it’s a really joyful celebration. We show up in cutoffs and revel in being joyfully tacky. There is no pretense of being more spiritual-than-thou. No one is using 20 dollar words or dead languages. There is no worry about being politically correct or even inclusive, because if you want to be a redneck then you are one. And if you’re a little different, well, hell, I got an aunt with a bedazzled peg leg and a Dolly Parton wig, but she’s good folks and so are you.
Aunt Tootie is stylin’!
I would go as far to say that Redneck Ritual may be closer to English folk rituals than any number of Gardnerians chantin’ nekkid as a jaybird under a yeller moon. Because hobby horses and fool kings have more in common with velvet paintings of Dale Earnhardt and belching contests than titled priests who brook no nonsense. Being the high priestess of a Redneck Ritual is a little like coming in first place at a chitlin’ eatin’ contest: impressive but of dubious honor.
He really thinks I would go to a party in a chicken house, bless his heart.
Redneck Ritual is the most egalitarian of rituals. We all know that any hint of hierarchy is bullshit. If somebody wants to organize this shindig and herd folks through it, they ain’t any better or wiser than the rest of us. They’re just less lazy. Most of us are happy to sit in the shade and have us a cold drink while someone else gets the ceremony under way.
Yet once we do get the show on the road everyone is committed. You will never see a bigger group of proud and loud rednecks. There is no irony here. No hipsters. Everyone is very clear about what this ritual is and what their role entails. No one is checking their cell phone. Everyone is engaged and happy. And no one is ashamed.
You may have grown up in a trouse (a trailer with a house-like addition) livin’ off lima beans, but you ain’t the only one. Banana sammiches on white bread may have been proper nutrition in your house and shoes in the summer may have been purely optional. You probably have a few crazy people in your family and argue about which one of you is the black sheep. Instead of going to the club you may have hung out around a bonfire in your buddies backyard sippin’ beer and staring at the stars. You may have been dirt poor, but then so was everyone else you knew so it didn’t matter. And your trashy family might have kicked you out and disowned you, but, shoot, you sure ain’t the only one that has happened to either.
Sometimes you show up at a ritual (Buddhist, Wiccan, Catholic, etc…) and you feel like you don’t really belong. Maybe it’s the theology, or how proper everyone seems. Maybe you feel out of place, or certain you won’t be welcome if they know who you really are. But at a Redneck Ritual there is no doubt these are your people. You show up wearing tube socks with your Walmart knock-off crocs and feel right at home. There ain’t nothin’ in your past to be ashamed of here. Other people here have bought gas using spare change and sometimes catch themselves singin’ “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” in the shower.
There is a lot of concern about cultural appropriation, but you ain’t got to worry about that here. Rednecks come in every shape, size, color, gender, and ethnic background. Did your Greek grandma try to get you to eat a sheep’s eyeball? Do you explain your crazy Ethiopian uncle by saying he’s “from the bush?” Does your A.M.E. church choir cousin corner people at family reunions to explain why Michael Jackson is the greatest musical genius of the past century? Does your mother make 150 different kinds of tater tot hot dish? Did you grow up in Mastic Beach, Long Island? Well, I ain’t sayin’ you’re a redneck, but you might feel at home up amongst them.
It is true. Redneck Ritual ain’t anything for any festival to be proud to promote. Sagging tube tops, Trailer Trash Barbie, belching contests, and RC Cola with a Moon Pie is not what folks think off when they are looking for a spiritual experience. Yet if you want to see real community, fully engaged participants, and ritual grounded in American culture as-it-is, then Redneck Ritual is worth checking out. We may not have Stonehenge or the Parthenon, but we got oppossums, raccoons, the mighty Mississippi, Leadbelly, and sweet corn.
I don’t think Redneck Ritual is happening this year at PSG (even though I did promise Debby and Zan a pie) but that’s ok, because, as anyone who brought home a giant-ass watermelon knows, there can be too much of a good thing. And it is a good thing and we all need it. Sometimes the bullshit in life can get you down, and it’s good to know you’re not alone. Redneck Ritual is good for the soul, like a Little Debbie fresh out of the wrapper. And until we get to have that down-home communion, well, we got True Blood.