SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - How to Live & Die in the New Year
To live, one must die.
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required.
The holidays are over, which means a break from family photos of people cramming together only to need 5 re-takes before everyone’s faces are coordinated. No, I’m not a fan of family photos but I try to withstand them because I am a fan of nostalgia and I can be thankful I’m not the poor mothers of family photos past. Photos are important. Not photography, but photos — the photos we take of our food, the photos we take of our pets, of our travels, our selves, of each other. Even the times I don’t want to reminisce over, I keep just enough photos to remember. Time is both a thing and a feeling, it exists and it ceases to exist in different settings. Photos are the only ropes that can restrain time just long enough for us to feel like we can truly see it.
Sometimes we take pictures that other people can’t appreciate, pictures whose audience is meant to remain limited. Pictures with a restricted audience often become popular because their intention is so understood — they were never meant to win awards, inform the masses, make money, or gain attention — they were taken for the most fundamental purpose, they are purely memories, the primitive and forgotten roots of photography.
A practice that has been documented in more places than just 19th century Europe and the U.S., post-mortem photography is one of those genres of photography that captivate us not for its style or particular subject matter, but for speaking directly to our most primal need to remember in the face of relentless time. These photos served as the family’s last keepsake and were sometimes the only photo to exist of the deceased.
In the 1800s, death did not live at the end of life as it does for us now, but it lived alongside life — the constant threat of dying made it a fact of living. To us, postcards with a mother holding her dead child seem unthinkably morbid, yet even today mothers are photographed with their stillborn infants, articulating what past mothers understood. The style of the photo changed with culture and time but persisted as late as the 1960s, though it became increasingly more private as death itself became better contained by modern medicine.
Post-mortem photography makes us uncomfortable; they are not the photos we think of when we think of photography. They are not the photos we want to exist, but need to exist. They are not a celebration of time as with nostalgia, but a confrontation of time. Post-mortem photography is not a request to be seen, but a cry to remember; they are the photos that harness time at its most ravenous and it unnerves us at our core. (There are also the dead bodies, of course.)
An entire class grieves over their classmate, not a helicopter parent in sight (1910).
The New Year is another holiday that loses its shine under a sea of glittering decor if you don’t take it upon yourself to create your own culture around it. I blame consumerism, but whatever it is, holidays are increasingly becoming detached from their origins. When traditions and origins separate, you end up with the kind of empty celebrations that make you uneasy as they’re reduced to markers of time passed and make you more carefully weigh the pros and cons of ignoring (and even cynically rejecting) the holidays altogether. In our youth-obsessed society, the oldest things are seen with suspicion first, but the roots of our traditions are much more central to our being than the desire for bad electronic music is.
Yes, party, but remember we’re celebrating on a world made from the remains of the chaos monster, Tiamat.
The idea of the new year being a time to reconsider our direction in life is not new, not old, but ancient. Jordan Peterson retells this Mesopotamian story and frames the emperor’s judgment as akin to the judgment we pass on our own lives when making New Year resolutions. When you remember that the New Year is much more than just a party surrounding a count down, especially for those of us who are less “fun” than our society thinks we should be, it takes on new meaning that makes you feel more connected to the holiday and less alienated for not wanting to follow traditions you don’t care about.
Celebrate the New Year like an ancient Mesopotamian emperor — check in with yourself to judge whether you’ve been a good Marduk. Give yourself 10 minutes to create a wellness wheel to analyze where you are and where you want to be. Identify the problems that block your efforts and the values that you want to focus on. You won’t have to be stripped naked and berated by a priest outside your kingdom’s walls, but in the true spirit of the New Year, add some brutal honesty and reflection into your day. Find your Tiamat and slay it.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.