Last night I learned of a prayer for Rabbinical students from times long ago from the amazing Dyland Richards, my house guest last night on his way to a Franciscan Monastery for a religious event (I love the variety of humans in my world).
May you be covered in his dust.
May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.
I have a deep and resounding respect for the teachings of Jesus/Joshua, and yet my own relationship with his ministry has been challenging at times due to how it has been interpreted, implemented and dogmatically enforced over the years by various groups. But watching Dylan tell biblical tales reminds me why I so often love Abrahamic faiths.
May you be covered in his dust.
This phrase is simple enough- that a hebrew boy from Jesus’ time would have learned the basics of the Torah and the teachings until he was 12 or 13 and went through his Bar Mitsvah. If he did okay, he was welcomed to manhood… and if he excelled he was encouraged to study more. If he did not excel, he was told to go and take up the trade of his father. If the now young man, in studying the Talmud (the commentaries and more), he excelled- he was encouraged to stay on and study directly with his Rabbi and/or keep reading other texts. If he did not excel, he was told to go and take up the trade of his father.
This is the middle east folks. Sand, dust, dry. Following a Rabbi for years to learn his system, his wisdom, to watch and discuss and do what needs done was mile upon mile, day upon day of walking. In the sand, dust, dry.
“The mad go to the desert to become holy. Or the holy go to he desert to become mad. It is hard to tell the difference.”
-Catherynne M. Valente, “Under In The Mere” from “The Psalm of the Sun”
When we bless someone to be covered in the dust of their Rabbi, it is a prayer that the studying be long, the wisdom be great, the miles covered rich in the greatness of divinity. This, this I love.
But Dylan went on to discuss with me the notion of just how radical Jesus was. That when he offered to folks like Peter, an old man at 16 already a fisherman (practicing the trade of his father), he was offering the “already not good enoughs” that they had the opportunity to be holy men again. In a culture where the word of God and the Law are at the top of excellence, to be told by a Rabbi that you have a second chance at this is- miraculous. Socially and culturally speaking. This is the same Jesus who went in the middle of the day to the well in the Gospel of John, he offers a Samaritan woman a chance to spread his gospel as well, when in that time talking to a non-Jew and offering them any chance of God’s love and salvation, was, well, let’s just say not so acceptable.
(as a side note, I am convinced that in this video of the tale that Jesus has great bedroom eyes for the Samaritan woman)
These tales, these blessings, come in a context of a time, of a space. Telling a fisherman to follow you nowadays is not the same cultural tale told from 2,000 years ago. Talking to a racially different woman at a well (mid-day mind you, not morning or night when the Jewish women went) is not the same today as it was then. These tales are stories that have a context. These are symbols that carry a lesson and a message that is embedded in the stories of that time. Where a story comes from shows us what that story teaches.
Unless we understand a time period, and what those choices meant back then, we the audience of a tale often have the habit of back-tracking and projecting what we think those things mean. Yes we can learn other things from a story beyond their original cultural contextual intent, but that tells us more about us as individuals, and where we are now, than what the story was “telling”. We find instead what we are “hearing.”
If we apply this to Leather history and culture, we see dramatically the tales and myths of Old Guard and New Guard Leather in a new light.
Imagine it is World War Two, and as a man attracted to other men, you realize for the first time that the cultural tales you have been told that all men attracted to men are poofs is not true. You are not effeminate, or soft- you have been in trenches and embraced your regimented masculinity with pride, and yet you want to have hot sex with other men who have similar looks, tastes, feels. No longer away from home, back in California, New York, Illinois, cultures arise.
Out of needs for the realities of the time, systems arise. Leather was the look of biker bars, of the outlaw making his own way. It was durable clothing. It looked good, felt good. With a heavy belt on, you had an SM or bondage or control tool on you at all times. With a good pair of boots you could fuck around in back alley ways and have subversive sex without worrying about your footwear, and also, laces make for great bondage tools too.
At this point of time, leather is expensive. Being gifted leathers is a big deal because the likelihood is you only are going to be able to afford one vest- ever. You take care of your boots because it makes good sense, and because the army taught you to. Codes of hankies and keys and colors erupt not to be sexy, but to keep folks from being arrested for having illegal or legally insane sex, to keep from having the shit beat out of you, to find lovers and connections one step safer.
People bottom first out of practicality. You learn the tools through your skin, not as some sort of ancient art form, but as a way to police the crazy folks out of the community before they become Tops. Without classes and conferences and books and the internet- you learned one on one or in small groups, through sweat and tears and cum, creating bonds and brotherhood and passing on wisdom about where and how to hit and when and how to be, through the doing.
The symbols are a way of remembering these tales. But what happens when the context and tale are forgotten but only the symbol remains.
In Leviticus there are some crazy-ass “laws of God.” This, folks may recall, is the chapter that isn’t so cool on man on man sex. But it also wasn’t so good at combining fibers, at requiring folks to bury their scat outside the perimiter of God’s love, and that if you saw red mold you had to get a Rabbi. These are cultural laws that kept a desert culture alive. Telling people to poo and bury their scat outside the perimiter of God’s love meant folks were not taking a dump next to their tent, getting horrid diseases, and dying. Wow, the Hebrews live so much longer, God must love them. No, they are just not taking a dump next to their tents.
This is God’s love though, yes? Cultural wisdom, passed down, is a way of divinity to bless a people. I do not have to understand microbiology if I know the cultural law. I still live longer.
But cultural laws exist in the context of a culture, a time and place and people. Cutting foreskins off as a mark of being owned by Jehovah as a tribe does a lot of stuff. It (place) keeps off unwanted infections from rare bathing. It (people) lets us know one of our own easily when we are lost or at war. It (time) is a sign that we are an advanced people with medical abilities others down have, and a way (people) to raise ourselves up over other tribes. This is pretty neat stuff.
Leather traditions vary from place to place because they are based on culture. They are about a time, a place, a people. These traditions did not arise because a hot dude sat around and dreamed them up. There was a need- this was the answer to that need.
At Christmas, this one family would always cut the breast off the turkey before broiling it. When the child asked their mother why this was, she answered “It’s a family tradition.” When the mother asked her mother why this was, she answered “It’s a family tradition.” When the grandmother asked her ancient mother why this was, she answered “Oh, because we had a small oven and the turkey was too big to fit in otherwise.”
-Dylan Richards shares a teaching tale with me
Why do I carry a hanky? To cruise. To blindfold. To bind. To offer up as a gentleman to a weeping or snotty individual. To gag. To wipe sweat from my brow. To start conversations. To lay down on a pubic space chair when my bottom is naked and wants to sit down. To remind me of how I earned that hanky. To laugh with friends about hanky stories. To have a certain “look.”
I sometimes, in carrying a hanky, evoke the memory of an Old Gaurd, or those who came before, who in their tribal traditions carried a bandanna to easily state what they were into. But this hanky code twenty miles long that includes lace doilies- that shit is, lovingly said, something of an intellectual masturbation. Mind you, I love masturbating- but what is the purpose of these lists? Is this tradition serving anything any more, I must ask, when I see something that once served a purpose now serving only itself and an intellectual elite that has the time and energy to ponder the differences between pale yellow and goldenrod.
When Hunter earned his belt, I used it on his flesh. This will hold up your pants, but it will also double as this tool for you on either side of the lash, but it will also remind you of where you have been, where we have been, where our people have been. It’s just a belt, right? Yes, and no. It is a symbol, and symbols are rich in intent, lesson, and story.
When a Rabbinical student is being covered in dust, he is learning not just the Law and the Way, but learning the way his teachers before him do stuff. He learns how to care for the sick, how to aide the poor of heart. He learns not just what to duplicate and pass on, but as the miles upon miles of stacks and stacks of commentaries show, he learns his own voice as to what he will interpret this all to mean and what he, in turn, will pass on to those who are covered in his dust.
May you be covered in his leather.
When I acquire traditions, symbols and tools in my life as a leatherman, I am also acquiring my thoughts on these things.
A few years ago I was gifted the hearing of a tale. At Master Archer’s class at Southwest Leather on Earned Leathers, a woman spoke up and told her pain. That she had been gifted her Mistresses’ cap/cover when her Mistress died and she became the new head of the leather household. She stared and stared at the cap, and said she could never wear it because she had not earned it.
Master Archer said that you don’t earn your cover. You re-earn it every time you put it on. You make yourself worthy of that cover each time it goes on your head.
I don’t wear my cover now unless I feel able to be worthy of it and what it means to me.
I am covered in this piece of dust, this layer of leather. I am covered.
But I do wonder sometimes at this hunger to be gifted leather, at this hunger to be recognized, at this hunger to be part of something set from the past. In a need to have lineage, so many leatherfolk are grabbing at straws, and symbols that don’t have a meaning to them any more. They project backwards and tell tales of what it “must have meant to the Old Guard.” And some of these tales hold kernels of truth, and others are elaborate fantasies that make for good porn and hot protocols.
Why are you doing that thing you are doing? I must ask, for a cross on a billboard proclaiming death to all baby killers as I pass by protesters outside Planned Parenthood… makes me wonder whether you know what that symbol you are using means- what its stories are. I must ask, for wearing your Master’s cap and acting like an ass while verbally abusing those in service… makes me wonder whether you know what that symbol you are using means- what its stories are.
If a cross to you means “I love Jesus” or your cap means “I feel tough and sexy,” so be it. But if you are trying to evoke a deeper tale of connection to a past, to a culture- what are the tales of that culture. The funny thing is, in the case of covers in most communities, and in the case of crosses in most communities- these above definitions may in fact be FAR more honest to the cultural reality of use of symbol. Sometimes, the profound stuff, even if it affects our life deeply and changes our core, is made up.
So own it. You made up something excellent. And tell your tales, your stories, of the symbols you use… so others may be covered in your dust.
May you be covered in dust.