Origin and History
The Centennial Gathering was a gathering first conceived by a kitsune named Áine during the mid-Ancient Era, the High Priestess of The Lady at that time. Seeking a way to bring together the people outside of the temples and markets, she came up with the idea of a semi annual harvest festival to be held at the central Great Temple. She settled on holding this event every one hundred years to keep it from losing meaning by happening more, and to accommodate the general length of life of the various people of Underhill. Initially a great feast and trading event, the Gathering has since grown into a two week event encapsulating several different features.
There have only been two times that the Centennial Gathering has not been held; the first was the first Gathering after Áine's death. She had died half a year before the fourth of her great events was to be held. That year was instead a half a week of celebration of Áine's life, along with the official ceremony to appoint her successor with a much more simple feast. The second time that the Centennial Gathering wasn't celebrated was the first gathering after the fall of the Lily Civilization. While most of Underhill did not acknowledge the events which lead to the end of the Lilians, the magical changes wrought upon Yuriba, namely the locking away of huge portions of the island to any access, was a time of great uncertainty. Virtually all priestesses within the Grand Temple and the other temples were in agreement that energy and time would be better spent focused on the people and adjustment. Notably, the Centennial Gatherings held after each of these canceled gatherings are well known as some of the largest, most energetic, and hopeful of the Gatherings held.
Held near the Great Temple, the Gathering Grounds is an area of approximately eighty acres, several different terrain types seeming to have been terraformed into existence by the different temples over the ages, the original grounds simply a great open field. Currently, a large lake takes up the northern end of the grounds, a meandering river flowing back and forth from it on it's way to join the river near the Great Temple, splitting the grounds fairly evenly in half. Situated in the center of the lake is a tall 'hill' that from a distance looks like the peak of a mountain, a land bridge reaching out to it, the peak of the 'mountain' even having a magical coat of snow during the Gathering. A forest of oak, maple and pine takes up the northwestern corner of the Grounds, most of the maples a vibrant red color year round. A series of hills gently roll to the south of the forest, smoothing into a wide field taking up the southern end of the grounds nearest to the Great Temple. To the east of the forest across the river lie multiple orchards, vineyards and groves; apples, pears, Sun Berry and Passionberries all grow there, though the central feature is a large cherry grove. To the south of the fruiting plants is an extensive field of every native flower and grass, this section of the grounds closest to how they originally looked before merging in with the great field. The main 'entry' to the Grounds from the Great Temple is marked by a great stone courtyard built with the river from the lake flowing through it. The river splits around a great firepit, stone bridges radiating out from it like beams from the sun. During gatherings, great posts are erected around the rectangular platform, torches and flags set upon them.
During gatherings, the various temples each set up tents within the section of the Grounds which most favor their Lady, surrounding themselves with symbols and associations to their favored Goddess and joining in with the priestesses of other temples dedicated to their matron, it a time of sharing between the different temples as well as the people. The great field in the southern end of the Grounds is where those not associated with a temple set up their camp for the two weeks, tents scattered among the grass and flowers around the stone courtyard.
Primarily a harvest festival that lasts two weeks, there are many different aspects to it, events hosted by the different religious orders to celebrate the different ladies. Not every event is held every Gathering, it is entirely dependent upon the different temples if they wish to organize for it. There is no set schedule of events from Gathering to Gathering other than the 'official' events which happen at each; The Welcoming, Outdoor Ball, the two Grand Temple services, and the Great Feast.
The welcoming is a 'non-denominational' opening to the entire gathering, held early in the morning on the first day of the Gathering at the main stone courtyard at the entry to the Gathering Grounds. Bells are rung, calling the people to the Gathering Grounds where they are greeted by the High Priestess and welcomed to the festival. The official opening, teas and wines are offered to those there after a communal blessing from the priestesses present, and the 'schedule' of events and what the different temples are offering are laid out for everyone to know, posted in different places and on the great posts around the courtyard. The great bonfire is lit by the priestesses of Kaika, and kept burning for the duration of the Gathering.
After the Welcoming Ceremony, the courtyard is set up with various tables of food and drink. Not intended to be the main feast, the banquet is there to provide food for those gathered over the two weeks; bread, teas and fruits available at all times. Tables are set up for the gathered people, providing an opportunity for the various chefs and craftswomen to show off their skills and wares, an ever rotating 'food court' of different styles of food and drink available at any given time of the day. Trade of food items is encouraged, turning the entire area into an open market focused on food and drink. Everything from roast and dried meats to wine, beer and tea blends, cheese and breads, preserves and dried herbs is available. If it's a food the natives make, it can be found here. The musically inclined often mingle and set up during the banquet and among the market as well, providing entertainment and enlivening the atmosphere.
Held the first weekend of the Gathering, the Outdoor Ball is both a dance and a music competition. Hosted jointly by the temples of Zansho and Tenteisei, the ball takes place in the southeastern flower fields, a stage set up and an area of ground designated for dance, beverages and small snacks of fruit and nuts offered. Starting at high Noon, it begins with a musical competition of several categories: group, solo, instrumental and vocal. After the competition, several different performers and groups will provide music through the evening for the dance portion of the ball, the ball frequently lasting until sunrise. Often viewed as the best time to solidify romantic connections or make new ones, the Outdoor Ball is one of the most popular events during the two week Gathering. The Ball is also the best time to highlight the different alcoholic beverages of the island, brewers and vintners in friendly competition to gain attention to their cherished drinks.
Grand Temple Services
While there are daily services and worship held on the grounds and within the Grand Temple, there are two specific services that are highlighted events. The first service is held the first night of the Gathering, oriented toward celebrating those for who it's their first time at the Gathering, be they young or an older citizen of Underhill who comes for the first time. Marriages, both monogamous and polyamorous, are often performed before the main service on the first day as well. The second of the Services is held the night before the Great Feast, focused on remembering those who have moved to their next Spiral and celebrating life while seeking blessings for the future.
The Great Feast
The Great Feast is the culmination of the Great Gathering, the main focus, and the original purpose of the gathering. Exactly as it sounds, the Great Feast is held across the entire southern end of the Gathering Grounds and in the main courtyard, taking up the last two days of the Gathering. Initially only the priestesses of the Grand Temple provided food, but it became socially expected that not only the other temples present provide food, but that everyone joining the gathering bring something to it, no offering too small, everything accepted. Long tables stretch from one side of the grounds to the other, people mingling and sharing both days and through the one night.
An unofficial event, many still gather to witness the ceremony held by the priestesses of Kaika and Issui in the great courtyard to extinguish the bonfire. Considered the unofficial end of The Gathering, as the last smoke rises from the bonfire is when many begin to break down tents and prepare to leave. The Great Feast will last until dawn after the second night of it, but many of the non-temple affiliated people will have left the evening before or that morning. Cleanup and breakdown of the grounds is partaken in by all of the temples, many priestesses of other temples lingering on the grounds for nearly another week after the end.
Not all of these events happen at any given gathering, and some of the temples try to change what they do each year. However, there are some things which have occurred at multiple Gatherings, making them a bit more frequent and slightly expected.
All of the temples will have a location within their camp dedicated to daily ritual, service and worship. These services are always open to the people gathered, no private services are held, with the exception of True Name rituals held by priestesses of Harumeku, though these will most always be held within Harumeku's hall within the Great Temple rather than out in the field for the Gathering. Weddings are often performed through the two week festival and held at any of the camps.
Other Temple Services
Any duty that any of the temples normally perform are still done during the Gathering, though often by lesser priestesses and acolytes, but if something is of great importance and would be done at the Great Temple, it will be done there. Many put off any more serious requests to keep the Gathering lighthearted, but the open and welcoming nature of the different temples provides a prime opportunity for those who may not easily reach a specific temple to have their business done. It is not unheard of that the Gathering is also a time of recruitment, the various temples more open to speaking with potential acolytes and even 'trading' people between temples in a sort of exchange program; for example, an oread of a temple to Chikyuu may arrange to spend some time with a kitsune temple to Chikyuu.
Temples of Tenteisei
The Centennial Gathering is well known as perhaps the best time to get to know this mysterious temple, the ritual and operations of the Priestesses of Tenteisei considered the most private most times, during the Gathering it is somewhat uncharacteristically open. Nightly lessons in skywatching are usually given, the priestesses open to almost casual divination at other times of the day. While the Gathering was initiated by a priestess of The Lady, the temples of Tenteisei have historically been the greatest supporter of the event, quick to give Áine their support and to spread the news of the first Gathering and subsequent events. While they have never specifically stated such, many believe that after Áine made her first proposal for the Gathering that Tenteisei provided her priestesses with a very favorable sign from Tenteisei’s Servants, leading them to put so much support and meaning into what's traditionally more an event for the seasonal goddesses.
The Seasonal Goddesses
While fall is largely associated with Akibimi, the Centennial Gathering finds aspects of all of the seasonal goddesses celebrated. Harumeku is connected to the opening of the Gathering and heavily connected to the first of the two main Grand Temple Services, while Zansho is linked to the 'center' of the festival in general while many pray to her for the endurance her long days are associated with so that they may enjoy the Gathering to it's fullest. Akibimi rules over the season of the harvest in general, while Fuyuzora's lessons of rest and recovery are celebrated as the Gathering comes to an end. The four seasonal temples as a consequence each have formed a tradition of hosting small feasts during the Gathering; Harumeku and Zansho's spread within the first week, while Akibimi and Fuyuzora's come in the last week of the celebration.
Storytelling and Song
Each of the temples will host a night of storytelling, both spoken word and sung, with Zokutou's temple even hosting a competition to find the best storyteller voted upon by those in attendance. The different nights are naturally focused on tales of the Ladies that the temple hosting the evening is dedicated to, with encouragement for the people to share their personal experiences with the Lady in question. Many of the priestesses take the opportunity to gather these stories in a more permanent fashion, using a temporary recording spell to capture the personal experiences for temple scribes to later write down in collections. It is considered an honor to have your story recorded to be written. Some of the stories that have been created for Zokutou's temple have gone on to become something of Yuriban 'Fairy Tale', used as lessons from the Ladies. An extension of this are small plays put on at the different temple camps, some groups even forming that have developed a specialization of traveling to each of the camps during the day before their storytelling night and performing a play based on the different Goddess. These troupes often form two years before the Centennial Gathering, refining and practicing their different plays.
The Next Gathering
|Should there be some level of interest in actually creating this as a mush-wide event, the time to the next Gathering can of course be adjusted! I'm not going to wait until I'm seventy two to host an event. ;) - Atara|
The next Gathering is to be held in thirty-nine years from 2013. Many in Underhill have noted how Yuriba was returned to an 'open' state exactly fifty years before the next Centennial Gathering, outsiders setting foot on the island for the first time since the end of the Ancient Era. There is still much discussion as to if the non-native people should be welcomed to the next Gathering, some wishing to keep such an important event isolated, making a point that even when the Lilians still lived they were not a part of the first Gatherings, while others have taken a 'wait and see' stance, saying there's plenty of time to decide yet. Still others have looked to Tenteisei's priestesses to see which position they will support, valuing their view due to their history of support for the Gathering in general, however, Tenteisei's high priestess has yet to take a stance either way.