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A Martian anthropologist visits Earth
And goes to a football game
Notes from my field journal
In keeping with my study of earthling rituals, I had been investigating what seemed to be a large outdoor temple. Or perhaps it was the remains of a prehistoric solar collector. In any event it was oval in shape and open to the sky. I had observed it for several months without seeing any sign of life there. I began to think it was indeed abandoned, a relic from former times.
But one Sunday I noticed activity around it. Here I use the label earthlings—this tribe of earthlings, at any rate—give to the first day of their week. They group the days by sevens into what they call weeks. I have yet to discover the significance of these groupings. Longer periods they call months, which correspond to the revolutions of the Earth's moon around the planet, albeit imperfectly.
Sunday is the day many earthlings attend religious ceremonies. The sudden activity on that Sunday at the outdoor temple made me think it was a religious ceremony too. But the participants were far more numerous than at any religious service I had seen. By my estimate there must have been 60,000 or more.
At this service those in attendance were noisier than at most religious services. The sounds they made were keyed to the actions of those I took to be their priests, who were clad in colorful costumes and moved about on the flat field at the center of the temple. The priests were divided into two groups, distinguished by color of costume. The members of the congregation were seated in ascending rows in the structure that surrounded the field. Many of the congregants wore colors that matched those on the field, although their costumes were different, especially lacking the head-casing worn by the priests.
The performance by the priests was alternately ordered and chaotic. A subset of each of the two groups, eleven in number, separated themselves from the others on a rectangle marked out on the field. Under the apparent direction of a handful of other priests, dressed in costumes of black and white, they took up places on opposite sides of an invisible line. The places appeared to be predetermined by some formula known to each side. All paused momentarily, and then at a vocal signal from one of the priests on one side, they began rushing about. The focus of the movement seemed to be a small object that was handed from one of the priests to another or occasionally thrown a short or long distance through the air.
After a few to several seconds, all the priests would stop moving. By this time many of them would be lying on the ground. They would get up and regroup on opposite sides of the invisible line, which seemed to have advanced or receded during the recent action. The process was repeated perhaps a hundred times, with periodic intermissions.
Frequently the congregants would leap from their seats and make loud noises, more or less in unison. I have yet to decode the meaning of earthling noises, but the tone of the noises sometimes seemed to indicate satisfaction and at other times disapproval.
In the literature of earthling anthropology, compiled by my predecessors, I have read of ritualistic sacrifices to the earthlings’ gods. Something like this might have been going on at the ceremony I observed. From time to time one of the priests would fall down and get up slowly or not at all. Attendants would appear and try to revive the wounded individual. Most of the time the wounded one would rise and be escorted off the field; at other times the wounded one would be carried off and disappear from view, perhaps to be disposed of.
The whole ceremony lasted about three hours. At the end, the surviving priests departed from the temple through a tunnel at one end. The congregants left more slowly, due to their larger numbers. One hesitates to ascribe emotions to alien beings, but about half the congregants appeared to be happy as they left the temple and the other half unhappy. Within another hour, the temple was as quiet and empty as it had been during the previous several months.
I have subsequently discovered that rituals like the one I observed are held six or eight times a year, generally beginning during the season when earthlings harvest their food crops. I wonder if the rituals are related to the harvest. Perhaps they once were but are no longer.
I have also learned that in each major city of the earthlings there is typically one large temple like the one I visited, and several smaller temples. The priests who take part in the ceremonies in those temples appear to be juveniles. Perhaps they are priests-in-training.
I have said I think these are religious ceremonies. I will need to learn more about earthling theology to be sure. But they serve no practical purpose that I can tell, and they are highly ritualized. So I fall back on the religious explanation.