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The Great God Morel by Norman Waksler

The Great God Morel by Norman Waksler

Fiction, Vol. 6.4, Dec. 2012

The Great God Morel: Projected Wikipedia Article

Arrival of the Great God Morel:

The Great God Morel first appeared on the side lawn of the home of George Crowther at 73 Riley Road, Carbury, Massachusetts, sometime during the morning of June 17, 2102 between midnight when George Crowther went to bed, and 6:30 a.m., when he first saw Morel from his second floor bathroom window.

This is a statue of a type vaguely similar to the Great Heads of Polynesia, though rather smaller, being approximately twelve feet tall, eight feet wide, and nine feet deep, and made of a rust-colored quartzite-type stone. The facial area is nine feet long; the neck, which can be also considered the base, three feet. On the base, which is highly polished, are incised in majuscules the words, “I AM THE GREAT GOD MOREL. WORSHIP ME.”

The face of the statue, widely familiar at this point, is dolichocephalic. The ears measure five feet, the nose three feet; the eyes are two feet long and widely open with circular pupils. All the facial features are recessed below the facial plane. The most striking feature is the four-foot-long mouth, which, in contrast to those of the stern Polynesian heads, is open in a wide grin. The grin has been variously described as: engaging, cruel, sneering, happy-go-lucky, false, tired, gentle, contemptuous, cold, disdainful, encouraging, and so on.

The statue has been estimated to weigh between twelve and fifteen tons.

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First Reactions:

As would be anticipated, first reactions were varied, including: disbelief, puzzlement, surprise, ridicule. Cars horns were blown; cars stopped, drivers descending to look. Schoolchildren laughed and pointed, or in some cases, were frightened enough to cross the street. Neighbors gathered, laughing or expressing amazement. Pictures and videos were taken on cell phones and with cameras, and were rapidly diffused across the internet.

In addition, a variety of opinions were expressed on the origin and significance of the statue. There were those who assumed it was a hoax or a joke perpetrated by Carbury University students, known for their yearly pranks. Others held that it was a joke or a hoax perpetrated by George Crowther himself.

In the single brief interview that George Crowther granted, he denied any and all responsibility for the appearance of the statue. Described by one journalist as an “agitated, tall, slump-shouldered man in his mid-forties, with uncombed salt and pepper hair,” Crowther responded summarily to questions about how the statue got there, what it meant, why it was in his yard, and who if not he was responsible: “Look. I’ll say this once and I’m not going to say it again. I haven’t got the foggiest damned idea how it got here. And I wish it weren’t. I can see it’s going to be nothing but trouble. I didn’t arrange for the thing to be here. I don’t know why it is here or what it means. I have no interest whatsoever in religion, gods, statues in general and this one in particular, and I wish it would go back to wherever it came from the same way it got here. This whole thing is idiotic. And that’s my last and only word on the subject.”

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As the day progressed and the crowd increased, bringing individuals from across the city, other opinions about the statue emerged, including:

  • It had been brought here by aliens to prepare us for their arrival. They probably looked like that, only smaller (we hope).
  • It was an ancient Babylonian god returned.
  • It was the work of Polynesian immigrants lonesome for home.
  • It was the work of the Devil to tempt man from God.
  • “I saw it in a dream and that made it appear.”
  • It was the work of “those Arabs, because that’s the kind of thing they do.”
  • That it was in fact a god and did want us to worship it.

The idea that the statue was made of paper mache or some other imitation stone material was quickly disproved by an attempt to topple the statue by simply pushing on it.

By 2 p.m. the crowd had spilled out onto Riley Road, a medium-length side street in Mid-Carbury, impeding traffic, and had spread onto the sidewalks opposite and onto neighbors’ lawns and porches. An argument had broken out between some few who claimed it was the work of the Devil and a couple who claimed it was actually a god, resulting in a scuffle, which, along with traffic problems and neighbors’ complaints, resulted in the arrival of the police. While one unit restored peace, cleared the street for traffic, and initiated crowd control, other officers spoke to George Crowder, asking him to remove the statue because it had become a public nuisance. Crowther refused on the grounds that he had nothing to do with the statue. When the police pointed out that it was on his property, Crowther responded that if someone dropped an old car in his side yard, it still wouldn’t be his. However, he would certainly be happy to see the statue gone and if the city wished to take the responsibility for and, especially, the expense of removing it, he would be most gratified.

The police then cited him for  “fostering a public nuisance”. This was the first of a number of legal actions and counter-actions between Crowther and the city that only ended some time later with the establishment of the Temple of the Great God Morel, which will be discussed in a later section.

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Forms of Worship

Belief in the factual godhead of the Morel statue and the consequent evolution of the forms of worship developed quite rapidly. By the third afternoon, there was already a contingent that declared themselves believers in and worshipers of the Great God Morel. The make-up of this group of something more than thirty people evinced what would come to be a fact of Morel worship—that the statue’s adherents cut across all age, race, ethnic, and class lines.

The first to approach the statue then, with the obvious intention of homage, was a tall woman with gray-streaked blonde hair, dressed simply in slacks and a short-sleeved blouse. Carrying a spray of white asters, she walked through the crowd and up to the statue, where she stood for a couple of minutes. She then held the flowers up as close as she could to the statue’s nose, touched the flowers to the statue’s lips, turned and walked back through the crowd, still bearing the flowers.

At first the crowd was silent, whether from surprise or curiosity, but as the woman returned, she was greeted by cheers, jeers, ironic slow applause, catcalls, and one cry of “Infidel.” Reports state that nonetheless, she maintained an imperturbably peaceful expression, but when media attempts were made to interview her, she had apparently already left the area. Consequently, no one was ever able to discover what inspired her to this form of interaction with the statue, why she took the flowers rather them left them, or what she planned to do with them afterwards.

Stories sprang up that she had been sent by the god to demonstrate the proper form of worship, and, once shown on TV news and spread across the internet, this quickly became the accepted ceremonial: white flowers—tulips, roses, anemones, narcissus, camellias, orchids, carnations, and so on—held up to or toward the statue’s nose, touched to its lips, and taken home, where, according to individual statements, they are preserved in water as long as possible,  and exude the same sense of peacefulness one experiences at the statue.

It is speculated that this feeling is caused by the grin of the god, though skeptics maintain that it’s actually just a form of self-hypnosis. Worshipers, however, also say that they know instinctively not to pray at the statue, not to ask for or offer anything, to be satisfied with the feeling of peace and happiness that the god provides. Consequently, no claims of miracle cures or healings have been reported. When asked why he came to worship Morel, one individual responded, “It is written.”  When asked precisely where it was written, the respondent pointed to the base of the statue, “There.”

In parallel with the spread of the Morel cult across the United States was the creation of  Morel statue copies: versions appeared in plastic, carved wood, bronze, and stone granite, sandstone, marble, and quartzite, the latter being the most expensive. Some of the statues were as tall as six feet. It was found, however, that there was such a high degree of difficulty in reproducing the grin of the original that the copies failed to  generate the feeling experienced before the original. Consequently, photographs of the statue have long since come into favor, these generally in fine frames of redwood, bloodwood, cherry, or rosewood.

As with the ceremony before the statue itself, home ceremonies are simple. A small bouquet of white flowers is touched to the picture, followed by a couple minutes of what might be termed meditation; the flowers are preserved and the ceremony repeated when that particular bouquet has died. Even with the construction of the Temple of The Great God Morel, the same simple ceremony maintains. It should be noted, however, that another ceremony has developed.

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The God and the Mushroom

Many people recognized that the name Morel was also the name of an edible mushroom of the genus Morcella, widely prized for its unique flavor. This became a source of humor for some, e.g.: “Oh, yeah, that statue is just like a mushroom; it just sits there and does nothing.” Others, however, concluded that there was an intrinsic relationship indicated by the homonym, further assuming that the mushroom was sacred to the god. Thus a further ceremonial has developed that involves cooking and eating a portion of morels in the company of the picture of the statue, a kind of companionable and tasty meal under the god’s smile.

Though there are many morel mushroom recipes, some of which require breading the mushrooms in saltines (or even potato chips), cooking them in wine or cream with scallions and garlic and so forth, the preferred recipe is to simply dredge them in flour, sauté, then salt and pepper to taste. It is widely felt that this simplicity accords best with the god’s nature.

However, with the emergence of the morel mushroom ceremonial, there has arisen the problem of the false Morel mushroom, the genera Gyromitra, Verpa, and Hellvella. These are known to be poisonous; side effects include diarrhea, vomiting, extreme dizziness, and in some cases, death. With the increase in morel consumption, careless pickers sometimes fail to distinguish between true and false, while unscrupulous dealers knowingly sell the false. This has resulted in a least a dozen reported fatalities, and scores of reported hospitalizations. Many warnings, with pictures illustrating the difference between true and false, have been posted on the internet.

Less serious is the deliberate misrepresentation of other edible mushrooms to unknowledgeable worshipers.

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The Temple

The Temple of the Great God Morel, as it is called, is a simple edifice encompassing the property which once held the houses of George Crowther and his neighbor on the statue side. Constructed of white marble in a more or less classical vein, the building’s interior is equally plain, the walls and ceilings of Western Red Cedar with recessed lighting, the floors of marble with red veining. The interior is divided into three sections: the chamber of the statue with a number of padded benches for worshipers waiting their turn, where sometimes the whole area is dense with the fragrance of flowers; staff quarters; and public restroom facilities and drinking fountains. Unlike many religious buildings, the doors are of normal height, as in any home.

There were many objections raised to the building of the temple, but the construction fell under the freedom of religion prescriptions and the exemption of religious institutions from zoning ordinances in the city. The construction of the temple ended all city litigation with George Crowther.

The source of the funds required to buy and tear down the two houses, build the temple, and support the twenty-four hour staff has never been made clear. Research indicates that there is an organization called The Temple of The Great God Morel Foundation, but it has been impossible to trace the individuals behind this designation.

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Demonstration and Protests

While the initial response to the statue was largely surprise and ridicule, there was also immediate hostility from religious organizations, groups, and individuals. This hostility accelerated with the onset of Morel worship and intensified with the growth of the Morel cult. Spurred on by religious pundits, talk show hosts, pulpit sermons, and televised preachers, daily and day-long anti-Morel demonstrations became the norm. Protestors of every faith and many denominations came together in a celebration of ecumenical antagonism, carrying signs with phrases such as: “Morel is the Devil,” “The Idol is Laughing at You,” “Baal Will Eat your Children,” “Morel Worshipers Will Burn in Hell,” “God Hates Fags and Morel Worshipers,” “Morel is The Golden Calf.”

Worshipers were assailed with cries of “Pagans!” “Idolaters!” “Devil worshipers!” “Sinners!” “Unclean!” “Burn in hell!” and so forth. They were jostled as they attempted to approach the statue; eggs were thrown, flowers were torn from their hands, stomped on or torn into bits, fights broke out, a worshiper was beaten, and some protesters were injured.

At that point, it became necessary to establish a police presence, both to keep public order and—because the City had to acknowledge that the statue was an object of religious veneration—to allow worshipers to access to it. It was suggested by the city that George Crowther was obliged to provide private security to prevent further trouble, and when Crowther refused, it was decided that he would be charged the cost of the daily police deployment. This became part of the ongoing litigation between the City and Crowther.

Newspaper editorials deplored the violence while supporting the right to demonstrate, at the same time supporting freedom of religion while obliquely mocking the idea that the statue was a god. A typical commentary: “One of the great things about America is that people are free to worship whatever god they wish, be it ever so far out of the mainstream of normal religious belief. One man’s odd-looking ceremony is another man’s form of worship. It’s not for anyone else to say.”

In an interesting turn of the association with the morel mushroom, one individual preached a sermon at the site based on the idea that this Morel (the statue) was a false Morel, a poisonous false god that would be fatal to its worshipers’ souls.

There have been three known attempted exorcisms by representatives of different religious denominations. One promised that the statue would crumble in place, another that the statue would disappear, the third that with the Devil driven out of the statue it would no longer have power over its adherents. Like so many of the events of the Morel story, these exorcisms can be viewed on YouTube.

Since the construction of the Morel Temple, the demonstrations and protests have diminished and regularized, being reduced to small groups of various religions carrying signs and leafleting worshipers. Attempts by anyone carrying a sign to enter the temple are prevented by staff. Disturbances within the temple are also dealt with by staff; trespassers are ejected, but not prosecuted.

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Attempts to Destroy the Statue

There have also been three documented attempts to attempts to destroy the Morel statue. Others may have been made.

  1. On the night of July 21, 2012, two men attacked the statue with sledgehammers. Neighbors awakened by the noise called police and the men were removed from the premises. This was a Saturday night, and the men had spent much of the evening prior to the attempt drinking. They pled guilty to disturbing the peace and were assessed a small fine. There was no suggestion of destruction to private property since no damage was found to the statue, but news of the attempt produced an unfortunate remark by a geologist from Carbury University, i.e., that the statue was composed of either quartzite or a previously unknown similar mineral, which was so hard it could probably only be destroyed by dynamite.
  2. On the night of August 8, 2012, a muffled explosion woke the neighborhood on and around Riley Road. Some windows imploded, objects were thrown to the floor, and so on. It was easily ascertained that dynamite had been placed in the statue’s grin and set off at a distance. Once again the statue showed no damage, and experts concluded that, given the minimal effect on the surrounding houses, the statue’s bulk must have blunted the force of the explosion, though they had no explanation for why the statue itself remained undamaged. Worshipers claimed that the god had simply swallowed the energy of the blast.
  3. During the afternoon of August 14, 2012, a heavy equipment truck of the sort used by the Carbury Public Works department and the same color, but with no markings, backed up to the sidewalk and onto the lawn in front the statue. Two men in unmarked blue coveralls jumped from the cab, and dragged from the bed of the truck a considerable length of heavy chain, which they arranged around the statue then hooked to the back of the truck. Worshipers attempted to interfere, but were blocked by cheering demonstrators, while the police seemed to have disappeared. The truck moved forward until the chain was taut and straining against the statue, which did not move. With the truck engine grinding, more gas was applied, the chain quivering with the added strain, but still without evident effect on the statue. Fortunately, at this point someone yelled that everyone should get back, that the chain was going to snap. The crowd on either side surged backwards, and the chain did in fact snap, the two ends whipping around murderously though the vacated space. The two men gathered up the broken chain, dropped it in the truck bed, and drove off. The perpetrators were either never found or never sought. It was soon claimed that the individual who called out the warning had been sent by the god to protect everyone. As with the other attempts, the statue showed no damage.

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Economic Impact

The economic impact of the Great God Morel has been felt in many areas. As has been noted, sales of copies of the statue have declined to almost nothing because of the difficulty of capturing successfully the statue’s grin, while sales of photographs, framed and unframed, have boomed. Cups, T-shirts, towels, note cards, key chains, even jigsaw puzzles—in short, anything with an accurate picture of the statue, sell extremely well. It should be noted there has never been a claim made for a licensing fee for use of the statue’s image.

A documentary of the Great God Morel phenomenon showed briefly on television, but was withdrawn because of the storm of religious objections, and has not been shown again. Sales of the DVD have been brisk.

A coffee table volume, “The Book of The Great God Morel,” made of stills from the documentary with quotes and commentary, has had moderate sales, while an increasing number of volumes debunking or vilifying Morel and the Morel cult have sold extremely well.

Across the country and very much so in the Boston area where Carbury is situated, flower sales have risen appreciably, and, as noted, sales of morel mushrooms have mushroomed.

The most notable economic impact of the Morel phenomenon has been on tourism to Carbury, an academic city of some 100,000 residents. An estimated fifty to sixty thousand people per year from the United Sates and abroad now make pilgrimages to see the statue itself; the number is constantly growing and includes many who return yearly. The resulting monetary influx is well over one hundred million dollars per annum to hotels, shops, and restaurants in Carbury and the Greater Boston area.

The one area of difficulty has been the impact on the neighborhood in which the temple is located. While on the whole the Morelians are quite responsible and behave well, the intense pressure of fifty to sixty thousand visitors per year on the side street and surrounding area has negatively impacted real estate values, traffic, pedestrian movement, noise, privacy, and quality of life in general. This is a problem that remains unresolved.

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The Fate of George Crowther

At the time of the appearance of the statue, Crowther, 46, was self-employed as a freelance editor of academic texts. An individual who, as noted, professed no interest in religion, Crowther denied any responsibility for or interest in the Morel statue and met the attempts of the city to force him to remove the statue with countersuits—litigation, as mentioned earlier, that ended with the construction of the temple.

The period during which he remained in his house was not kind to Crowther. Both the anti-Morelians and the Morel worshipers professed a belief that he was responsible for the statue’s presence. Many went further, accusing him on the one hand of celebrating him, and on the other of being the prophet of the Great God Morel. The latter group was troublesome in that they made continual attempts to contact him and have him come forth as the god’s spokesperson. More problematic by far was the former group, whose hostility and anger resulted in broken windows,  ugly slogans painted on his house defining him as the Right hand of Baal, etc., and threatening everything from death to burning in hell.

Two incidents in which he tried to leave his house resulted in cries of “Devil worshiper,” “Spawn of Satan!,” and physical threats; another incident resulted in his being struck on the back by a thrown rock, forcing him to remain indoors until well after dark, when he would issue forth to shop at twenty-four hour supermarkets. Friends either feared to visit or were discouraged by Crowther, who feared for their safety. His mail was held at the post office because the mail carriers were threatened, and he is known to have lost clients who feared that manuscripts might be destroyed, and that association with him might reflect poorly on them. Dirt, trash, dog droppings, and threatening notes were pushed through his mail slot until, finding it otherwise useless, he blocked it from inside. In essence, he spent the entire period under siege, under threat, and isolated.

With the construction of the temple, Crowther disappeared from sight. Some, possibly antagonistic to the Morel cult, have made the claim that Crowther was sacrificed and buried in the temple. Consequently, demands have been periodically issued to have the temple floor opened in search of his body, but lacking probable cause or plausible evidence, the authorities have declined to act on these demands.

More pertinent to later historical developments, it was claimed by some who assumed him to be the prophet of Morel that Crowther’s essence had been absorbed into the statue itself. This led to the further theory that all Morel worshipers, upon their deaths, will have their essence absorbed into the statue.
This is not generally believed by the bulk of Morelians, and signals the first of the splits in the Morel cult. The believers in afterlife absorption now call themselves New Morelians to distinguish themselves from those they call the Old Morelians. The latter, however, simply refer to themselves as Morelians, and state that Crowther most likely moved to another neighborhood or even another city.

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The next article will discuss the spread of the Morel cult outside of the United States, and the development of breakaway sects, such as The Temple Morelians, The True Worship Covenant, The Praying Morelians, and the like.

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