Binghamton University is, like most institutions of higher education, home to many rituals. Back around a century ago, anthropologists were convinced that religions began as a set of inchoate rituals that coalesced into primitive belief systems. Although most anthropologists today see this as an overly simplistic analysis, I found a recent story on Binghamton’s website an example of a nascent religion. It has to do with placating, or perhaps defying, the weather gods.
Like most good rituals, Stepping on the Coat has a practical pedigree. According to Bing’s own archives, the ritual began the year that I was born. An undergrad that year, overwhelmed by an April snowstorm, removed his coat and stomped on it. The snow stopped. As befits a scientifically inclined institution, this was initially chalked up as coincidence, but the same result occurred again the next year. Stepping on the Coat seemed to be a cure for late season snowstorms. In this year of lazy, lingering winter, many people—some of them not even students—must be seeking a cure for unseasonable weather. Perhaps Binghamton University students a half-century ago stumbled (stamped?) upon the solution. In the whimsical tributes given on the BU magazine webpage, the sacred and the profane are never very far apart.
I have done considerable research on the weather and its sacral implications. Most of my research has never been published, but the overarching idea, I believe, is sound. Our human perceptions of the divine are focused on the sky. Nietzsche declared that God is dead, but that death only really occurred when we penetrated our atmosphere and landed on the moon. Even then, looking up, we saw only blackness beyond. Infinity hangs, like Damocles’ sword, above our heads. We may pollute our skies, we may shut them out with artificial walls and ceilings. We may even punch through them with rockets. But our gods are up there, somewhere. And they are the ones who dictate our weather. The human response is up to us. Do we sit inside and complain, or do we stomp the coat in defiance of an uncaring deity? Binghamton is a green university, so that even amid the burgeoning religion of coat-stepping, there is a real awareness that when the weather goes awry in this industrial era, we know where the blame truly lies. As humans, however, our religious inclinations will insist that we continue to step upon the coat and claim the whole earth as our prize.