The first night was very cold.
Strangers gathered, staying in their familiar groups, ready for the time when the ritual would start. The hidden moon shed little light, but voices could be heard in the dark, talking low in known and unknown tongues. Suddenly, a cry went up, and as the gathered raised their hands in front of them in intuitive unison, a religion was born.
And they clapped.
They clapped for their protectors, like Cernunnos, or Herne the Hunter, Pan, Faunus or Pashupat, or Enaitchess, so that they would keep protecting them during this torrid time and always look favorably down upon them from their air ambulances in the sky.
As they clapped they felt alive again, after weeks of sitting in silent fear, with visions of their world falling apart through food shortages, and a sickness that responded to no cures, and unfavorable fortunes, and leaders lost in their own trance-like States.
They clapped to feel the blood in their veins flow again, to feel strength return as they fed off the energy of their fellow clappers. They stood for the first time in weeks, on shaky legs, clapping, clapping. Their hands dropped the flint they were napping or the Playstation controllers they were holding, and their fingers moved through the air like the wings of Picus.
As they clapped, they saw neighboring tribes arrive at the gathering, adorned in their finest trinkets and garb, to join the clapping, and they clapped with glee to show they too were respectful of the clapping gods. And they made a note to wear their best twisted copper torques next time.
Their clapping intensified when they thought of the pride of their own tribe, and were proud to represent their kinsfolk, like the Taexali and the Carvetii, the Damnonii and Iceni, and the Church Street South of the Tesco, and they clapped for their own kin as much as the next tribe.
They clapped, of course, because it was an unseen law that clapping was needed to ward off the evil spirits of the underworld. And as ritual abiding citizens, they clapped their hearts out to mend mammoth breaks and smilodon bites, and spear wounds, and the unseen deathbringer, garland-sickness.
Of course, no-one knew for certain what help clapping would do, but all tribes knew one important fact: they always needed the help of other tribes in times of conflict and bad harvests. And so they all clapped to belong to this moment. They were part of this collective for a good reason, and they clapped and clapped, and afterwards drank a glass of beer brewed with plums, and if they could snuck off to secretly consummate this grand allegiance. And very soon they all had the clap in their blood.
As the clapping grew louder with each clapping time, some clappers realised they were being out-clapped by their neighbors, and so clapped louder still, and then those neighbors clapped louder, and soon the clapping was a clapping contest and everyone clapped and clapped as hard as they could. It was total clap.
They reasoned that while they could clap they were not in danger, they were in good health and they were lucky to be so. In a world fast turning upside down, where the underworld and the overworld mingled unpredictably, clapping made everyone feel safe, and secure, and at peace.
At least they could always rely on clapping. And the clapping went on, and the clappers clapped louder. And even when the world had settled again to its monotonous daily rhythm of hunting and gathering, reproducing, consuming, sleeping, waking, and posting, clapping stayed with them.
Eventually, when they appeared to have survived what life could throw at them, they clapped to give thanks to those who'd sacrificed themselves for the clappers to stay alive.
They decided to build a temple to those clapping gods, where they could keep death at bay forever. They hoped that one day, if we all shared their beliefs, we would join their collective, and worship the few clappy gods they could still remember years later.
And they lived together in a veil of imagined safety, and in perpetual clappiness,
Until the cheerers turned up.