The science fiction-oriented Carnival marching group called The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus has become a bona fide religion, co-founder Ryan Ballard said Wednesday (Oct. 8). As Ballard explains it, the conversion is the product of a practical joke blended with an appeal for tax-exempt status.
"It kind of grew out of a natural evolution of the krewe," he said. "We've had an inside joke that Chewbacchus is like a cult."
Since it was founded in 2010, the 1,000-member Chewbacchus organization has had the same IRS tax status as a small business. "Not that it was ever profitable," he said. But this year, Ballard and other krewe organizers were inspired to dissolve Chewbacchus as a business and re-establish it as a "benevolent charitable religious organization."
With the oversight of lawyers, Ballard scrupulously filled out the federal and state forms necessary to achieve the same nonprofit corporation status accorded to more mainstream churches.
"For the sake of the practical joke, we followed through and became legal," he said. "The state doesn't like to control what's a religion and what's not."
The process was fairly simple, he said.
"I submitted everything, crossed the Ts and dotted the Is," Ballard said. "They (the tax officials) were like, 'It looks legit, go get 'em.' It was easier than registering a car."
Naturally, Ballard ordained himself as the group's first minister.
"I've been accused of being the cult leader of this little group of weirdoes, so we decided we'd just take it to its logical extreme," Ballard said. "If you're going to create a religion," he said, "you might as well make yourself the high priest, right?"
Rev. Ballard already is scheduled to perform three honest-to-goodness weddings over the next few weeks. Other spiritually inclined krewe members can also become ChewbacchanALIEN Ministers by taking a quiz on the Chewbacchus website and paying $42, for which they will receive a stack of ready to use wedding certificates.
"Everything in Chewbacchus costs 42 bucks," Ballard explained.
Churches traditionally do good works and, Ballard said, Chewbacchus is no exception.
"We do the good work of the sacred drunken Wookiee," Ballard said, referring to the tall, furry "Star Wars" character the group melded with the Roman god of wine to produce their symbol.
"We create hand-made works of art, giving them to the masses, bringing joy to the people who come out to see us and look at our contraptions. Chewbacchus is like the joke that keeps on giving. It's a giant self-perpetuating joke. We just keep making it wackier. It hasn't gotten old yet."
When asked if he felt any more spiritual since his ordination, Ballard said: "I'm absolutely on a higher plane. I can feel the furry fingers of the sacred drunken Wookiee stirring in my soul."
Ballard said that his grandfather was an actual evangelical preacher in Oregon.
The krewe recently purchased its own den, a 7,000-square-foot former discount store at the intersection of St. Claude and Poland avenues, Ballard said. The Feb. 7, 2015 parade will begin there, roughly following the same route that the DIY parade has plied for the past two years, including a roll up St. Claude Avenue to Frenchmen Street and back to the den through Marigny and Bywater.
The parade will, according to a written description provided by Ballard, be: "a religious procession featuring a 10-foot tall multi-armed Wookiee god on a throne. There will be no royalty, no kings or queens. The Sacred Drunken Wookiee himself will be the centerpiece of this year's Chewbacchus festivities. There will, however, be several surprise celebrity guests in this year's parade who will be honored as the 'Popes of Chewbacchus.'"
To celebrate the founding of the new tongue-in-cheek cult, the krewe has produced a sacred coloring book titled "The Book of Wook," which will be unveiled at a Nov. 7 party to kick off the 2015 float- and costume-creating season.
The free party will take place at the new den, dubbed Castillo Blanco, at 4321 St. Claude Ave. For more information, visit the Chewbacchus website.