An inclusive wheel of the year

Some versions of the Wheel of the Year (the eight festivals of Wicca and Druidry) can feel excluding, particularly those that focus on the God and the Goddess interacting through the cycle of the seasons. This mythological construct excludes both polytheists and LGBTQIA people. Some versions of the story are uncomfortable for feminists, as they don’t exactly promote consent culture. It is worth noting that the “cycle of the God and the Goddess” doesn’t appear in any early Gardnerian Books of Shadows (e.g. November Eve, 1949, February Eve, 1949, May Eve, 1949, August Eve, 1949). The solstices and equinoxes were added to the Wiccan year-wheel in the 1950s.

For all sorts of reasons, then, I prefer to go back to the original mythology and symbolism associated with the festivals.

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Wassailing

One of my favourite folk rituals is the practice of wassailing. This is done in apple-growing districts to wake up the apple trees and encourage them to produce plenty of fruit in the autumn. I love it so much that I planted an apple tree in my garden so I could wassail it.

Apple blossom. Photo by Maky Orel on Pixabay [Public Domain, CC0]

Apple blossom. Photo by Maky Orel on Pixabay [Public Domain, CC0]

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Creating inclusive rituals

It is a useful magical and intellectual exercise to examine each segment of your ritual structure, and ask yourself why you do it in the particular way that you do. Why do we sweep the circle, consecrate it with water, salt, and incense, cast it with a sword, and so on? What is the function and symbolism of each of these actions? Can they be improved – either in the sense of making them more magically effective, more reflective of reality, or more inclusive?

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Spiritual nourishment

Spiritual and religious experiences can vary, as William James described more than a century ago. He described how different types of people get spiritual nourishment from different styles of religious practice, and in the process probably contributed to an increase in tolerance of religious diversity.

When examining our own spiritual experiences, or seeking out spiritual experiences, I find it helpful to identify experiences that are nourishing in the long-term, rather than just providing a temporary high.

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Connecting with place

One of the key elements of Pagan thought is connecting with the Earth, Nature, and/or the land. As a general thing, Wiccans seem to focus more on Nature, Druids seem to focus more on the Earth, and Heathens seem to focus more on the land. however, there are always individual exceptions to these generalities. I have always felt very attached to the land around me, especially hills and ranges of hills.

The Pagan revival began, in part, because people felt alienated from Nature by the Industrial Revolution and living in cities.

Looking at other indigenous spiritualities and religions around the world, we can see that connection to the land and Nature is extremely important to them. This connection includes awareness of ecosystems, bio-regions, animals, plants, seasonal changes, rivers, rocks, and trees.

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A Pagan Requiem

I have been thinking for a while that we need more liturgical poetry in Pagan traditions. I have been thinking for a while about the beautiful pieces of music composed for the Requiem Mass, and thinking how great it would be to have a Pagan Requiem – something life-affirming, but acknowledging grief and death. So I wrote one. Feel free to use it – please credit me if you do. If anyone feels like composing some music for it, that would be awesome.

A Pagan Requiem

Elemental

The earth that moved
The air that filled
The fire that flashed
The water that flowed
The body that loved
Are gone, all gone.
We consign
Flesh to Earth,
Breath to the winds,
The fire to ashes,
The water to the deep places.
But the spirit remains,
Enfolded in the embrace
Of the gods.

Mysterium

Love is the mystery,
The ecstasy,
The hidden fire
That moves the world.

Benediction

A life well lived
Is a fit offering to the gods.
Living with honour,
Loving well,
Treading gently,
Weeping with those who mourn,
Lifting up the oppressed.
And creating laughter, joy, and meaning,
This is the blessing of virtue,
The garden of the well-kept spirit,
The strength of the oak,
And the grace of the willow.
Blessed are the mourners,
And a blessing on the one who goes forth
Into the unknown.

Lamentation

The heavens and the Earth weep for them,
And humanity is diminished at their loss.
We who are left behind weep for them,
And they sail across the ocean of our tears.
The season of grief is needful
For the soul’s healing.
And so we weep, and so we weep,
For all that is lost,
For all that we left unsaid,
For the beloved dead.

Sequence

See the soul-boat’s guiding light
On the oceans of the night
Let the pilgrim soul take flight
Across the river of forgetting
To the place where souls are waiting
For their moment of rebirth.

Requiem

May they rest in the arms of the Star Goddess,
In the eternal twilight of the summerlands,
The valley of yews, the hall of heroes,
The islands of the blest,
The unknown regions.

Return

And in due time, may they be reborn
Among those who will love them,
And may they flourish.

Mysterium

Love is the mystery,
The ecstasy,
The mystic marriage
Of matter and spirit,
The hidden fire
That moves the world.

 

Yvonne Aburrow
23 November 2016

Licence: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Boat at night, by Oregongal, CC0 Public Domain

Boat at night, by Oregongal, CC0 Public Domain, courtesy of Pixabay.

A Meditation: The Trees and the Forest

As we sit in the quiet of this place, breathing softly, each with our own particular concerns, let us be aware of our common humanity. Each of us has our own hidden wellspring of joy, our own experience of sorrow, our unique perspective on the Divine and its relationship with the world.

Let us celebrate the diversity of dreams and visions.

Think of the trees in the woods: each grows into its individual shape to fit its particular place and the events that have shaped its growth, but each is recognisable as one of a species: oak, birch, holly, maple, yew, beech, hawthorn.

Religions are like that too: each has its own unique characteristics, shaped by place, culture and history; but all of them have their roots in the fertile soil of human experience, and all seek the living waters of the divine presence.

Let us honour the beauty and diversity of religions in the world, whilst loving and cherishing our own particular visions and traditions, recognising that we too are rooted in our common humanity, all seeking the nourishment of the endless outpouring of love and wisdom that we call by many names, all of them holy.

Trees (pexels.com) - CC0

Trees (pexels.com) – CC0 Public Domain


I wrote this meditation in 2010, or thereabouts. I thought it would work well in an interfaith or multi-faith setting. Please feel free to adapt it for your particular theological perspective. The phrase ‘the Divine’ is intended here to include deities and multiplicity.

Creating Meaningful Public Ritual

If I had a dollar for every bad ritual I have ever attended, I would have a lot of dollars. And I tend to spend a couple of hours after every bad ritual going over the reasons that it was bad. So all in all, that could be three or four hours of my life that I won’t get back.

We have all been to rituals that fell flat, or didn’t work as intended. We have all facilitated such rituals, and hopefully learnt from them.

John Halstead wrote that the aim of a good ritual is

to put us in connection with something bigger than ourselves — whether that be the Earth itself, the wider Cosmos, the community of more-than-human beings, our deeper Selves, or even just one another.  Good ritual takes us out of our little isolated egos and expands our souls.

I agree with John H that half-assed elements in your ritual will make it bad – but often it is because the facilitators haven’t thought through what those ritual elements mean, or don’t know how to make the energetic connection necessary to make them work, not because those ritual elements are inherently bad in themselves.

Jason Mankey replied that sometimes the aim of a large public ritual is just to create community, and might not be focused on putting us in contact with something bigger than ourselves.

Well, even connecting with community is putting us in touch with something bigger than ourselves, so the ritual really ought to get that right.

John Halstead replied that

Pagan ritual facilitates the incarnation, consecration, and integration [of] the daemonic or shadow elements of our individual or collective psyche.  And finally, on [a] “mystical” level, Pagan ritual can be used to effect a (controlled) dis-integration of the ego.  This is the ego-death and the oceanic sense of oneness that the mystics describe.

And I agree with John that all Pagan ritual should have this effect, not just rituals for initiated Wiccans.

One difference that I have observed between a small group of Wiccans who are experienced with focusing energy and a large group of people who are not so experienced is that the less experienced group will create fuzzier energy, but that’s not a massive problem.

Both authors are right that the techniques used in small-group Wiccan ritual don’t translate well to a larger group.

So here are some techniques that I have developed for getting everyone involved in the ritual, not just standing around feeling bored and watching a small group of people do the ritual (which will probably be inaudible anyway). Note that none of my suggestions include drumming, because I hate drumming.

Check-in

I stole this idea from the UUs. Go round the circle and everyone says their name and one word to describe how they are feeling.

Creating sacred space

Get everyone to join hands and pass energy around the circle. For added effect, they could also stomp around in a clockwise direction (don’t let it get too fast though, as slower movers will find it uncomfortable).

Ask all the participants to go to the North if they feel Earthy; East if they feel Airy; South if they feel Fiery; West if they feel Watery (or to the appropriate quarter if you have assigned different elements to the directions). The people in each quarter then meditate on that element, and when they have finished, open their eyes. Then everyone moves round to the next quarter (moving clockwise) until they have meditated on all four elements.

The main ritual

Various different techniques can be used here. Keep things like visualization very simple and short. One visualization that I use is to close your eyes and visualize your aura changing color from red, to orange, to yellow, to green, to blue, to violet. I also use grounding and centering.

Raising energy: There are many different ways of doing this, including synergy (the energy of everyone in the group forming a whole), resonance (the coming-together of similar energies), and polarity (the interaction of two opposing energies). If you are using polarity, it is more inclusive to divide the group into groups other than male and female (e.g. morning people and evening people, tea-drinkers and coffee drinkers, etc) and ask them to focus on the idea of the thing they like, merge their energy together, and then bringing the energy of the two groups together.

Mime: I once facilitated a Lammas ritual where I divided a group of thirty up into five groups of six, and asked them to come up with a mime describing an aspect of the John Barleycorn story. One group mimed the death of the Corn King; another group mimed the wheat being cut down by reapers; and so on. It was very moving. You could also do this for Autumn Equinox, perhaps with the story of Hades and Persephone.

Games: Another Lammas ritual idea is to divide the group into reapers, wheat, and a hare. (I did this by putting a lot of twigs into a bag. Twigs with bark on them were reapers; twigs without bark were wheat; the hare was a twig wrapped in silver foil. Parts were allocated by people pulling twigs out of the bag.) The game is that the reapers must try to catch the hare, and the wheat must try to hide him (it’s a bit like the game of Tag, or “It” as it was called in my childhood). This is based on the idea that the hare is the vegetation-spirit who hides in the last sheaf of wheat, and the reapers would always treat the last sheaf of wheat with special ritual. When the hare has been caught, all the reapers throw darts of grass at him, and he falls over, and is carried off with great lamentation.

Extemporized contributions: invite people to contribute their thoughts on the meaning of the festival, or a short devotional call to a deity.

Closing

Shared food: have the whole group bless the shared food, whether it is cakes and wine, or something else. Make sure the blessed food and drink can be distributed quickly so that there isn’t a lot of standing around. The easiest way to do this is to have four people and get them to serve a quarter of the circle each. Another way is just to pass the food and drink from one person to the next, perhaps with some kind of blessing.

Farewell to the quarters: gather again in the quarter where you started, face outwards, and say “Hail and Farewell” (or something similar).  Then move around to the next quarter, until you have said goodbye to all of them.

Closing the sacred space: Have people hold hands again and say some kind of closing words (either all together, or the facilitator can say them).

Public ritual doesn’t have to be dull and lacking in transcendence, and it needn’t involve a lot of standing around being bored. And it absolutely should be a transformative and meaningful experience that makes us feel more connected to the numinous, to Nature, to the gods, and to our community.

"The Golden Bough" by J. M. W. Turner, Public Domain.

“The Golden Bough” by J. M. W. Turner, Public Domain.

 


THE ALLERGIC PAGAN: Gods Save Us from Bad Pagan Rituals: 10 Signs You’re Half-Assing Your Mabon Ritual

RAISE THE HORNS:  Do Your Bad Pagan Ritual (bad ritual is better than no ritual)

Pagan Ritual for Pulse, Orlando

After the Orlando shooting, a small group of LGBTQIA Pagans came together to create a ritual for the dead of Orlando. The group is called Wands Up for Orlando. One of the founders, Salvatore Caci, wrote:

Why “wands up”? In the movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, after the death of Dumbledore, all students of Hogwarts take their wands and raise them into the air to light up the sky and sweep away Voldemort’s evil curse. Similarly, we want to sweep away the curses of intolerance and violence with the light that shines from our hearts and hands joined together and in support of one another.

Together, we have written a ritual to commemorate the dead of Orlando. We want to emphasise that, as many of the dead may have been Catholics or have had an ambivalent relationship with religion, we are being respectful of that. We performed divinations to check that the ritual would be welcome and needed.

You can sign up for the Facebook event to show your support, and we would love to see photos of people’s rituals (whatever you feel able to share).

The ritual is available in English, Italian, Spanish, FrenchPolish, and German. We suggest that it be performed between 25 June and 2 July. It can be performed alone or with your group. We have tried to make it adaptable to any Pagan or polytheist practice. Obviously, people can change it if they want to, and we have left plenty of room for personal choice.

It also turns out that fans of Harry Potter came together for an Orlando vigil at Wizarding World, and raised their wands. Luis Vielma, who was killed in the shooting, worked there.

Outline of the ritual

Our ritual begins with creating your sacred space in your usual way.

This is followed by asking your beloved dead, ancestors, spirits, deities, to bless the ritual. Deities who seem appropriate to this ritual are La Llorona and Baubo, Dionysus and Antinous – all queer – but choose whichever deity or deities you have a relationship with.

We will then pour a libation into a bowl, offering it to the queer ancestors.

Light a candle (one candle per person is even better).

We will then offer a prayer for the LGBTQ / Latinx dead, and read the names of the dead.

This is followed by a declaration of intent to build LGBTQIA community – both within the Pagan community and more broadly.

There will then be a reversion of offerings – sharing the libation with the Earth and the ancestors and deities and spirits.

Each participant can be given a white ribbon to represent the unity of all the colours of the rainbow.

There will then be an inclusive sharing of wine.


 

View the full ritual in English, Italian, Spanish, French,Polish, and German.