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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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.

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.

Embodied Spirituality: Grounding and Centering

Many rituals begin with this simple practice, especially Pagan circles. It comes from the Taoist tradition originally, I think. There are several different versions of it.

Its purpose is to allow you to feel connected to the Earth (grounded), not floating away into fantasy-world, not obsessing about the past or the future, but being present in the now. The centring part of the practice allows you to feel connected to the cosmos and the four sacred directions, which are associated with the elements.

Tree at dawn, Bucovina, Romania

Tree at dawn, Bucovina, Romania [free image from Pixabay]



Begin by focusing on your breathing. Don’t breathe in any special way, just notice how your breath comes in and out of your nostrils, and how your belly rises and falls.

As you breathe in and out, feel your feet planted firmly on the ground. Relax your hips and your knees and imagine a thread extending from the top of your head to the centre of the sky (this helps to align your spine with the axis of the Earth).

Imagine that your feet are tree roots, and extend your roots deep into the earth. Your roots push down into the earth, through the rich soil, finding their way among rocks, and down deep into the molten core of the Earth. As you breathe out, extend your roots; as you breathe in, draw up energy from deep within the Earth.

As the energy makes its way into your body, draw it up through your legs and feel it gathering and pooling in your solar plexus. Note the colour of the energy.

Now extend a tendril of energy up your spine. Imagine that your spine is the trunk of a tree, and extend your aura at the top of your head, growing branches. Extend your branches up into the sky, beyond the atmosphere, and reach for the energy of the starlight. As you breathe out, extend your branches; as you breathe in, draw the energy down from above. Feel it gathering and pooling in your solar plexus, mingling with the energy from below.

Now draw energy from both above and below at the same time, and let the energies mingle in your solar plexus. As you breathe in, draw in the energy from above and below; as you breathe out, feel it spiralling and swirling.

Now allow the energy to fill your whole body, extending out to your feet, your fingertips, the top of your head. Feel how you are aligned with the cosmic axis.

Now acknowledge the four directions: North for Earth, representing the body, sensation, physicality, and structure; East for Air, representing intellect, thought, inspiration and breath; South for Fire, representing passion, intuition, and spirit; and West for Water, representing emotion, the Moon, dreams, and the blood that flows in your veins.


This post was originally published at UK Spirituality.

 

Paganism for Beginners: Levels of Symbolism

According to CG Jung, there are three levels of symbolism: personal, cultural, and universal.

Personal symbolism is what things mean to you. So, depending on what part of England you live in, the symbolic colour of earth might be different for you. If you live in Devon, where the soil is red, due to the red sandstone geology, then the symbolic colour of earth might be red for you; whereas if you live in the Cambridgeshire Fens, where earth is black, then you the symbolic colour of earth for you might be black. Personal symbolism may also vary depending on your experiences, your preferences, and your outlook on life. A particular tree might represent first love for you because you experienced your first kiss under it, for example. Or you might have a strong leaning towards the element of water, and therefore it might represent something particular for you.

Personal symbolic associations are not “wrong” or “incorrect” – but they don’t necessarily have any meaning for anyone else, unless they happen to share those associations. Poets and novelists often make use of personal symbolism to create new and interesting metaphors and imagery in their poems and stories.

Cultural symbolism is the set of symbolic associations something has within a particular culture. For example, in Europe, the colour black represents mourning; in other cultures, white is the colour of mourning. In China, the colour red is particularly lucky; in English folklore, a bride should never wear either red or green, because those are the colours of the Fair Folk. In China, dragons are associated with water, live in lakes and wells, and bring rain; in Europe, dragons are fiery creatures that live under the earth. And so on.

Universal symbolism is a symbolic association that appears to exist independently of culture, or that occurs in all cultures. Universal symbolism is generally derived from our perception of the world around us and how we relate to it. For example, a hearth-fire, being generally a pleasurable thing, is good and associated with hospitality; and cold/wet/dark/outside, being generally not pleasurable, is bad.

The hearth fire: a universal symbol of warmth.

The hearth fire: a universal symbol of warmth.
[Source: Pixabay. Licence: CC0 Public Domain]

When you are examining symbolism for use in ritual, it is a good idea to think about whether it is a personal symbol, only representing the thing symbolised for you and a small handful of others; a cultural symbol that is specific to a particular group of people; or a universal or very widespread symbol. It is of course fine to use a personal or cultural symbol in a ritual – but you may need to explain how you are using it, and what it means to you, or in the context of the culture or mythology you are drawing upon.

A related concept is that of Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) and Substantiated Personal Gnosis (SPG). An Unverified Personal Gnosis is an insight or revelation that you have received about the nature of a deity, or the nature of reality. It can be verified by checking it against experience, and/or other people’s insights and revelations, and/or with reference to the lore of the particular culture you are working within. The Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) is similar to personal symbolism – it is not “wrong”, but don’t expect other people to agree with you unless it chimes with their experience, or with the cultural lore associated with the deity and/or pantheon you are working with.

Many people are dismissive of UPG, but there is no need to dismiss it as “incorrect” – you only need to say that it doesn’t chime with your experience, and move on.

Many people are afraid that their personal symbolic associations with particular things are somehow wrong – but again, there is nothing wrong with creativity and personal symbolism, but your personal symbolism may not work for everyone. This is why magic and the occult are an art and not a science.

A Pagan coming-out ritual

The other day, someone asked, why isn’t there a Pagan coming-out ritual? When do straight people come out as straight? Maybe one day in the future, when people don’t assume that you are straight by default, there will be either be coming-out rituals for everyone, or no need of a coming-out ritual. There ought to be a coming-of-age ritual, though.

There have been criticisms of the notion of coming-out, both in terms of the notion of “out” — perhaps we’re coming IN to being visible, instead of OUT of being hidden — and in terms of the notion of a closet, in that being closeted as a way to avoid stigma is becoming unnecessary in most social contexts.

Shine! by Roz Byshaka

Shine! by Roz Byshaka (courtesy of Shutterstock)

A coming-out ritual, by Yvonne Aburrow

The circle or sacred space is opened in the appropriate manner for the tradition celebrating. If quarters are called, then they are addressed in a non-gender-binary way, e.g. Mighty Ones of the [direction], Powers of the [element]. All those gathered to celebrate bring a scarf. Preferably red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The one who has recently come out as LGBTQIA wears a cloak and a veil.

Celebrant 1: Today we have gathered to celebrate the coming out of [name] as [identity]. (1)
He/she/ze (2) has been hidden,
like a bulb hidden in the earth, waiting to put forth the first green shoots in Spring.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
like a bud waiting for the first rays of the Sun to open.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
Like a shy animal in their burrow,
Waiting for the dusk to emerge and explore.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
Like a butterfly in the chrysalis,
Waiting for the right time to emerge.

Celebrant 2: But now [name] has come out,
And emerges into the world like a bulb putting forth a green shoot,
Like a flower opening to the sun,
Like an animal emerging from the burrow,
Like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis!
Come out, [name], and be welcome in your full glory.

All: Come out! Come out! Come out!

(The outcomer now emerges from the cloak and the veil, and steps forward)

All: Hail and welcome!

(Each person now steps forward and places a coloured scarf around the outcomer’s neck, either offering their own personal blessing, or saying “I welcome you in your full glory as a [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] (3) person, and celebrate your unique beauty and strength”)

Celebrant 1: By coming out of the closet, you have come IN to the queer community.

All: Welcome in!

Celebrant 2: By coming out of the closet, you have come IN to the Pagan (4) community. Paganism encourages us to find our true and authentic self, and to be that to the best of our ability. By coming out as [identity], you have revealed more of your true self, both to yourself and to others.

[The outcomer now gets to encounter the ten queer spiritual roles]

Celebrant 1: There are as many ways to be queer as there are queer people, but we now present to you ten queer archetypes (5), who may help you and guide you on your way.

The Catalyst: I am the catalytic transformer. (Lights a flame)
I bring change.
I hunger and thirst for social justice.
I light the fire in the human heart,
The fire that rages against injustice,
The flame that burns bright to herald a new dawn.

The Mirror: I am a mirror, presenting an inverted image to society. (Holds up a mirror)
I am the Molly and the Drag Queen.
I am the one who queers everything.
I comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
I overthrow power structures with my parodies.

The Shaman: I am the queer shaman, (beats drum)
The consciousness scout.
I find the way between the worlds,
I travel the roads of the dead.
I am a child of the Moon,
A devotee of her mysteries.

The Trickster: I am the Trickster, (presents the outcomer with a flower)
The eternally playful one.
I am Peter Pan, always youthful.
My tricks expand your consciousness,
My dreams bring sparkle to the world.

The Beautiful One: I am the keeper and maker of beauty, (sprinkles glitter)
Making music, and art, and sacred drama.
I am the queer eye, discerning beauty wherever it roves.
I am the one who makes all things beautiful.

The Caregiver: I am the one who cares, (Caresses the outcomer)
For the suffering, the lost, and the outcast.
I bring joy to those who are on the edge,
Lost in the liminal spaces.

The Mystic: I am the mystic one, (holds wand/thyrsis/caduceus)
The in-between one,
The shaman, the traveller between the worlds.
I travel between the seen and the unseen,
I mediate between the worlds of flesh and spirit.

The Consecrated One: My sexuality is holy, (sprinkles blessed water or mead)
My being is holy, and I stand before the divine ones,
And lead the people towards the union of matter and spirit.

The Androgyne: I am the Divine Androgyne, (holds wand and chalice in each hand)
Including and transcending all genders.
I am change, and I am growth.
I am space and time.
I am spirit and matter.
I am the inbreath and the outbreath.

The Gatekeeper: I am the gatekeeper, (makes gesture of opening doors)
Who stands at the door of the sacred realm,
Welcoming all who come to enter the portal,
The door to the unseen realms.
I welcome you to the place between the worlds.

All: Hail and welcome, [name of outcomer]

(The ritual is concluded with cakes & wine, mead, an eisteddfod, or whatever the closing appropriate to the tradition.)

 

CC-BY-SA 3.0. Yvonne Aburrow is the author of this ritual.

You may reuse it under the terms of the following Creative Commons licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Notes

(1) replace with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender as appropriate

(2) use the preferred pronoun of the outcomer here

(3) use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender as appropriate

(4) use Heathen, Druid, Wiccan, polytheist, Feri, etc if preferred

(5) http://www.tommoon.net/articles/spiritmatters4.html