Teachings for the Sabbat Rituals
The understanding of any of the Sabbats is always multivalent. The following “teachings” are a synthesis of my understandings and the work of many others, and form what I call a PaGaian perspective. They are presented here as they are currently (at the time of publication of the paper version in 2005, unless otherwise stated) – they are my notes for the teaching part of preparing the group for the ritual, as referred to in Ch. 7.
This is a celebration of deep Autumn. It has been known in Christian times as “Halloween” – since the church in the Northern Hemisphere adopted it as “All Hallow’s eve” (31st October N.H.) or “all saint’s day” (1st November N.H.). This “Deep Autumn” festival as it may be known in our times, was known in old Celtic times as Samhain, which is an Irish Gaelic word, with a likely meaning of “Summer’s end”, since it is the time of the ending of the Spring-Summer growth. The leaves are turning and falling. It was thus felt as the end of the year, and hence the New Year. It was and is noted as the beginning of Winter – the darkest phase of the year between the old and the new. It was the traditional time for bringing in the animals from the outdoor pastures, and when many of them were slaughtered.
Earth’s tilt is continuing to move us away from the Sun at this time of year in our part of the world: our region is continuing into darkness, from where it seems all new things begin. As with any New Year, between the old and the new, in that moment, all is possible. We may choose in that moment what to pass to the future, and what to relegate to compost. Samhain may be understood as the Space between the breaths. It is a generative Space – the Source of all. There is particular magic in being with this Dark Space. This Dark Space which is ever present, may be named as the “All Nourishing Abyss” (Swimme 1996), the “Ever-Present Origin” (Gebser 1985). It is a generative Place, and we may feel it particularly at this time of year, and call it to consciousness in the celebration.
In this Earth based spiritual tradition, we say that at this Seasonal Moment, “the veil is thin that divides the worlds”. The old story tells that on this night, we travel in the Womb of the Mother – the vast sunless sea within, and that we step ashore the Shining Isle, which is the egg –the ovum – of conception1. This is the Poetry that is used traditionally. There is death and there is conception. So in the celebration, we remember the dead – (i) our ancestors and those who have gone before (ii) we remember our old selves – who we have been (iii) the old cultural selves – collective – what we have done, what we are doing, some of the horrors … the ongoing wars, the inquisitions, the holocausts, the genocides, the geocide. We recall the ancestors, selves and cultural/historical events that have brought us to this moment. Now is the time for to re-imagining the New – what we would become, personally and collectively.
The purpose of optional costume at this celebration is to emphasize possiblities – to entertain your imagination, your dreams and wild places. The Cosmos Herself, and as Earth, has come through so many wild, amazing changes in Her 13.7 billion year story … was it possible to imagine what was next? In the earliest of Earth’s days could the first cells have been imagined? Could the advent of eyes, or the music we now experience have been imagined? So too, in our particular lives, could we have imagined our own advents? Can we imagine the More, the Not-Yet culturally? We can at least allow the Space for it.
In the ritual there is a place where you will be invited to name yourself “as you will”: this is also a recognition that all is possible. We may identify with the mythic and grow ourselves into larger aspects of ourselves. It may be an opportunity for you to express something about yourself that gets little “airplay”; for example, I often do a modified version of my actual name, that expresses another realm or dimension of my being. You may choose to name yourself as you are named.
At Autumn Equinox – the previous Sabbat – Persephone (Beloved One) descended to became Queen of the Dead/the Underworld, the Dark Shining One within, Goddess of Transformation. Samhain is about celebration of the process that takes place in the dark chrysalis. If we have the eyes to see, this is what Death is … Transformation – thus all the gold decorative fabric. Persephone’s dark aspect has also been known as Hecate. Another Death Goddess, Selket – known to the ancients as a Goddess of Transformation – is golden: the ancients seem to have known something that we have forgotten and are trying to remember. Other Dark Ones of this Season are Medusa, Lillith, Coatelique.
Samhain/Halloween is a celebration of the Old phase of the Goddess, the Crone who is primarily in relationship with All-That-Is (where the Virgin face is primarily in relationship with Self, and Mother is primarily in relationship with Other). The Crone/Old One is that movement back into the Great Sentience out of which All arises. Samhain particularly is a celebration of Her process of the end of things and transformation. The Crone aspect is the contraction if you like, that may be understood as a systole, a contraction of the heart by which the blood is forced onward and the circulation enabled. She is the systole that carries All away – She is about loss, but the contraction of the heart is obviously a creative one, it is the pulse of life. Perhaps it is only our short-sightedness that keeps us from seeing contraction/death that way: we insist on taking it all so personally, when it is not, in fact?
The falling apart, the disintegration can be, and usually is, felt as a scary or depressing thing. It is the loss of the known, perhaps the loss of a worldview, the loss of a world. Samhain is a time for such reflection – facing our deep fears and contemplating our demise. We usually confront fears or depression when we feel that our lives are changing – the world is falling apart. Samhain is about understanding that the Dark is a fertile place- in its decay and rot it seethes with many unseen complex Golden Threads connected to the wealth of Creativity of all that has gone before – like any compost. So it is in these dark times culturally, and so it may be – we may be some of the Golden Threads. We must retrain our perception to see the Beauty of new form possible in the old decaying fermenting compost. While our ancestors may have wondered whether they would make it through the coming Winter, we may wonder in our times whether we will make it through the global spasms and impending Gaian changes – and in what form.
Life will persist … such hope is represented by the Seed in the Fruit (show cut apple). There is a thread of life that has eternally endured. There is the Seed within us, the Dark Shining One, already present, simply awaiting its time of awakening. It may not be in the form we had in mind. To perform the magic, we accept all the old shapes of our lives, and ultimately of our culture, as compost for the new. We accept the unknowing. We put it all in the pot, consume it all … feed our imaginations good food so that the new may emerge. We may make “re-solutions”. We transform the old into the new in our own bodyminds – we are the transformers. While it is true that we give ourselves over to the Great Transformer, the Old One’s Process – we are She, and thus we play our part in the transforming, in the imagining, in the manifesting.
The format of this celebration is based on part of a poem by Robin Morgan2, slightly reworded. The metaphor of the snake is used because it is a symbol of renewal with its shedding skin. Robin Morgan says:
Drawn from the first by what you might become,
you did not know how simple this secret could be. …
The shed skin lies upon the ground.
Devour now all your old shapes, wasting no part …
In this process of transformation Gaia wastes nothing.
For the rebuilding then, the metaphor of the spider’s thread is used because she weaves her home from her own bodymind with the strongest natural fibre known. The spider is a great example of Creator. Morgan says:
Having devoured your old shapes, wasting no part …
you are now free to radiate whatever you conceive,
to exclaim the strongest natural fibre known –
into such art, such architecture
as can house a world made sacred by your building.
The strongest natural fibre known is perhaps our imaginations, our creative selves. We will represent it with golden thread. Samhain, this Seasonal Moment, is the time for conceiving and imaging the Not-Yet – for dreaming the new.
At Lammas- the beginning of the Dark cycle – we fell into Her Dark Sentience, Her “dis-solution”. Now at Samhain – deep Autumn – we remember the Creativity of the Dark Process, it’s fertile regenerative quality, its Power for “re-solution”. We make New Year re-Solutions. We may “say what we will”. We are performing the Act of co-Creator … the Power of Conception in the Dark available Space.
OTHER RITUAL NOTES:
We will be eating apples for communion tonight. The ancients understood the apple as the Goddess’ sacred heart of immortality or “never-ending renewal”. It contained the Mystery – the seed in the fruit, the fruit in the seed; the Daughter in the Mother, the Mother in the Daughter – the continuity of Life (show the cut apple). The pentacle was a sign of Kore (Core), another name for Persephone – in the heart of the Mother3: She, the Beloved Daughter – the Young One, is the World Soul and Self-Knowledge hidden in the Heart of the Mother. In eating the apples and drinking apple juice tonight, we will taste and enjoy the fruit of never-ending renewal, and deeper self-knowledge in the Heart of the Mother.
We will use scissors to cut free each other’s conceptions – they are one of the tools of the Crone, for the finishing: at the same time the creating. This is one of her sacred processes, that all constantly participates in … and we may do so consciously.
WINTER SOLSTICE/YULE (The text below is slightly changed from that in the paper version of PaGaian Cosmology)
Tonight we celebrate the “longest night” of the year: that is, the time of our annual orbit around Sun when the dark part of the day is longest (the dark is part of the day). Traditionally it has been celebrated by the ancients – our Gaian ancestors in many regions – as the birth of Light, the birth of Form. The stories of many cultures tell of the Great Mother giving birth to the Divine Child at this time of year. It is this Sabbat for which the ancient pre-Celtic indigenous Europeans apparently built Newgrange (Bru na Boinne), completing the major structures there between 3200 and 3700 B.C.E. ( See Martin Brennan’s Stones of Time). Newgrange has been thought to be a tomb, and some still refer to it as such. But more recent research (primarily initiated by Martin Brennan late last century, and documented in his book) reveals something else – a large scale solar-construct. Brennan feels that the great stone bowls found there were not for remains of the dead, “but in fact contained water to act as reflective surfaces designed to interact with the sunbeam” that enters the chamber4. This is a very recent re-membering and conjecture about what was central to the spirituality of these ancient forebears. (2007 Note: seeTriple Spiral article )
The inner chamber wall of this mound is carved with the Triple Spiral motif, and at the Winter Solstice it is illuminated for seventeen minutes by the rising sun. (see the Triple Spiral image5on pagaian.org homepage ) This was confirmed by modern academia only in 19696 – with minds that at that time had little comprehension of what its significance may be. Some have said recently that the illumination immortalizes “earth’s power to give new life to the sun7”, some say it is the other way around8. Few accounts really understand the significance of the triple spiral at this stage, though Michael Dames in 2000 referred to the association of it with the Triple Goddess. Most mythographers at this point in time have not been prepared to allow the Goddess any cosmic function, as Claire French noted in 20019 or take seriously Her aspects. Another example of this is the lack of comprehension of the significance of Silbury Hill at Avebury, for so long, until Michael Dames came along with a goddess oriented mind with which to be able to take it in. He wrote The Silbury Treasure and published it in 1976. It seems that Newgrange – constructed to mark the Winter Solstice particularly – celebrates the significance of Earth-Sun relationship in some way that we can only begin to guess at and re-member for ourselves. It apparently does celebrate the triple-faced Cosmic Dynamic – as it is carved on the illuminated inner chamber wall10.
So we will participate with these ancient forebears in their celebration of the Triple Spiral tonight – deepening into our understanding of it. We will dance it – I am sure the old ones would be pleased … it’s been a long time. The dance has three layers of equal significance – it may be perceived as the Triple Spiral Dynamic, or a breath. I have re-named the dance – the “Cosmogenesis Dance”. Winter Solstice is a celebration of Cosmogenesis – the ongoing Birth of All, enabled and characterised by this Creative Triplicity. It seems the ancients understood that from their rock inscription – they left us a story, a code. The annual return of the Light at this Seasonal Moment, is a microcosm of the Birth of it All – and the Dynamic that births it all. Nothing is excluded from this triple-faced Dynamic – not Earth, nor Sun, nor you or me: everything is subject to it … to the “waxing, peaking and waning” dynamic, an eternal re-creation. It is the “triskele” of energy (that is the Celtic word), “the innate triplicity of the Cosmos … that runs through every part of the Universe11”. The Triple Goddess metaphor may celebrate and express this innate cosmic triplicty.
THE “COSMOGENESIS DANCE”: The dance has three layers, representing the three aspects of the Goddess, the triple Spiral Dynamic that the ancients were aware of – the dynamic that they understood as unfolding the Cosmos. The three aspects celebrate Virgin – the ever new differentiated being, Mother – the deeply related interwoven web, and Crone – the eternal creative return to All-That-Is. The three layers of the dance may be understood to embody these. The Dance represents the flow and balance of these three – a balance and flow of Self, Other and All-That-Is. It may be experienced like a breath, that we breathe together – as we do co-create the Cosmos. That is part of our job this evening.
Winter Solstice is a Birthing Place, the Gateway from the dark part of the year to the light part. It thus particularly celebrates the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess. At this Seasonal Moment, Darkness reaches its peak, its fertile fullness, and breaks into form. The face of the Goddess moves from Crone of the Dark part of the cycle through Mother at this Winter Gateway, to Virgin – the birth of Form, of Life. This is how it happens – out of her fertile Dark Matter. Winter Solstice is a time of receiving the Gift of the Dark, which is Birth, of form – in its depth and breadth. To help you get a feel for this, the breath meditation tonight will be a contemplation of some of the many birthings in our own lives – how we have been Creator and Created, and we will recall Earth-Gaia’s and Universe-Gaia’s many birthings happening in every moment and throughout the eons.
In this tradition since pre-Celtic times, and in many other cultural traditions, Winter Solstice has been celebrated as the birth of the God, and in Christian tradition as the birth of theSaviour. But there are deeper ways of understanding what is being born – who or what the “saviour” is. Here I want to note that there is no necessity to metaphorise Sun as male – though one may: for most of humanity’s history and in many cultures, Sun was understood as Mother, not as a male principle (see Patricia Monaghan, O MotherSun, 1994). It may be storied that way, but it does not have to be … Sun may be felt as Mother. And we are all children of Her. I vary the Winter Solstice story as Starhawk expresses it (p.182 The Spiral Dance), to emphasize that what is born, is within each one – the “Divine” is not “out there”, we are each Created and Creator:
The stories of Old tell of the Great Mother giving birth to the Divine Child on this night. This Divine Child is the new being in you, in me … “
Over the years I changed language like “light” to “new being” because what I wanted to emphasize was the bringing forth of new being – out of the richness of the Dark, and “light” is commonly over-valued as a quality of being. This is how minds may be changed – with new Poetry, new words.
Other language I have changed since publishing PaGaian Cosmology is the naming of the ritual process of “Re-Lighting the World” to “Re-generating the World”. The Sun doesn’t just “re-light the world” and that may not be desirable … Sun “re-generates the world” – that is desirable.
Winter Solstice is a celebration of the Mother aspect of Creativity, the ripening of Her Darkness into the awesome act of creation of form, the Web of Life, the Field of Being. It is a celebration of Communion, a point of interchange from the “manifesting” into the “manifest”; it is a time for feasting, and experiencing this essence of existence. At this point in the Wheel She is the Alpha, and at the Summer Solstice She will be the Omega – both Gateways, points of interchange, when dark and light turn. At this Winter Gateway, the Crone’s face passes through the Mother to the Virgin. Samhain, Winter Solstice and Imbolc, may be felt as the three faces of Cosmogenesis in the movement towards form.
In the Gospel of Thomas – which was not selected for biblical canon – it says: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.” This then may be the Divine Child – the “Saviour” – the new Being forming in the Cosmogonic Womb, who will be born. We celebrate the birth of the new Being, which /who is always beyond us, beyond our knowing … yet is within us, burgeoning within us – and within Gaia. What will save us is already present within – forming within us.
We may imagine the in-utero foetus – an image we might have these days from a sonar-scan during pregnancy. We may imagine ourselves in this way – this is a truth about Being … we are this, and it is within us, within this moment. Every moment is pregnant with the New. It will be birthed when Darkness is full. Part of it is having the eyes to see the “new bone forming in flesh”, scraping our eyes “clear of learned cataracts” , seeing with fresh eyes (quoting the poem “Refractions” by Cynthia Cook in WomanSpirit 1980). That is what the fullness of the Dark offers – a freshening of our eyes to see the new. And the process of Creation is always reciprocal. We are Creator and Created – simultaneously, in a “ngapartji-ngapartji” way (an Australian Indigenous expression). We are in-formed by that which we form.
The image of The Birth of the Goddess on the front cover of PaGaian Cosmology expresses that reciprocity for me, how we may birth each other and the healing/wholing in that exchange. It is a Sacred Interchange. And it is what this Event of existence seems to be about – deep communion, which both Solstices express.
Birthing is not often an easy process – for the birthgiver nor for the birthed one: it is a shamanic act requiring strength of bodymind, attention and focus of the mother, and courage to be of the new young one. Birthgiving is the original place of “heroics” … many cultures of the world have never forgotten that: perhaps therefore better termed as “heraics” . Patriarchal adaptations of the story of this Seasonal Moment usually miss the Creative Act of birthgiving completely – pre-occupied as they often are with the “virgin” nature of the Mother being interpreted as an “intact hymen”, and the focus being the Child as “saviour”: even the Mother gazes at the Child in Christian icons, while in more ancient images Her eyes are direct and expressive of Her integrity as Creator.
In Earth-based religious practice, the ubiquitous icon of Mother and Child – Creator and Created – expresses something essential about the Universe itself … the “motherhood” we are all born within. It expresses the essential Communion experience that this Cosmos is, the innate and holy Care that it takes, and the reciprocal nature of it: that is, how one is always Creator and Created at the same time. We cannot “touch without being touched” at the same time (David Abram The Spell of the Sensuous). We may realize that Cosmogenesis – the entire Unfolding of the Cosmos – is essentially relational: our experience tells us this is so.
When we light the Fire Cauldron, we will recall Our Great Origin which has never ceased to pour forth and unfold. We receive it in every Moment and in all that we have inherited from the beings and ancestors of the past, and in the infinite Web we are part of in the present. It is the Ever-Present Origin, present within and everywhere – there is no point in the Universe or you that is separate from it. And we may recall it in the emptying of every breath.
With the lighting of the Fire tonight, we will recall the Grandmother Supernova that birthed our Solar system some 4.6 billion years ago – that is our lineage. We are celebrating this Cosmic lineage. Our birthing supernova has been named Tiamat by Thomas Berry, and I have adopted that. Tiamat is the ancient Babylonian name for the Great Mother of us all – “Tia-mat” (meaning “Goddess-Mother”). We are the star-stuff of supernova Tiamat. Tiamat as the Babylonians storied her, was a sea-serpent in form … a “dragon-woman”. We might just as well call our supernova “Rainbow Serpent” – a name for the Creator of All in Australian indigenous tradition. The important thing is that we remember where we come from – our Gaian lineage, and receive Her Gift. Then we may choose to express Joy and Gratitude. There may be both pain and joy in birthing – coming into Form: it is a separation as much as it is the apparition of a shining new constellation of being. It requires Courage to bring it forth, and to come forth.
Brian Swimme has said that it is the very essence of the Universe to give birth to the new ( The Earth’s Imagination video series, video 7 “New Forms of Synergy”). The Universe is doing it all the time, and that is what Allurement is all about – perhaps that is the “end of Desire” as it says in The Charge of the Goddess (Doreen Valiente) … to give birth to the new. And perhaps that is what the Triple Spiral represents. Swimme offers further, that to take on the mind of the Universe, is to become the pulse of Creativity. This is Creator and Created; the ubiquitous icon of “Great Mother and Divine Child” is about the Creative impulse of the Universe – the end of Desire. We are That. We affirm that and invoke that in each other in the Winter Solstice ritual – we are this icon. We say in the ritual Invocation: ”Thou art Goddess Mother, Tia-Mat, thou art the Divine Child. Thou art That … a whole Universe.” And later we say with the lighting of the candles “May you bring forth what is within you.”
Winter Solstice ritual is the Seasonal Moment for our Birth-day celebrations, a Birthday we all share. We celebrate that we are each 13.7 billion years old together with Earth and Sun. Winter Solstice is a special annual moment for expressing what new being is coming forth in you this year, rejoicing in all the new being coming forth in every moment, and the Unimaginable More that we, and Gaia will yet become.
IMBOLC (The text below is slightly changed from that in the paper version of PaGaian Cosmology)
This is the celebration of the waxing Light – “Early Spring” as it may be named. The hours of light have been growing since the Winter Solstice, when we entered the Light part of the cycle of the year – out of the Fullness of the Dark. Earth’s tilt has begun taking us back toward the Sun.
Traditionally this Seasonal Point has been a time of nurturing the new life that is beginning to show itself – around us and within. It is a time of committing one’s self to the new life and inspiration – in the garden, in the soul, and in the Cosmos. We may celebrate the new young Cosmos – that time in our Cosmic story when She was only a billion years old and galaxies were forming, as well as the New that is ever coming forth. This first Seasonal Point of the light part of the cycle has been named “Imbolc” – Imbolc is thought to mean “ewe’s milk” from the word “Oimelc”, as it is the time when lambs were/are born, and milk was in plentiful supply. It is also known as “the Feast of Brigid” – in Christian times this Great Goddess of the Celtic peoples was made into a saint. The Great Goddess Brigid of the Celtic peoples, is classically associated with early Spring since the earliest of times, but her symbology has evolved with the changing eras – sea, grain, cow. All of these Sabbats have complex histories, because that is how the human story is. As you develop your own relationship with these points, they may take ever-new dimensions, and perhaps be re-named. In our times we could associate this Sabbat with the Milky Way, our own galaxy that nurtures our life – Brigid’s jurisdiction has been extended.
Brigid’s name means “the Great or Sublime One”, from the root brig, “power, strength, vigor, force, efficiency, substance, essence, and meaning”. (Michael Dames, Ireland: a Sacred Journey, p.233)
Some sources say that Imbolc means “in the belly of the Mother”. In either case of its meaning, this celebration is in direct relation to, and an extension of, the Winter Solstice – when we celebrated the Birth of all. We are celebrating the Urge to Be, the Virgin dynamic of the Triple Goddess – the One/Energy deeply resolute about Being. She is willful in that way. In the ancient Celtic tradition Brigid has been strongly identified with this role of tending the Flame of Being, and with the Flame itself. Brigid has been described: “… Great Moon Mother, patroness of poetry and of all ‘making’ and of the arts of healing12”. She is Poet, physician/healer, smith-artisan (qualities that resonate with the virgin-mother-crone but are not chronologically/biologically bound – thus are clearly Creative Dynamic). When we invoke Her we invoke all these qualities in ourselves.
Brigid’s priestesses tended a flame – like the one lit at Winter Solstice signifying the Origin of All, and the small candles we lit signifying the new being birthing in us. This flame within is to be protected and nurtured. In places of new growth we are all young and vulnerable, perhaps uncertain – we need care and tending in those places. The “new green shoots”, the new Being, requires dedication. So there is a “dedication” in the ritual, which is traditionally thought of as a “Bridal” dedication – I call it a “Brigid-ine” commitment. “Bride” is a derivative of the name “Brigid” (is that why so many women want to be “Bride” – even if just for a day, even if it may mean a life time of dedication to an other?). Her “virgin” integrity of being At-One-In-Herself is little understood in our times: it has been trivialised to a level of debate about unbroken hymens. A commitment to Brigid, to Her Virgin integrity, is a dedication to tending your-Self, understanding that Self as an expression of the Whole: any being – female, male or inbetween – may so dedicate themselves. So Imbolc is a kind of wedding – of the Beloved and the Lover, the small self with Deep Self … this is the sacred couple, the sacred marriage. Yet Imbolc is also maternal, about tending the new babe.
Perhaps it is that the maternal relationship may be a model for all other relationship.
NOTE: “brigand” has its roots in Brigid’s name: and it came to mean “outlaw” – outside of whose law? So a devotee of Brigid may be a brigand. I have added that possible expression to the Brigid-ine dedication in the ritual.
Brigid is praised as of “the holy well and the sacred Flame13”. The “Well” designates the Source of Life, to which the new tender being is intimately connected. It may be understood as the Well of Creativity14 of the Cosmos to which we are seamlessly connected. A dedication to Brigid means a dedication to the Being and Beauty of particular small self, and knowing deeply its Source – as the infant knows deeply its dependence on the Mother, as the new shoot on the tree knows intimately its dependence on the branch and whole tree, as the new star’s being is connected to the supernova. It is a dedication to the being of your particular beautiful Self, rooted seamlessly in the whole of Gaia. The “Well” of Brigid then, is not only the well into Earth-Gaia, but also Universe-Gaia’s Well of Creativity. Brigid has extended Her “country”, Her jurisdiction.
NOTE: can you see that there is no split from the Deep Dark Old One of Samhain, the gestating Mother of Winter, and the New Young One- the passionate Flame of Imbolc?
Imbolc ritual may be a celebration of the sheer magic of the energy to Be. When one has been deprived of it – in depression, illness, uncertainty, the mists of apathy – one knows the Beauty of this Urge to Be and its preciousness. When it arrives we may consciously nurture it, tend it, rejoice in it – Life/Creativity WILL proceed !! It is a Blessed thing – it is an Annunciation – the knowledge that Divine Life IS within: you are carrying it in your Being. Note that the words you are blessed with at communion are echoes of the words traditionally attributed to the angel’s words to Mary – the “Annunciation” – but in this Cosmology we all bear the Promised One. We are the Promised One. You have a particular Creativity to deliver that no-one else can, and this ritual is an opportunity to say “Yes” and commit yourself to the flourishing of your small part, which is a totally unique Beauty in the history of the Universe. Mary’s “Fiat” (in the Xtian tradition) can be seen this way – but unfortunately it is used to support a male power structure. In the ritual at communion, Mary’s yes is reclaimed in the context of saying “Yes” to Creativity, with the words “Rejoice, O highly favoured … blessed is the fruit of your creativity.” So, in the calling of the elements – creating the sacred space – I like to structure it for Imbolc so that we remain very conscious of the space within, and how we can sense/feel the elements in our manifest form, our bodies.
In the ritual we invoke Artemis who has traditionally been understood to midwife the new life, because of Her Passion for Being. The herbs given to ease the pain of childbirth were namedArtemisia. We will taste them in the ritual – they are bitter, and we may remember this taste as part of the experience of expansion, of Creativity, of coming into Being, of admitting the New. Artemis is also the Archer, the one within whose arrow flies true and on centre – we will each hold Her arrow and remember the Power and Presence of this desire in us … to fly true and on Centre.
Coming into Being takes courage and daring. Thus the Virgin aspect is often understood as spiritual warrior. Esther Harding has described the Virgin thus:
the (one) who is virgin, one-in-herself, does what she does – not because of any desire to please, not to be liked, or to be approved, even by herself; not because of any desire to gain power over another … but because what she does is true15.
The Virgin’s motivation for action is not guilt, fear, envy … but the truth of your being. This is Her purity and her freedom. This is what we affirm in ourselves tonight – this is the One we seek to nurture in ourselves.
Traditionally, Imbolc is a time of purification and strengthening16 – that is what the nurturing of the new requires – care and vigilance and discipline. We will pass a bowl of salt water around and dip our hands in it, and each may express what it is that weakens the Flame of Being, your life-force (“Nwyfre” is a Welsh word for this), what “leaches your power” (as Starhawk says it). We will pass it back in the other direction and each may express what strengthens this Flame of Being in you, the Urge to Be, the power in you. This process of “purification and strengthening” may also be understood as feeling for where it is in us that the Universe is acting now – where each one feels the excitement of Creativity calling to them in their lives.
There is risk and resistance to coming into Being. The Universe itself knew it when it encountered gravitational resistance to expansion, in our very beginnings, in the Primordial Flaring Forth. It was never without Creative Tension. The Universe knows it daily, in every moment. Imbolc can be a time of remembering some of your vulnerabilities, feeling them and accepting them, but remaining resolute in your birthing and tending of the new, your listening for the Urge of the Creative Universe within.
The lace on the altar and around the place is meant to signify the delicate web of Life that we are part of and that we nurture – the Promise of Life that we tend, in Ourselves and in each Other, and in All. The early Universe itself had a lacy pattern caused by quantum fluctuations that enabled the galaxies to form. Swimme and Berry describe the young billion year old universe:
After the fireball ended, the Universe’s primordial blaze extinguished itself, only to burn once more in the form of lacy veils of galaxies filling all one billion years of space-time existence17.
You may think of the lace as the web of the young Universe itself, and what Creativity it has taken to bring forth all that we witness.
NOTE: There is often a lot of maternal and pastoral metaphor – it may be extended to “husbanding” I think … in the original and true sense of that word. There may also be garden or agricultural metaphor – nurturing the seeds, the new tender green shoots.
For women in the patriarchal cultural context, the Imbolc process/ritual may be an important integrating expression, used as they might be, to fragmentation in relationship – giving themselves away too easily. This seasonal celebration of individuation/differentiation, yet with integrity/wholeness, especially invoking She-who-is-unto-Herself, can be a significant dedication. But this process/ritual is a Gaian celebration – there are others who have had uncertainty about gender and many aspects of whole being, all new being requires this care and commitment. Men too need to come back into relationship with the Mother in themselves and in Gaia: re-identify with the ancient traditions perhaps, of the male as a Caretaker, Shepherd, Gardener – “at-tending”, and Son of the Mother.
OTHER NOTES: the changes to Imbolc celebrations in the Christian era: it became “Candlemas”, a time for purifying the “polluted” mother – 40 days after Solstice Birthing, and invoking the asexual “virgin bride18”. This is in contrast to how we are celebrating it.
At the beginning of the ritual, we will be invited to speak the Mother’s word of Creation: “Om”. This is how the Great Goddess Kali brought creation into being – with Her Word, Om, an invocation of her own ‘pregnant belly19’. Kali was understood as Creator as well as Destroyer – that was what Her darkness was for – Creativity. Kali’s Om was the primordial Logos, ‘the supreme syllable, the mother of all sound20’. It has derivatives in many cultures. In many cultural creation stories the world proceeds from sound. The letters of the Sanskrit alphabet were called “mothers”, matrika. Om was the mantramatrika, Mother of Mantras21. The Celts called their Moon-mother Omh.
We will use the word then, but the essence of it is the speaking, the spelling – how we create the world with language, the words we choose: and we do/may choose so much of our expression. With your self-expression, your Om, you are spoken and collectively we speak. Imbolc is a time for being mindful of our creations – our spelling, how each unique self participates in creation. We will join and weave our Om’s together.
We have a red aisle for procession for your Brigid-ine dedication. This is a tradition that has its roots in the ancient Goddess integral understandings of the blood of the Mother being “wise blood”. To walk on the red processional aisle was to be honored and recognized as participating in the Wisdom of the Mother – to be in Her Creative Flow and Timing – nurtured by Her Wisdom: that is how our Creativity happens.
(Show a daffodil with bulb and roots exposed) – signifying the full story of Spring Equinox, which is, emergence from the dark: the joy of this blossoming is rooted in the journey through the dark. Both Equinoxes celebrate this sacred balance, and they are both celebrations of the Mystery of the Seed. The Seed is essentially the deep Creativity within – that manifests in the Spring as flower, or green emerged One.
As the new young light continues to grow, it comes into balance with the dark. Eostar, or Spring Equinox, is one of two points in the year when the Sun is equidistant between North and South, creating this light and dark balance. Yet the trend at this Equinox is toward increasing light – longer hours of light. It is about the Power of Being – Life is stepping into it. Earth in this region is tilting further toward the Sun. Traditionally it is storied as the joyful celebration of Persephone’s return from the underworld – Her return and re-union with her Mother who has waited and longed for Her. Persephone, the Beloved Daughter – the Seed – has navigated the darkness successfully, has enriched it with Her presence and also gained its riches. Eostar is the magic of the unexpected, yet long awaited, green emergence from under the ground, and then the flower: especially profound as it is from a seed that has lain dormant for months or longer – much like the magic of desert blooms after long periods of drought.
This seasonal point is often named as “Eostar” which comes from the Saxon Goddess Eostre/Ostara – the northern form of the Sumerian Astarte22. The Christian festival was named “Easter” as of the Middle Ages. The date of Easter – set for Northern Hemispheric seasons – is still based on the lunar/menstrual calendar; that is, the 1st Sunday after the first full Moon after Spring Equinox. (In Australia “Easter” is celebrated in Autumn!) There are other names for “Eostar” in other places …the Welsh name for the Spring Equinox celebration is Eilir, meaning ‘regeneration’ or ‘spring’ – or ‘earth23’.
The story that this celebration is based on is that of Demeter and Persephone – the traditional version that we understand as pre-patriarchal, from Old Europe. In Greece for millennia, Spring Equinox was celebrated as the return of Persephone from the Underworld. And other cultures celebrated it as the Return of the Beloved One – Dumuzi in Sumeria for instance. In the oldest stories we have, Persephone descended to the underworld voluntarily. She is a courageous seeker of Wisdom, a compassionate receiver of the dead. She represents – IS – the Seed of Life that never fades away. Spring Equinox is a celebration of Her return, Life’s continual return, and also our own personal emergences/returns.We may contemplate the collectiveemergence/return also – especially in our times.
I describe Persephone as a “hera”, which of old was a term for a courageous One. “Hera” was a pre-Hellenic name for the Goddess in general24. “Hera” was the indigenous Queen Goddess of pre-Olympic Greece, before She was married off to Zeus. “Hero” was a term for the brave male Heracles who carried out tasks for his Goddess Hera: “The derivative form ‘heroine’ is therefore completely unnecessary25.” “Hera” may be used as a term for any courageous individual. You may use it in the ritual to name yourself.
The pre-“Olympic” games of Greece were Hera’s games, held at Her Heraion/temple26. The winners were “heras” – gaining the status of being like Her. The runners were female in the earliest of times selected from three age groups representing the three phases of the moon. This was so until about the seventh century B.C.E. when the boys’ races were introduced27. In the earliest of times Hera was not the bickering, jealous wife of the Olympian pantheon. Hera, in the most ancient of stories was commonly identified with Gaia as “expressive of the creative, sustaining earth28”. Marija Gimbutas tells us that Hera was called the ‘origin of all things’ by Greek writers as late as the sixth century B.C.E., that “Her name is cognate with Hora, season”, that Hera created and restored life through the touch of a plant29. You may use the term in the ritual if you are able to shake off or reach through the patriarchal stories/images you may have in your mind about Hera. You may announce yourself at the invocation as a “Hera” today if you wish – to identify with Her as we once knew Her, and to express yourself as a courageous One, a “winner”. You may also choose to use “hero”, or simply “Courageous One”, or “Beloved One”, or “Persephone”.
“Persephone” in each of us, courageous One, steps with new Wisdom, into Power – the Power that all Beings must have, Power from within – Gaian power, the Power of the Cosmos. We may identify ourselves with Her as Courageous Ones, rejoicing in how we have made it through, having faced our fears and our demise (in its various forms), had “close shaves” – perhaps physically as well as psychicly and emotionally. It is a time to welcome back that which was lost, and step into the strength of Being. Eostar is the time for enjoying the fruits of the descent, of the journey taken into the darkness. Demeter, the Mother, receives Persephone – each of us – joyously. The young tender Selves we celebrated and committed to at Imbolc, are received into communal relationship and empowerment.
This may be understood as an individual experience, but also as a collective experience – as we emerge into a new Era as a species. Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme speak of the ending of the 65 million year geological Era – the Cenozoic Era – in our times, and our possible emergence into an Ecozoic Era. They describe the Ecozoic Era as a time when “the curvature of the universe, the curvature of the earth, and the curvature of the human are once more in their proper relation30.” Joanna Macy speaks of the “Great Turning” of our times31. Collectively we have been away from the Mother for some time – and there is a lot of pain. As we each take the lantern and the seed, and wander into the house (the “Underworld”) before coming to the “gate” of emergence, we may contemplate not only our own individual “lost” wanderings, but also that of the human species. We are part of a much Bigger Return that is happening. The Beloved One is returning on a collective level as well – we are part of making it happen. It is a return to the Mother in Self, Earth and Cosmos.
In the ritual tonight, as each one goes out of the circle and into the “Underworld”, the rest of us will watch and wait – like Demeter. We each are Persephone, and we each are Demeter. We will all welcome the lost Ones, the Wise returned Ones.
Swimme and Berry say that: “With the beginning of each new era of the universe, activity and its multiform possibilities undergo a creative transformation32.” This is true of ourselves as well. Something completely new is possible – new synergies can come into being with the stepping onto a new platform, into a new strength of being. Swimme speaks of this as “space-time binding”, where all the transformations of the past are held within the present moment, making a completely new leap possible33 – into “what”, we can only guess at. But the creative track record is good.
Spring Equinox is a balance point, a fertile balance of tensions. Light and dark parts of the day are of equal length for a moment. Equinox is a celebration of the Creative Curve between the compost and the lotus … the creative edge in which Life is born; it is the delicate balance that scientists know as “the curvature of space-time”. This delicate balance makes possible the Creativity that we witness, that we are part of, that enables this celebration of Stepping into the Power of Growth and Being.
OTHER RITUAL NOTES:
- the rock/stone we will hold up at the invocation and announce ourselves: it is meant to represent the precious stone of Wisdom gained, from our journeys into darkness. It represents your courageous self returned and present with us. You may take it with you in your meditation, placing it back in the basket when you come to the circle.
- Communion poppyseed cake: the poppy is associated with Persephone because of its many seeds. The cake celebrates the rich fertility of the dark brought to light – manifest: the full story of the bulb and the flower. It is a holy cake. We will eat it in remembrance of She who gives Life – the Seed that never fades away.
- the eggs: they recall “the myths of Hathor-Astarte who laid the Golden Egg of the Sun34.” The stories of the “Easter Bunny” came from the Moon-Hare sacred to the Goddess – the stories got linked over the millennia. A tradition of giving eggs at Eostar developed. Many primordial Goddesses laid Golden Eggs. You will be offered golden eggs tonight to remind you of the Ancient One who lays the Golden Egg – the Sun, the Gift of Life given everyday.
- the calling of the elements – as our true Powers of Life, and our knowing of them – ourcertain sensing of them as powers that manifest in various ways (whereas at Imbolc our sensing of them was more basic and tentative). Part of the describing of the elements as we do it tonight, is inspired by eco-psychologist Sarah A. Conn’s aspects of global responsibility – which happen to correspond to the elemental characteristics. Emotional response or feeling or what Sarah Conn calls “direct experience”, the ability to shape or integrate the information or what Conn calls “understanding”, the willingness to take action, and awareness/ the ability to perceive global problems35. (These are not in the order she has.)
- taking the Seed, as well as the lantern, for your Journey of lost wonderings: the Seed may remind you of the positive quality of the dark, how essential to your knowledge and strength and being – like the earth is to the seed.
Earth’s tilt is continuing to move us closer to the Sun, in our part of Earth at this time: Light is dominating the day and will continue to do so increasingly until Summer Solstice. This is the time for virulent growth of the plants, and life. The energy of Spring has grown from the new and tender of Imbolc to the strong and virulent of Beltane. The story as we have been telling it is that the Virgin/Urge to Be of early Spring has stepped into Her Power (at Eostar) and is now coming into the Passion of Life and fertility; Her face is changing into the Mother of Summer – when She will be full. She is, at this time of Beltane, entering into relationship with the Other. The fruiting begins. It is time for celebrating the Dance of Life. Beltane is a celebration of this Passion – Holy Desire … that which unites the Cosmos and holds all things in form.
This Desire is multivalent – has many layers to it, and needs to be understood as a Cosmic Dynamic, a “Power of the Universe” as Brian Swimme expresses it – he calls it Allurement. It is preternatural, primordial – we didn’t invent it. It has been present from the beginning and has many manifestations. As this Cosmic Allurement, one of its manifestations is Gravity. I like to think of it as Holy Lust – the dynamic at the core of manifest form. I regard Aphrodite as the embodiment of this dynamic; She was celebrated by the ancients as the One who united the Cosmos and brought forth all things – held all things in form. She willed the three-fold fates! In other words, these ancients understood that desire or Allurement directs the Dance – stronger than the three-fold fates, is at the Source of the Dance, turns the Wheel. Of old, Aphrodite, as Allurement, was understood as the pure essence of Creation – nothing existed without Her, without this Desire. As the Charge of the Goddess says: “I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of Desire.”
Beltane is traditionally a celebration of fertility – genetic fertility – and the mating of Goddess and God – that is the exoteric festival form of it: thus the “Maypole” or “Novapole” as I name it in our Southern Hemisphere, and the traditional red and white ribbons – the red signifies the Goddess, and the white the God, matching the body fluids that that mark the onset of fertility. Beltane is for some, a traditional time for Lovers to marry in this Earth tradition – it is called handfasting. It is also a time when new partners may be taken – a transpersonal celebration of sexuality. In terms of the story of the Universe, Beltane is a celebration of the advent of meiotic sex – of the male or gender. This was a significant moment of Cosmogenesis – the Creative Unfolding of the Universe; it took a deeper leap into differentiation, communion and subjectivity – into deeper intimacy. That is a further dimension of the “Novapole” ritual – when we dance the Dance of Life, a celebration of the Cosmogenetic power of meiotic sexuality, as well as an affirmation of Allurement in general in all its forms.
Beltane is a celebration of Desire on all levels – microcosm and on the macrocosm, the exoteric and the esoteric. It brought you forth physically, and it brings forth all that you produce in your life, and it keeps the Cosmos spinning. It is felt in you as Desire, it urges you on. It is the deep awesome dynamic that pervades the Cosmos and brings forth all things – babies, meals, gardens, careers, books and solar systems. We have often been taught to pay it as little attention as possible, whereas it should be the cause of much more meditation/attention: tracing it to its deepest Place in us. What are our deepest desires beneath our surface desires. What if we enter more deeply into this feeling, this power? It may be a place where the Universe is a deep reciprocity – a receiving and giving that is One. Brian Swimme says: “Our most mature hope is to become pleasure’s source and pleasure’s home simultaneously. So it is with all the allurements of life: we become beauty to ignite the beauty of others36.”
Beltane is a good time to contemplate this animal bodymind that you are: how it seeks real pleasure. What is your real pleasure? Be gracious with this bodymind and in awe of this form, this wonder.
Beltane is a good time to contemplate light – and its effects on our bodyminds as it enters into us – how our animal bodyminds respond directly to the Sun’s light, which apparently may awaken physical desires. Light vibrates into us – different wavelengths different colours – and shifts to pulse. It is felt most fully in Springtime (“spring fever”) – light courses down a direct neural line from retina to pineal gland. When the pineal gland receives the light pulse it releases “a cascade of hormones, drenching the body in hunger, thirst, or great desire37.” We respond directly to Sun as an organism.
OTHER RITUAL NOTES:
- We will “call” the elements by sensing our Desire for each of them: Water – Desire manifests as thirst Fire – Desire manifests in the gathering round Earth – Desire manifests in the urge to make our mark, what we want to do That is, the work that we each do, the particular allurements that we feel and follow, is/are the mark we make that serves the Creative Cosmos – Gaia. It is the Creative Cosmos/Gaia in us – in our particular Passions – that makes the mark, with our own unique print. We will each make a print in mud with our hands, to signify this. It recalls some of the first marks humans ever made. Air – Desire manifests in our reaching for breath. And we remember primarily their presence, that is, our Desire is met … we are not left wanting. We didn’t make up this Desire, it is the Universe desiring in us. It is our nature. We are united in these Desires, that is, we all experience these Desires. And we are united in our Desire with all others who have gone before and all who will come after, in their Desires.
- In the breath meditation at the beginning, I note that we are present to all who have gone before us, in one deep breath each takes. I want you to be aware that this is not just poetry, it is empirical fact apparently38. We will breathe deeply and contemplate the Presence of all those who have gone before, and all those who come after us. Also, in the centering meditation at the beginning, there will be opportunity to make a simple physical gesture to embrace this Presence and the Present Moment. This is a suggestion.
- The invocation: you may identify with the beauty of the flower (the rose is Aphrodite’s flower of choice), tree, bird, ocean – something that you may find particularly beautiful – it may be a Place, something that reveals to you the Beauty at the Heart of the Universe. You are encouraged to identify with this Beauty – if you can recognize it, it must be in you. And you may speak of being Desirable, and the Desire that you feel – the sacredness or holiness of it.
- We will dance the Dance, “weaving in what we will.”
- We will leap the flames, leaving behind what we will. Traditionally in pastoral cultures of old, at this time of year, the cattle were let out of their Winter housing and driven between fires to rid them of their Winter bugs and ticks. The people too decided to purify themselves this way, by leaping the flames. The flame of Allurement – of Love – is understood to be purifying and creative.
- Communion: we will consume pink ring cake with rose honey on it, in honour of Aphrodite; and be encouraged to consume our desire, to consummate it. We will drink sweet wine, and be encouraged to enjoy the sweetness of life: don’t miss the Moment.
Summer Solstice is the celebration of the peaking of the Light in the annual cycle – many of the fruits of Earth come to their fullness in Summer, many grains ripen, deciduous trees peak in their greenery, lots of bugs and creatures are bursting with business and creativity. We may celebrate our own ripening, maturing of creativity, the bliss of our full expression – in every moment, as well as in special achievements, and ultimately. Some of us celebrated the Child of Promise in us early in the Spring – at Imbolc , when we remembered the tenderness and vulnerability of our Being. At this season of Summer Solstice we may celebrate the Promise growing to fullness in us – expressed as the Sacred Fullness of the Mother.
The Beauty that we dedicated ourselves to at Imbolc (the differentiated self), that we identified with at Beltane (I am the Beauty) – is now Given Back, Given Away, ripe for Consuming. This is its purpose, its sacred Destiny. We do desire to be received – to be consumed – it is our Joy and our Grief.
Summer Solstice is the peaking of potential, and also then the point of the return to the Dark part of the cycle of the year – it is the “Great Omega” … as Winter Solstice is the “Om”, the beginning of form. The little spark of Winter Solstice has grown to fullness. Now, in this season, it is the Dark that is born, and that will grow. (The Solstices are points of Exchange between Light and Dark – Gateways.) This Dark that is born at the peak of Summer, is the fulfillment of Bliss – that is, the Bliss of fulfilling your creative purpose – and it is the dissolution of the fulfilled self, given over. It is the beginning of the Return to the “Manifesting”, from whence all comes. We celebrate Light’s fullness, our fullness – a peaking of potential in us, and acknowledge that it is not ours to hold – like a breath; it is given over to the Bigger Picture … passed on to the next Urge. The fullness of our bliss, our Passion, our Creativity is what moves the world – we give it daily, and ultimately, as Earth does and all Creation does. The breathing, including the releasing, sustains the world. We celebrate our realized Creativity, and acknowledge its Source. Summer then is like the Rose, as it says in this tradition – blossom and thorn … beautiful, fragrant, full – yet it comes with thorns that open the skin. All is given over.
In one traditional version, the story is that the Goddess and God, Beloved and Lover, reach the full expression of Their Love at this time – the Allurement of Beltane/High Spring, finds its Maturation. Beloved and Lover embrace, in a Love so complete, that all dissolves, into a single Song of Ecstasy that moves the worlds. It is the Big Orgasm – the “little death” as it is known in some cultures – the realization of Union with the Beloved. This is the Sabbat for which they postulate that Stonehenge was built – the Summer Solstice. The Old story tells us then that this Ecstasy of union is at the core of the Mystery of Existence – it is the Fullness and End of Desire. In Their Union – Beloved and Lover – the boundaries of the self are broken, they merge, All is Given Away – All is poured forth, the deep rich dark Stream of Life flows out. We affirm in the Summer ritual that each of us is “Gift” – that means that we are both Given and Received – all at the same time. The breath is given and life is received. We receive the Gift – with each breath in, and we are the Gift – with each breath out.
Summer is a time when Earth pours forth Her abundance, so we celebrate the infinite daily abundance that is always given, and ours to receive. We live amongst pure gift – we daily build our lives on the work/creativity of the ancestors and ancient creatures that went before us. And what we do/create each day builds it further for those to come; we too give it away & add to the abundance. As Brian Swimme says: “Every moment of our lives disappears into the ongoing story of the Universe. Our creativity is energising the whole39.” That is what is meant today when we affirm that we are the Bread of Life. Being the Bread of Life – Food – means being consumed, but it also means being received and enjoyed. We are Creators everyday – our small efforts sustain the world – daily and ultimately. We are constantly consuming the work and creativity of others and we are constantly being consumed. Who are you feeding?
Summer Solstice is a good time to contemplate how the Sun is in all we are and do, all that we eat and think – that it is the Sun in us, that has ripened, that is in our every thought and action. We are the Sun, coming to Fullness in its creative engagement with Earth. We affirm this in this ritual, with: “It is the Sun that is in you, see how you shine”.
Summer Solstice particularly is a celebration of the Fullness of the Mother- in ourselves, in Earth, in the Cosmos; as is the Winter Solstice in a different way – at Winter Solstice, it is a Fullness of Darkness – a pregnancy that bursts into Form. At Summer Solstice the Fullness of Form bursts back into the Dark.
Throughout the Spring we have been celebrating the Virgin aspect, with Her face gradually changing to the Mother – coming into Power at Eostar, into Fertility at Beltane, and now birthing the fruits and fullness of being; and through the Autumn we will be celebrating the Crone, whose face will gradually change also, back to the Mother.
OTHER RITUAL NOTES
- Giving the full rose/flower to the fire as we will, may be seen in many ways – you will have your own subtle understandings. Essentially it is to signify the giving away of the fullness of our creative selves (counter to the “birth” of this creative self at Winter Solstice – when we light candles to signify that). Throwing the rose/flower on the fire may be seen as a commitment to follow your Passion, and to release it, express it – to feed the world with your Fullness – the Fullness of your particular Self, wherein the Universe speaks. This tradition is about fulfillment of the self – giving that to the Universe, not self-abnegation. (This is not about burning away negatives in yourself, it is about giving your full potential and becoming that – in every moment, and ultimately.)
- the Spiral Dance: at Winter Solstice we did this spiral with lit candles in our hands, representing the small flames being born in us. Now at Summer Solstice, we do the spiral with the full rose signifying the full radiance of what we may/have become – that is given back to Source.
- the wreath will be upheld for each of us: – for you to look through it to the fire, being admonished and encouraged to see with clear sight. This will be invoked for you – clarity of vision – of Life and Death, the “Om” and the “Omega”. – Held aloft for you to see the circle of full roses – to affirm the unbroken circle. She goes on, in Her creative spin. Nothing is wasted – all comes full circle and goes on. You will have your own understandings of that.
- the invocation: we will recognize and invoke the Sacred Fullness of the Mother, the Wholeness of the Universe, the Radiance of Sun – the Summerland – in each other. The Summerland is being understood here as a state of being: acting with ease and pouring forth your essence, a state of a sense of sacred union with Earth, Sun, Moon, Cosmos, Creativity … however it may manifest for you.
- the toning that we will do as a culmination of the invocation: it may be felt as an exercise in relationship with self, other and all-that-is … the three layers of Cosmogenesis. Each is feeling for their own true expressive voice, listening for the others, and it is all coming out of and going into a Larger Self: the toning that arises is co-created and yet it is coming from the Well of Creativity itself.
This is the seasonal moment of celebration of the waxing dark, as Earth’s tilt takes us back away from the Sun, after the Summer Solstice peaking of light. This Sabbat has traditionally been a joyous event, celebrated as the first harvest festival – and there are remnants of it in places still. “Lammas” is an old name for it: this is a Saxon word for the feast of Bread, the festival of the Great Goddess of the grain, of sustenance40. “Lughnasad” is a later Celtic name for it. In the Celtic story, this festival is the wake of Lugh, the Grain/Sun God, who is sacrificed/harvested. There is rejoicing in this harvest – of food , of life. In the pre-Celtic stories of the Goddess tradition, She embodied all the transformations – She was the Reaper and the Reaped. She went through all the changes Herself. “The community reflected on the reality that the Mother aspect of the Goddess, having come to fruition, from Lammas on would enter the Earth and slowly become transformed into the Old Woman-Hecate-Cailleach aspect41 …” And so, might we understand ourselves – as embodying all the transformations, because we do actually. We are the harvest – it is our “wake” also. We are the transformations of the Ages, we each hold the memory of all Gaia’s transitions; and we are each the Grain that is harvested, we – our lives – are the sacred Grain. We are the Reaper – we each reap our small harvests, and we are the Reaped – our small harvests are reaped by the Universe – by Her. This is a continuation of the Summer Solstice theme, where we affirmed that we are the Bread of Life. Just as the Food harvested nourishes us, so our lives may nourish the world.
In its depth significance Lammas celebrates the Harvest of Life, the cutting of the ripe food, the releasing of Gaia’s breath which peaked at Summer Solstice. Her outbreath enables Life to go on – just as ours does. It is the time to celebrate dissolution, the return to Source. Like Imbolc, it is a time of dedication – this time, dedication to the Larger Self. It is the time for “making sacred”, which is the meaning of the term “sacrifice”. It is not a self-abnegation, it is a fulfillment of purpose, a fulfillment of the Passion that is in you – like the fruit fulfills its purpose in the eating. Your passion, your work, is fulfilled in the consumption. Whereas Imbolc is a Bridal commitment to Being and form, where we are the Promise of Life; Lammas is a kind of commitment marriage to the Dark within – we accept the Harvest of that Promise, the cutting of it. We remember that the Promise is returned to Source. “The forces which began to rise out of the Earth at the festival of Bride now return at Lammas42.”
As it is said, She is “that which is attained at the end of Desire”: the same Desire we celebrated at Beltane, has peaked at Summer and is now dissolving form, Returning to Source to nourish the Plenum, the manifesting – as all form does. This Seasonal Moment of Lammas celebrates the beginning of dismantling, de-structuring. Gaia-Universe has done a lot of this de-structuring – it is in Her nature to return all to the “Sentient Soup” … nothing is wasted. We recall the Dark Sentience, the “All-Nourishing Abyss” at the base of Being, as we enter this Dark part of the cycle of the year.
It is the season of the Crone, the Old Wise One – who returns us to the Dark or the Deep from which we all arise. This Dark/Deep at the base of being, to whom we are returned, may be understood as the Sentience within all – within the entire sentient Universe. The dictionary definition of sentience is: “intelligence”, “feeling”, “the readiness to receive sensation, idea or image; unstructured available consciousness”, “a state of elementary or undifferentiated consciousness43”.
The Old Wise One is the aspect that returns us to this Sentience, the Great Subject out of whom we arise. We are subjects within the Great Subject – the sentient Universe; we are not a collection of objects, as Thomas Berry says. This Sentience within, this Readiness-To-Receive, is a dark Space, as all places of ending and beginning are. Mystics of all religious traditions have understood the quintessential Darkness of the Divinity, known often as the Abyss. Goddesses such as Nammu and Tiamat and Kali are the anthropomorphic forms of this Abyss/Sea of Darkness that existed before creation. She is really, the Matrix of the Universe. This Sentience is ever present and dynamic. It could be understood as the Dark Matter that is now recognized to form most of the Universe. We will recognize it as Her “Cauldron of Creativity” in the ritual. Her Cauldron of Creativity is the constant flux of all form in the Universe – all matter is constantly transforming. We are constantly transforming on every level.
These times that we find ourselves in have been storied as the Age of Kali, the Age of Caillaech – the Age of the Crone. There is much that is being turned over, much that will be dismantled. We are in the midst of the revealing of compost, and transformation – social, cultural, and geophysical. Kali is not a pretty one – but we trust She is transformer, and creative in the long term. She has a good track record. Our main problem is that we tend to take it personally.
The Crone – the Old Phase of the cycle, creates the Space to Be – (whereas the Virgin, whom we celebrated at Imbolc, after the Winter Solstice, is the Urge to Be; the Mother is the Place to Be). Lammas is the particular celebration of the Beauty of this Awesome One. She is symbolized and expressed in the image of the waning moon, filling with darkness. She is the Nurturant Darkness that may fill your being, comfort the Sentience in you, that will eventually allow new constellations to gestate in you, renew you. So in this celebration we will contemplate opening to Her – our fears and our hopes involved in that. She is the Great Receiver – receives all, and as such She is the Great Compassionate One. Her Darkness may be understood as a Depth of Love. And She is Compassionate because of Her dismantling … where we may not have the will. We do want to be ever fresh, ever new – it is not possible without the Wise Old One, who will mercifully shake us loose from our tracks.
Often we have only feared Her. But the harvest of our lives – everyday and ultimately – may also be a deeply joyful thing, as it is received and made into food to nourish the world. Sometimes the changes that need to be made are awesome … we would not have chosen them, but they serve us deeply. The Zen Buddhist tradition speaks of the “tiger’s kindness”, that is, we want to change, but may not have the will. (The tiger fears the human heart, the human fears the tiger’s kindness44).
This Sabbat is about trusting and rejoicing in the kindness and Creativity of the Dark – knowing it is centrally part of us and we are part of it. Loren Eiseley describes his pulse as “a minute pulse like the eternal pulse that lifts Himalayas and which, in the following systole, will carry them away45.” Our organisms are constantly a microcosm of the cataclysmic transformations of Gaia – transformations that allow the life of the organism to go on, be that our small self or that of the Large Self of Earth or the Universe. This Sabbat is like a funeral, and we may understand the event as a “wake” – a celebration of life.
OTHER RITUAL NOTES:
- breath Meditation: reference is made to the breath as yours but not yours. It is borrowed by you, by each of us, for a while – like a relay, you will let it go, pass it on. The Air remains, altered by your (our) presence and actions, for those who come next.
- Invocation: At Imbolc we affirmed that we are the shining and New One – ever the Urge to Be – the Beauty of the particular and emerging Self. Now at Lammas we will affirm that we are the Dark and Ancient Wise One – ever in the process of dissolving and recycling, creating the Space to Be. We are as ancient as Gaia Herself – ever She who has transformed over and over. Ten percent of our bodies are hydrogen – direct from the primordial fireball, the rest made in Tiamat – grandmother supernova – recycled over and over. We hold all of the evolutionary wisdom within our cells – Her ancient story is your story. The invocation affirms that. You may vary the words – make it meaningful for you.
- And the Darkness that you may identify with may be imagined as shining or velvety if you like. The Dark can have many beautiful textures – which you might like to imagine. This dark One has Her own kind of Beauty. This Darkness is a Native Place for us – a part of us does recognize it, and love it – as we love to close our eyes and sleep.
- your bread figures will be given to the fire/bowl of water: She is the Compassionate One … She receives all, and She transforms all. So much of our being yearns for this compassion and “forgiveness” (which is a “receiving”), for transformation. We have to be able to trust that there is a MUCH BIGGER PICTURE that we don’t usually see. So we trust Her knowing, which is beyond all knowledge. She knows how to dismantle the old, sweep it clean, create a Space for the new and hoped for. Each contemplate what you might like to express – desired transformations, fears perhaps, dedication to Deep Wisdom, Larger Self beyond your knowing.
- we will chant or repeat each one’s expressed dedications – summarised: this is to help reflect them back to you. Then when repeating them yourself in a kind of chant, you are saying them out loud more or less to yourself – hearing them and pondering them as you take them for transformation. In this process you may discover other dimensions to these states of being.
The dark part of the day has continued to grow since Summer Solstice, and at this time of year has now reached the point of balance with the light. It will continue to wax from this point of balance, until it reaches its fullness. Mabon/Autumn Equinox is the point of balance of light and dark in the dark part of the cycle. Sun is equidistant between North and South, as it was at Spring Equinox, but in this phase of the cycle, the trend is toward increasing dark. Autumn Equinox is a time of thanksgiving for the harvest – for its empowerment and nourishment, and it is also a time of leavetaking and sorrow, as Life declines46. For millennia, in Greece, this Sabbat has been the holy celebration of Persephone’s descent to the Underworld, and in the earliest Goddess tradition, She descends of Her own volition – She is the Seed planted in the Earth, that will sprout again.
Like the Spring Equinox which is a “stepping into power” of form and light, Autumn Equinox is also a “stepping into power”, but it is not necessarily perceived as such; it is usually felt as loss. It is a “stepping into power” of the dark, through which we may grow in Wisdom – yet there is pain in it. Autumn Equinox is a time for grieving our many losses, as individuals, as a culture, as Earth-Gaia. At this time we may join Demeter – and any other Mother Goddess from around the globe – in Her weeping for all that has been lost. The Mother weeps and rages, the Daughter leaves courageously, the Old One beckons with Her Wisdom and Promise of Transformation.
In the Celtic tradition, Autumn Equinox celebration is commonly named ”Mabon”. Mabon is the name of the Son of Modron – the Matrona or Mother of earliest times. His name is not a name, but is a title “Mab ap Modron” meaning “Son of the Great Mother”. In later tales and songs the divine Mabon is transformed in the role model for the Western knight47. Mabon is taken from His Mother when only three nights old as the story goes in the Mabignogion. “He is the primal child48 …” He represents an innocence. In the still strong mysteries of Mabon and Modron the Mother, he is lost and imprisoned, but his primal innocence is held to turn away harm. Though he is lost he has the power of the protecting Life. It has similarities to the multivalence of the Demeter-Persphone story.
Our celebration tonight is based on the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone – the Eleusinian Mysteries, but as with any great story, it includes the echoes of many. The Mysteries of Eleusis was a nine day ritual celebration of Mother and Daughter that took place annually for 2000 years, at Eleusis in Greece. These Mysteries were thought to hold the entire human race together – partly because people came from every corner of the Earth to be initiated49. (We will recall that in the way we create the sacred space tonight – that we too, do indeed come from every corner of the Earth).
I base the celebration on Charlene Spretnak’s version of Persephone’s descent50 – wherein Persephone descends of Her own volition, She is not forced. She descends to “tend the dead”. In this pre-patriarchal story Persephone is a Hera (the original word for “hero51”). Persephone descends for the tending of sorrows in the Underworld – because as the Seed She represents hope for rejuvenation. This is the integrity with which it was initially celebrated. In Carolyn McVikar-Edwards’ version, Persephone descends for the gaining of Wisdom52. In pre and post-patriarchal understandings, Persephone is the Wisdom Redeemer figure within all Being. She, like the Seed, is the Mother Knowledge who grows within. This is also represented in the apple – She is the Seed in the Fruit becoming the Fruit in the Seed … and so we will affirm of ourselves tonight. SHOW AN APPLE CUT ACROSS.
Although we use the story of Demeter and Persphone, for this celebration, I want to mention the oldest story of descent and return, that humanity knows – that of Inanna. Inanna was the “primary one” of Sumeria for 3500 years, and made the heraic journey into the Underworld to become Queen of that Realm. There is also the story of the descent of Dumuzi, Her Beloved – for whom She grieves.
SHOW ICON OF DEMETER HANDING PERSEPHONE THE WHEAT (FROM 500 B.C.E53.) This image is central to tonight’s celebration, and the understanding of Demeter and Persephone – so just receive it as best you can. I suggest having this image of Wisdom present to you all year round. Demeter is passing on the Knowledge – of Life and Death – the Mystery, which is represented by the wheat. For Persephone, it is an acknowledgement and an initiation … acknowledgement of Her maturity and readiness for Power, as well as an initiation into that. (Whereas in our cultural context, one usually “ascends” to Power). We will enact this tonight – how you have grown in Wisdom, and are also an initiate.
The icon is about a complex reality:
- It is Demeter’s gift of agriculture to the world- humans becoming aware of the planting of the seed – and the awesome power of the seed, moving out of simply hunting and gathering. This domestication of seed occurred about 10,000 years ago, wheat and barley being the earliest.
- And the handing of the wheat, is at the same time, Demeter’s gift of the Mysteries – moving into death with awareness, eyes open, in that sense, coming into Power. Persephone “becomes Queen of that realm” – her name means “She who shines in the Dark”. The Mysteries then identify each Initiate with the seed that falls from the dying plant to lie underground, hidden from life, and yet sprouts again – in some form, shape or other. We will all be lost – we have been lost. Everything lost is found again, in a new form, in a new way. We are the Beloved Ones who are lost, along with everything else.
- the Wheat represents a harvest of Life that we are given – we are Given all that went before us – it is handed to us. We may rejoice in it and give thanks. But like the Seed that goes into the Earth, every moment of Life is Lost – it dissolves, and is never repeated. Also it has had a cost. This moment and all that we enjoy, has had a cost. Every moment in our lives and in the entire history of Gaia-Universe is never repeated – it is lost. That means it is also ever-new. That is the Mystery – it is lost, but it is ever-new. There is a place on that the Edge – of the grief and the joy, where the Universe hums in balance – a creative tension (some may call it the “curvature of space-time”). It is what enables Creativity to go on … in our lives and in the Cosmos. This may be represented by the Seed (SHOW IT), the “Persephone” that goes down into the Dark Earth, and will sprout yet again. It is also represented in the red thread I use on the wheat – initiates sometimes wore a red thread. I offer you red threads to wear tonight if you like. It represents the sacred Thread of Life that has never faded away (if it had we would not be here). Demeter gives the sheaf of wheat to Her Daughter Persephone – representing the Knowledge, and also the continuity, the unbroken thread of life54.
The ancients were awestruck when the wheat was upheld towards the end of the ritual in Eleusis. They appreciated the Magic of the seed, of the grain. The wheat was understood to reveal the Mystery of Being. Demeter is Mother of the grain, of wheat (“corn” as it was known). It was a ‘Vision into the Abyss of the Seed’, it was a vision of the Vulva/Yoni – Mother of all Life55. The grain of wheat is both the beginning and the end of the cycle – representing the Alpha and the Omega, it is seed and also food. It is our daily sustanance/bread. Thereby it may represent what we are given in every moment. In a different culture it could be corn or rice. To be aware of this Gift, the Gift of the present moment – its depth – is sacred knowledge – Divine Wisdom.
When you are handed the wheat tonight, you may feel it in many ways. You may acknowledge new Power, a new coherence – you have received something, but you are also an initiate. The handing of the wheat, and the Seed itself that we will plant tonight, represents the continuous thread that enables life to go on – despite all the loss, and usually because of it.
In that sense the Seed is our Hope. She – Persephone – tends the sorrows, soothes the losses. She is an energy present in the bulbs, in each person, creature, all of existence – at the heart of matter, of Life, of the Mother – that never fades away. So we each will take a bulb, which represents something lost yet also something extremely powerful – filled with the essence of life. It is Wisdom to understand this, and its revelation is Awesome.
There are lots of layers to this celebration – multivalent – and there are infinite ways to receive it.
OTHER RITUAL NOTES:
- the Invocation words: At Eleusis, all the celebrants identified themselves with Demeter. “Men who took part were given names with feminine endings. All the mystae wore the same clothes, simple robes56 …” Men too acted out the myth of loss and recovery. “All people became the Mother in the Mysteries. They may also have identified powerfully with Persephone57”. So the Mother will be invoked in all – women and men. She whom we become is the Mother of all Life. And we are all Persephones – the Sacred Receiver and Carrier of the Thread. But anyone may choose to use the word “Child” instead of “Daughter”, or you may use both.
NOTE RE THE DAWN ON EQUINOX MORNING:
It may have been a traditional part of the Eleusinian Mysteries for initiates to witness the dawn58. Let the light permeate your being as it enters you through your eyes – the Promise of Inner Wisdom, She who shines in the Dark.
(c) Glenys Livingstone 2005
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1 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.194.
2 Robin Morgan, “The Network of the Imaginary Mother”, Lady of the Beasts, p.84.
3 Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.49.
4 Paul Devereaux, Earth Memory: The Holistic Earth Mysteries Approach to Decoding Ancient Sacred Sites, p.124. Also see Martin Brennan The Stones of Time … since reading his work, my thoughts on this have developed a lot further. See the article here:https://pagaian.org/essays/celebrating-the-triple-spiral-as-cosmogenesis-in-the-seasonal-wheel
5 Michael Dames, Ireland: A Sacred Journey, p.192.
6 Paul Devereaux, Earth Memory: The Holistic Earth Mysteries Approach to Decoding Ancient Sacred Sites, p.120.
7 Elinor Gadon, The Once and Future Goddess, p.346.
8 Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess, p.98.
9 Claire French, The Celtic Goddess, p.22.
10 See also http://gofree.indigo.ie/~thall/newgrange.html
11 Caitlin Matthews, The Celtic Spirit, p.366.
12 Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the Goddess, p.36, quoting Denning M. et al, The Magical Philosophy III, p.166.
13 Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.289-295.
14 Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos, video 10.
15 Esther M. Harding, Woman’s Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, p.125.
16 Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p.304.
17 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.34.
18 Vivianne Crowley, Celtic Wisdom: Seasonal Rituals and Festivals, p.37.
19 Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.546.
20 Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.546 quotingUpanishads, p.53
21 Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.546.
22 Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.267.
23 Emma Restall Orr, Spirits of the Sacred Grove: The World of a Druid Priestess, p.235.
24 Charlene Spretnak, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, p.87.
25 Charlene Spretnak, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, p.87.
26 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.87-88 referring to Jane Ellen Harrison, Myths of Greece and Rome, p.18.
27 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.88
28 Pamela Berger, The Goddess Obscured. p.16.
29 Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, p.134.
30 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.261.
31 Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life. p.77ff.
32 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.63.
33 Brian Swimme, Powers of the Universe, lecture 9.
34 Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.267.
35 Sarah A. Conn. “The Self-World Connection” Woman of Power, Issue 20, p.73.
36 Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.79.
37 Laura Sewall, “Earth Eros, Sky”, EarthLight, p.22.
38 Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos.
39 Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos, video 5.
40 Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.527.
41 Adam McLean, The Four Fire Festivals, p.21. Originally the Deity of the harvest was a Goddess named Tailtu: so the name Tailtunasad has been suggested by Cheryl Straffon editor of Goddess Alive!
42 Adam McLean, The Four Fire Festivals, p.22.
43 Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language.
44 Susan Murphy, upside-down zen, p.89-93.
45 Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey, p.20.
46 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.192.
47 Claire French, The Celtic Goddess, p.58.
48 Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way, p.83.
49 Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the Goddess, p.158.
50 Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.112-116.
51 Charlene Spretnak, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, p.87.
52 Carolyn McVikar-Edwards, The Storyteller’s Goddess, p.178-183.
53 See Figure 2, Chapter 6
54 Erich Neumann, ??The Great Mother?/, p.142.
55 Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, ?/The Year of the Goddess??, p.166.
56 Rachel Pollack, The Body of the Goddess, p.220.
57 Rachel Pollack, The Body of the Goddess, p.221.
58 Mara Lynn Keller, “The Eleusinian Mysteries: Ancient Nature Religion of Demeter and Persephone” in Reweaving the World: the Emergence of Ecofeminism. Irene Diamond & Gloria Feman Orenstein (eds.), p.50.