Ritual Celebration of the Creative Dynamic
This chapter and the one following are somewhat practical guides as to how I have been doing the ritual celebrations of the Sabbats, as a means to embody this Wholly Creative Dynamic – to get with Gaia’s “plot” as I see it. There is nothing necessarily pre-scriptive or “correct” about the way I have been doing the rituals, but I will tell it and offer it as a possible way to proceed, as an illustration of how one can and might put such ritual celebration together. One does not need to be a hierophant, a trained ordained person to begin: it may even be an advantage not to be1, although care is essential.
Overall it has been very important to me to make the ritual space one of “ease”, that is, accessible and comprehensible to people, to allow it to be relevant to people’s experience. Yet without compromising its sacred depths and solemnity, nor compromising the story that I wanted to spell out – which was also the story the participating people wanted to have spelled out. As much as possible, in any group preparation for the rituals, I have de-constructed the language often used in traditional Pagan circles to describe the ritual processes. My sense of freedom to do this is partly drawn from Starhawk’s encouragement and style when I was taught by her. It is also partly drawn from an early background in de-constructing Catholic rituals (known as “Mass”) almost a decade before that, when the people in that context began to take spiritual expression into their own hands. And so it is now: the people in the larger community are increasingly desiring to take spiritual expression into their own hands. My priorities in ritual are also affected by my training in liturgy at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, where we were taught carefully to enable the real Presence in the people2. These days I interpret that to mean enabling participants to bring their personal and collective stories to the story of the Sabbat ritual and therein to find deep communion with self, other and all-that-is.
The format/structure that I have used for the rituals is based on Starhawk’s format for the traditional seasonal rituals that she outlines in The Spiral Dance3. Everyone or every group will have their own preferred emphases, additions, and somewhat varied understandings of the processes. Briefly, the ritual processes as I have done them, flow like this:
“Warming the Energy” – This is partly done in the preparation of the space before the event – with decoration appropriate to the Sabbat, with a sense of presence conjured by aroma and music and meditations I have done there during the weeks or days before. It is also “warmed” in the greetings and conversation that goes on as the gathering of participants happens, and as they select their positions in the prepared circle and place their ritual “accessories” (masks, stones, photos, flowers or whatever depending on the Sabbat) in designated areas. There is eating and drinking of a light kind that goes on at this time also – in the kitchen, as part of the welcoming and settling in. The “warming” is also done in the group preparation for the ritual, which is when I regard the circle as formally beginning, and the point at which I close the doors to any latecomers. This group preparation will be detailed more later, but it is essentially the time for going over the “order of service”, and learning the dances and/or songs, followed by ten minutes of individual reflection /meditation before we re-gather for the actual ritual.
Gathering – This is the formal gathering moment of the ritual. Just prior to this, participants have been in individual meditation, possibly wandering or sitting in the garden or some other room, and/or taking care of physical needs, in preparation for the “sacred space”.
Centering or Breath Meditation – A breath meditation is the usual method of “Centering/Grounding” at the beginning of the rituals. It is a process of establishing connection with ourselves as “breath-taking” beings, becoming present to the moment, moving into a deeper reflective space. The way I have languaged them follows the flow of Gaia’s breath over the year – connecting the individual breath cycle to the Larger Creative cycle. I focus on the part of the breath pattern that matches the particular Sabbat, sometimes adding quite extensive poetic flourish that introduces the theme of the ritual celebration.
Statement of Purpose – stating the reason for the gathering, which in this case is the celebration of a Seasonal Moment. All the statements that I have written into the scripts are based in theme and expression on Starhawk’s, as noted previously, with my own additions and changes that include emphasis on Cosmogenetic and female metaphor. I am always careful to express what is actually happening with the light part and the dark part of the day, and to express it in this way; that is, with language that acknowledges the “day” as diurnal – having a “light part” and a “dark part” that is in dynamic movement through the year. Such expression participates in spelling the dark back into the “day”.
Creating Sacred Space – Traditionally this is known as “the calling of the directions” and their associated elemental powers, and “casting the circle”. The four elements of Water, Fire, Earth and Air are represented in the centre – posted in associated directions that may vary according to the Place of celebration4. The recognition of the directions signifies the presence of the Whole Cosmos here and within each one: we are each indeed recycled bits from everywhere and everytime. We don’t have to go anywhere, it is all “right-here” within each participant: we simply have to recall it. The essence of this ritual process then, as I see it, is the remembering of our common origins, remembering who and what we are, and from whence we come, thus creating awareness of a deeper space and time in which we all participate. It de-constructs our usual personas and social complexities, taking participants into a deeper more basic reality of being – which we share in common, and in which it is safe to speak deep truths and be heard and known. This can be done with lots of poetry and drama, or with a simple group chant. As I have done them, there is almost always a direct involvement and identification of each participant with each element. Generally individuals are invited to add in their own words to the addressing of the elements, in addition to the formal script which is following a Seasonal theme in its pattern.
Always I conclude this process of “casting the circle” with a statement like: “This is the Centre of Creativity”, drawing attention to the fact that the Centre of the Universe is here5, that the Ultimate Sentience of the Universe is present. This is true of every place, being and time, and yet the ritual is a space wherein this is made conscious, and that for me, is what “casting the circle” means – awareness of being at Centre, in that Awesome Creative Space.
“Invocation” – After setting up the safe space in which deeper truths may be spoken, it is traditional to “invoke the divine” in whatever way that is understood. I re-language that to mean, a recalling that we are each expressions of something Awesome, that in fact the truth of each person is that “here is the Source of everything, here is the Ultimate Mystery of the Universe6.” This can be done in any number of ways … poetry, anointing, a simple gesture shared in pairs or with the group. Quite often as celebrant I will speak it to each person, though just as often participants will pass it to each other. Generally people can memorize any words that are used adequately, with some improvisation and prompting. Ideally, if whatever is said, is said with conviction, a deep knowing – it is an invocation of Presence. As I see it, that is what “transmission” is: that is, if a person can tell another with a deep knowing that “Here is the Source of everything, here is the Ultimate mystery of the Universe”, the receiver will most likely get it on some level. That is what blessing is supposed to be, what invocation is. It is a deep knowing that the Power of the Universe is present. That, to my mind, is what it means to be “between the worlds”, as traditional Pagan language describes the ritual space. This deep knowing is nurtured by meditation and practice over time, as well as by good teaching, and will usually be felt more deeply within a ritual context of experienced participants.
The Invocation as I have always done it, includes either a response from each participant that is central to the process, an affirmation that they accept this as a truth. Or sometimes the Invocation is scripted as a space for each to announce themselves – in some way identifying themselves as a Larger Self, in accord with the Seasonal theme. Participants are encouraged to write or speak their own words, or at least to add their own words to any formal pre-scripted ones offered. I have found that it is also important in the preparation of the group for this process, to verbally offer participants the freedom not to speak, but to simply gesture in some way so that they may be welcomed as a Presence. Some may be far too shy, others may simply not have words – there may be any number of reasons for choosing a silent but conscious gesture.
Seasonal Rite or Body of the Ritual – This is the particular dramatic processes that give expression to the Seasonal Moment. These can be of great variation, according to personal, communal and regional aesthetics and factors. It includes what is traditionally known as “raising of energy” and the “working of magic”; that is, the transformational processes that are possible in ritual space. These, as I and participants currently do them, are in the ritual scripts in Chapter 7.
Sharing of Food or Communion – This is a formal recognition of how we are sustained, what gives us life, and of the fundamental communion experience of the Universe. It is a time within the ritual for thanksgiving, some relaxation and enjoyment. The food that is shared varies, and it is given to each participant formally with a blessing – sometimes from the celebrant or celebrants, sometimes from each other as it is passed around the circle. The food and the process connect with the theme of the Season.
Storytelling – a listening circle, wherein participants may speak to the group without having a discussion or being argued with. Any response from the group is formal and brief, such as “May it be so” or “thank you” or some other appropriate empathetic affirmation of having heard the speaker. It takes some discipline and sensitivity for participants to restrict themselves to hearing and only responding formally; usually the nature of the process has to be mentioned during the ritual preparation and re-iterated when introduced during the ritual. Often the celebrant will need to keep drawing the group consciousness back to the formal agenda with further invitation to others who may wish to speak. Sometimes patience and tolerance are required as some participants seem to go on, and not all may find the story being told pertinent. Yet this space is always an exercise in respect, sensitivity, true receptivity, and group trust. Each seasonal ritual script in Chapter 7 has a suggested agenda for this process that relates to the seasonal theme, but it is really an open space for whatever individuals need to speak of.
Opening of the Circle – a retracing of the “calling of the directions” and associated elements, and a summarized recapitulation of the seasonal ritual process that we have just participated in, with a peace blessing. Then the final words that I use are my version of the traditional ones7 – sometimes sung, sometimes spoken:
The circle is open but unbroken. May the peace of Goddess go in our hearts. It has been a merry meeting. It is a merry parting. May we merry meet again. Blessed Be.
Usually a kiss is passed in both directions simultaneously, but this would depend on the nature of the group.
Celebrant and/or Co-celebrants as Evocators of Presence
In presiding as Mistress of Ceremonies/Priestess in the rituals, I have been conscious of the importance of my voice, my invocation of the reality of which I speak, when I speak. Spoken words – everyday ones – are actually always an invocation, a spelling of reality, but in ritual this may become more conscious. The celebrant and/or co-celebrants are participating in the calling forth of Presence within the consciousness of those present – the sacred depths. They will be enabled in that process by prior meditations upon, and awareness of, the truth of the Poetry they speak. They will also be enabled by the confident use of their breath and voice, which may involve some singing or voice lessons, and expressive therapies. Then in their voice:
… the meaning is inseparable from the sound, the shape, and the rhythm of the words … it remains rooted in the sensual dimension of experience, born of the body’s native capacity to resonate with other bodies and with the landscape as a whole8.
All others present participate in the calling forth of this Presence, in themselves and in others, and may take roles in this regard in some of the processes. It is my understanding that the Poetry itself has its own integrity, as does the speaker, and as do the recipients; the Poetry is not a monolithic inert slab of information, It speaks to our depths in a relational particularity – each person “selecting” Its valency for them. As Charlene Spretnak tells it in States of Grace, in the ritual creation of sacred space, the narrator and listener become “engaged witnesses, weavers of a web of being” where articulations of mythic dramas are “acts of relation that place all participants in deep accord with the life processes of the unfolding universe9.” The role of Priestess or celebrant is a deeply relational role; it is not just putting out questions, statements. She is evoking, drawing forth, and is already in response to the particular person’s being – how they “select”/elicit a particular approach from her. The celebrant or co-celebrant listens deeply to the response, so the person is received. Sometimes, a particular invocation/blessing may be passed around the entire group, allowing individuals the opportunity to bless another, and to speak it. This kind of participation may also be structured into the creation of the sacred space – the remembering of the elements of Water, Fire, Earth and Air – whenever possible, enabling individuals to practice speaking with or to the world, instead of about it10; that is, to practice PaGaian relationship.
HOW SPECIFIC RITUAL PROCESSES MAY DEVELOP THE THEME OF THE SEASONAL MOMENT
The actual Poetry of the Wheel as I have written it and understand it currently has evolved over time through a process that in itself reflects the threefold Cosmogenetic Shaping Powers – in the form of (i) my personal genetic “whisperings” or story, (ii) relational “natural selection” or how the Poetry feels when played out with others in ritual, and (iii) cosmic intuitive creativity … inspirations/images/words that simply arrive. Whilst this creative process is ongoing and opens the processes to change, there has been a consistency for the past several years that participants have been able to look forward to and deepen into each time.
CALL TO GATHER:
Imbolc11 – a single small bell rung three or more times, with each ring being separate. It is the beginning of the light part of the cycle, the flicker of Life, of Being, in its solitary tenuous Beauty allowed to resonate for a period of time. When the gathering is assembled, the celebrant suggests listening to the bell as if listening to the sound of each one’s unique ringing. It is rung once more, and accentuated with the djorge for a few minutes.
Eostar – drums. It is a seasonal moment of stepping into Power, heralding dramatic Emergence and Return from the Underworld.
Beltane – when possible, a conch shell made into a horn, meant to be representative of Aphrodite who is especially invoked at this Seasonal Moment celebrating Desire/Allurement. Otherwise, vigorous drumming reflecting the fertile alluring beat of Life.
Summer Solstice – drums, with participants coming into the circle moving to the rhythm, and continuing to circle several times. This Season is about fullness of expression – being an “open channel for the moving energies of Life”.
Lammas – a bell rung at a slow paced tempo. It is the counter reflection of the bell used at Imbolc; this time it is used to recall funeral rites. It is the beginning of the dark part of the cycle, the flicker of Death, of Return to Source. When the gathering is assembled, the ringing stops and the celebrant continues with “The Hour is come. For whom does the bell toll?” She asks the question three times, then finishes with “It tolls for thee.”
Mabon – drums. It is another seasonal moment of stepping into Power, reflecting that of Eostar, but at this time heralding dramatic Descent.
Samhain – vigorous drumming. It is a dramatic Season, when all is possible.
Winter Solstice – a chant, with participants coming into the circle moving around the centre to the rhythm and joining in the chant. There are movements that may go with the chant; all meant to encourage a recalling of our galactic location in the Milky Way. This Seasonal Moment is traditionally a time for singing together, in the depths of the Dark and the cold, affirming Being and keeping each other warm.
CENTERING – THE BREATH MEDITATIONS:
Winter Solstice – over the years this has developed into a relatively lengthy meditation, beginning with a focus on the “Void” at the bottom of the emptying of breath and feeling the Urge to breathe as it arises. This is drawn into a recalling of the many birthings of all kinds in personal lives – remembering how one has been Creator and Created. That is then extended to recalling Gaia-Earth’s many birthings in this moment, everyday and throughout the eons, and then Gaia-Universe’s many birthings in this moment, everyday and throughout the eons. Attention then is again drawn back to the breath, associating it with the birthing – of all – in every moment, the seamless Gaian self.
Imbolc – once again it begins with a focus on the Space between the breaths, the emptiness, and imagining it as the “Sea of Generosity” from which all springs forth. The experience of the breath then is imagined as a “ripple stirring upon the Sea”, extending to imagining the self as being that ripple. The breath is then used to speak “the Mother’s word of Creation – ‘Om12’”, contemplating how we “spell” the world personally and collectively.
At the Equinoxes – the focus is on the experience of balance of light and dark, as Earth is so balanced in this Moment; imagining the breathing in as a swelling with Light, and the letting go of the breath as a letting go into Dark. It is spoken as “a fertile balance of tensions” that at the Spring Equinox is visualised as about to tip into increased light, and at the Autumn Equinox is visualised as about to tip into deeper dark.
Beltane – the focus begins with feeling the breath as it waxes towards fullness, and feeling one’s desire for this breath. There is recall of how in each breath we share in the life of all who have danced and will dance, the Dance of Life – how each breath is actually filled with the Presence of all creatures who have known/will know breath13. This is extended to a physical gesture of embrace of the Present, as Beltane is a “Meeting of Desire” – an embrace, a “wedding”. The recognition at this Sabbat of all who have come before – “and danced the Dance” – both in this ritual process of the breath meditation and also in the process of creating the sacred space, is a recognition of the resonance with the polar opposite Sabbat of Samhain.
Summer Solstice – the focus is on the experience of the peaking of the breath, beginning with a visualisation of deep connection to the core of Earth as sinking into full relationship with Her. The focus is on the filling of the bodymind to capacity, to feeling the fullness, and the felt need to release, and then “giving it away”. I have also added into the format of Summer Solstice, after the statement of purpose, a “banishing” process. This would be traditionally understood as “cleansing the space”. I have languaged it as making conscious those inner voices that impede one’s full expression.
Lammas – the focus is on the passing of one’s individual breath, the breath “that is yours, and not yours”, how we pick the breath up at birth, let it go at death. We breathe a collective breath, that belongs to All.
Samhain – the focus is on following the breath down as it empties, and noticing the Space between the breaths “into which all who have gone before us have travelled, from which to enter again the dance of Life”. This Space is again felt after the calling of the elements/directions and identified with the “Womb of All, fertile with possibility”.
CREATING THE SACRED SPACE – REMEMBERING THE ELEMENTS – CALLING THE DIRECTIONS – “CASTING THE CIRCLE”:
Winter Solstice – the elements are remembered as Cosmic Dynamics, dynamics that translate into particular capacities within the human – sensitivity, shaping power, memory and wisdom, exuberance and expression: this is drawn from Brian Swimme’s understandings of the elements14. Remembering them in this way at Winter Solstice extends the theme of this Moment’s breath meditation as connecting the layers of the seamless Gaian self – our presence to Origins.
Imbolc – since this is a celebration of physical manifestation, of differentiated being, the particular self, the language in the calling of the elements focuses on the individual internal physical experience of each element – each one’s sensed feeling of each element. At Imbolc then, the external actual elements around the altar are not actually handled as usual, but attention is simply paid to the personal internal sensation of each.
Spring Equinox – since the celebration focuses on “Stepping into Power” – the Power of Being, the Heraic Return from the Depths, the focus is on the elements as Powers and feelings that we do know. It continues and deepens the Imbolc focus on feeling the elements, but now with an ability to act with them, an empowerment. The associations with each of the elements at this Sabbat are based on psychologist Sarah A. Conn’s four aspects of global responsibility – direct experience, understanding, action and awareness15.
Beltane – since this is a celebration of Desire/Allurement, the focus is on our experience of desire for each of the elements – our thirst, desire for warmth and gathering around, our desire for fulfilment of purpose, and for breath and inspiration. Each participant engages in a tactile sensuous way with each element. There is an identification of that desire with all Desire, the Desire of all who have come before us, and the Desire of all who will come after us, and with the Desire of the Universe.
Summer Solstice – the focus repeats that of Winter Solstice, recalling the elements as Cosmic Dynamics present in human capacities, and thus reflecting a seamless Gaian self. However at this Summer Moment there is specific invitation for each one to speak of or be conscious of their relationship with each element as it is brought to them. This is an emphasis on the fullness of expression, as well as the celebration of the Mother aspect and its quality of relatedness and deep communion.
Lammas – since the celebration is primarily about Dissolution, the Return to the Cosmic “soup”, the focus is on identifying with the elements as part of the Old One’s “Recipe”. Each participant affirms their elemental presence in “Her Cauldron of Creativity16” – the Soup of the Universe. The drum beats for a few moments echoing the tempo of the bell that called to gather – a solemn paced beat, while participants wait.
Autumn Equinox – the directions are referred to as Places that we all come from. This is a way of recalling the ancient ritual of the Eleusinian Mysteries upon which this ritual is based; that is, it is said that people came to this annual event from every corner of the Earth to be initiated. These Mysteries were thus thought to hold the entire human race together17. Referring to the directions in this manner also alludes to our elemental presence in many forms throughout Gaia’s entire transformational story – our ancient and multifold initiations in Her. We are from everywhere. Included in this process there is also an affirmation that “She is alive in me, and I in Her.” This echoes part of the Seasonal rite of Spring Equinox. And in particular, it recalls the Seasonal theme of the continuity of Life, as the Mother Demeter passes all knowledge to the Daughter-Self Persephone, who thus becomes Mother – the Seed in the Fruit becomes the Fruit in the Seed18, they are in each other: so the elements of Water, Fire, Earth and Air are associated with this continuity of Life within us. The rhythm of the calling of the elements is quicker than usual, to create a cacophony effect and a sense of this continuity.
Samhain – since the celebration is about the Transformation of Death, the focus is on how ancient each element within us is, how we are its recycled presence, thus how old we each really are. This is a remembering that there is nothing we have not been – we are fertile with possibility. The elements are not handled by each participant as usual; instead they are ceremonially processed around the circle for viewing and contemplation. This is also a reverse reflection of the Imbolc element/directions process.
Overall, throughout the Light part of the cycle, there is a continuation of focus on the sensual experience of the elements, a focus on the individual sensate knowing of the elements, and in this way knowing participation in All. Whereas in the Dark part of the cycle, the elements are acknowledged primarily in their collective aspect, how we are each a drop of, and inseparable from that collective, how we are elementally immersed in something much Larger – not individual at all, how we elementally belong to that “Soup”.
At Winter Solstice, which is a birthing, and a particular remembering of Origins, participants anoint each other with oil, and pronounce with authority the Divinity19 – Creator and Created – in each other: “Thou art Goddess, thou art the Divine Child, thou art All of That.” These words are offered, and participants are encouraged to take this opportunity to “try them on”, but also to maybe add something that they find expressive of the reality, like perhaps, “You are a whole Universe.” This Invocation is extended then into the “Cosmogenesis Dance20” which expresses in movement the three aspects of the Sacred Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding that we participate in. The dance begins with an inner and an outer circle, that move into relationship in a middle space, before passing into the opposite places – becoming outer and inner respectively.
Imbolc – where the flame/light is tender and new, and the One who is the “Urge to Be” is celebrated and nurtured, participants each light a candle from the centre candle and gaze into the flame, contemplating how the Flame of Being is within them. In their own time each one places the candle on the altar affirming in their own words the Presence of this Virgin quality in their being. The midwifing and “true” qualities of Artemis are then invoked with the tasting of Artemisia herbs and the holding of Her arrow.
Spring Equinox – we are invoking the Hera, the Courageous One who has returned from Journeying in the Darkness. Each participant holds up a special stone or rock representing the precious gem of Wisdom gained from the Darkness, and announces themselves as Hera or Hero or Courageous One. Placing the stone on the altar they affirm their Return and Presence and gained Wisdom.
At Beltane – we are invoking Beauty and Desire. The Charge of the Goddess is read or spoken21, and participants are invited to name themselves as “the Beauty whom She desires22”. To facilitate this identification of self with Beauty, each one brings an object or a photo, or recalls some thing, being, or place that they experience as beautiful, recognising it within themselves. This may be extended, as each one wishes, to expressing themselves as the Beloved, wholly desirable, and their desiring being as holy23.
At the Summer Solstice ( note this is changed from the paper version of the book ) – we are recognizing and invoking Fullness of Being and Full Expression of Creativity. Participants are invited to greet each other with a bow of reverence and “thou art the Sacred Fullness of the Mother: the Wholeness of the Universe, the Summerland, is within you”. In this spiritual tradition, all the seasons have a significance that has been lost to most minds today, but to the ancients “Summer” had a special numinosity: it was understood as a Place of abundance, ripeness, ease and eternal fulfillment (similar to the Christian “heaven” except that there was nothing ethereal about it). So, to have this “Summerland” recognized within is to be blessed with eternal Creativity and Union – ease of Being. The invocation is continued with a “Conversation of Union” or “Dyad Poem” as I call it24, wherein at this Solstice Gateway from the Light into the Dark, an inner and an outer circle express the Union – the reciprocity – of form and formlessness. This dialogue poem may express the flux and interchange of the “manifest” and the “manifesting” of the Cosmos. This formation of an inner and an outer circle in conversation also recalls the formation at the Winter Solstice invocation for the Cosmogenesis Dance – which is done in silence. The Summer Solstice dyadic conversation/poem culminates in a unified “prayer” and then a toning – a harmonising of voices that may be felt as an exercise in relationship with self, other and all-that-is … the three layers of Cosmogenesis25.
At Lammas – where we remember the Dark One to whom we return, that we are the Harvest, we are recognizing and invoking the Presence of this Dark and Ancient Sentience within – the One who “creates Space to Be”, who is the Transformation of the Ages. Participants receive grains of barley in their hands, and ash on their foreheads, and affirm that they are: “She, Dark and Ancient Wise One”, adding or expressing their own words to this theme. There is then a meditative space for contemplating Her within.
Autumn Equinox – this is a rite of initiation into the Dark Mysteries, the Heraic Descent of the Courageous One, the Beloved Daughter-Self, who must know the processes of the Depths. Demeter is invoked with a chant, and She hands to each participant three stalks of wheat tied with red ribbon, signifying the passing on of the sacred knowledge26 of Life. The Mother is acknowledging their readiness for the Journey, wherein they will receive and perceive the Wisdom necessary for Life to continue: in fact, with the gift of the wheat, She hands each one All that is needed. We are the Bearers of Life as much as we are Borne by Life.
Figure 2: The Mother Demeter hands the wheat to Her Daughter-Self Persephone, expressing the passing on of all knowledge – the continuity of Life27.
Samhain – we are invoking All Possibility in this Moment of deep formlessness, our capacity as Co-creators. Each participant is invited to name themselves as they will, wherein they may identify imaginatively with the mythic, the fanciful, and other subtle dimensions of themselves that they may wish to be more conscious of28.
COMMUNION – THE SHARING OF FOOD:
At Winter Solstice, as we celebrate the Birthing of All from the full Darkness of the Mother, each participant is offered dark fruit cake and red wine, and poetically identified as Her Cake and Wine – made by and for Her, integral with the Cosmic processes. We are Her Communion, we are the Place/Space where it happens: in that sense we are Her – the Mother. Communion at this Sabbat, affirms that we, as Cosmic/Earth participants, are “wine poured out for the Mystery” – that is our Origin and our purpose. This resonates with the Communion words of Summer Solstice where participants affirm that they are Food – Bread and Wine – that has ripened, ready for consumption.
At Imbolc, the first celebration of the Light part of the cycle, the fruit bread and the wine/juice are white or light in colour and we also share white gourmet chocolates. As each participant is given the food, they are blessed with a version of the Annunciation to Mary from the Christian tradition, as a way of reclaiming that metaphor of Annunciation for all; that is, as a recognition of the Holy One, as the Young One, present in the Self.
At Eostar, where confirmed emergence from the depths is being celebrated, with the main story being that of Demeter and Persephone, the words of Pindar, the Greek philosopher and poet, are used in part, for the blessing: “Blessed are you – you have seen these things29…” Added to this is a re-worded version of an admonition commonly used in the Christian communion rite, which some participants would be aware of: “Do this in remembrance of She who gives Life” – it is a conscious reclaiming, as Persephone in this Goddess tradition is a Redeemer/Wisdom figure. The food given is poppy seed cake: the poppy is associated with Persephone because of its many seeds, representing the abundance and fertility of the Dark. Each participant is also offered a “Golden Egg” ( a gourmet chocolate wrapped in golden foil), partly because of participants’ familiarity with the tradition of eggs at “Easter”, the Christian festival – which is held during Autumn in Australia (!) – and I wish to call to their sensed experience, chocolate eggs in the right Season – Spring. They are told of the Goddess roots of this tradition in the teaching before the ritual, and they are blessed as they take the egg, with: “Remember the Ancient One who lays the Golden Egg – take it, it is yours –laid out for you everyday.”
At Beltaine, it is the sweetness of Life that is emphasized, with honey cake and sweet wine/juice being offered, with the admonitions to “consume your Desire” and to “enjoy it”. Sweet sugary doughnuts are also offered, partly because these sweet cakes can be hung in trees and bushes around the circle if practical, but the “hole” shape is also a good metaphor for this Seasonal Moment of “Holy Desirability” and fertility. ( Note: we haven’t done this for a while now – since publication of the book, choosing heart-shaped chocolate and/or passionfruits as extra wholly desirable things to consume ). Since Aphrodite is especially invoked, and the rose is Her flower, rose water is used in the honey, and rose petals are sprinkled on the cake which is coloured pink. The light use of roses in this way also previews the central role of roses in the seasonal rite at the next Sabbat, Summer Solstice.
At Summer Solstice, which is quintessentially a celebration of Communion – the ripening of the Promise of the light part of the cycle, whose purpose is to be given to Other and All-That-Is and consumed, each participant affirms, ”I am the grain, I am the Bread of Life”, as they take the bread in their own hands and break off a piece. Each one similarly affirms, “I am the grape, I am the Wine”, as they take the decanter and glass from the celebrant and pour wine for themselves. The response to this, from other participants, affirms that it is the Sun in each of us that has ripened: “It is the Sun that is in you, see how you shine30.”
At Lammas, the first celebration of the Dark, dark bread and red wine/juice are offered to participants, with blessings for being nourished by Her Harvest, and letting “Her Rich Creative Darkness soak through you.” The latter blessing is, in my mind, a reference to the Womb of the Mother wherein Her Blood is for gestating, is for Life. It also may recall the dis-solution theme of this Season.
At Autumn Equinox, which is the main thanksgiving harvest festival, the food that is shared is all brought by the participants, as a representation of their abundance gained, their “Harvest”. The presentation of the food is part of the Seasonal rite, as they state the “harvests” for which they give thanks.
At Samhain, apples and apple juice are the chosen communion food, as the apple in this Goddess tradition represents never-ending renewal31. In the tradition as Starhawk does it, an apple is frequently ritually cut at this Season’s celebration32. Using the apple as a holy food is an opportunity to re-story and re-experience it, given that most participants will have been imbued with the Judeo-Christian story, wherein the apple is a fruit of temptation representing knowledge that is ruinous. The patriarchal religion storied it this way because it represented the Mother Knowledge. At the Samhain communion then, as each participant is offered the apple and juice, they are admonished and blessed with, ”Stand tall, daughters and sons of the Mother. Daughters and sons of Eve, stand tall – enjoy the fruit and drink of never-ending renewal.”
HOW GAIA’S STORY – THE UNIVERSE STORY – MAY BE CELEBRATED IN THE SEASONAL MOMENTS
Woven throughout the Seasonal ritual celebrations, may be the conscious celebration of Cosmogenesis, the Creative Unfolding of Gaia-Universe&Earth. These ritual celebrations begin with Earth-Sun relationship – that is the reason for their existence since the earliest of human times. The resulting Creativity of the play of Light and Dark in this Earth-Sun relationship has translated into food, and into human psyches. The creative telling of our personal and collective stories, and how we wish them to unfold, may be folded into the seasonal moment because that is where we may each interface intimately with Gaia. Then also, as participants in the Larger Story of Gaia – knowing this is our full story – there is always this Deeper layer to be expressed, and it may be drawn specifically into the Seasonal Moments.
On the surface of it, the dark Crone phase particularly celebrates Autopoeisis – sentience, subjectivity, interiority, the creative centre; the light Virgin phase particularly celebrates Differentiation – diversity, complexity, multiform nature, articulation. Communion – the Mother phase, reciprocity, deep relatedness, interconnectivity, mutuality – is celebrated throughout, though particularly at the Solstices, and in balance with other two at the Equinoxes.
There may be many ways of folding in aspects of Gaia’s story, of languaging in moments of her Story that one wants to celebrate, but I have been conscious of some as follows, and written them in to the ritual scripts and the pre-ritual teachings.
At Winter Solstice, it is the Original Flaring Forth, the Primaeval Fireball, the Great Origin, that is echoed in the Sun’s “return” and the movement out of darkness. Also echoed is the birth of our Solar System, from the Grandmother Supernova Tiamat33 – this is our particular Cosmic lineage whom we may remember at this time. It is the time to recall and proclaim any birth, and the births in our psyches, imaginations, and minds.
At Imbolc, it is the continued birthing – the rushing away of the Fireball, the continued rippling forth of Creation, the early Universe. It is understanding the difficulties, the resistances that even Gaia-Universe has encountered, and how this has served the Unfolding of the Story as we know it. Imbolc celebrates Gaia’s rush to diversity, differentiation; we commit ourselves to this, beginning with ourselves. The ritual process of “purification and strengthening” may be understood as a 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 lives34.
At Eostar, when the Light reaches a new level of power, and “Persephone” returns with Wisdom gained, Her emergence may be understood as a collective experience of emergence into a new era – the Ecozoic Era that Berry and Swimme speak of35. As I say in the teaching that prefaces the ritual:
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 ReTurning36 on a collective level as well. We affirm that tonight – we are part of making it happen.
At Beltane, the essential primordial power of Allurement is celebrated. It is this power of attraction, in particular as gravitational bonding, that holds the universe together, as Brian Swimme describes it37. “This primal dynamism awakens the communities of atoms, galaxies, stars, families, nations, persons, ecosystems, oceans, and stellar systems38.” In the experience of the ritual, individuals may sense and express their participation in this Allurement, in its many valencies – feel and affirm how this Desire is at the core of their Being, and all that they do. Beltane is also a good time to celebrate the advent of meiotic sex, a step in Gaia’s Story some one billion years ago, that was an evolutionary leap for all three aspects of Cosmogenesis39. This evolutionary move may be understood as the advent of gender, as a particular manifestation of Creativity. This moment in the Story of the Universe is also connected to the advent of death40, which is poetically resonant with the polar symmetry of Beltane and Samhain.
At Summer Solstice, it is Gaia’s Teeming Abundant Creativity that is celebrated – how “She gives it away, She pours it forth” as we say in the ritual. We recall that this is what Mother Sun does, this is what Earth does, and this is what we may do with the abundant Creativity that ripens in us. This cosmology assents to, and nurtures a concentration of Being that innately demands to be poured forth – it creates a generosity within since abundance is its very nature. We celebrate the innate Generosity of the Universe, for which Sun may be our model. As Swimme reminds, “There is not a single solitary thought or action in the history of humanity that is not a Solar event41.” It is a time for remembering our Source, and the ongoing Event that we are part of, that even the Sun is part of.
Lammas celebrates the beginning of dismantling, de-structuring, cutting the harvest, after the peaking and ripening of Summer Solstice. There are many such moments in the evolutionary story which could be specifically remembered, including our present ending of the Cenozoic Era, as Swimme and Berry describe the present extinctions and planetary destruction42. Gaia has done a lot of this de-structuring, it is in Her nature to Return all to the Sentient “Soup”. In the Lammas celebration, as I have languaged it, we recall the Dark Sentience at the base of Being, to which each is returned. I also use Swimme’s term, the “All-Nourishing Abyss”, expressing as it does, that this Mystery at the base of being, is both generative and infinitely absorbing – a Power out of which particles simply emerge and into which they are absorbed43. We image this “Power” as the Great Receiver, the Old Compassionate One, complete forgiveness, the Transformer, a Depth of Love – She is all of That.
At Mabon when Dark reaches a new level of power, and it is storied as the departure of “Persephone”, the Beloved One, there is opportunity to recall and express all the grief of the losses involved in Gaia’s penchant for Change and “dis-mantling”. In the long evolutionary story, there have been many told and untold losses – species of flora and fauna that will never arise again, cultural losses, genocides, individual tragedies. Mabon is a time for remembering both the rich harvest gained and apparent, and also this deep loss and pain. Another layer to this recognition of Loss at Mabon, is the Loss of every moment of Existence – the fact that every moment dissolves, and is never repeated: the Story of Gaia-Universe is irreversible and nonrepeatable44. It is also then true that every moment is totally new. We may grieve the Loss,and celebrate the Moment. Mabon is also then the time to celebrate the Delicate Balance, the Creative Curvature of Space-Time, that Creative Edge upon which all Life proceeds. The red thread with which the wheat is tied for this ritual has come to represent that to me45. Also the seed, the “Persephone” that is planted ritually represents that very perdurable balance and fecundity that has enabled the entire evolutionary story. Six months later, at Eostar, the flowered seed is held up, as evidence of Her never-ending Presence and Generativity.
At Samhain, the theme is one of journeying yet further into darkness – the Transformation of Death, and therein the conception of the new. It is a time for celebrating the Becomings, the unimaginable More that Gaia has become, and will still yet become. It is a time for remembering the ancestors – creatures, plant and human – out of whom we and the present have arisen, that we are the ancestors of the future, and that we are completely free to imagine/conceive Much More.
(c) Glenys Livingstone 2005
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1 This is not to denigrate or deny the wealth that comes from training and years of experience, it is simply to recognize that many ordained persons or qualified witches/priestesses may not necessarily facilitate as nurturant a sacred space as they are “authored” to do. A person who has less “hocus-pocus” (that is, “correct” terminology, holy robes and tools) but more care, real commitment to the Cosmos and simple psychological skill, may facilitate a more deeply affective ritual space.
2 This was the instruction and practice of James Empereur S.J. specifically.
3 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p. 181-196.
4 This variation of direction for the associated elements is one of those realities particular to the mind of Southern Hemisphere people who have been transplanted within the last couple of hundred years from the Northern Hemisphere. Traditionally the elements correspond to particular definite directions, but practitioners of the tradition in the Southern Hemisphere have learnt to be flexible about the corresponding directions, since the sensed experience is actually different – most obvious is that North is definitely the direction of ”hot”. Anyone anywhere may vary the elemental-directional association according to sense – this flexibility and relativity acknowledges the Great Big Universe we live in.
5 We live in an omnicentric Universe, noted by Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos, videos 1 and 9.
6 Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos, video 1.
7 See Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.171.
8 David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, p.74-75.
9 Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace, p.141.
10 David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, p.71.
11 Traditionally, in Pagan practice the year begins at Samhain, but “the beginning” may be felt throughout the three Sabbats of Samhain-Winter Solstice-Imbolc, so I am “fuzzy” about it.
12 Barbara Walker describes “Om” as “mantramatrika, Mother of all Mantras” spoken by Kali, “an invocation of her own ‘pregnant belly’. This was the primordial Logos …”, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.546.
13 Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos, video 1.
14 Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.87-109 and p.127-151.
15 I have not arranged them in the order Conn has put them in, as my arrangement reflects the order of the elements in my particular location in the Southern Hemisphere. Conn describes growth in the process of global responsibility as non-linear, so I think my varied arrangement may be OK. Sarah A. Conn, “The Self-World Connection” Woman of Power Issue 20, Spring 1991, pp. 71-77
16 My understanding of Her “Cauldron of Creativity” is the all pervading constant flux of all matter in which we are immersed, and which has been described scientifically by Vernadsky,The Biosphere, p.34.
17 Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the Goddess, p. 158.
18 a metaphor used by Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.196.
19 This word does not need to be used – some may find it problematic, others may need it. “Sacred” can usually be substituted.
20 This dance is originally named as “Adoramus Te Domine” and the instructions for it come with the music by the same name, on an audio tape called “Sacred Dances” produced for Dr Jean Houston’s work. The tape or a CD is available from Dog Ear Productions, 32 Cat Swamp Road, Woodberry CT 06798-3018. It was only in the second year of doing the dance at Winter Solstice, that I realised its three layers were resonant with the Female Metaphor and the three faces of Cosmogenesis. I thereafter re-named and storied the dance that way in the ritual preparation and teaching – see the Winter Solstice teaching in Appendix F. For the dance instructions, see Appendix I.
21 Actually only the last paragraph of it is used on this occasion. See Ch.7 Beltane ritual. The full text is quoted in Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.90-91.
22 This is an expression that Brian Swimme has used to describe what he perceives as the required aspiration of the male in sexual relationship to the female; that is, to be “the beauty that she desires”. I like to use it here meaning it as something which all Being actually is and may consciously aspire to; that is, to be the Beauty and delicious morsel that the Universe desires .
23 At a subtle level this celebrated Desire is a desire for mergence- union. With practice of the Wheel of seasonal ritual one begins to get a SENSE of growing light associated with this dissolution – we are actually moving towards entropy with the waxing and alluring Light. This gets “written” into the bodymind with this ritual practice– though it may be unconscious scribing for some.
24 It is an adaptation of a poem in Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p. 119.
25 The way I teach it in the ritual preparation is that each participant is feeling for their own true expressive voice (Virgin/differentiation), as well as listening for the other voices (Mother/communion), and it is all coming out of and going into a Larger Self (Old One/autopoeisis); the toning that arises is co-created and yet coming from the Well of Creativity itself. See Appendix F, Summer Solstice.
26 This “knowledge” that the wheat signifies is as much genetic, body memory, as much as it is mind, trans-genetic cultural memory. This passing on of knowledge was originally understood as particularly expressed in the mother-daughter relationship: this turns out to have some basis genetically. See Irene Coates, The Seed-Bearers. It may be understood to represent all that each being is given by the Universe in every moment.
27 This image is adapted from Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.73, where credit is given to Alinari/Art Resource, New York. Eleusis Museum, Greece.
28 At a subtle level this celebration of deep formlessness is a desire for creation, for emergence of form – polar opposite Beltane. With practice of the whole Wheel of seasonal ritual one begins to get a SENSE of growing dark associated with becoming – this gets “written” into the bodymind – though it may be unconscious scribing for some.
29 Jean Houston uses these words as participants in her exercise “The Realm of the Ancestors” emerge from the “Underworld”. See Jean Houston, The Hero and the Goddess, p.197.
30 A variation of words from Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.190-191.
31 See Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.48-50.
32 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.195-196.
33 Tiamat” is Swimme and Berry’s name for the Supernova that was the Mother of our Solar System, The Universe Story, p.49.
34 Brian Swimme speaks of such feeling in “The Timing of Creativity”, Canticle to the Cosmos, video 10.
35 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.253-254.
36 This way of writing “ReTurning” is inspired by Jennifer Berezan’s CD ReTURNING referred to Ch.7, Eostar ritual footnotes. Joanna Macy also speaks of the “Great Turning” of our times,Coming Back to Life, p.17.
37 Brian Swimme, The Powers of the Universe, lecture 2.
38 Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.49.
39 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.107-109. See also Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance, p.126-131.
40 See Elisabet Sahtouris, ??Earthdance?/, p.134-135, and Ursula Goodenough, The Sacred Depths of Nature, p.143-149.
41 Brian Swimme, Canticle of the Cosmos, video 2.
42 Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p. 241-250.
43 Brian Swimme, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, p.100.
44 Brian Swimme, Canticle to the Cosmos, video 10. See also Appendix A, Thomas Berry’s principle 10.
45 It was traditional for Eleusinian initiates to wear threads. In our current times the thread may also represent the superstrings conjectured by Western science to form the basis of matter: see Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe.
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