The mostly sunny skies tempted us with the possibility of our first completely rain-free outdoor rite this year. The people were gathered, the nemeton was set up, the dancers had actually gotten some practice in so they wouldn’t look completely ridiculous… The stage was set for us to try out something new!
As I mentioned last week, Rodney had proposed that we try out some more formal invocations for the opening part of our rite. In order to make surer that we kept things consistent, Rod and I performed all of the ritual roles ourselves, except for the Purifiers (difficult for two of us to do three roles at once, even as wonderfully talented as we are) and the Stag Dancers (same problem but with four roles at once, and I doubt I’ll ever convince Rod to dance at a ritual). I planned out what I wanted to say, but didn’t write any of it down, while Rodney wrote everything down but then spoke from memory. The invocations were good, I thought. Mine were only a little more formal than I usually do them. Rodney’s were much more involved than his usual, and very good, and I hope he posts some of them as a comment here. >8) Folks talking to me afterwards were very impressed with his Outsiders offering in particular.
And yet, it didn’t feel quite right to me. The words were good, but they felt like a square peg in a round hole, or vice versa. The energy of the circle stayed low, so low that I actually had us do a wave chant to start off the individual praise. (And those of you who know me personally and know how much I prefer low-energy ritual can appreciate how low the energy must have been for *me* to worry about it.) Once we got the praise going, things got better, everyone seemed to enjoy the gourd painting, and the Stag Dance went off as well as usual. And as Rodney always says, the omen was good (Ansuz – Sowilo – Perthro), and nobody died. Really, there weren’t even any major flubs, or even minor flubs, in the course of the rite. We didn’t even need to send anyone back to the fire circle because we’d forgotten something up there, and that happens to us at darn near every ritual.
So why the issues at the beginning of the rite? I’m tempted to blame the fact that we did it during the first half of the football game when the Wolverines fell behind 19-0, which must have cause a huge wave of negative energy to engulf all of Ann Arbor. If only we’d done the rite during the second half! Why couldn’t it have been an early game? No, seriously, after talking it over with people after the rite and thinking about it, I’m sure it’s the combination of two issues:
1) It’s the Fall Equinox rite. Nobody ever gets excited about the Fall Equinox rite. It doesn’t have any great, grand associations with ancient traditions (heck, the Wiccans named their version of the holiday after a Welsh mythic figure who had nothing to do with autumn), nor any real correspondence to any current holiday. Even Spring Equinox at least has some Eastery associations for us moderns. Only 18 people showed up for the rite this time, and that’s more than we usually get!
2) More important, I think, is the big change we made to our liturgy. Not the wording of the invocations, but the participation factor. Our Grove has always been one to encourage everyone to take a part in the openings and closings, and shutting everyone out of that had a dampening effect on everyone’s enthusiasm. Until the praise offerings got going, people weren’t involved in the rite, they were merely watching it. I can’t think of any good way to have gotten around that and still done the more formal invocations. (I’m sure having everyone read from scripts would have been just as bad, if not worse – we are so not a script-using Grove.)
Afterwards, Rodney pointed out that his aim in doing the formal stuff was to inspire people to put more thought into how they handle the ritual roles, to show them that their words can be a little more focused and eloquent. I hope that it had that effect, and time will tell. But even more than that, it’s shown me how important it is to have everyone in the rite participate in the ritual roles. It’s up to all of us to make our workings good, to honor the Kindreds and keep our tradition going forward.
(And if you want to perform a ritual role but you don’t know what to say, we do have some standardized ones written on notecards than you can use. We don’t expect everyone to be an improv expert. >8)
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF
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