So in last week’s article here, I was already worrying about the prospect of rain on Saturday right during our solstice ritual, especially after last year’s downpour. And right up until Thursday night, the Weather Channel was saying 60% chance of thunderstorms between 2 and 5 PM. But as summer storms often do, this one sped through quickly, and by Friday the prediction was for lots of rain Friday night, some rain Saturday morning, and none after noon. So no postponement of the ritual, and onward we went!
The “lots of Friday night rain” bit certainly came through. It rained heavily as I brought the candle carrying the Grove flame down to the fire circle, and I managed to get the resin sticks lit and into the firewood while Kris held her umbrella over it. It took a while for anything but the resin stick to catch fire, and I was genuinely getting worried, but the wood did eventually take. A few lightning flashes and thunderclaps later, Kris had run up to her car, leaving me, Sean, Rod and Liz to bless the fire in the rain. (Hmm, “bless the fire in the rain”, sounds like a song lyric.) After unloading the various ritual gear I had brought into the safety of the firewood stand, I left with Gen (who hadn’t even gotten out of the car) and Rod and Liz left as well. Sean and Kris stayed the night, and I’m told Mike and Allison came out later and they all tended the fire through the sporadic heavy storms through the night. (I still think the Grove should pay them for actually managing to do that.)
Saturday morning was sunny, so I rode with Gen into Ann Arbor, then took the bus to the corner of Maple and Miller and walked to Botsford from there. Gen thought I was insane for not just waiting at the flower store for her to drive in, or at least driving to Botsford and then back to downtown to pick her up, but when leading the ritual I prefer to spend at least an hour before the rite getting attuned to the space. (See, I can be spiritually finicky sometimes!) So I got there around quarter to one, got the fire circle area set up, and then Rod and Liz arrived, bring both the ritual regalia and new member Barbara with them, so we got the circle set up earlier than usual. Rod suggested a few different things to do for the ritual, as he often does after going to Wellspring or other festivals and seeing how other Groves do things. >8) Nothing major, though, he recommended that we have a sacrificer make the offerings rather than the person saying the invocation (which I’ve seen done before at ADF rites, so I knew it was a decent idea, just different from how we’ve done it before) and also to pause after the portal openings and Kindred invocations to tell people to feel the presence of the portals/Kindreds (which I hadn’t seen before, but sounded reasonable enough as long as it didn’t take like five minutes at a time).
Ritual time came, and people came, some later than usual. (And after we had the nemeton ready early, aww, I was tempted to actually start at 2 this time!) With a decent mix of our established members and some new faces as well, we started late (nearly 3 I think?) because it took us so long to get the ritual fire started in the nemeton, but things went very smoothly. Bright sunlight lit the leaves of the trees above us, but very little direct sun came down to the nemeton itself, which suits my skin just fine! Liz and Barbara acted as sacrificers and it went well, we may well make that change permanent, and also the pause to feel the portal/Kindred presence was good. When we passed the focus object around the circle, about half of the people there had something to say aloud, way more than we usually get out of our quiet bunch. With a new baby (the first High Day rite for Jan’, Paul and Val’s three-week-old), some job interviews for our “employment challenged” members, and word that Nancy’s cancer surgery had gone well the day before, I guess we had a lot of things to praise! We had also asked folks to bring along the first fruits of their garden to offer, but only Gen, Anne and I brought anything. And all I brought were a few leaves from the basil and mint plants I have growing in my window. Well, traditions sometimes need time to get popular! The group offering of flax seed into the fire, and our traditional “Sun Litany” where folks cheer both Bel and Danu, both went well, and when we burned the sun wheel, despite the wetness of the wood and the difficulty we had starting the nemeton fire, it went up quickly and beautifully. The omen was good (Algiz – Thurisaz – Sowilo, “the power of the sun protects us”), and so we blessed and drank the lemonade (“Behold, the lemonade of life!”) and burned sheets of paper upon which we had written things we wanted Bel and Danu to help us increase in our lives. We then welcomed Barbara as a new member, and Paul and Val held the cauldron (and Jan) for the cauldron blessing.
Back up at the ritual circle, Matt Rindfleisch (friend of mine and Gen’s) had finally shown up as he had promised, and after spending way too much time assembling the grill he had just bought, made hot dogs. The potluck actually had a good selection this time, there were meats *and* starches *and* desserts, and plenty to go round. The only downer was the muddiness of the area around the fire circle. Whle the nemeton and the path down to it were fairly mud-free after Friday’s rains, the torrents had washed away a lot of the wood chips used around the upper circle, and there was a lot of open muddy ground. In my sandals, my feet were pretty well mud-caked by the time we packed up and went home. I think most folks stayed until at least 6, maybe we need to change the listed times for the rituals on our calendars, it seems like people are staying later and later. (Of course, if it actually had been raining the whole afternoon, I imagine folks wouldn’t have stayed!)
So, even beyond Rodney’s criteria of “there was a good omen and no one died”, I think this was a really good ritual, nothing exceptional or mind-blowing to it, but if the point of regular public ritual is (as I think it should be) to provide stability and comfort to the people as well as to honor the Kindreds, then this one was a perfect example of how to accomplish that.
Next week, I may actually write something about Pagan values, like everyone else has been doing for June. Well, one value in particular, and I bet it’s one that very few others have talked about. Which one? Stay tuned! (Wait, can one stay tuned to a Web page? What would the new equivalent be, “Keep refreshing”?)
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF