Preparations for our Beltaine weekend events actually began on the 22nd, when Gen and I went to the nemeton to clean it up and assess any big things that had happened over the winter and absolutely had to be dealt with, like, say, trees falling into the middle of the circle. And we found… two trees that had fallen into the middle of the circle. It was sad to see that they had fallen because a larger tree had fallen and knocked them both over. (The interconnectedness of all living things has its down side!) After twenty minutes with an axe, I managed to shorten one of them, but the other two were way thicker, so I sent out a message to the Grove mailing list asking for someone to bring a chainsaw or just be better with tree-cutting implements than I am. Other than that, the nemeton was in good shape, and just needed some raking and stick-picking-up.
So a week later, I got to the circle early to get the new Grove Flame started and enjoy the many hundreds of trilliums that always adorn the preserve this time of year. The late sunset and warm weather meant that fifteen people were there for the fire blessing! After socializing for a few hours, I went to Rod’s house to load the ritual props into the car, since he and Liz had a wedding to attend on Saturday and wouldn’t be at the rite. After getting back to the site and unloading everything, I slept in the car for about four hours, which was actually more comfortable than I’d have expected. (Not as comfy as my last car was, though.) It was nice being able to open my eyes and see the fire without having to be, y’know, lying on the cold hard ground and stuff.
At 4, Dot returned to the site, and between our two cars we had room for all eight of the folks still at the preserve to go to the Dawn Rite. We got a late start, around 5, but since Fox couldn’t attend this year (more on that later) we didn’t have to spend time canoeing out into the lake. After our traditional stop at the Ormond Rd. gas station for a paper funnel (and Sean getting four coffees, no not all for himself), we got to the lake right around 6, giving us plenty of time to make our offerings, sing our song, gather the water, and walk up to the oak tree to await the sunrise. Well, the theoretical sunrise, while it didn’t rain while we were there, the cloud cover was heavy, and we saw several flashes of heat lightning bouncing around in the clouds. I think it was the windiest Dawn Rite I’ve seen as well. At around the time of sunrise, Diane held the bowl of water aloft and we sang our blessing song. We stopped by the headwaters of the Huron on the way back (after I completely missed the sign on the first pass – help, I’ve lost our river!) and only ran into a smidgeon of graduation traffic on the way back to the nemeton. (President Obama was the commencement speaker, and everyone was told to be at the stadium no later than 9, so we were expecting it at least.)
I drove home, past the bumper-to-bumper traffic headed toward the stadium, to shower and change at home, then picked up wine (I forgot to order the May Wine far enough ahead, and as usual even our nicest Ann Arbor wine stores don’t carry it) and the last few ritual supplies and got back to Botsford a bit before noon, to find everyone listening to the President’s speech on an iPhone. (Gods I need better tech.) Carrying the props down to the nemeton, I was happy to see that Dot had brought a bow-saw with her and Sean had managed to remove the remaining two trees already! Dylan and I got the nemeton set up (and I realized how long it’s been since I set up a ritual space without Rodney there) while the other folks tied the ribbons to the Maypole topper. We had the Maypole set up and everything ready at about 1:30, and having time to prepare mentally for the ritual without worrying about the nemeton always makes me happy!
Of course, with graduation traffic still milling about, folks arrived later than usual, and we didn’t get started until after 3. Anne arrived, but apparently never got the e-mail I sent her about making the cookies for the May King/Queen selection, and so hadn’t made them. Ick. Well, part of being the ritual leader is dealing with the unexpected things that the Fates throw at you. I went with a quick improv and had Anne pick a number from 1 to 25 and counted around the circle clockwise to select… Barbara. (Was it a fair way to select by lots? Maybe not, but I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of time on the selection process at that point, and since I’d chosen Anne to provide the randomization factor, it seemed the fairest way to do it quickly.)
So with Barbara crowned and the sun peeking through the clouds, we processed down to the nemeton, for the traditional Beltaine “blessings” of bubbles, glitter gel, and a water squirter. With Janek constantly signaling me to pick him up, I somehow managed to get my offerings made to Ana and the Shining Ones and Aren, our Deity of the Occasion. We passed around a flask of oil as the focus object for our individual praise, but it was a fairly quiet group this time around. (Shame on me for not having time to write a song this year!) Fortunately the group praise was much more boisterous, with the Song of Transcending the Boundary (known to some as the Hokey Pokey) and the Maypole dance. The ribbons weren’t long enough to tie up the May Queen this year, though, and with a tall May Queen I wouldn’t have expected that to be a problem! (I would note that the dance was actually the most coordinated one we’ve had at a ritual, which confirms the suspicion I’ve had for many years: it’s actually the presence of Rodney that makes the dance get messed up. I knew he was doing it deliberately! But how?)
For the main sacrifice, we poured the oil on the fire and Barbara jumped over it successfully, without lighting her skirt or anything else. Kestrel took the omen, which was good (Ehwaz, Fehu, Jera). and so we drank the “May Wine” (actually Lake Effect Winery’s Black and Blue Wine) and sparkling raspberry, and everyone had the chance to jump the fire themselves.
After closing up the rite, we went back up to the fire circle for the potluck and the raffle, which had the special big item of an afghan made by Jude (yet) but only brought in forty dollars (sigh, why do the outdoor rites never get as many donations?), and socializing, and also a brief meeting of the proto-forming local Bardic Guild of Paul, Vale and Barbara. I’m very glad that enough people stayed long enough to clean up the nemeton at least, cutting the ribbons off the Maypole by myself would have been quite the challenge! The one really annoying part of the cleanup was the trash bag splitting in two right before I got to the car, forcing me to pick it all up by hand. Eww. (Coulda been worse, though, it could have split open after I put it in the car.) Memo to self: Buy the expensive trash bags for the Hospitality Bin next time.
And after twenty four hours of ritual and four hours of sleep, I still managed to go up to Fox and Janet’s farm for the first time. Saturday was a planting day for them, so none of their family could attend the rites, but it’s good to see them living the agricultural sustainability dream, and hopefully we’ll be able to bring up the flame from next month’s Fire Watch and throw burning embers into the green crops, as the Irish used to do at the summer solstice, and as we did (and will do again) for our Grove wheat.
So all it all, it was a really great weekend. I’m sad that so many of our regulars couldn’t be there, but we did see a lot of new faces, and just had a fun time and honored Aren, and that’s the important part. Ah, but if only the President had stopped by on his way back to Washington… (And I really should have hired some actors to dress up as Secret Service and come down to the circle in the middle of the ritual. It would totally have been worth it.)
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF