And the record for “most time between a High Day and the blog post about it” goes to… This one! Because my desktop computer died on Monday morning and I’ve been spending most of the week trying to do all of the usual post-ritual computer activities on my laptop, which, between the tiny keyboard and my not having set everything up on it (like, say, being able to send files to our Web site), has taken me way longer than usual. So seven days later, here I am, learning all about Open Office Writer and finally getting this thing ready.
Really, other than one difference, it was a fairly typical fall equinox rite for us. Lots of worrying about the weather on my part, with the forecasts for Sunday changing regularly throughout the week. Me having to get an article ready for the new issue of SLN, which I wrote on a day I stayed home sick from work and hopefully doesn’t look like the ramblings of someone who stayed home sick from work. And me trying to get in touch with absolutely anyone associated with the ritual site, a much more difficult task since Don passed away, to make sure they knew we were coming. I even went to the preserve on Tuesday, but other than hearing a dog barking in the bathroom, couldn’t find anyone there. (Remember the dog. That will be important in a bit.) A phone call to Don’s executor and his acknowledging that we could use the site finally put me at ease.
So Saturday finally came, and after a visit to Lansing Pagan Pride Day (a shorter drive from Ann Arbor that Detroit PPD was, sadly) and the Cedarsong Grove booth there, and a trip with my dad, sister, and brother-in-law to our favorite corn maze, I came back to Ann Arbor for Fire Watch. The barking dog was still in the bathroom, and I was worried that it had been stuck there for five days, but this time the light was on so obviously someone had been there. I got the fire started with the firewood I’d brought from home, the Kellers arrived, we blessed the fire, and I stayed for a few hours before heading home. Given how good the weather was, I was really surprised we didn’t have more people there for the fire lighting. (The Kellers attempted to use the bathroom, but the dog was apparently in no mood to share.)
So Sunday morning came, I got the car packed with my ritual items, stopped by Kinko’s (or whatever they’re calling it now) to get the newsletters and orders of service printed, then to Kroger to buy the small gourds we would decorate for our group praise – and they didn’t have any? At all? A quick side-trip downtown to Sparrow and I found some. (The clerk there told me that they had only just received their shipment after waiting all month.) So I managed to get to the preserve just after noon, about when I was expecting to arrive. And that’s when Sean and Kris told me what they’d discovered the night before. I went down to the nemeton to assess the situation, and yep, they were right.
Someone was living in our ritual circle.
The dog, it turned out, belongs to one of Don’s granddaughters, who had set up camp in the nemeton, with her tent’s guy wires tied to our bile, a palette of many boxes sitting next to it, and a cooking pot in our fire circle. And everything covered with tarps. Think “hobo camp”. A quick assessment told me that even if she were willing to let us move everything, it would take ten of us half an hour to do it. So no access to the nemeton for the ritual this time. At all.
Well, every ritual presents its own unique challenges, and some of them are more unique than others. I called Rod to let him know the situation, then spent the next half hour or so looking around the fire circle and trying to figure out how best we could set it up as a ritual circle. Once Rod and Liz arrived with the ritual regalia, setup actually went pretty smoothly, in small part because we didn’t have to carry everything all the way down the trails this time! It wasn’t my ideal situation to have the socializing area and the ritual area be the same, but there wasn’t anywhere else on the site that would have been better, particularly because of our need for a fire circle of some sort. So no tree in the middle this time, instead the fire would be in the center of the space, with the well bowl and a chosen tree on the outer edge of the space.
Folks arrived as usual, including many new folks who could never attend on Saturdays but could on our new Sunday date, and the weather stayed good. Actually, I don’t even think it was cloudy the whole time we were there, despite the earlier forecasts of off-and-on showers all afternoon. The time for the ritual came, we walked over to the house so we could actually process into the circle, and then we processed into the circle.
The ritual itself went pretty darn well, I thought, despite the last-minute sort-of change of venue. Rob (the one who isn’t me) performed the gate opening that he’d written, and everyone liked it. We did our usual decoration of the gourds to honor Ana and the Nature Spirits, and didn’t even run out of gourds, which worried me given that we had nineteen people there and I could only get thirteen gourds. The Stag Dance was a bit clunky – well, clunkier than usual – because we didn’t have a tree in the center, and dancing through the fire would have been, well, not good. So we danced in the open area to the side of the fire circle, by where the tree was. We did manage to get everyone dancing around at the end, though, so all ended up well. (As an aside, Rod said later that he doesn’t like how the dance just kind of peters off at the end, without a definite ending point of some sort. I can see his point, that liturgically and energetically it might be better to have some great gong or clap or something, but I’d never seen any Pagan ritual using a dance as the central part of the rite where they didn’t just let it go until everyone was tired out. Anyone else got experience with that?)
We offered the gourds in the woods – after Kim reminded me about that, I really should remember to use my script when I’m tired and out of breath from dancing – and the omen was good. (Jera – Othala – Perthro: A reference to having established a home, but having to take a chance on moving to a new home? Sounds very appropriate to our situation now.) We blessed and drank cider (thanks to Raven for getting some on the way to the rite, after I’d forgotten), closed things up, and spent a while socializing. (Now that I type that, I wonder if I should have made everyone recess out of the fire circle area before returning for the food and the raffle, but it seemed to work out okay.) The only sad thing about the socializing was finding out via smartphone that we’d missed one of the most impressive comebacks the Detroit Lions have ever pulled off. I knew there was a reason not to do rituals on Sunday! >8)
So for those wondering (and I assume that’s most of you), the Botsford Preserve is being put up for sale. The executor described it as “highly unlikely” that a sale would go through before our Samhain ritual, so we’ve gone ahead and scheduled it there. While it’s possible that the new owner(s) will let us continue to use the nemeton (it’s in the cannot-be-developed section of the property) but we can’t assume that, so we’re treating Samhain as our last ritual in our nemeton after seventeen years. We’ve never held an outdoor High Day ritual anywhere else (not counting our old Lughnasadh festivals) so this is going to be new territory for us, both literally and metaphorically. We may well have to hold our rituals in public parks from now on, but given that most ADF Groves do that, it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world for us. It occurred to me as I was lighting the fire on Saturday night that Shining Lakes Protogrove officially came into existence in September of 1993, making this ritual our eighteenth “birthday”, and maybe it wasn’t a coincidence in the grand scheme of things that our eighteen year old Grove would have to leave its childhood home and find someplace else to live. And that may not be a bad thing, in the long run.
And one last note on this ritual, based on what I did today:
I went to CROP Walk for the second time, hoping to get a better turnout than last year when I was the only one from SLG who walked. Since we’d voted o make this our quarterly service project, several people expressed an interest, but Serena got sick and Candy stayed home to take care of her, and as the walk began, I was the only Grove member in the church. But who should be waiting outside but Brent, who had come to the ritual on Sunday and wanted to join us, but apparently didn’t want to set foot inside the church. (Yes, it was sunny today, so I’m pretty sure he’s not a vampire.)
We did the five mile walk instead of the one mile walk, not too hard for me since I work as a meter reader, and it gave him a chance to ask questions about what we do, and gave me a rare chance to find out what kind of questions someone would ask when they know next to nothing about us. (Psst, folks, you can e-mail me questions too. Just saying.) One of his comments that surprised me? He’s only been to two of our rites, Beltaine and Fall Equinox of this year, and he noted how “low energy” the first one was, compared to the somewhat higher energy of the equinox. It didn’t surprise me that he was expecting more energy at a pagan ritual, of course. (For info on why I don’t think high energy ritual is required – or even advisable – for public rites, see pretty much anything else I’ve ever written.) No, the surprise was that he thought Beltaine was low energy – that has to be our highest energy ritual of the year – and tat the fall rite was higher energy than that? But then he added that after attending a ritual and understanding how our liturgy differs from Wicca and the other traditions he was familiar with, that he had a better feel for what was going on, that the opening of the gates felt stronger to him (some credit to Rob for that) and the calling of the Kindreds and everything else better resonated with him. So is this proof that folks need to work with our system (and probably anyone else’s system too) for a while to get better results from it? Or that I have absolutely no concept of how energy works? Could be either, I suppose, but I’m going with the former.
Oh, and once again, I missed an exciting comeback by the Lions. We may need to consider scheduling Grove events for every game day to make sure they keep winning.
Next week (or maybe sooner), my thoughts on the DC40 silliness and how we Pagans should respond to it.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF