I celebrate most of these rituals with my protogrove, Nemos Ognios. I’m the main liturgist for the grove, so these tend to reflect my own ideas. There is, however, a fair amount of input from those who attend our rituals, and I draw the outlines of the liturgies from ancient sources, so they’re not completely my own.
I am also the main priest. This means that I have very different experiences from the others there, since during most of the ritual what I’m doing is unique. (The same is true of the others who have solo parts, of course.) It also means that I have to keep track of how things are going, and modify if necessary. I’m a little bit like the head priest in Vedic rituals, whose job was to sit apart and make sure things went the way they were supposed to. Except in my case, I’m also one of the ones doing the things.
This second difference is not as great, as far as my own experience of ritual is concerned, than if I were simply attending another group’s ritual, or even one of my own. It is extremely hard for me to throw myself into a ritual, even those in which the responsibility is on the shoulders of others. I’m always analyzing it in my head: why did they do that, and not this? I like that, I’m going to steal it. Why is this at this point in the ritual? God, I hate pretending I’m a tree. And so forth.
As a result of all this, my descriptions of the ritual will tend to focus more on what was done, rather than what was experienced. The mere fact of performing a ritual well is an important experience in itself, though. I believe that a perfect ritual is perfectly in accord with the Xártus of the moment, so performing one well is putting oneself in accord with that moment’s Xártus. This means that even if I don’t have the specific experience a particular ritual, or part of a ritual, calls for, I can come away from it having touched the sacred in a very real sense.
The theoretical order of our rituals (this is an ideal, from which we are theoretically straying in each ritual) is:
Honoring the Earth Mother
Honoring the hearth fire
Lighting the altar fire
Statement of purpose for the ritual
Opening the gates (Janus is our gatekeeper)
Praying to Xáryomen for unity
Offering to the Ancestors
Calling the Shining Ones
Consecrating the sacrifice
Killing the sacrifice
Giving a portion of the sacrifice to the Shining Ones, especially the deity of the occasion
Sharing the sacrifice amongst ourselves
Libation to all the Kindreds
Consecration of the Waters of Life
Sharing of the Waters
Thanking the deity of the occasion
Closing the gates
Extinguishing the altar fire
Offering to the hearthfire
Extinguishing the hearthfire
(The text of the basic ritual can be found on my website, www.ceisiwrserith.com.)
Like I said, this is the ideal; each High Day differs from it in some ways. When I describe the rituals for each, I’ll just mention the ways in which each one is special. The descriptions are of the versions of the rituals as celebrated from Beltane, 2005 – Spring Equinox, 2006.
American Independence Day
Nemos Ognios celebrates the four Gaelic rituals in the Celtic tradition (naturally). Beltane, Lughnasad, and Samhain involve in large part our relationship with the Outsiders (Samhain less than the other two). Brighid’s Day involves the Outsiders, but only by implication; I’ll talk about that in its proper place.
The major them of our Beltane rituals is that we are leaving our winter homes and are going to be spending more time outside. Because of this we have to 1. be purified of the crap that’s built up over the winter, and 2. suck up to the Outsiders who have been outside (of course) all along, and who own the outside world more than we do. The Outsiders get a little confused with the Land Spirits in this ritual, but then in general they can belong to any one of the Kindreds, so that’s no problem.
The major theme of our Beltane rituals is that we are leaving our winter homes and are going to be spending more time outside. Because of this we have to 1. be purified of the crap that’s built up over the winter, and 2. suck up to the Outsiders who have been outside (of course) all along, and who own the outside world more than we do. The Outsiders get a little confused with the Land Spirits in this ritual, but then in general they can belong to any one of the Kindreds, so that’s no problem.
The purpose is declared to be:
To do proper honor to the Spirits of the Wild
To be purified of winter
and to enter summer.
Before the All-Gods are called, we call on Lugh, the deity of the occasions:
In the season to come we will have need of Lugh,
to teach us how to plant,
to teach us how to harvest,
and to protect our lands from those who would harm us.
After calling the All-Gods, we offer milk, bay leaves, and cakes made from spelt to Pales. This is part of the ritual for the Roman Parilia. When Jenni Hunt was in the grove, we celebrated that instead of Beltane, and it seems good to continue to have at least an abbreviated version in our Beltane ritual.
The sacrifice is a bull (a piece of pita bread ritually declared to be a bull), offered to Lugh. It is killed with a spear which we’ve dedicated to Lugh, and use as his image.
Another thing we started when Jenni was in the grove was an offering to Ar nDraiocht Féin. Apparently ADF was incorporated around this date, so we bless and then offer a circle of wood on which we’ve painted the sigil, asking for the blessings of the Kindreds on ADF. In later Roman practice, the purification of sheep that was the purpose of Parilia lost importance, and the day came to be celebrated as the birthday of Rome. This ritual honors what is essentially the birthday of ADF.
We don’t extinguish the hearth; instead we process with it to a spot at which two fires have been built. All the coals (we use incense briquettes) in the hearth are transferred to these lighting them. The fires are always the most popular things about our Beltane rituals. We perform our outdoor rituals in a horse paddock belong to the family of a friend of the grove. Because the ground is dirt, and extends that way for a fair distance, we are able to light some big fires. Each spring, the friend and his family clear the brush on their land, and the fires are built from this. Since most of the trees are either oak or pine, and the oak still has dead (i.e., dry) leaves on it, the fires grow very fast, and are very high, and very hot. They also die down after about 20 minutes. This gives us enough time to pass between them, but they don’t last much beyond that, so they’re easy to extinguish after the ritual.
Once the fires are burning, we burn part of our sacred space. For its gates, we use two poles on either side, each with a grapevine wreath mounted on it, forming the sigil. These are taken to the fire and burned. People then pass through, throwing stuff on the fires that are parts of or symbolize things they want to get rid of that have built up since last fall.
We process away from the fires to a Paganized version of the Padstow carol, led by someone carrying the spear; we are going to the Outsiders under the protection of Lugh.
When the song is over, we stop, and enact a Beltane ritual recorded by Thomas Pennant in eighteenth century Scotland/ We break pieces off a loaf of bread and pray to the Outsiders associated with the three worlds. With each one, the bread is passed around, and at the end of each prayer the pieces are thrown over the left shoulder as offerings. This is also a very popular part of the ritual, with much laughter. Perhaps it should be a bit more grave, but then, laughter is good for banishing.
I’m very proud of the prayers I wrote for this. The original prayers were addressed to animals who killed livestock and crops. That’s still important to us, since even though most of us don’t grow our own food, we do have to eat. I’ve kept those in, in an abbreviated form, but added ones more relevant to most of us. We pray to such spirits as “rabbits and deer who eat our gardens, “ants and termites who destroy our homes,” “bacteria and viruses that carry away our health,” and “sharks and jellyfish that drive us from the ocean.” Each are told, “don’t bother us.”
After a final round dedicated to the Outsiders in all the worlds, we return to the fires. Fatwood is lit from each of them, and put into the cauldron we use for our hearthfire. In this way, our sacred hearth is relit from the pure fire of Beltane. The hearth is offered to.
After the benediction, we recess to a place where we have a barbecue. The Fire Keeper, however, stays behind and gently extinguishes the hearth, with the prayer:
We cover you, Shining One,
not sending you away,
but keeping you with us everywhere.
This is only a smooring until we raise you to a bright blaze again.
In this way, as far as the other people are concerned, the hearth is still burning, and as far as the Fire Keeper is concerned, it’s declared to be still burning ritually, even if it’s not continuing physically.
Beltane is probably our most popular ritual, and brings in the most guests. I think it’s mostly the big fires, although the fact that we can have an outdoor ritual followed by a barbecue, after a New England winter of indoor rituals and meals, is a big draw as well.
I like Beltane myself very much. It does indeed feel purifying. The fact that the fires are so hot really brings this home. I’m the one who gets to sing the verses to the Padstow carol, and I get to drum during it, which is always fun. There are some obscene lines in it (Lugh is described as “going before us, displaying his long spear, O”), which is a nice bit of levity in an otherwise pretty somber ritual. The party afterwards is always very nice, with just the sort of feel one would hope for, coming no doubt from the happiness of being able to be outside again.
AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY
Nemos Ognios works primarily in two traditions, Celtic (Irish, really), and Proto-Indo-European. Midsummers isn’t particularly important to either tradition, so we decided early on to celebrate the Fourth of July instead. This is Holy Day in the third tradition we work in, the American. Jenna and I are both involved in the development of an American Paganism, so it seemed a great idea to shift our observance to it.
The first time we celebrated this day, I tried to stick pretty closely to the standard ADF format. It just didn’t work; things were crammed in in a way that they didn’t naturally go. The next year, we rewrote the ritual from the ground up. We had talked about how there are American ritual forms, but I hadn’t thought to use them when I wrote the ritual. Jenna suggested using the civic ritual format of story-telling and a touch of sermonizing instead. We put a new ritual together based on this, and it worked well, so it’s been our format since.
We do this ritual at my house, indoors because it’s usually very hot outside. Ritual garb is t-shirts and shorts. (This year I’m going to add a pin of Tinkerbell represented as the Statue of Liberty.) Our processional song is Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” When we are all gathered (people start out outside on our deck, and make the short procession into our kitchen), the statement of purpose is from John Adams:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.
We then go into the living room and sit down. The mundus (our offering shaft, which is a tall dark vase) is opened so the Ancestors can be invited to listen as we tell their stories. We then tell those stories, starting with a folktale from the local Indians, the Wampanoags, and then ones from the events starting with the arrival of the Pilgrims, and leading up to the Declaration of Independence.
I then read the Declaration. Everyone stands at the point in the document where independence is actually declared. Up until this year, we rang bells during the reading. I liked that, since the ringing tended to get louder and speed up as I read, so that by the time I was at the end I had to shout. Jenna’s not as big a fan of loud ringing, though, so we’re cutting the ringing out of this point this year.
After I’m doing, Jenna sets up a Liberty pole, and the goddess Liberty is offered to. A candle is lit as her torch.
We then make a statement that Liberty needed a land to dwell in, one it which should could unfold and continue to unfold. This is the occasion for erecting an American flag, and then offering to it.
Praise offerings come next, and then divination. For the divination, we use a traditional American practice: we flip some coins – three quarters; heads good, tails bad. This is a pretty scary way to divine. If we use runes or ogham or something else, there’s room to interpret them in a way that doesn’t say “disaster.” That’s hard to do with coin-flipping. Nevertheless, we’ve gotten three heads each year but the first (we did a lousy job that year, so we deserved the three tails we got), either on the first time, or after a second round of offerings and/or oaths.
Our Waters of Life are mixed from honey water and milk. This is a deliberate use of biblical imagery, based on the use of America as the “New Jerusalem” throughout our history, and especially by the Founders. Before we drink, I offer the toast that John Adams wrote a few days before he died: “Independency forever!”
Following the continuing theme of Liberty unfolding, and as a recognition that she doesn’t belong just to us, we say this prayer:
we pray to you today.
Grant freedom to all your children,
no matter their country.
We take time today to remember
the examples of freedom we have seen in our time.
We remember the citizens of Berlin,
who knew that the best use for a wall is to dance upon it.
We remember those who stood in the Russian Parliament Square,
and waited for the tanks to come.
And we remember those who struggled and failed,
such as the martyrs of Tiananmen Square,
who, after raising a statue to you,
faced the tanks and lost.
We will not forget.
I make Jenna say this one, because I can’t get through it. I choke up at the part about the Berlin Wall. When I was a kid, I went to East Berlin. I saw the Wall. I know what it meant. I still can’t look at images of it coming down without tearing up.
At the end of this prayer, I place a replica of the Goddess of Democracy raised in Tiananmen Square in front of the Liberty pole and flag.
We then say a prayer that to me sums up what not just the ritual, but the whole point of America is all about:
The work is not ended. The Declaration of Independence was not an end.
The Declaration of Independence was a beginning, a beginning of the unfolding of the American dream.
For America is not a geographical location, or a government, or even a group of people.
America is an idea,
and this idea is not completely fulfilled.
This is followed by Martin Luther King’s speech, with the scary words:
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This leads to more ringing of bells (which Jenna is letting me keep in this year) along with another part of that speech:
Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
I speak this one, even though I have troubles getting through it too.
After some closing prayers, the ringing starts up again. It gets louder and louder, and I shout the words inscribed on the Liberty Bell, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof!” The bells continue to get louder, and when they’ve gotten about as loud as they can, I shout, “The rite is not ended!” and we recess.
This ritual moves me deeply. I frequently have to stop partway through prayers to compose myself. The ritual is very personal to me – references to the Berlin Wall and Tiananmen square strike to the heart.
I’m happy to say that even though I wrote so personal a ritual (and felt guilty about that, since I was supposed to be writing it for others), it has proven to have great appeal. It’s fairly well attended. This year I planned to cut the prayer with the Berlin Wall in it, so as to decrease the personal level, but Jenna wouldn’t let me; she found in meaningful as well.
The ritual is a work in progress, but we plan to keep on doing it.
This is my least favorite of our High Day rituals. I base it pretty closely Maire MacNeill’s reconstruction of an Irish Pagan one, (The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest. London: Oxford University Press, 1962, pp. 419 – 426), but it still leaves me sort of cold.
The premise of the ritual is that now that we’ve planted in the fields allowed us by the Outsiders/Land Spirits, the lands we asked rather nicely for at Beltane, we’ve earned the right to be considered by them as equals. Not only that, we claim the right for our Champion, Lugh, to be accepted by them as their own High King. He’s earned this right by killing the Black Bull who had previously held the title. By being sacrificed, though, the Bull, previously a being associate with the dark and the Underworld, is raised to the status of a Shining One. This is largely influenced by Vedic mythology, in which Varuna, originally a god of the Underworld waters, becomes the guardian of the sacred law, and is joined with the god Mitra, who as a god of contract and kingship can be seen as equivalent to Lugh, so closely that references to Mitra in the Rig Veda are almost always in the dual form “Mitravaruna.” The idea of “sacrifice” as “making sacred” is also in play here. The defeat of the Bull by Lugh comes from MacNeill.
The god of the occasion is, of course, Lugh
I do think that this ritual contains some of my best writing. The beginning of the particular Lughnasad section is this, for instance:
Since Beltane we have worked,
we have cleared and we have planted,
taking our fields from the unmarked lands,
measuring our world out in their midst
and in the midst as well of those who dwell there,
those who dwell beyond the borders,
those who dwell in the surrounding lands.
At Beltane we made offering to assuage the Outsiders
to appease them and please them
to win from them their grudging consent
for us to form our island world,
our homes, our culture, our people, our fields,
within the great surrounding sea.
All this was done on the land that had lain untilled.
All this was done with the consent of that land's ruler.
All this was done under the gaze of Crom Dubh!
We identify the sacrifice as a bull, and specifically as Crom Dubh, whom we call “Black Bull.” We next call on Lugh, and ask him to be our Champion.
People are asked to bring first fruits, either literal first fruits, such as something from their garden, or symbolic ones, such as some of the money they’ve earned during the year. This is taken, together with the body of the bull, outside of our ritual space. There we charge the Outsiders/Land Spirits to acknowledge Lugh as their king and return the body of the bull into the world below by putting it into a pit we dug before the ritual. This is followed by the first fruits. We take in return a bowl of wild food gathered before the ritual (we’ve used anything from berries to clover). By this exchange, we establish a treaty peace between us and those outside. The wild food is brought to the space, the peace is announced, and everyone shares the food.
After praise offerings, the head of the bull is transfixed with Lugh’s spear, held up for a few moments, and then put into the fire. The prayer for this is:
Beheaded, buried, and burnt.
Crom Dubh, you have well undergone the necessary sacrifices.
Go, now, to the celestial realms,
where dwell the shining ones.
Take your seat among them,
as ruler beside Lugh.
The ritual then continues as usual.
Like I said, I don’t find this ritual very satisfying, even though I’m very fond of the words. Perhaps it’s that it’s too Reconstructionist, however shocking that idea might be. I don’t know. I do know, however, that I’m going to talk this year’s over with Jenna with the intent of seeing if we can revise it so as to make it more meaningful. This assumes, of course, that others don’t find it meaningful already. If they do, I’m going to have to tough it out.
Nemos Ognios celebrates the equinoxes in the Proto-Indo-European tradition. This is because they don’t fit into the Celtic one, but the spring equinox definitely does, and the fall one can be put in. We celebrate it as a harvest ritual, so the purpose is “to honor Dhégyho:m Má:tr, mother of the world.”
The part specific to this day begins after call the All-Gods. After calling to Dhégyh?m Má:tr (“Earth Mother”), we pour melted butter into a hole in the ground. This is meant to moisten the earth, which has dried in the summer heat, and return a portion of the gifts given to us threw the essence of the gift of the cow, the archetypal PIE symbol of wealth. A piece of pita bread is dedicated to her, and spread with more butter. We pray:
Gift of ground, milk of cows,
may we be rich in both.
We put this into the hole we’ve poured the butter into already.
Our Fire Tender then mixes flour, salt, and water together to form a dough, which she divides in three. She fills a spoon with butter, and cooks each piece of dough over the altar fire, while praying:
Hair and blood of the Mother [with the first]
from our work
through the gold of the cow
and the holy fire [with the second]
to Her. [with the third]
While she does this, everyone else sings a song in Dhégyho:m Má:tr’s praise, while stroking the earth gently. After each piece is cooked, it’s put into the hole.
The hole is then filled:
Children grow hidden in the womb
and in their time spring out from the darkness
for our strength.
More butter is poured on the dirt:
Fuel for the fires of Mother Earth,
for her hearth and her fires of offering.
Her children, people and cattle, promise her this.
Two pieces of bread are identified as sows and sacrificed. One is put on top of the filled-in hole, and the other is shared by those present.
The ritual continues to the end as usual, the thanks to Dhégyho:m Má:tr being:
Having given you your due
we bid you farewell, Mother Earth.
But how can we do that, with you all around us?
How can we do that with you always in our hearts?
Not a farewell, then, but a giving of thanks
and a promise to remember you throughout our days.
I’m rather fond of this ritual from a technical point of view. It’s actually one of our shortest ones, clocking in at around 45 minutes, but is pretty elaborate in its own way, with the large number of offerings into the hole the ground. The use of butter is particularly PIE, and since we use clarified melted butter, the pouring is very pretty. I got the idea of cooking the dough in the ritual from part of the Umbrian Bronze Tablets of Iguvium. It seemed appropriate to make this part of the actual ritual itself; that sort of detail was found in many ancient rituals.
I confess that the Earth Mother doesn’t play a large role in my own cult, and is only briefly honored in our grove ones. It was a bit of a surprise, then, to discover that I was greatly moved by the stroking of the ground. It was such a caring, loving gesture; I was almost acting as a mother to the Mother. Others who’ve attended the ritual have had the same experience.
It’s no surprise that this sees us return to an Irish ritual. Here we gather:
To honor the Ancestors in the proper manner,
to invite the dead among us that we might feast together.
We wait in the dark.
on this their feast day.
We offer silver and beans to the mundus, and call for the dead to join us. We use beans because of the Roman custom of offering them to the dead. We next call on Donn, first to die, and lord of Tech Duin “Island of Donn,” the land of the dead, to be with us. We direct this prayer and make offerings to a plaster skull which we’ve just uncovered. (It glows in the dark, and our Samhain rituals are outdoors at night, so it’s quite impressive.)
We then pass a bowl of beans around and each person gets to put some in while calling out a name of one or more of the Ancestors. When everyone is finished, more are offered:
For all the dead who have no descendants,
and for all those whose descendants do not offer to them,
these beans, that they might be strong.
This one chokes me up; the sadness of unhonored dead is overpowering.
All this has been done outsider of our ritual space, to which we then process. We usually deal with the Outsiders when we create sacred space, but at Samhain we want to make a bigger deal out of it. This is partly because we are now going to enter the indoor portion of the year, so we need to separate ourselves more firmly than usual. Mainly, however, it is the end of the cycle of the dealings with the Outsiders. At Beltane, we bought them off; at Lughnasad we approached them as equal; at Samhain, grown strong by the final harvest, and accompanied by our dead and our Champion Lugh, we admonish them; we establish dominance over them.
We do things opposite from our usual way. As priest, I usually face the east, at Samhain I face west; everything usually done with the right hand we do with the left; things usually done clockwise, we do counterclockwise. That sort of thing is traditional in rites involving the dead.
After calling the All-Gods, we honor the Ancestors with prayer again. We then proclaim the end of the year, and with that extinguish our flames. We sit with the Ancestors in the dark and cold for a while, and then, to restart both time and space, as a new year. we light a new hearth, and then a new altar fire. From this, we light torches and bring them to the four corners where fires have already been prepared, which we light. This is to replicate the old Irish tradition of extinguishing the fires in Ireland, lighting a new one at Tara (making it the hearth of all Ireland), and then carrying fire from it to the four provinces to relight the hearths there.
We offer a sow (dark pita bread) to the Ancestors, but don’t share any of it ourselves. Instead, we cut two pieces from it, one from the top and one from the bottom, and offer them into the mundus as the first and second offerings.
The ritual continues as usual. The divination specifically asks for wisdom from the Ancestors. Before the two main fires are extinguished, the corner ones are as well. There isn’t much made about this; they have to be extinguished at some point, and it doesn’t seem right to have them continuing to burn after the altar and hearth are out.
We recess in silence, carrying the skull and the last piece of bread. When we get to where our feast will be, we set the skull up with the bread in front of it. We then feast.
After the feast, some of us return, with the skull and the bread, to the ritual space. We put them down in front of the mundus, and clean up the space, putting our stuff into my car, leaving only the skull, mundus, the tile we use to cover it, and a bowl of water. When we’re done, we put the bread in the mundus, saying: “Ancestors, receive all of the sacrifice.” We say a farewell to the dead, cover the mundus, and then purify ourselves to separate ourselves from death.
This is a very effective ritual. Doing it outdoors at night means that there is a big contrast between light and dark, warmth and cold. The first time we did it, we put the part where we offer into the mundus later in the ritual, so we had to leave the space to go to it. That night was a record cold, and we were all freezing (except for Jenna, who got to sit by the fire to tend it) – by the time we got to drink the Waters, (spiced cider) there was ice floating in them. When we went through the gates, though, it was as if the temperature dropped 10 degrees. We all felt it. Now, our space is marked out with poles at the corner, with pairs of poles with grape vine wreaths on them (making the sigil) for gates, so the only walls are those we’ve ritually constructed. It was one of those “wow; this stuff really works” moments. As the person who’s written most of our rituals, this surprises me more than others; it’s a shock to see my own words and actions have such a physical affect.
I feel the presence of the Ancestors very strongly during the ritual. Our naming (and the mention of the unnamed) makes them feel really close. The feast has a different feel than usual; it isn’t so much like a usual part, with people clumping together into small groups, even if those groups do change their makeup during it. Instead, it really feels like family.
The return to close the mundus is a little creepy. At this point there are only a few of us. This makes the short ritual more eerie. We’ve really separated ourselves. We do the extremely mundane work of packing up, but even that is under the watch of the Ancestors. Then, with nothing left around us – no extra ritual items, not many people – we face death directly. All of this has been done in the dark, of course, except for the light from open car doors, and now the presence of dark and death really comes home. I’m glad I’m not alone. We give the final piece of the sacrifice to the Ancestors so as to not eat the food of the dead, and to provide them with food for the journey. After this final honoring, we say goodbye and separate ourselves to join the living. It’s a very powerful moment, one that I’m glad I wrote.
Yule is a tough one for our grove to celebrate. Since it doesn’t form part of either the Celtic or the PIE years, none of us feel a compulsion to observe it. Add in how hectic that time of year can be (and one year when I had whooping cough), and it’s no surprise that we’ve only celebrated it once in the life of the grove, and even then not very successfully. For this Yule, we’re going to try a very stripped-down ritual; the short generic one that we use for our meetings, bracketing a party. Maybe we can pull that one off.
Instead, I celebrate Yule with my family. The only Pagan festivals we celebrate are Samhain, Yule, Brighid’s day, and in a low-key manner, Beltane. Of these, Yule is by far the most popular.
We celebrate it as a festival of light. Over our kitchen table, we stretch garlands of gold beads, on which we hang Christmas decorations which are either suns or gold balls. This stays up till New Year’s.
After a nice dinner, on good china, we clear the table and then cover it with dozens of candles. We turn off all the lights in the house, and then I pray:
This is the long night.
This is the cold night.
This is the dark night.
But in the dark, a hope.
I strike a match and light a large candle in the center of the others. Using matches, we then transfer fire from it to the others. When all are burning, we go through the house and turn on all the lights. This is the first night I turn on our outdoors Christmas lights. We are thorough to the point of opening the doors of the stove, microwave, and dryer.
With everything lit, we sit around the table, eat cookies, drink eggnog, and play with the candles. The playing with the candles is the highpoint for my wife and daughter. When we got married, my wife was very uncomfortable with fire. Now she’s a bit of a pyromaniac. There’s a far amount of pouring wax into the dishes in which a lot of them are set, making sure they burn evenly, covering fingers with thin coats of wax and then sliding them off to form a collection of wax fingers, etc. There’s also a fair amount of family talking; the atmosphere is a lot like Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to sharing it with a son-in-law and grandchildren. I think it will be a bonding experience for everyone.
When all the lights are on, all the candles are lit, and we’re sitting at our table underneath a canopy of golden ornament, all reflecting the light, I feel like the house is throbbing. I’m pretty picky about not having lights on that we’re not using, so the sudden excess is pretty powerful. I can feel all of them on, even though I’m sitting in the kitchen.
This is a ritual that I love, partly because of the wonderful feeling of light and warmth (which can last for days), but mainly because I love my family, and love spending time with them.
I celebrate this day both with my family and with my grove. I’d like to talk about my family ritual, but the one my grove uses is based on the same sources, so there’s not much difference, outside of the grove’s ADF format.
The bases of the ritual are the Irish folk customs related by Kevin Danaher in The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs. (Minneapolis, MN: Irish Books and Media, 1972.) They revolve around the saint/goddess Brighid. (I try to be agnostic about whether any particular folk custom has a Pagan origin, but ones with Christian origins might still be suitable for Pagans, just as traditional Catholics adopted many Pagan ones.) Brighid is our hearth goddess, so it’s especially important that we make a big deal about the day.
I begin by removing the rush Brighid’s cross that hands above our stove, and putting it outside. I put the oil lamp which sits next to the stove outside with the cross. After lighting it, I get the family together, and we go to the door. We say, :”Brighid, Brighid; come in, come in; you are thrice welcome.” We open the door, pick up the cross and lamp, and bring them to each room in the house. In each, we hold them up, and say, “Brighid, Lady of Fire, watch over this [bedroom, hall, stairwell, etc.] When we do the room with the furnace and water heater in it, I mark a small Brighid’s cross on them with charcoal.
When all the other rooms are done, we go to the kitchen. The cross and lamp are returned to their places; there is an icon of Brighid which I painted behind the lamp. (See the section on my shrines.) We then say a prayer to Brighid to watch over the whole house. The lamp is allowed to burn a while. I find this ritual charming. When my daughter was little, she insisted on being the one who carried the cross (good thing she didn’t insist on the lamp), and on being the only one to say the prayer. That was fine with me – it got her involved, it’s traditional for an unmarried woman to serve as Brighid, and it was cute.
I like having this one time of the year to honor Brighid in a special way. I try to offer her milk once a week, and she’s included in the house deities I pray to each night, but she deserves something special, something participated in by everyone who lives in the house.
Like the Fall Equinox, Nemos Ognios celebrates the Spring one in the Proto-Indo-European tradition. It was probably a pretty important day in PIE times, likely the beginning of the new year.
We observe it as a feast in honor of the dawn and spring goddess Xausós (“Rising,” > Eostre, Eos, Aurora, Eos, etc.) and her brothers/lovers, the Diwós Sunú (“Sons of the God” (Dy??us Pt??r)). After the All-Gods are honored, she is invoked, three times with a horn and an offering of honey-milk. She is asked to come “as cow, not as mare.” This is based on the Indo-European imagery of the cow as the beneficent, maternal female, and the mare as the dangerous, sexually-charged one. Dawn is ambivalent: she brings light, but each day is one less we have to live. Xausós may bring each day according to the Divine Laws, but will she always? So we call to her to come to us in a blessing form.
We represent Xausós in the form of a pole with dawn-colored ribbons at its top – various shades of pink, from very dark to very light, and with some gold of the sun she will bring added. I really like this image. I only wish that we could use a much longer pole. Because we perform the ritual in my cellar, we have to use one that’s no longer than can be lifted up some before it’s put into place. If we could do it in a room with a high ceiling, it would look great to have a really long one, with even more and longer ribbons.
Xausós is declared to have come as cow, not as mare, and is invited to enter the space with her maidens, between two poles that are images of the Diwós Sunú. These images are also poles with ribbons at the top, only in this case they are the colors of fire, with a bit of black mixed in with one and white in with the other, to stand for the fact that although they are twins, they are different.
We next sacrifice a horse to the Diwós Sunú. The ritual then continues as usual to the end.
I find this ritual very cheery. There is a short time of the ritually-appropriate uncertainty, but this is followed by the relief that spring brings after a long, dark winter. The newness and youth of the goddess of Spring encourages me in any darkness ahead.