Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.
Reflections on "The Union of Earth and Sky"
In the process of designing and teaching a course called Ritual Theory & Liturgical Design at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU), I was digging through some of my old materials and found this reflection from 1999. I'd been thinking about some of the things I learned from this particular ritual, "The Union of Earth and Sky: A Ceremony for Thor and Freyr," created by Sparky T. Rabbit. I was really glad to have found this because it's much fresher than anything I could write from this distance in time.
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We five in red and gold proceeded through the encampment to a drumbeat. Activity ceased and all became hushed at our approach. Step by step, we walked up to the site of the sacred circle. We turned deosil just inside of the Guardian of the North, and dropped out under a tree, facing inward, behind Cloud, our Eastern Guardian. As we turned toward the center, we saw following us the Man in the Moon and the Night-Time Stars, who proceeded to the West to stand behind that Guardian. Behind them mighty Thor and his petite, black-gowned rune-bearer, followed by beautiful Freyr, his rune-bearer sister to Thor’s.
Two by two, hand in hand, the People formed a double circle around the sacred space. Every face beamed a wide smile. Drummers and musicians dropped into their places.
Two black-robed Voices, one round, one slender, began, one Voice at a time: “The People have gathered.” The People repeated, “The People have gathered.” First Voice said, “We are here in this place together,” and the People repeated, “We are here in this place together.” Then Second Voice said, ““We are here in this place together,” with the People repeating, “We are here in this place together.”
Then each Quarter spoke, was welcomed, and offerings made to the Ancestors.
First Voice sang, “The Sun!” The People sang, “The Sun!” First Voice sang, “The Sun!” The People sang, “The Sun!” Cloud gently parted the circle when we were summoned by the Voices and the People. Second Voice sang, “The Sun!” The People sang, “The Sun!” Second Voice sang, “The Sun!” The People sang, “The Sun!”
We circled deosil in the center of the circle, speaking in unison: “I am Mother Sun.” The People spoke: “I am Mother Sun.” We spoke: “I travel the sky in My daylight ship.” The People spoke: “I travel the sky in My daylight ship.” We spoke: “I travel the sky as a fiery wheel.” The People spoke: “I travel the sky as a fiery wheel.” We spoke: “I shine for all.” The People spoke: “I shine for all.” We spoke: “I burn for all.” The People spoke: “I burn for all.”
First Voice sang, “She shines for all!” followed by the People singing the same. Then First Voice sang, “She burns for all!” The People sang it.
First Voice asked, “Why have you come to us, Mother Sun?” After the People repeated this, Mother Sun responded: “To witness the union of Earth and Sky,” which the People repeated. Then Mother Sun said, “To bless the union of Earth and Sky,” and the People repeated that too.
First Voice said, “Welcome, welcome, Mother Sun,” which the People repeated.
After Mother Sun’s appearance and the sound of wind chimes, the Western Guardian made way for the entrance of the Man in the Moon and the Night-Time Stars. The Man in the Moon carried a silver Moon on a stick, as the center Mother Sun had carried a golden Sun. The Night-Time Stars were children around the ages of 6 to 8 years, all wearing a band holding a silver star on their brows.
The Man in the Moon said these lines, each repeated by the Voice of the People: “I am the Man in the Moon. I wander the sky with the Night-Time Stars. I shine on the Earth. I shine on the Deep. I shine on your love. I shine on your sleep.”
First Voice and Second Voice repeated those queries with which they had greeted Mother Sun, and received the same answers — “To witness the union of Earth and Sky. To bless the union of Earth and Sky.”
This same greeting was repeated with the Night-Time Stars, except that they said that they wandered the sky with the Man in the Moon.
Then First Voice asked, “And why have the People gathered here?” The two Voices and the People responded, in coupled sets, “To witness the union of Earth and Sky. To bless the union of Earth and Sky.”
With the entrance of each cosmic influence, the smiles on the People broadened.
South made way for the entrance of Thor’s Rune and Thor. Thor’s lines — “I come from above. Lightning's flash. And thunder's roar. The People's warrior and defender. My name is Thor. I come from above.” — each were repeated by the People.
First and Second Voices and the Voice of the People repeated several lines drawn from Thor’s greeting, then both Voices said, Welcome, welcome, Brother Sky! Welcome, welcome, Brother Thor!” followed by the repetitions of the People.
North made an entrance of Freyr’s Rune and Freyr. Freyr said, “I come from below. The growing seed, The life of grain. The king of peace and pleasure. My name is Freyr. I come from below.” Each line duly repeated by the People.
First and Second Voices and the People duly welcomed Freyr.
Now the ceremony of union took place, with First Voice saying and the People repeating, “The Union of Earth and Sky.”
Using their own vows, Freyr said to Thor, witnessed and repeated by the People: “Rain upon me, Rain upon me, Rain upon me, Brother Sky.”
Thor asked Freyr: “Bloom beneath me, Bloom beneath me, Bloom beneath me, Brother Earth.”
Thor and Freyr kissed each other and embraced, followed by the rejoicing sound of the two Voices calling: “The Union of Earth and Sky!” and the People repeating it.
Thor’s Rune and Freyr’s Rune uncover and display the reverse side of the runes they carry, revealing a sigil combination of the runes Thorn and Ingwaz.
This was followed by First and Second Voices and the People extolling the virtues of Thor, Brother Sky, and Freyr, Brother Earth. Then Mother Sun stepped forward and blessed their union, followed by blessings from the Man in the Moon and the little Night-Time Stars. The Night-Time Stars, after blessing the union, said, “And we share the gift these Lovers bring, With you, the People of the Tribe” as they carried offerings of bread that they had processed in with to the People.
All of the Voices bestowed more blessings upon the union, saying “Their love brings abundance, and food for the Tribe.” and “we share the gift these Lovers bring, as the bread was distributed and eaten.
Then Thor’s and Freyr’s Runebearers led Thor and Freyr, walking hand in hand, around and out of the circle through the North, as all the Voices continued their praises. Joyous cheering arose from all at the culmination of the rite. Thor and Freyr raised their clasped hands in triumph as they led the way out of the circle. Every face radiated happiness.
The “celestials” left the circle through their respective Quarters, to the thanks and adulation of the People. The cardinal Quarters, repeated by the Voices of the People, thanked the Ancestors and Spirits, followed by First and Second Voices and the People saying, “The circle of life.” Then, “The rite is ended,” “Go in peace and pleasure,” and “Thanks be to Freyr and Thor.”
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This was how I, one of Mother Sun, experienced the ritual from our place in the East. I, for one, was high with a feeling of love [universal love, not eros] for many hours after the ritual had concluded. I believe I was in good company, as I encountered many people who continued floating in this euphoria for many hours.
A bit of background — This ritual was written by Sparky T. Rabbit, in consultation with Steven Posch. It was performed at a private Witches-only retreat in Wisconsin by diverse, but experienced, priest/esses (of all ages) chosen for each role by Sparky.
There were so many unusual things about this ritual — its highly stylized format, the repetition of every line by the Voice of the People, its simplicity. I loved the fact that every celebrant, unrehearsed, carried fully one-half of the ritual by repeating each line that the priest/esses said. This required that they listen carefully to every word spoken, and then repeat it and thereby help the energy of the ritual to build.
What occurred in this ritual that was unanticipated? What was anticipated? Why did it work? What made it work? How was such universal happiness engendered by the activities of the ritual? What can be said about the unique combination of forms?
Sparky had said that he’d been studying Norse myth because of his personal biological heritage. As an actor, he had a familiarity with such forms as the Greek chorus. He also drew from the English mummers tradition of going from house to house telling a repetitive simple story, and from Mother Goose rhymes. Many contemporary Witches see their Craft hidden in the seemingly innocuous pages of Mother Goose. Sparky is also a gay man who wanted to show the sacredness of same-sex commitments in as radiant a light as opposite-sex unions are customarily shown.
What can be said about taking liberties with the way myths have been handed down to us? Is there anything that makes them sacrosanct and unsuited to revisioning? Are they not stories, illustrating many basic facts of life on Earth? Does not the union of Sun and rain with Earth and grain produce plenty for the People, for the Tribe?
And if same-sex unions are as sacred as any other — which I believe they are, and I feel reasonably certain that most other Pagans believe they are — then why is it important to ritualize them in a didactic manner as was done in this instance? Is this more important to be done in a primarily “het” Pagan gathering than at a fairy gathering?
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Be reminded that I wrote this fourteen years ago in 1999. Since that time many of the questions brought up have been answered and the problems resolved -- or at least are being explored. That was before twelve states in the U.S. and many countries around the world had legalized same-sex marriage. It was before concerns about transexuals had been brought to the common Pagan table for discussion.
One concern, that of cultural appropriation, has been addressed to my satisfaction by Sabina Magliocco in "Folklore, Culture & Authenticity."
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