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Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Now the Green Blade Riseth: Crafting Rites of Welcome and Farewell for Paganicon 2020

Crafting—I'm tempted to say “wrighting”—Rites of Welcome and Farewell (known to the poetically-challenged as "Opening" and "Closing" Rituals) for this year's Paganicon 2020 has been an interesting and challenging commission.

So let me invite you to put on your ritualist's robes, and come along with me on the journey.

 

OK, ritualists, here are our parameters:

  • The Rites take place in a hotel, an unbeautiful institutional building.
  • We need to engage a large group of people (say 100+) from many different traditions.
  • We need to have special roles for the guests of honor.
  • No permanent installations (e.g. altars) are permitted.
  • No open flames.
  • The theme of this year's Paganicon is Journeys.

To these, I will add my own personal provisos:

  • The rites need to be about doing, not talking. Words need to be kept to a minimum.
  • The rites need to be something that, as a people, we do together.
  • The rites need to offer an encounter with Mystery and an opportunity for collective worship.
  • The structure of the rites needs to be such that one part flows into the next without need for verbal cueing. (“Now we're going to....”)
  • The rites need names. The common but colorless titles “Opening Ritual” and “Closing Ritual” simply will not do.
  • In these rites, as in all good ritual, every action needs to bear meaning.

 

The purpose of the Rite of Welcome is to bring together people who have come from different places, to claim the turf as ours, and to do something sacred that brings us together. Given these specifics, what kind of rite would you craft?

 

My first decision was to jettison the standard Wiccan ritual format, with its cast circles and quarter calls. Historically, this ritual form originated not in ancient worship, but rather in Ceremonial Magic, and it is simply not amenable to large groups of people. Instead, I've chosen to draw on the deep structures of ancient public ritual and temple worship.

So here's what we're going to be doing.

Now the Green Blade Riseth:
A Rite of Welcome

(Steven Posch)

Gathering (hotel foyer)

Drums play, People gather.

Pagans automatically gather when we hear drums. The drums say: “Something is happening.” In this case in particular (drums not being something that one regularly hears in the lobby of a hotel), they say: “Something pagan is happening.”

 

Procession (through hotel, to ballroom)

Led by the drums, the people process to the place of offerings, bearing the offerings themselves and the sacred items that will be used in the ritual. People join the Procession as it passes.

Order of the Procession:

Drums

Stang

Fire (enclosed temple candle)

Two vases of pussy willow branches in catkin

Large basket of colored eggs

Priest (= yours truly)

Three libations (water, milk, red wine)

Basket with oil and two brushes

People

The Procession of offerings to the place of offering was standard practice in ancient sacrificial religion. It says, even to those who are not directly participating, “Something sacred is happening.” In this case, the Procession also takes the form of what heathens call a “land-take.” By bearing fire through the hotel, we take (symbolic) possession of the hotel for the duration of our ingathering.

To publicly bear offerings and sacred items (“sacra”) is, of course, a role of honor; in this way, we will honor this year's special guests, who come to us bearing sacred gifts of their own.

 

Rite of Offering

The people gather at the Place of Offering. Sacra-bearers invest the altar with the stang, temple candle, pussy willows, and eggs.

The altar and wall behind it will be hung/draped with colorful cloths in bright Spring colors, to act as our rite's visual focus. These, along with the stang, fire, willow catkins, and eggs, will form a beautiful and mysterious locus of sanctity, a seat for the many-named Lady of Spring, to Whom we direct our prayers and offerings.

 

Invocation

Priest and people together invoke the Lady of Spring by Her many names, asking for 1) her blessing on our gathering-together, 2) the renewal of the Old Ways, and 3) the well-being of pagans everywhere.

As is traditional, the invocation will be sung. This elevates the act of speaking and says: “Something out of the ordinary is happening here,” since in day-to-day life we speak, rather than sing, our conversations.

 

Threefold Libation

One by one, the libation-bearers step forward and pour out their/our offerings to the Lady of Spring.

The threefold libations embody the threefold Prayers for the People of traditional temple worship: Life for the People (water), Food for the People (milk), and Beauty for the People (red wine).

The notion of “A gift for a gift” (in Latin, Do ut des) underlies all pagan social interaction. We give our gifts to the Lady of Spring, and ask for Her gifts in return.

Among their many symbolic meanings, these libations, with their varied colors and textures, offer a rich visual experience for the participants as well.

 

Hymn (all)

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain:

wheat, that in the deep Earth, many days hath lain.

Love lives again, that with the dead hath been:

Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

 

Final Blessing and Dismissal

Priest invokes the blessing of the Lady of Spring on the People.

People come forward to be anointed.

Pussy willows and eggs from the altar are distributed at the door.

The sacred oil of anointing, pussy willow catkins, and colored eggs all bear the special main (power, mana) of the Goddess and Her rite. Distributing them sends this power out into the con as a whole.

 

So, that's the Rite of Welcome. For the Rite of Farewell, we'll do more or less the same things, except in reverse.

 

See you at Paganicon!

 

Image: Helga Hedgewalker

 

 

 

Last modified on
Tagged in: Paganicon
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak Tuesday, 11 February 2020

    Very nice. Icon or statue? Or maybe an empty/draped chair?

    The anointing is en masse, yes? "Sprinkling/asperging the people" vs. one by one (might take a while.)

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 12 February 2020

    The Goddess will (I trust) be aniconically present in Her attributes: the Fire, the eggs, the catkins, and the ram's-horned stang (for the Ram's-Horn Equinox) standing behind the altar.
    An iconic Presence would, of course, be optimal, but in this case circumstances simply dictate otherwise. For a ritual of this scale, a small image (say, one of household shrine size) simply would not present well; that we can't maintain a permanent altar militates against bringing in one of the local temple images. So there we are. My grandmother always used to say: With a recipe and all the right ingredients, anybody can make something. It takes a real cook to start with what there is and come up with something good.
    (I plan to hold your image of the draped chair in reserve for future use, though. As my friend Stephanie says, We only steal from the best.)
    As regards the anointing, this will be done individually. In choosing to do so, I'm breaking one of my own cardinal rules of ritual: Don't make people wait in line.
    But in my experience, this should actually work in this context because: 1) the anointing is very quick, 2) there will be two of us plying the brushes, and 3) this will be happening when the ritual itself is already over. By this point, the drums will be playing and people will be socializing. So it's not as if we'll all have to wait around solemnly for our turn while person after person has her individual experience.
    You're clearly conversant in this style of ritual, Chris: unsurprisingly, given your longtime grounding in Druidry. I suspect that for at least some it will come as something of a new kind of pagan experience, which is precisely why I wanted to do it. To some it may even seem too “churchy”--not without more than a little irony, since virtually every aspect of this ritual is firmly grounded in ancient pagan practice.
    But pagan ritual has been imprisoned in the magic circle for far too long. That's one way, but certainly not the only one.

  • Leandra Witchwood
    Leandra Witchwood Tuesday, 11 February 2020

    YES! You have your hands full! I can relate to the stress and issues that come with this kind of planning. Planning rituals is never easy, much less for 100+ people! I've only ever had that undertaking once! I am much more comfortable with 40-50 person gatherings!! You know, as nervous and as busy as all the energy seemed, everything fell into place. It will be terrific!
    I hope to attend this event one of these days! It sounds amazing. Wishing you the best of luck!

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 12 February 2020

    Thanks Leandra; I'm taking a big risk here, and (who knows) it could be a disaster. Scaling-up pagan ritual has been a steep learning curve, and we're in the perilous position of having to learn it as we do it. That this style of ritual is unfamiliar to many only ups the ante; and I really have no idea whatsoever how many people will be there. We could potentially be talking several hundred. Yikes!

    On the other hoof, there's nothing in this ritual that's not grounded in hundreds--if not thousands--of years of pagan practice. My experience so far has been that the ancestors generally knew what they were doing.

    So, again, thanks for your best wishes. As the ancestors used to say, I accept them gratefully, "with both hands."

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