My specialty is small group rituals and retreats for women. However, a primary reason behind having women-only rituals at this point in my life is purely logistical. I find it nearly impossible to have a complete “retreat” experience with kids also present! Someone has to take care of the kids during said retreats…hence, single-sex rituals/ceremonies often make the most sense for my local community. However, shorter and simpler rituals are possible with kids, though they have a completely different feel and even function and so that energetic output needs to be balanced with the renewal and restoration we often need as parents, mothers, and women.
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It can be hard to figure out what kinds of rituals and traditions people of the past had, especially if we don't have any written records of them. But sometimes art can help. The image at the top of this post is part of the Camp Stool fresco from Knossos, the largest of the ancient Minoan cities. It shows a banqueting scene that includes ritual toasting, a common activity in many societies from that time. Here's a reconstruction of the whole fresco, with two rows of people participating in toasts and possibly libations (poured offerings) as well:
Most of what we know about the ancient Minoans was literally dug up out of the dirt. We've uncovered temple complexes, villages, towns, and all the furniture, dishes, and other items you'd expect to find in people's homes, workshops, and places of worship. But there aren't any Minoans around any more who can tell us what all those things were used for, so the archaeologists have to make educated guesses based on where each particular object was found.
Over in Ariadne's Tribe (my discussion group about modern Minoan Paganism) we frequently post images of lovely Minoan pottery that appears to have been randomly described as a 'ritual object.' Then we consider the possibility that the item isn't really a ritual object, but the archaeologists didn't know what else to call it and 'ritual object' sounds impressive when you're writing an academic paper....
If you participate in ritual, you're probably familiar with the idea of sacred postures. Many modern Pagan traditions include gestures such as the "Osiris pose" (arms crossed over the chest with hands on the shoulders) or the "Goddess pose" (arms raised to the sides with hands up and palms facing forward). Ancient religions included sacred postures as well. One of the most famous is the Minoan salute, shown above, with the right arm raised and the loosely-curled fist placed with the back of the hand against the forehead (all images in this post are from Wikimedia Commons).
Those of us who practice modern Minoan Paganism have worked extensively with the Minoan salute. Like other sacred postures, if held for a while, it will induce a gently altered state of consciousness. Belinda Gore and the folks at the Cuyamungue Institute in New Mexico have studied the effects and uses of ecstatic postures for years; I reviewed Belinda Gore's excellent book on ecstatic postures a while back. It turns out, the use of ritual postures goes back to the Stone Age and each one induces an altered state with a slightly different focus. And the Minoans had a whole collection of postures they used, not just the famous salute. Over in Ariadne's Tribe, we've been experimenting with these postures for a while and sharing our experiences so we can have an experiential window into ancient Minoan spirituality....
Offering the morning incense in the temple today, I noticed that the altar light was a little out of true. It bugged me.
A good altar is a managed place, set to direct focus and to hold it. How the lamp moved, I don't know. In every moment the world moves, and we move with it.
Terry Pratchett says, If you want to drive a witch crazy, tilt one of the pictures on the wall when she comes to visit and watch her sit there squirming to get up and straighten it.
So there I was, making an offering but thinking about something else. And that's wrong.
Tonight is the night where the clocks fall back for most of North America. It's a fabulous time for ritual, because you can use the time change to your advantage to 'eat' something that you want banished from your life, and then recreate things the way that you would like to see them unfold. The fact that this happens over Samhain makes the work even more powerful! All you need is a deck of tarot cards, and some staying power, as you're going to be up late!
Preparation for this is easy. Before the appointed time--02:00--determine what you would like to rid from your life (I already have mine planned, I celebrated it's demise last night). Choose a card that represents that. For instance, if you are holding on too tightly to something that needs to be surrendered, you might want to choose the four of pentacles. Maybe you've got a personality trait of being too stubborn, and you want to learn to be more flexible; the king or queen of swords might be an appropriate card for that. You're going to have to know your cards a bit, but really, any card that resonates with what you want to see leave your life can be used....