Tag Archives: rites of passage

Wedding Under An Arch

A week ago today I officiated my first wedding:  uniting two friends in Chicago under Illinois’ new civil union law. 

To say that I officiated perhaps overstates my significance in the ritual.  It was very much their show.  The vows were deeply personal, drawing on traditional American structures with influences from their long-standing Celtic and Druidic practices as well as the Germanic / Troth deities they have been working with more recently.  Large swaths of the ritual were so personal that they were not even included in the script I was given.  There was even another “officiant”, invoking the Lady of Asgard and a few others of the Aesir.  My task was largely one of providing structure, of invoking certain gods – chiefly the Handmaidens of Frigga – and to provide my official seal as a ULC Minister.

I took it upon myself to open the archway under which the vows would be sworn, to cast (and banish) the circle in which the rite was taking place.  I took it upon myself to be the photographer before and after the ceremony (turning the duty over to another while I worked).  I have never worked with the gods of my blood-ancestors before – favoring deities of the cultures with which I more closely identify – and doing these things helped keep me grounded and open for the experience.

My key invocation, drawn from Raven Kaldera’s Weddings and Handfasting Rituals, went as follows:

In the name of Vara, may this couple take on this geas in full heart.

In the name of Syn, may they keep their boundaries strong.

In the name of Lofn, may they reach always for reconciliation.

In the name of Gna, we proclaim this promise to all.

In the name of Gerjon, may they be an example.

In the name of Eir, may they tend each other’s wounds.

In the name of Snotra, may they learn to work together.

In the name of Sjofn, may their affection be strong.

In the name of Huldra, may wealth flow through their hands.

In the name of Hlin, may their love survive even death.

In the name of Fulla, dear sister of Frigga, may they have always abundance.

The invocation struck me like lightening, running from the top of my head and into the earth.  I lost track of things for a moment.  I was wearing a newly-forged copper bracelet, the mate to my copper serpent-ring, which will henceforth be used only for channeling rituals.  The handmaidens were most certainly in attendance.

A few moments later, I was called upon to invoke the State of Illinois.  They, too, arrived as called:

IMG_3936Why yes, that is a police car on the left.  The lady on the right is laughing because they arrived precisely when I called for them … well, that and because the newlyweds were absolutely adorable.

Aside from everything else – my pleasure at being invited to the event in the first place; the honor of being asked to officiate; the fear and thrill of invoking new gods; my pride at performing the rite so well – this wedding re-confirmed what I have been coming to believe over the course of the last year or two.  I will probably never find a group with whom I can work and worship forever – I am too radical, too queer, too eclectic.  But I can serve and participate in the pagan community as a whole by helping perform rites with and for others who are likewise isolated.  Some of the rites I will be called upon to share will be, like this one, carefully orchestrated; others, like the blot and the vision quest at Beltane, will be spontaneous.  Regardless, this is the work I have been called to do.

Also, the fact that my first wedding was the civil union of two bisexuals, one of whom is mind-borkingly genderqueer?  Totally appropriate.

Thank you, Squirrel and Gingko.  Congratulations.  I was honored to be there.

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A Darker Shade of Beltane

This past weekend was Beltane.  Aradia and I celebrated out at Camp Gaea with all the madness that usually entails, and a little bit extra besides.  Last year, Beltane (along with Heartland Pagan Festival, 28 days later) coincided with a Full Moon.  This year the Moon was Dark, and the differences were … interesting.

Beyond the sacred/ritual nature of the entire weekend,Aradia and I participated in four distinct rituals:  the public ritual, a ritual toast, an underworld journey, and our ultimate ritual with Pasiphae and Aidan.  Each was stylistically and thematically distinct.  Half of them were purgative.  By the end of the weekend, each of us – myself, Aradia, Pasiphae, and Aidan – had injured ourselves in some way.

The first ritual was the public one on Saturday night.  More than two dozen people gathered in the Old Way ritual space – several entire families were present, and at least a half-dozen children.  Aradia and I were there early, of course, and volunteered to light the torches.  In the process, we also cast the first layer of the circle.  (We’ve gotten very good at that.)  The ritual itself was done in two parts.  In the first part, the children raised energy by running in circles, then channeled that energy into a chalice full of seeds to be planted on a newly rebuilt berm and led out of the circle to do so.  The second part of the ritual was for the grownups.  We talked a little about our passions and art, then raised energy by singing tones.  I wish I’d brought my drum.  Then, without a closing of any kind, we were sent out in the world to “do something” with that energy – the ritual leader warned us, though, that she wouldn’t be held responsible for any consequences of that action. 

Why, yes, I did go promptly drop that lust-bomb on the unsuspecting Cauldron.  Did you even have to ask?   Dionysos and Pan are very good friends, and it is for very good reason I have been more than once accused of serving the latter. I also charged my thyrsos with it and saved a lot of it for later use.

The second ritual was the ritual toast – a blot (trigger warning for rugged masculinity and associated memes) – performed at the behest of an Asatru gentleman we met while unpacking Friday night.  The rite was simple and straightforward: each participant makes an offering to the sky and to the earth, then makes a toast; the others repeat the toast, then each offers their own toast (shared by the others) in turn. 

The Asatru gentleman offered his toast to his mother, who had recently passed, and later returned to our camp with a bewildered look on his face.  “I think that blot was the whole reason I needed to come out here,” he told us.  He had fallen off his practice and his gods were calling him back.  Though I did not particularly like him – he was the sort of person you might expect a self-identified redneck, knife-dealing, kinkster to be – I was honored to have served him in that fashion.  If I am to serve the neo-Pagan community in the ways I envision – helping with rites, putting on traditions as masks for solitaries and disconnected traditionalists, among other things – I must be prepared to answer to individuals and traditions that make me uncomfortable, so long as they do not outright violate my ethics.

The underworld journey was semi-spontaneous.  I had planned on doing one over the weekend, but when I felt called while watching the post-ritual fire and dancing in the Old Way, I also invited the nearby folks from the KU Cauldron to join me.

To my surprise, six of us wandered down to Thoth’s Grove (after nearly getting lost in Key Pass).  We started by casting the circle in near-silence, hand-to-hand.  “Visualize East,” I told them.  There was a struggle, briefly, as everyone tried to find the “same” east, but once we chose it, all the other points were synchronized.  The circle cast, I opened a portal to the underworld and introducing them all to the World Tree.  My own journey was … fruitful, but I did not find what I was looking for.  Most of the Cauldron didn’t speak of what they saw, but I was later told that they had all found the experience to be meaningful.

The fourth and final ritual was performed with our regular ritual partners, Pasiphae and Aidan, who were only able to make it out for that one night.  We had two major ritual goals we wanted to accomplish: I wanted to dedicate my Kouros figure, the male half of the goddess/god duo I have been experimenting with; and to purge ourselves of our accumulating troubles, symbolized by the too-old  and unlabled herbs from our magical pantry.  The first went well:  I felt Him awake with a sort of quiet humor.  The second went even better, evolving spontaneously into a shouted litany of “Fuck you!”s as we pounded an ounce or so of whole cloves into dust in Pasiphae’s iron cauldron/mortar.  Each of us ended up taking a second turn, and a new Beltane tradition was born.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Dark Moon Beltane was of a somewhat different character than the Full Moon.  Besides the purgative rituals and underworld journeys, everyone in my intimate circle ended up giving flesh to Gaea.  I was bitten by a blackthorn branch I never managed to find, and reinjured my shin while hobbling about camp.  Despite her best efforts, Aradia got a vicious sunburn, numerous bugbites, and reinjured the foot she wounded while traipsing about Nashville and Chicago with me last month.  Pasiphae and Aidan were both attacked by the fire – he burned his hand, and an ember landed right under her eye.

Finally, though it didn’t play as significant a role in this years rituals as it did last year, I cannot leave out the mead.  I bottled last years a week or so ago, as you may recall.  We drank most of it over the holiday.  It was awesome.  I started another gallon for next year.  It, too, will be awesome.

Despite the unintended blood-sacrifices, I declare the festivities a resounding success.

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Academic Rites of Passage

In this last week I have undergone two rites of passage binding me closer to the world of formal academia.

Monday, I accepted the invitation – originally received last May, but overlooked because I didn’t really understand what the organization was, or what opportunities it would have afforded me – to join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.  Membership in the society will open a number of doors for me (though not quite so many as it would have had I accepted the invitation immediately, and with it a great deal of scholarship money I didn’t know existed), ranging from letters of recommendation, to possible transfer scholarships, and perhaps even to consideration for the larger honor society upon which it was patterned, Phi Beta Kappa.  If nothing else, it is a welcome recognition of my academic accomplishments so far, and confers upon me the right to fancy regalia at my graduation ceremony in May.

Saturday, I endured the trial of the ACT in the hopes of securing admission to such lofty schools as the University of Chicago or Reed College, which require such rituals even of transfer juniors.  This particular trial (and/or its competitor, the SAT) is actually one of the things that I was elated to avoid when I first decided against college.  Though I did not study as hard for this test as perhaps I should have, but I believe that I did well.  If nothing else, I am certain that I did at least as well on the real thing as I did on the practice test, on which I received a score of 29.

The college testing experience is, I believe, nearly universal in the United States.  I remember clearly being pressured and herded toward the PSATs and the SAT in high school.  Although Wikipedia assures me that the ACT is more popular in the midwest, it’s not the one I remember being “encouraged” to take.  That element of shared experience, combined with the fiscal sacrifice, the rigid structure, and the intellectual ordeal, makes the ACT an excellent example, in my opinion, of a non-magical rite of passage.

The Phi Theta Kappa membership (particularly if I have the opportunity to be formally inducted) is a slightly different rite of passage.  I was selected by a mysterious organization based on my academic performance, I made a sacrifice (again, money), and will be rewarded with certain signs that will set me apart from the larger student body and with access to information available only to initiates.

Interestingly, the Greek letters Phi Theta Kappa stand in this case, not for a motto, but for virtues – wisdom, aspiration and purity – and the group associates itself with Athena.  Fortunately, She was already on my list of deities for whom I required idols.

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Twice Born

Last year at Beltane I performed a spontaneous Dedication, knealing before a sky-god who has yet to share his name with me.

Thirteen months later, a week ago yesterday, I completed my first Initiation ritual.

It was a two-part ritual, actually: the first part being an underworld journey at the New Moon in preparation for the second, at the Full Moon, where I was assisted in my rite by three close friends. The ritual included, among other things, my first fast – twenty-four hours of bread, honey, and water (and not much of it) – and the sacrifice by abstinence of all the potential debauchery that comes with the first day of the Heartland Pagan Festival.

The fasting was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. 9pm – 9pm is a relatively easy block: I don’t usually eat for almost half of that. At the same time, though, I was packing for the festival, making a midnight drive, getting barely half a night of sleep, and finally unpacking and setting up camp – a great deal of physical labor, as I’m sure my dear readers recognize. I also had to watch everyone else eat good food, drink coffee, and christen the camp site with the festival’s first joint and beers without partaking. I almost had to abstain from the communal dinner following the festival’s opening ritual, a terrible sacrifice given the importance I place on the ritual sharing of food, but fortunately there was some bread I could share. Still, by the end of the fast, I was somewhat faint and had to be careful how much I ate lest I make myself sick.

As a lifelong solitary practitioner, I had never undergone any formal training or initiation. And although the work I have done over the last two years, formalizing and re-examining my training and practice, certainly counts for something, I had little idea what to expect. Would the ritual be transformative? Would it simply be an acknowledgement of my personal progress? Would it even work given the disparate practices of the people I had assist me?

The answer, in the end, was “yes” to all of the above.

Over the course of the ritual, I came into closer contact that I had ever anticipated with the gods I serve. I lost one guide, grown impatient with my slow progress. I … acquired? Was awarded? Met? What is the correct verb here? … another guide during my descent, and made amends with a Titan whom I had accidentally slighted. I was unmade and reassembled. Twice.

When I gave healing massages over the course of the festival, I found that the energy flowed like it never had before. I managed to soothe two sunburns by laying hands. My lady Aradia said outright that my healing work is much more potent than it was the last time I worked on her, shortly after Beltane. I have never felt so powerful or so clear as I feel now, even a week after the ritual. Slipping into trance is significantly easier than it was a bare ten days ago, so I know it’s not just practice.

So today I write, re-examining the experience again, and say to you proudly: I am a witch. Slain and remade within the Circle, now twice-born.

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