I designed a new Spring Equinox ritual for my family. I decided earlier this year that I would like to try a different kind of ritual. I’ve been feeling like the rituals I have designed up to this point are too didactic and not formal enough. My kids are now at an age where they understand the basic themes of the Wheel of the Year and they can maintain an appropriate level of reverence during a ritual.
I had several goals in mind in designing this ritual.
1. I wanted more formality. I didn’t want anyone sitting on the couch listening to me talk or watching a dramatic enactment. And I wanted a clear beginning, middle, and end. So I used a basic Neo-Wiccan format, with the four elements, male and female aspects of divinity, and so on — but with significant variations. I had actually never used this format before in any of my rituals. I admit, I had a bad attitude about the Neo-Wiccan ritual form when I started in Paganism, but it has grown on me. And, as Jason Mankey has recently written, it works.
2. I also wanted more opportunities for chanting, and the possibility of an altered state of consciousness that comes with chanting. Attending Shauna Aura Knight’s ritual facilitation workshop and Margot Adler’s chanting workshop at Pantheacon gave me this idea. The chants were unfamiliar to my kids, and I am chanting impaired, so my wife took time before each chant and taught it to us until we were more or less comfortable with it. She even draw some visual aides to aid as mnemonics. [I think everyone enjoyed the chanting, even my teen son.]
3. I wanted to involve all the senses. I had a singing bowl, drum and chanting for sound, some tactile interactions, and the taste of water and salt. I’ve never used incense before, but this time I wanted to try burning sage.
4. At my wife’s suggestion, I wanted more group activity, as opposed to having individuals taking turns doing things.
5. I wanted to lose the scripts. The reading and shuffling of papers has been a distraction in past rituals. Having everyone holding scripts has made our rituals feel like we are at a rehearsal instead of the actual event. I have read strong opinions both ways regarding the script/memorize issue — and I agree with both. In my case, I just can’t expect my kids to memorize anything more than a short quatrain or two. So I bought a nice cover for one script, which only I kept. No one else had a script. At different points, I indicated to everyone to repeat after to me together or individually one at a time. In the script below, “(L)” means the leader (me) speaks, “(A)” means everyone repeats together after me, and “(1)”, “(2)”, etc. means that my wife and children took turns repeating after me. This worked very well. [My son said he liked this change.]
Preparing the Space
First, I had the kids dusk and vacuum the space we would be using for the ritual. I wanted the space to be clean, but I also wanted them to feel a personal investment in making the space holy. They then helped me to set up the space.
The ritual space was laid out in our living room, with a potted plant (a bonsai tree) on a small altar cloth in the center of the room. At the cardinal points were four small tables with a candle, a bowl of salt, sage for burning, and a bowl of water. I deviated from the standard associations of the cardinal directions. East was fire, the place of the rising sun. South was earth, where the farmlands are in relation to us. West was air, the place where storms blow in from. And North was water, where Lake Michigan is in relation to us. [Thanks to Steven Posch for this idea.] Other ritual implements at hand were a drum and baton, a chalice, and a pitcher of water.
Each person brought a personal item to the ritual representing some aspect of spring.
We gathered in our front room, separate from the ritual space, to which we would process.
Calling to Ritual
I began the ritual with a sound from the a singing bowl. (A chime or small gong would work well too.)
(L) “Today we are celebrating the spring equinox. The theme of our ritual is connection. Connection with the earth. Connection with each other. Connection to the deep parts of ourselves. And connection to God and Goddess, whatever that means to you.”
(L) “Now form a line behind me. While singing the “Sacred Way” chant, we will walk around the house until we arrive in the sacred space. When we arrive in the sacred space, formed a circle, each of you at one of four corners. Place your items on the ground in front of you. Continue chanting, as I light the candle and the sage. Then hold hands and continued chanting until I gesture to stop.”
We are going to a sacred place,
We are now in sacred space,
We are living in a state of grace,
We are loving in a sacred way.
[We circumambulated our house for a while before I led us into the living room.]
(L) “While singing the “Element Chant”, we will turn to face outward. Continue chanting. If you are standing in the east, wave your hands over the candle to feel its heat; in the south, run the salt through your hands and placed a grain on your tongue; in the west, fan the sage smoke toward you and breathe it in; and in the north, dip your fingers in the water and touch your forehead. After each round of the chant, we will rotate in clockwise direction to the next element and so on until we have returned to our original positions. Continue chanting. [My daughter] will then beat out a rhythm on the drum as we chant, until I gesture to stop.”
Earth my body
Water my blood
Air my breath and
Fire my spirit
Drawing the Four Corners to the Center
(L) “We will now call the spirits of the four directions. First, follow me to turn to face east. Hold your arms outstretched with your hands forming a diamond shape above your heard through which you look.”
[I incorporated the hand gestures from my previous post on the subject.]
(A) “From the East, where the sun rises, we call the Spirit of Fire, wild like the fierce lion. (1) We feel you in all the emotions of our hearts. (2) We feel your roar in our anger. (3) We feel your leap in our joy and our passion. (4) We feel you protecting us, like your cub, in our sadness and fear.
(L) “Now follow me and turn to the south. Hold your hands in front of you pressing your palms against each other. Feel the firmness like the earth.”
(A) “From the South, the land of dark earth and growing fields, we call the Spirit of the Earth, strong like the black bear.” (1) “We feel your strength in our arms and legs.” (2) “We feel you in all the sensations of our bodies.” (3) “From our fingertips, to the roots of our hair. (4) “From the soles of our feet to the secret places of our bodies.”
(L) “Now follow me and turn to face west. Hold your arms outstretched at your sides like you are feeling the wind.”
(A) “From the West, from whence the winds blow, we call the Spirit of the Air, high soaring like the eagle.” (1) “We know you in all the thoughts of our minds.” (2) “We see you soaring in all our ideas.” (3) “We see you diving in our imagination.” (4) “We see your wings in all our brightest visions.”
(L) “Now follow me and turn to face north. Cup your hands in front of you like you are scooping up water.”
(A) “From the North, where the great water rises and falls, we call the Spirit of the Water, deep knowing like the wise serpent.” (1) “We know you in the wisdom of our souls.” (2) “In the root of us, we feel your connection to the earth.” (3) “In the core of us, we know your strange power.” (4) “In the back of our mind, we meet you in our dreams, when the eagle sleeps.”
(L) “Now turn to face the center.”
(1) “Fierce Lion,” (2) “Strong Bear,” (3) “Soaring Eagle,” (4) “Wise Serpent:” (A) “You are us and we are you, many seeking to become one.”
Invoking the Two Faces of God
(L) “Now look up and raise your arms straight up.”
(A) “Sky Father, you who we reach for, bigger than all the names we give you, you are the God of our longing.”
(L) “Now look down and fold your arms across your chest.”
(A) “Earth Mother, closer to us that we are to ourselves, you are the Goddess who is always present with us.”
(L) “Look straight ahead, raise one arm, while keeping the other arm crossed over your chest.”
(A) “We stand like tall trees, with our roots deep in the earth, and our branches stretching for the sky. Sky Father and Earth Mother, we have need of you both in order to grow. You have need of us in order to be made whole. Our lives are the places where you meet and love.” [My wife said she liked this part, which made me happy, because I wrote it with her in mind.]
Invoking the Blessing of the Spirits
(L) “Turn to face outward from the center and join hands.”
(1) “Spirits of this land:” (2) “soil and river,” (3) “trees and plants,” (4) “birds and animals,”
(1) “spirit of this home,” (2) “spirits of our ancestors and honored dead,” (3) “spirit of our family,” (4) “Spirit of Life,”
(A) “Be with us in this sacred time and space, and bless our work, as we build temples in our hearts, and make of our lives an offering.”
(L) “Turn to the center again. We will now take turns placing the thing we have brought with us in the center, next to the plant, says what they have brought and what it represents …”
[I think it's important that each person bring something to the ritual, so they feel like they are contributing. I brought a package of seeds. My son brought a seashell that reminded him of the spring breaks we have spent in Florida. My wife brought a leaf from the day lilies which are just poking through the ground now. And my daughter brought a stuffed bunny. She wanted to bring one of our live rabbits, but I said no.]
(L) “Sit down and join hands.”
(A) “This we believe: It’s a blessing each of us was born. It matters what we do with our lives. But we don’t have to do it alone.”
[This is a UUA creed created for the children in Religious Education.]
One spirit in the dark,
Like a candle wavers
Many spirits joined as one
Burn with the power of the blazing sun
There is strength in community
A circle empowering you and me
The circle binds yet sets us free
In the Goddess’ name so may it be
(L) “I invite you now to meditate on this ancient Indian poem about the battle between the god Indra, god of rain, and Vritra, the dragon of drought. India is a land where there are droughts and the people pray for rain. We do not have drought in this part of the country often, but at this time of the year, the water is frozen as snow and ice and is beginning to melt and seep into the ground where it will feed the return of spring. So I like to think that, in this country, Indra would be the god of sun and Vritra would be the dragon of ice.”
Indra, great was his might, the first high deeds were his own:
There the darkness stood, the belly of Vritra, the vault that restrained the waters’ flow.
Huge in length extended, Vritra stretched against the seven rivers, waxing in the gloom which no sun lightened.
Impetuous as a bull, Indra forged the thunderbolt of overpowering might for the battle, golden, with a thousand edges, and ascended his chariot, scaling heaven to smite Vritra.
Chariot-borne, sun-bright, and truly potent, he poured forth, bursting the clouds, giving life to Sun and Dawn.
His wrath thundered, splendor encompassed him, and forth shone his warrior might.
His bellow shook the foundation of the earth as the wind stirs the water with its fury.
In a wild joy, Indra fought the flood-obstructing serpent, vast, coiling Vritra, whom darkness compassed round.
He grasped thunder for his weapon and smote death to the firstborn of the dragons.
With the speed of thought, he cast his bolt down upon the jaws of Vritra, rending his joints, like a boar’s.
Heaven itself, at the dragon’s roar, reeled back in terror when Indra hurled Vritra down, breaking the strongholds as he fell.
Thunder-armed, he cleft through the serpent, like a new-made pitcher, and the belly of Vritra burst asunder, setting the imprisoned waters in motion, as from a streaming udder.
Eager for their course, forth flowed the life-fostering rivers; along steep slopes their course tumbled, inundating the deserts.
Roaring Indra, the fairest courser of them all, drove on the flood; the torrent made a roaring sound like rushing rivers, and the mountains trembled at the birth of his effulgence.
[This text was adapted from the Rig Veda.]
Moment of Silence
(L ) “We will now have a minute of silence.”
I poured water into the chalice.
(A) “This is the water of life.”
Each person raised the chalice while reading their part, then passed the chalice. [I wrote these with each member of my family in mind. My son is a science geek, so his part reflected that. My wife is Christian, so her part had Christian motifs. And mine referenced holy places I would like to visit.]
(1) “This water has traveled across the cosmos in comets
and was part of ancient oceans on Earth.
This water has traveled from bottom of the Pacific
to the clouds above Mount Everest.”
(2) “This water has been the part of great glaciers and tiny snowflakes.
This water has flowed through the bodies of great dinosaurs and tiny amoeba,
through giant sequoia trees and through the bodies of our ancestors.
This water flows through the cells of our own bodies.”
(3) “This water fell as rain on the heads of Noah and his family.
This water fed the thirst of the Israelites in the desert.
This water flowed in the River Jordan when Jesus of Nazareth was baptized.
This water formed as tears on Mary’s cheeks when her son was buried.”
(4) “This water flows in the sacred river Ganges in India,
and gathers in Thoreau’s Walden Pond.
This water flows from the holy wells of Ireland,
and is raised in the cupped hands of pilgrims all around the world.”
(1) “This is the water that we are made of.”
(2) “This is the water that sustains us.”
(3) “This is water that we were formed in.”
(4) “This water we will return to.”
(L) “We will now share the water. Wipe the cup where you drank as a courtesy to the next person. The next person may rotate the cup to drink from a clean spot. You may pass the chalice without drinking if you are ill or uncomfortable sharing. Each person takes a drink and passes to the next person, saying: I share my water with you.”
(1)(2)(3)(4) “I share my water with you.”
[This is an adaptation of a water sharing ritual from the Church of All Worlds.]
I refilled the chalice.
(L) “Each of us will now pour some of the water in this plant as an offering. If you empty the chalice, then we refill it. Recite the following as you make the offering …”
(1)(2)(3)(4) “Mother Earth and Father Sky, we return to you this portion of your abundance, even as we too must return to you one day.”
(L) “Hold hands again.”
We all come from the Goddess
And to her we shall return
Like a drop / of rain
Flowing to the ocean
While still holding hands …
(L) “The Goddess and the God are present in the physical world. They are the physical world. We are part of the world. And so the Goddess and the God are present in us, in our bodies, in our hands. And when we touch each other, we are touching the Goddess and the God, and they are touching each other, through us.” [My daughter said she liked this part.]
(L) “Look the person to next to you. Make eye contact and recite the following … ”
(A) “The God and Goddess in me greet the God and Goddess in you.”
(L) “Do the same with the person on the next side of you.”
(L) “Now do the same with the person across from you.”
Release from Ritual
I closed the ritual with a sound from a singing bowl.