I have a problem with holidays, I like them a bit too much. If you’ve been reading this space for awhile now you’ve probably picked up on that. Every turn of the Wheel sees some sort of exploration into the history of a particular season or holiday. This started long before Raise the Horns was even a thing. Back in my days on Agora I did articles on Imbolc and Easter, and more recently I’ve been hammering people over the head with Autumn holidays: Samhain, Thanksgiving, and Mabon. My favorite time of year is mid-October through January 4 (that’s a holiday you know, it’s Doreen Valiente’s birthday, and mine) and I love how the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas share so many of their traditions.
America’s Thanksgiving holiday is not a Pagan holiday, but as it’s my favorite holiday it’s hard to resist the opportunity to do a ritual dedicated to it. The circle that meets in my living room (called The Oak Court because I live on a street named Oak Court) meets about twice a month or so for esbats and other things. Some nights we do experimental rituals, like my 1899 Ritual, and other nights we do more standard things. With the “Holiday Season” on the way and not a lot of opportunities to meet the next couple of months I scheduled a mid-November ritual with the idea of doing something in honor of Thanksgiving.
Trying to co-opt a Puritan holiday for Pagan purposes can be a bit of a challenge. Celebrating “The Harvest” in mid-November never feels quite right to me, and to be honest, after Lughnassa, Mabon, and Samhain many of us need a break from that imagery. Both my Samhain and Mabon rituals had a lot of food in them, and while I toyed with the idea of making everyone drink from a Jones Soda Holiday Pack I decided to go a different route after realizing it might make some of them ill, or at least do a spit-take on my living room floor. I wanted a Thanksgiving themed ritual without the food or harvest imagery and it was going to take some thought.
When it comes to magickal enterprises my wife is the expert. I’m your guy if you want to know the history of stuff, but if you want practical Witchcraft she’s the one to talk to. When I confronted her about our upcoming ritual quandary she said “Why not just have everyone share what they are thankful for.” That was so exceedingly obvious that I completely missed it, and her words were well timed too, I was leaning dangerously close to a ritual about the mythical Turkey-god of Plymouth Rock.
Even with the obvious “ritual about thanks” mantra floating in my head I was still at a loss as to how to actually construct the ritual. When ritual day arrived I never found the time actually sit down and turn “thanks” into a ceremony, you know something written with words. Even though errands, discussions of other rituals, and house cleaning kept me from writing I did spend some time thinking about my ritual, even though those thoughts were all pretty horrible. Here are a few of them:
Have everyone write down what they are thankful for on an index card and then burn it as an offering to the gods. I have no idea what that would have accomplished, and it would have set off all of the smoke alarms in my house. My cats would have probably freaked out too.
Use a turkey leg as an athame and then dip it into a chalice full of gravy for the Great Rite. There are times for fun ritual, but this just felt blasphemous.
Play-act a Thanksgiving day drama between arguing relatives and then remind everyone how great Thanksgiving with your circle can be. I thought even a fake drama involving “Evangelical Republican Uncle/Aunt” would be too annoying, I’ve been glad to avoid such crap for years.
After failing to come up with anything creative I decided we’d just go around the circle and share the things we are thankful for and then apologize to everyone afterwards for the crappy ritual. However, after everyone began gathering at my house for our rite inspiration finally took control and as we started moving couches and preparing my living room for ritual I knew I had it all worked out.
There’s a lot of lip service played to the idea of “perfect love and perfect trust” in Wiccan-style rituals. I’ve been to rituals surrounded by strangers and have heard that line being used. I’m always hesitant to use it because I don’t like saying untrue things while in circle. “Perfect love and perfect trust” is a difficult threshold to reach, and I’ve only ever felt that way a small handful of times in circle. I love the idea behind it and will sometimes say “in the spirt of perfect love and perfect trust,” but I won’t say it unless I feel it, I was lucky enough to truly feel it this weekend.
We have a tradition in our circle of welcoming everyone to ritual by passing around a chalice full of sparkling cider after quarters/circles and before calling the Lord and Lady. This time I picked up that chalice, looked around my circle and mentioned just how I much I felt perfect love and perfect trust. It was a great moment, I couldn’t have been happier, it was the perfect start to a Thanksgiving Ritual.
After calling the Goddess and God we did the predictable have everyone go around the circle and share the things they are thankful for. Even though it was an obvious thing to do it was still a nice moment. After nearly two years living in California I was happy that it finally felt like home. In my circle of perfect love and perfect trust and a chosen family around me I couldn’t have been happier. I don’t like to complain about being depressed or anything, but I had a rough first year living out here, and especially difficult autumn in 2011, it’s amazing how quickly things can turn around.
After everyone shared what they were thankful for, it was time to pull out the part of the ritual that I knew was just going to make the night special. I had everyone go around the circle and talk about why they were thankful for each person in the circle. We started with my wife and listened to everyone share their feelings about her. We then went around the circle, making sure everyone was embarrassed and loved all at the same time until we ended on me. I don’t think we tell the people in our lives how thankful we are for them sometimes, and to get the chance to do so in a place of perfect love and perfect trust was a special thing.
When we were done with the ritual everyone lingered in the living room for a good long while, when no one wants to leave I tend to think the ritual (and night) is a success. Hugs were shared, Hostess was eaten (shoot me food police), and if I were to only eat a TV Dinner this Thursday I would still say Thanksgiving 2012 was a great one.