Dandelion Seeds: Ten Tips for Running a Big, Festival-Style Ritual

Dandelion Seeds: Ten Tips for Running a Big, Festival-Style Ritual February 17, 2016

Panic! Flail, flop, roll my eyes, and smack my head! This is the buildup for a big ritual. I’m deep into prepping for my ritual and workshops at Convocation. I try not to let it suck my life away, keep a good balance of spending time with my family and getting work done, but the truth is that planning for big rituals like this is a sucking time void. I can spend hours agonizing over words and texting people to organize those I’ve asked to take part. I make sure people wear the right things, and ponder how to adapt my ritual structure to the place and time. There are a lot of details.

a group of people around a bonfire in the afternoon
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hill

I’ve realized that running big rituals is a lot like being a producer, director, and an actor in a movie: you’re doing it all. It’s amazing anyone pulls this stuff off.

Ten tips for running a big festival style ritual:

  1. Talk slower than you think you ought to. The stress and adreneline that goes into prepping for a big ritual can make one a tiny bit hyper. Just a bit. So when you’re running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off and then you leap in to sacred space, it can be hard to remember that everyone else isn’t going at light speed. Go slow and say your words deliberately. It will help you avoid the “ummm” moments in public speaking.
  2. Ask for help ahead of time. Make sure you are touching base with the people who you want to be part of your ritual team and be clear about your expectations, especially with people who aren’t experienced ritualists. Even with people who know what they are doing it’s best to give them lead time on stuff you want them to say word for word.
  3. Make it experiential. Don’t just use words. All too often I see rituals that are one long run on monologue that never ever ends. Just like run-on sentences, run-on rituals are bad. Break up all that beautifully crafted liturgical poetry with action, engaging the senses, and movement.
  4. It’s okay to focus on showmanship. We often back away from thinking about ritual as a performance because it seems inauthentic or unreal. But that’s far from the case. It takes real work and skill to learn to control your voice, move with grace, and create something beautiful and powerful. Put on a show for the folk and the gods and see what happens.
  5. Think about blocking. This is a word from theater productions and it means the stage directions about where actors should move during the performance. If you think about where you should be and how you should move beforehand you will be less erratic and prone to wiggling, or talking while your back is to the majority of the people trying to listen to your epic monologue about Artemis.
  6. Practice ahead of time. Say the words you’ve written out loud, see how they sound. Writing that is meant to be read is a very different thing than writing that is meant to be said. Most of us have written plenty of papers in school, but not everyone takes speech class. Think about using dramatic pauses, volume, and pitch to make your words more powerful.
  7. Sing, use rhythm, repeated speech, or call and response to build energy with the people present. These are all ways to get the people involved. Our religions focus on personal interaction with spirit. Make sure you’re using the tools we have to help that happen.
  8. Don’t apologize. Let me say that again: don’t apologize. Ever. I don’t care if you just dumped the sacred waters or did a somersault through the crowd. Laugh. Make a joke and help to rectify the situation. You need to be the leader of this group of people for this short time. Apologizing puts you at lower social dynamic subconsciously. Don’t do it. Apologizing afterward is great, go make sure everything is okay and explain what happened. But not during the ritual. Don’t apologize.
  9. Don’t forget this is about building relationships. Ritual is about building connections between community members, between individuals and spirits, between humans and deity. Take the time before hand to reach out to the gods and spirits you intend to work with. Give them a heads up just like you give your ritual team a heads up. When the time comes to ask them to show up to your rituals they’re way more likely to turn their attention your way.
  10. Have fun! Even if you do make a heinous mistake or feel like an ass you are doing the work of the folk and the gods! This is the stuff that awesome is made of. If you have fun, others will too.
a group of people of various ages holding hands in a circle
Photo Courtesy of Michelle Hill

An Example

Here’s an excerpt from the ritual I will be running this Saturday at Convocation. It’s the main offering to the swan spirits.

Note how I’ve added in a repeated spoken refrain, hopefully people will catch on and begin to repeat it with me, helping to keep them tied into the ritual and the energy building. I’ve added just a bit of blocking direction in the form of the parentheses indicating what needs to be offered to each spirit. Each offering will be lined up in a row in the correct order before the ritual begins to make everything flow smoothly.

Because I know that my environment is going to be a hotel conference room there will be no fire to pour butter and milk into, therefore I will have two bowls for offerings to be poured into, one wet, and one dry. Otherwise we get what I like to call “The Muffin Batter Effect” This is where druids pour beer, grain, butter, milk, and other such things into a giant bowl along with herbs, rocks, and the Gods only know what else. It makes this nasty looking concoction that might bake up to be a muffin fit only for giants who like to make their bread from bones.

Without further ado or explanation a call to the Swan Maidens:

We call to you now winged ones, alight here this night, be with us.

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.

We call to Norse Hervör alvitr and Hlaðguðr svanhvít. Valkyries mighty and sisters true. One named Army-woman All-wise and one named Veiled-valkyrie Swan-white. Both who wedded for seven years to seed the myth of Volund smith, the curse to return to the spirit realm kept at bay for many years.

(Gift of Amber)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.

We call to Baltic Gulbė mergelė, the swan maiden. Sweet and kind she helped an old man and woman on their farm, but flew away at the end of day. With stolen wing she was forced to stay, the King to see and Queen was made. Her father as swan flew above, and begged to drop a wing below, she did not go. Her mother as swan flew above, and begged the queen to take the wing, but son she had, so she did not go. Her beloved came, and begged the same, this time her heart did glow. Her son to leave, she took the wing and this time she did go. But sweet and kind this maiden was, she did not forget the son left behind. She sang sweet songs on window ledge, and flew away again. Though time did take her beloved to war and to the land of the dead, and though the king did marry again the song she still did sing. Sweet and kind the swan queen came and sang to her son from window ledge, and so was caught in the end by the king, and lived with him again.

(Gift of Milk)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.

We call to the Slavic Vila: these women untimely dead who haunt the hills and woods.   They bring the breath of wind and death, and they too take the form of a swan. Legends tell of those who steal their wings and make them live again. But always they leave, often with blood and strife in their wake, war to make again.   Only the brave dare try and take the wing of such as those.

(Gift of Cookie)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.

We call to the Vedic Saraswati, goddess of river and song. She rides on the back of a milk white swan the symbol of discernment and purity. Giver of the power of expression, delighting in inspiration,. Saraswati you are the sister of six rivers. Saraswati you are the seventh river. Speaker of truth and beloved one you bring order and imagination.

(Gift of Butter)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.

We call to Celtic Fionnuala daughter of Lir, sentenced to serve 900 years without returning to human form. Her stepmother’s jealousy wreaked havok with form,  so she and her brothers swam unloved, from the land were torn.

(Gift of Chain)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.

We call to Celtic Caer Ibormeith vision walker, music maker, beloved of Angus Og, the god of love. Sidhe from under the mound she walked in swan form chained two by two. Angus did seek her on Samhain day, transformation came, and away they flew.

(Gift of Crown Bracelet)

Maiden caught and maiden gone, gifts to give, song is sung.

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