A Ritual Timeline

A Ritual Timeline February 18, 2014

Over President’s Day Weekend I (and my coven) presented the 1899 Ritual at PantheaCon 2014. I’ve led this particular ritual a handful of times over the last ten years, but never for two hundred folks in a gigantic ballroom. Presenting a large ritual and turning it into a spectacle takes a lot of work and preparation, and I’m deeply indebted to everyone in The Oak Court (my coven) for being a part of it. I couldn’t have done it without them.

What follows is a timeline plotting out the work involved in presenting a large, somewhat ambitious, ritual in a public setting. I’m not sure how many great insights are to be found here, but I figured there might be a few things that folks would find helpful in the future.

Summer 2004 Along with “Little Buddy” (a dear friend who now teaches at a large Midwestern University) I devise the 1899 Ritual as a living history experiment. Was there enough Pagan-like material in circulation to create a Witch-style rite in 1899? 1899 is picked as the cut-off date for material because it marks both the turn of the century and the publication of Charles Leland’s Aradia, Or the Gospel of the Witches. Angels are invoked at the quarters and there is a very strong Golden Dawn/Ceremonial Magick type element about the ritual.

November 2010 The 1899 Ritual is dusted off and presented anew. This time most of the Ceremonial Magick material is jettisoned and more Masonic elements are added. The Conjuration of the Lemons and the Pins from Aradia is used as the central working.

Friday September 7 2012 The 1899 Ritual is presented as an open ritual in Northern California’s South Bay. The central working is changed to The Charging of the Stone to Prevent Betrayal and Bring About Good Luck from Leland’s Etruscan Roman Remains (1892). The charging of the stone includes putting it in one’s mouth and then having to recite a long spell, this delights me to no end. The ritual ends up being incredibly short and the decision is made to add more elements to it. This run through of the ritual serves as a sort of dress rehearsal for another go of it at the ConVocation gathering in 2013.

Friday February 23 2013 The ritual is performed at ConVocation for about 70 attendee in a tiny little room designed for half that number. A new section, The Blessings of Pan, is included. The blessing includes the poem: Pan: a Double Villanelle by Oscar Wilde, even though it was written in 1913. I pretend that it’s older than it is. The ritual is presented with two priestesses I have known for years, but had never worked with before. Other than screwing up the directions (my fault) it all goes pretty well, though working without a lot of practices makes things less polished than they otherwise could have been.

September 2013 1899 is submitted to PantheaCon in hopes of making their schedule. In November I find out that it was. The coven has been warned that I will seek their assistance, most readily agree.

Saturday January 11 2014 The first coven read through of the ritual is performed. The version I hand out to everyone is basically the version used the previous February, though a circle casting from The Lesser Key of Solomon has been added. Eleven people volunteer to help with the ritual and parts are divvied up on a line by line basis. People grow irritated with the process, a few folks begin thinking the whole thing will end up a total disaster.

In retrospect, dividing up lines during the initial read through was probably a bad idea. The original script handed out to everyone assembled basically featured seven parts: two priestesses, a priest, and four quarter callers. I wanted to break up the priest part but didn’t explain that very well, and it ended up looking as if I was assigning lines to people at random. I was familiar with the ritual, but made the fatal assumption that everyone else was a mindreader and knew it as well as I did.

Saturday January 18 2014 We walk through the ritual and things are tweaked here and there, when we are done everything seems to make more sense than it did the week prior. Angus makes the comment that “everything feels familiar, but it’s all just a bit off,” and everyone agrees with him. We decide this is a good thing, like reading a different version of a familiar story. More thought is put into costuming during this meeting, and the ritual starts to become more than just a rite with everything a bit off and into more of a production. Matching gowns are decided upon for the ladies, with the men’s costumes varying from Masonic to militaristic to Indian to Egyptian.

Working with a large group helps a great deal when it comes to ritual “blind spots.” No matter how talented a ritual writer is or how experienced they are, there’s always something they are going to end up forgetting. It’s just human nature and it’s great to have people helping out to make sure everything is taken care of, but there’s a dark side to it too. As the organizing force behind the ritual I wanted (and needed) everyone involved to trust me from time to time, and there were moments when that didn’t happen and my temper nearly got the best of me. This is something I’m going to have to work on in the future.

Saturday January 25 2014 Practice goes smoothly and confidence in the ritual and our ability to execute our respective parts grows by the week. There are still a few rough patches, but things are coming together. It’s decided that my style of flirting with a large circle of people is rather humorous.

It’s at this practice that I also decide to change Wilde’s poem a little bit to better reflect California. Up until this moment I had always imagined 1899 as taking place in London, but our reality is far different. No one is using a British accent and it’s completely conceivable that someone in San Francisco circa 1899 might have been doing magickal ritual. Changing the words also makes the poem easier on my 21st Century tongue.

Saturday February 1 2014 The cozy confines of my ritual room are abandoned for the house known as the Freaky Tiki. We end up being down two priestesses (out of three) so a read-through is staged instead of a full rehearsal. Plans are also made for fabric shopping and gown sewing. The next day our last to be able to make a meeting quarter caller stops by to go over her part for the first time. The Broncos lose the Super Bowl that night and I enter a solid state of depression for 48 hours.

Friday February 7 2014 The dresses for priestesses and quarter callers are cut and sewn together over a period of nearly five hours (and there’s still more work to be done). I’m blessed to have so many great and dedicated people helping me out with the ritual.

Sunday February 9 2014 Our usual Saturday rehearsal is changed to Sunday in order to get all three ritual priestesses together at the same time. The song Pipes of Pan by Adrian Ross (lyrics) and Edward Elgar (music) and written in 1899 is added to the ritual. The song is simply voice and piano and I thank the gods they placed a music teacher in my coven. Amazing. Final rehearsal goes well, it is decided that I do a wonderful impression of Angus (who was not there).

When the woods are gay in the time of June
With the Chestnut flow’r and fan,
And the birds are still in the hush of noon, –
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
He plays on the reed that once was a maid
Who broke from his arms and ran,
And her soul goes out to the list’ning glade –
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
Though you hear, come not near,
Fearing the wood-god’s ban ;
Soft and sweet, in the dim retreat,
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
When the sun goes down and the stars are out,
He gathers his goat-foot clan,
And the Dryads dance with the Satyr rout ;
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
For he pipes the dance of the happy Earth
Ere ever the gods began,
When the woods were merry and mad with mirth –
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
Come not nigh, pass them by,
Woe to the eyes that scan !
Wild and loud to the leaping crowd,
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
When the armies meet on the battle field,
And the fight is man to man,
With the gride of sword and the clash of shield –
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
Thro’ the madden’d shriek of the flying rear,
Thro’ the roar of the charging van,
There skirls the tune of the God of Fear –
Hark to the pipes of Pan !
Ours the fray – on and slay,
Let him escape that can !
Ringing out in the battle shout,
Hark to the pipes of Pan !

Thursday February 13 2014 Cookies are made for the ritual using blessings and instructions found in Aradia. I foolishly elect to take on this challenge myself, and hand-shape over 250 gobs of dough into cookies that vaguely resemble a crescent moon. The cookies are made wine, brown sugar, and oatmeal. They are surprisingly not as horrible as I worry they will be. No cookies are burnt during the baking process.

Sunday February 16 2014 It’s the day of the big ritual (at last) and it’s up against a rite by Orion Foxwood and a concert by R.J. Stewart. I begin to wonder if anyone will show up. Early attempts at a walk through in the ritual space are thwarted by another group using the room (who would have guessed?) leaving us only 30 minutes to set up. Everyone looks fabulous as we scurry around and Angus is smart enough to get a few pictures of us all in our ritual regalia.

About 6:40 pm (the show starts at 7:00 pm) I run back to my hotel room to grab a bottle opener; there are twenty-five or so people lined up outside the door waiting to get in. When I return a few minutes later the line has been moved a little bit by PantheaCon authorities, and unbeknownst to me, this results in much of the line now being out of view. Four minutes before the ritual is scheduled to begin I leave our closed ritual space to give a quick over-view to those waiting outside. The line has grown well pasty thirty people now, and they are snaked into a currently empty ballroom . . . . . it’s a lot of people. (Later we estimate about 200 or so). Instructions are shouted to both parts of the line, jokes are told, and my group and I prepare to do this thing for real.

My workshops are generally a combination of humor and information. People go in expecting to laugh at a few jokes, I didn’t want people entering 1899 with the expectation of laughter. I glower at the assembled crowd as the file in, most of them continue to chat. On the spur of the moment I change the opening of the ritual and end up walking around the circle attempting to put the crowd into a more serious mood. I’m not sure that I’m successful, though everyone does stop giggling.

We get back to the ritual’s script and those who have chosen to help me are near flawless. Quarters are called, the circle is cast, threats are hurled at the audience, and I go off script once more. A short segment focused on the sharing of signs and gods is turned into a much longer piece as I prance and scowl and end up telling a few jokes. My priestesses do a lovely job of letting me go off-script and come in exactly when needed to.

The ritual contains several long pieces of poetry and exposition, and as our coven is not a working troupe of actors, not all of the rite’s lines are memorized. When we are done with the ritual this is commented on with someone saying “I don’t generally like rituals that aren’t memorized.” I understand why some expect rituals to be memorized, but I’ll freely admit that it’s usually beyond my grasp to do so. I’m just not good at it, so I can’t expect those around me to do it either. (I can’t memorize my own writing!) All I ask is that those doing the ritual with me be expressive and overly familiar with their lines, and they were. I’d also rather get things right then watch things go majorly wrong because someone forget a line.

(The biggest glitch in the entire ritual was on me. I gave out a hearty “Hail Pan!” halfway through our call to Pan leaving the poem’s second half on the cutting room floor. I was moved! I also screwed up majorly!)

The crowd is great and everyone plays along with us. When the priestess calls for everyone to recite a spell with a rock under their tongue everyone participates. There are giggles and gasps when that part of the ritual is announced and I can’t help but find myself with a giant dopey grin on my face. We raise some Pan energy near the end of the ritual with 200 folks all changing “Now leave the hills of Arcady this modern world hath need of thee!” It’s a great feeling. During cakes and ale our music teacher priestess sings Pipes of Pan. At first there’s a lot of rustling and talking going on during the song. I’m sort of bothered by it, and later it’s explained to me that about half the audience didn’t realize the song was being sung live at the ritual. By the end everyone is watching and quiet and they all look pretty amazed by it. Rapturous applause greets the end of the song and it’s well deserved.

A few minutes later and the rite is over. I am greeted by a numerous well wishers after everything is finished up and I hear nothing but good things about the ritual for the next eighteen hours I’m at PantheaCon. I don’t think anything I’ve ever done before has received more appreciative comments. Tired, giddy, and a little high on Pan energy I run off to a blogger meet and greet where I feel awkward and out of place, but that’s another story. Now that it’s over I can say that last weekend’s celebration of the 1899 Ritual will stick with me for as long as I walk this Earth, and all of the things that went into it over the past ten years were essential in creating its finest moment.

1. Me! Photo by Angus McMahan
2. Actually picking up a pen is beyond me at this point in my life. Things are printed and then pasted into a book I bought for that purpose.
3. My wife! photo by Angus
4. Ritual gowns!
5. Cookies with an extremely unauthentic to the period mixer.
6. Altar, though the apple juice bottle didn’t make the final cut. Photo by Angus

7. Sheet music to The Pipes of Pan

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  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Perhaps one year, I’ll be able to get to one of your rituals–this sounds like it went very well indeed! Congratulations on seeing such excellent fruits to your efforts on this! IO PAN!

  • Kat Emralde

    This sounds wicked fun 🙂 Someday I will make it out to the left-coast for some pagan-y goodness.