The third and last question of this series, and my favourite to answer for myself – What do you do? (The previous two segments can be read here – Part 1, Why I do Ceremony & Ritual; Part 2, When and Where I do Ceremony & Ritual)
There is a whole lot I can cover here that could very well make up a book. As I was writing this piece I had to remove large portions as I went because it was getting too in-depth and much too large; So it will be more of a glancing summary instead which I feel doesn’t really do justice to what is covered. Over time I hope to present each one in full proper detail.
From here, what is viewed as ritual and ceremony can differ greatly, which is mostly why I prefer to refer to it as customs. I don’t really go for pomp and pizazz when it comes to personal acts. I find that sort of thing is most appropriate at major events for keeping a crowd’s attention. For when it is just me, it is simple actions and acknowledgements in my mind in that dedicated moment. Most simply as a basic meditation where I just take a moment and let it all sink in. Sometimes words or gestures come to mind that seem the most appropriate and do them. Over time this can get refined, but I try not to let it become a solid set of actions or routine as I feel that can take away from the experience of the moment. Having things come up unexpectedly and going through as it comes makes it always feel fresh, new and as a result am more awake and aware of what’s involved. In so doing I get a greater sense of connection, relevance, and fulfillment. That way I avoid the “going through the motions” rut that many rituals and ceremonies can find themselves in over time. Meaning is often lost in rigid rituals and reasons for doing them can then become lost too. More fluidity and adaptability to new encounters is something that I feel helps a tradition grow and blossom. That is where customs come in.
What is found to be a small consistency becomes a custom that can come to be expected, but not mandatory. As examples here are some of my daily customs: Moving snails, worms, caterpillars, and june bugs off the sidewalk;
For my morning walks, sitting a moment in the bend of the creek taking in the surroundings in an awareness meditation; Document my local environment through the seasons and weather events with photographs and journaling; Collecting dead specimens found during my excursions and presenting them in a shadow box to share in the diversity of life around our immediate area; Picking up trash on our way to school is a custom my child and I partake in, as well as looking into the creek and seeing what we can find on our way back home later in the day; Observing the hornet nest each time we go by it to see if anyone is home and counting them (They’re quite friendly. Had even pet one – it seemed to have thought the act undignified. So long as you don’t disturb the nest or try to harm them hornets can co-exist with humans, just like honey bees, with the exception of ‘aggressive’ species i.e. Killer Hornets. These non-aggressive hornets are great as they’ve kept pest species down in our little garden and pollinated the flowers). But these customs are not always done, just more often than not and sometimes are expressed in different ways. Such as doing a walking meditation or leaning against a tree for my morning meditation instead of sitting, or looking for the hornets in the garden instead of in their nest.
The biggest custom I have is following The Three Basic Tenets of Ehoah,
Thus I actively endeavor to ensure all my connections within Nature are harmonious; in everything I do and use; maintaining an awareness of and respect for our interconnections; and creating a lifestyle that reflects this. It being a process that is continually improved upon with no end point. The expression of The Three Basic Tenets can develop in various ways and gradually change over time, but the prevailing undercurrent would remain as a recognizable custom. With respects to this I’ve recently acquired a Permaculture Designer Certificate so that I can better accomplish harmonious connections within Nature. (See Cultural Quandaries: Soil, Cultural Quandaries: Water, Saegoah Pursuits: Rainwater Harvesting Earthworks, Growing A Forest Garden, and Cultural Quandaries: Home Design)
Energy transfer, as mentioned in the second segment of this series, is a prominent moment for ritual and ceremony. One such moment that is highly valuable to us is fire. Fire is a popular representation of energy because it is itself the release of energy originating from the sun. For when I’m about to start a fire, if the participants are unfamiliar with energy transfer, I like to have a small unscripted teaching on the energy pyramid, ending with, “This wood that is about to burn was once a living tree that harvested the energy of the sun. So when this wood burns, it is not the fibers of a dead tree being consumed. It is the fibers of a dead tree releasing the energy of the sun.” Once the fire is lit I like to say this little poem that expresses how we are connected to what we are witnessing, “Light from wood is light from sun. This energy, within everyone.” So yes, we are in essence solar powered.
The most direct way we personally experience this energy transfer is eating – taking in solar energy to power ourselves. But prior to eating is much opportunity for ceremony. The first being harvesting/foraging.
So a garden (potted indoors and raised beds outdoors) and maintaining that garden is part of my ceremony and ritual. Along with that is forays into wilder areas where I can hunt and forage as I go, incorporating an awareness meditation throughout my excursion.
In peak season I often go out just for that purpose – lately being apple and choke cherry picking. For foods that I am unable to grow or forage for I skip to my local farmer’s market buying what will be soon eaten and stock piling what I can for off season.
Just the search for local, sustainable food sources is part of my ritual, and always continue that search to replace what is of yet not local or sustainable. This comes with experiments in homemade goods, another ritual of mine, of which goes into the second opportunity for ceremony prior to eating – preparing food.
While working with each ingredient (I also do this for everything else I make, such as clothing and equipment. For clothing I’ve been experimenting with local alpaca and sheep fibers) I meditate on where each comes from, how it was grown and gathered to end up in front of me, and how it will soon be very much a part of me.
Following that is Eating. Before every meal you can say or do a little something to acknowledge the energy transferring from what is dead before you to be energy you use. Below are two examples of words that can be said before a meal, one more casual, the other more involved. The scraps from food are then incorporated into another ritual – composting and Inoculative Libations
Appreciation Of All
“Before we eat, lets embrace in a web of life in a moment of silence to appreciate this food, where it came from, the effort taken to prepare it, and those we’re sharing this meal with.” … “Let’s Eat!”
We Are The Land
“When we eat food, we are eating of the land. What we take in becomes part of us and in turn we become part of the land our food comes from. We are not separate from the land, we are the land. When we speak it is the land speaking. Each, one voice among many, singing the land’s song. Let us all respect ourselves by respecting the land, remembering our connections and being grateful for them.”…”Connected to All”
This solar energy is continuously transferring from one organism to the next, and that means organisms are continuously dying in the process of sustaining the living. I live in a cold climate that has a short growing season, so I can’t grow or source vegetative food locally year round and neither am I able to obtain all my sustenance solely from vegetation.
Therefore I consume some meat now and then to be healthy and I take my part in that process very seriously. I grew up on a farm that raised and butchered its own meat; I can’t do that where I am now so I get my domestic meat from a local farmer who has free-range livestock, and is just as serious as I am about the matter. My significant other hunts – I have yet to obtain my hunting license and plan to rectify that as soon as reasonable, but we both shoot traditional bows, having little interest in guns.
From the words of my spouse, bow hunting forces you to engage in greater depth to be successful in your hunt. You have to learn the behaviours of the animal you are pursuing and be ever more patient and skilled just to get close enough to have a shot (unlike in gun hunting where none of this matters so much). My spouse feels that this is very connecting to our part in the circle of life – you are now a direct participant, instead of just a consumer disassociated with where your meat comes from.
It can easily be considered a sacred act and very involved ceremony, where you have to change your sleeping pattern to be where you need to be at dawn and dusk; You dress in your ceremonial garb to better perform your part; You’ve practiced your role in order to execute the ceremony with propriety and there is the classic sacrifice at the end. The sacrifice of one life to sustain another. For hunting or butchering there really are no words that can be said when directly participating in this part of the life cycle. There is just silent acknowledgement of what is done, a very solemn moment.
This subject of death relates to our own life stages. For the easily determined life markers I’ve only so far developed two of the five – Bonding (Wedding Ceremony), and Dispersal/Burial.
In the Dispersal/Burial Ceremony the body is buried – no cremation, no embalming, no metal casket, nothing to prevent decomposition – as to allow the energy in the body to be consumed by other life, just as the person that had lived had consumed the energy from other things that once lived – continuing the cycle. Having the body wrapped in a shroud, or in a simple wooden or wicker casket, or buried as is are simple (not to mention affordable) ways to bury the dead that allows for the body to disperse. The words of the ceremony elaborate on this cycle of life and death and how without death there would be no life. Instead of a tombstone a tree is planted in memory – ideally of a species the departed was fond of. If a marker with a description is still desired a small engraved boulder or a small pillar can be used along side the tree. Burial grounds would reclaim old fields and reforest them.
The Bonding ceremony involves planting a tree at the ceremony and a year after it where you live to commemorate your love and watch it grow as your love grows beyond the ‘honeymoon’ phase. The focus of the ceremony itself is on the teachings of the seasons as a reference for the events in a relationship: The warmth and long days of summer, as love coming easy; The fruits and harvest as the bounty of sharing a common goal; The cold and long nights as the trials and struggles that need to be overcome; and new life and play of spring, as rejuvenation in the love for each other. For the Bonding Ceremony there is a public and personal option to choose from.
The ritual and ceremony of the other easily determined life markers, Birth, Puberty, and Conception, are not yet developed in my practice and tradition when it comes to personal events. But is forming gradually as I personally experience and study these events through what is revealed through science and the different customs and cultures throughout the world. Even the Dispersal and Bonding ceremony are liable to change as new information arises along with developing for global function.
Each of the eight solar ceremonies touches on one of the life stages for public ceremonies.
For public ceremonies I have no “closing the circle” or other such forms of beginning a ritual or ceremony. And without that there is an interesting effect – there is no inside or outside, and with that there is little of “us vs them”. There is a lot of the sense of inclusion and openness to passer-bys. So my ceremonies and rituals are always striving for that open and inclusiveness, which being in such a way makes it have the potential for a great deal of variety. The most common form is a loose gathering with either a central or polar focal point.
As mentioned in the previous installment the solar events are described as the cycle of night and day along with involving the life stages most applicable to these events. The following is a summary of these interrelations and what is done during these solar events:
Symbolism (Symb) and Actual Activities (Act)
Equilux: Birth & Infancy
Symb: Day and night is equal and going into longer days symbolizes the dawn of the year. Dawn itself being symbolic of new beginnings making it a moment to celebrate those experiencing new beginnings. Especially expecting mothers/parents and possible new arrivals.
Act: Providing nest building materials for Birds and small mammals having offspring. For humans, baby clothes and other family products are gifted to expecting parents to prepare homes for family life. People with new homes have house warming parties, and those who are renovating may receive care packages that assist in the project.
Symb: The morning of the year, when the day is young and life is abundantly active. This is reminiscent of young life.
Act: Most every other animal who hasn’t already given birth are doing so at this time. This would be the time when human infants would be born in the Kalendar for most regions of the world if procreation was commenced after Transequinox. It is encouraged to take quality time with children by together learning through discovery – of surroundings, the environment, the world, and beyond.
Lux: Puberty & Youth
Symb: The year’s noon. The brightest part of the year with the longest days, evoking the energy and fervor of youth. This being the moment of most light in the year, themes on light and what we can see are abundant such as optical illusions and rainbows.
Act: In youth comes puberty, the mark of entering adolescence – becoming a young adult, making it a moment for discovering and celebrating self expression in whichever form it may take, especially gender expression. Youth are provided opportunity for self discovery and preparing for adulthood responsibilities. Trick of the light/optical illusions are presented to challenge young minds to question everything they see before accepting what ever is presented in front of them as reality. And therefore be better prepared to engage in the world, learning about the world, and not falling victim to those who would take advantage of ignorance. Because even if ignorant would be capable to engage in such a way to enlighten themselves without assistance or having to learn the hard way. Dressing up in a rainbow of colours is a fun expression for this time of year.
Transequinox: Young Adult
Symb: The year’s evening, and the warmest part of the day and year, bearing the first fruits and maturing life. Represented as the evening it is considered to be a moment for togetherness, companionship and wooing; as well as celebrating the development of strengths and skills of young adults – those maturing in life.
Act: Competitions are held of various skill sets and strengths – involving creative, physical and mental challenges. Fledging youth “test their wings” by “leaving the nest” and striking out on their own; Courtships are had during the competitions; Young adults are encouraged to take these moments to bond with a significant other, and there are Bonding Ceremonies (weddings) for those who find themselves ready to announce their commitment to each other. Those prepared for starting a family actively procreate between Transequinox (Young Adult) and Equinox (Middle Age) in order to have child around Translux (Child) when the weather is more gentle on the young.
Equinox: Procreation & Middle Age
Symb: Half daylight, halfway through life. The Dusk of the year.
Act: Those prepared for starting a family actively procreate between Transequinox (Young Adult) and Equinox (Middle Age) in order to have child around Translux (Child) when the weather is more gentle on the young. Individuals of this age group celebrate achievements and hard-earned knowledge by passing what they’ve learned down to others. Sharing knowledge (tales of skill gaining, and learning through failure) especially for the Nox Mensis (dark months), engaging the younger in mind games so that they may gain wit, and providing a knowing hand in preparing for tough times. Apprenticeships can be started and those with the experience house and teach students.
Transnox: Old Age
Symb: The days are shorter with nights growing longer – the late night of the year and late years of life.
Act: This is a moment for acknowledging old age (‘Getting mossy around the edges’) and beyond. The skeletal character Virid-os (“Green Bones”), its bones overgrown with vegetation and colonized by small creatures, uses dark humor to bring up uncomfortable topics such as death and decay. The character is somewhat apathetic, but takes pleasure in its potential to nourish other life, sometimes offering up parts for use. Transnox encourages discussion about typically uncomfortable topics; to consider those who have come before us and what they have imparted on the next generation; and for really thinking about things that you may have not considered before – this is done to think and act on things you want to do before your death. Elders reminisce and youngers listen to learn what they can. Prepare for your own death with funeral plans and wills. Celebrations focus on the death phase in the circle of life by having the harvest feast themed on how the nourishment from them is sourced from what has died.
Nox: Death & Conception
Symb: This is the longest night of the year, and death is considered the “darkest time” in life. This is also when the days begin to get longer so new life is celebrated as well. The subject of death and conception connects to the subject of deep ancestry, the origins of life and the celestial bodies that life depends on.
Act: This is a solemn moment to remember those who came before us, whose bodies have provided the earth with nourishment. That nourishment providing a richer environment for new life. Those who have successfully conceived since Transequinox, now being past the first trimester when pregnancy is most at risk of miscarriage, announce the news and are celebrated along side those who have dispersed. The cycle of life and death renewed. The Cosmic History is retold and celebrated during these longest nights of the year when you can take a moment to look up at the night sky and appreciate what is before you.
Symb: The days are getting longer, making it a moment to prepare for new beginnings of the up coming symbolic dawn of the year – Equilux.
Act: As the year is about cross into the ‘day’ part of the year, there are many themes on preparing for the new beginnings. Households begin to thoroughly clean out the old and unused to donate, reuse and salvage as well as downsizing in how much you own to what is truly used and needed. This is especially done for those that have conceived, preparing their home for the new member of the household. The arts are celebrated with art shows, performances, and craft fairs to fill in the still long nights, and is an opportunity for apprentices to show what they’ve learned in the past few months and sell some of their products. This is also a good time for crafting items for expecting parents.
A lot of the details are exempt from this summary, and some are still in development – being slowly tweaked and built upon over time to function on a global scale yet be open enough to adapt to regional differences. Hopefully I’ll be able to express each of these in greater detail through the coming seasons so that those interested would be fully able to participate as the solar event comes around.
When it came to making rituals and ceremonies it forced me to ask myself a few things beyond the five I’ve presented in this series that really helped me come to be comfortable in my skin, grow as a person and act on my beliefs. I still ask these questions and I still learn from their answers and develop from them, and sometimes those answers change in unexpected ways. I also think its important for everyone to ask them too.
What do I believe? How and why did I come to those beliefs? Should I reconsider what I believe? Do my actions reflect my beliefs? If they don’t, what beliefs do my actions express? Should I change my beliefs to reflect my actions, or should I change my actions to reflect my beliefs? (if changing actions) How can my actions be meaningful? What would the desired outcome look like? Do I need to reconsider both my actions and beliefs toward something else entirely?
What really motivates me to not only do this, but to share it has been well summarized by the last set of quotes from the short documentary “OVERVIEW” by Planetary Collective which I’ll close with,
“We are seeing very clearly that if the earth becomes sick, then we become sick. If the earth dies, then we’re going to die. People sense that somethings wrong, but they’re still struggling to go back and find what the real roots to the problem are. And what I think needs to come is a realization its not just fixing an economic or political system. But its a basic world view. A basic understanding of who we are that’s at stake.” “…and a part of that is to come up with a new story, a new picture, a new way to approach this, and to shift our behaviours in such a way that it leads to a sustainable approach to our civilization as opposed to a destructive approach.” “On a grand scale basically we’re all living in this one ecosystem called earth, and everything you do on one side of the ecosystem effects the other side and that is a new way of living for most of humanity.” “We humans are responsible for ourselves and we are endangering our future. Then we got to learn how to do it differently and to go forward into a sustainable period; And right now that seems very difficult, very difficult to see how that’s going to be. But we got to work on it.”