So, back home (roughly 4 hours away), my pagan friends are getting together to celebrate Beltane/May Day. The themes will center around life/rejuvenation/fertility, but there’s also a strong theme around children (we will crown May Queens and Kings and they will dance around a May Pole). Among other themes, the myth of Rhiannon will also be recited/celebrated/reflected upon.
This circle is very inclusive. While the overall feel is pretty “generic pagan”, there are touches of secular, Egyptian, and other influences, however small or brief. The coordinators have gone through some great lengths to make sure people have a sense of ownership with respect to this ritual, should they choose. For example, everyone is invited to bring something sacred to the ritual and place it on the altar to be blessed. The point here is celebrating together. Everyone comes together to celebrate something we all celebrate and could have celebrated on our own (spring). Togetherness is emphasized by allowing for ownership, input, and voice from the community. There is always the danger that you could wind up with something incoherent…a jumble of traditions and mythologies and ideas that never really form a narrative. However, with focus and careful revision, I think those planning this day have created something that allow everyone to get the biggest bang for their buck, balancing the elements allowing for personalisation with those that provide a generic enough experience that most can partake in (considering it is a public ritual).
The ritual was written by a number of people together. Everyone was allowed to comment, suggest, or change the ritual. While a core group of people ensured that there was consistency and a lack of complete juxtaposition among elements in the ritual, anyone could contribute. The core group wrote the draft and revised it over time. As suggestions were made, they incorporated them. They asked others for input (present company included).
This allowed the group to decrease (hopefully) what I think can be common phenomena in many pagan get-togethers can be. So many pagans do their own thing that when its time to get a diverse group of pagans together for a public ceremony, that public ritual just feels very “generic”, sometimes too generic to be meaningful (not always, but for me, usually). Obviously, there is merit to generic rituals…it means no one is left out or left feeling out of place by something that is said or done. In this way, it actually increases the likelihood that people will find something meaningful when you aren’t sure who is coming to the ritual. Without mentions of specific myths, symbols, deities, or traditions, you lower the chances any participant will encounter something incongruent with their personal practice.However, sometimes we can feel “left out” by what isn’t said or done.
Obviously, groups that practice together as a circle/temple/coven don’t have this issue nearly as often (because everyone is working from the same paradigm). But many of us in this area (and I suspect others) either (a) don’t feel any coven in the area suits their needs, or (b) do not have many/any covens available to them period. Thus, a diverse group of people must come together to do what they can to feel a sense of community.
Wait a minute though. It sounds like I’m looking the gift horse in the mouth. I mean, finding others to practice with, period, is a luxury. Why whine when you experience a few things that don’t jive with you? I agree. Completely. But at this time, we were given the chance to be inclusive (given the powers of facebook and our smaller numbers). I’m sharing not because “We will do it better and everyone should do it this way.” I’m sharing because I’m proud of my community, I’m proud to be a part of it, and I want to share the experience in case anyone is able to replicate.
So why does it matter that it speaks to people on a personal level?
Consider, for example, if one person, Peter, believes in invocation but another, Paul, does not. If part of the ritual involves drawing down the moon, Paul may not get much at all out of this rite while Peter is having a profound experience. If the ritual didn’t draw down the moon, Paul might feel as if something is missing while Peter is happy with the ritual. In both instance, someone misses out. But, to really feel the most connected/get the most out of it, the symbols and actions in the ritual have to “jive” with the everyone in the circle. The jive can be aggregated to the group level at this point, and have even better effects. In public ritual where people from all walks attend, that’s hard to do because people think/feel/do so differently from each other. I think this group circumvented this (or tried to) by providing voice.
The guy that orchestrated this really went out of his way to give everyone ample time and opportunity to say their piece. Maybe someone out there thinks letting the kids dance around the May Pole is dumb, but no one has said anything, so hopefully that means that even if it doesn’t “jive” with them, it also won’t kill their buzz. But I can honestly say that he did listen and try to incorporate everyone’s feedback and suggestions.
Granted, we don’t call in many different gods; I suppose for many people, that might allow for the biggest feeling of “jive” that there could be. I’m sure somethings were compromised to some degree. But you have to draw a fence around something. If we put everything into the pot, it goes back to being very generic and feeling as if all the elements are juxtaposed against each other. Instead, we incorporate different symbols, phrases, poems, and songs that pull from different people’s traditions. I certainly don’t deal with Rhiannon, but I do feel close ties to the overall theme, many of the songs used, and pretty much all of the symbols used. There’s a tension to keep between specificity and generality, and that tension is easy when the group is small and voice is used.
One portion of the ritual involves blessing/offering objects everyone brings. They are small trinkets that will soak up and serve as reminders of the energy we drum up and wallow in during May Day. They can be anything, so long as they don’t take up too much real estate, and they will all be placed on the altar with other offerings. This is one of the portions meant to allow people to individualize to their hearts’ content.
Enter the Netjeru.
I’ve already celebrated Heru’s coronation and the marriage of Aset and Wesir earlier at the equinox, so I was thinking of focusing on the love/products of the love of Nut and Geb. Nut and Geb are especially appropriate at there will be a May Pole. Most of us have seen the images of Geb laying beneath Nut, and the idea of seeing the May Pole as Geb’s manhood seems quite appropriate. Also, I think this celebration shifts focus from Aset and Wesir (who, though they are connected to Nature, deal mostly with the intersection of humanity and nature – agriculture and kingship are both examples of how we relate/respond to nature and civilization) to purely “natural” Netjer – the sky and earth, Nut and Geb. I know it’s not totally traditional to do things for Nut and Geb, but I always have incorporated them into my practice, especially Nut. I also like how the “sneakiness” inherent in the story of Nut and Geb (namely, the conception and birth of their kids) ties into the sense of mischievousness and celebration of love/sex inherent in Beltane (I know mischievousness might not be there originally, because its a celebration of sex and thus counter to the “naughtyness” we impose upon it falsely, but I like the playfulness it brings).
Had I thought of this earlier, I would have suggested something to the group. But at this point, I would like to simply (a) dedicate my time to Nut and Geb and (b) bring an item that I use for Nut and Geb/could use in the future when offering to Nut and/or Geb.