Beltane 2011

Note: the following write-up is heinously long and poorly written. That said, it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for far too long, and it’s time to push it out. I’ll fix the writing later. It’s time to stop procrastinating the DP documentation.

I attended my first full grove ADF ritual on Saturday, May 7.

Six or seven of us gathered deep in the woods — there’s a funny story to finding the spot that I’ll save for later. After a quick pre-ritual briefing and individual private grounding/meditation in the woods, one of the full grove members called us to the altar space with a horn–literally, a horn made of horn. Another grove member played the flute as we processed through the woods and around a little pond to the altar. The ritual leader anointed us all with oil as we entered the sacred space.

The sacred space was beautiful. Somehow the grovemembers had found a campsite in a nearby wilderness that had a clearing near the road for revels and, hidden from the road, another clearing and a tiny pond! The pond was our well, the sacred tree was the slim tree that acted as our maypole, and they’d built a bonfire before the altar. Though it rained all morning, the clouds parted for our ritual, and the rain began again after revels were concluded.

A grove regular made an offering of beer to the outsiders, and then the ritual leader led us in a chant for the grove attunement.

Next up? Honoring the Earth Mother, spoken by yours truly. The grove regular scheduled to do it couldn’t make it, so I volunteered. During the meditation time, I made up and memorized a very nice little speech, then promptly forgot it when all eyes were on me. I spoke from the heart, though, even if I didn’t speak all that eloquently. I made an offering of barley and lit a stick of incense.

The ritual leader then invited Brigid for Bardic Inspiration and said the statement of purpose. The three full grove members created the sacred center. Our senior druid invited the spirit of the Black Bear, the grove’s patron animal spirit, to act as Gatekeeper. A grove regular called the ancestors, a visitor called the nature spirits, and the senior druid called the deities.

That brought us to the deities of the occasion. One grove member invited Cernunnos and the senior druid invited Aine. These two were so impressive — they’d either memorized what they said before or are just better natural speakers than I, which wouldn’t be hard! But they spoke so confidently and so beautifully, I felt certain that Cernunnos and Aine were listening and responding to the calls.  I realize now, though, the importance of performance in ritual. Timidity spoils the mood, while confident, boldly spoken words bolster the group mind and surely are pleasing to the gods.

We didn’t make a full grove offering to the deity of the occasion. I’m not sure if that’s “correct,” especially after the solitary rituals I’d done where I focused so much on the deities of the occasion and tailored my offerings to them. We did each make personal offerings: the senior druid and I made offerings to our patrons, I made an offering to Aine, another grove regular made an offering to Cernunnos, several made offerings to Brigid, and one visitor jumped the bonfire, as did our senior druid.

After the offerings, one of the full grove members took an omen by reading the fire. I’d never seen anyone do this before, and it was remarkable. He told us the fire reminded us that everything changes constantly, and what is lost is consumed to make the new. He said the fire was pleased with our work that day, and we had done good work in honoring the Kindreds. The ritual leader and the senior druid then passed around the waters of life (mead for those drinking alcohol and water for those not) and told us to drink deeply because the group working was next.

That done, we danced a maypole! We wove our hopes for the growing season into the streamers, and after we were finished, a grove member had us cut the end of our streamers to take home to our altars as a token of the dance.

We then thanked the deities and the Kindreds, closed the gate and thanked the Black Bear, thanked the earth mother, and ended the rite.

I’m sad to say, I spent a lot of time feeling awkward. This was my first public ritual, and like the first time you visit any religious service, it takes a bit to learn the conventions, like holding the hands open when speaking to the Kindreds, and following each calling with, “Hail and welcome, XXX.” I was also dreadfully nervous about speaking my bit and about making a good impression. I’d like to be a grove member someday, and I’m afraid my awkwardness didn’t help me to that end.

I was also troubled by the lack of offerings to the deities of the occasion — I thought that was what we did in official ADF rites, but I also liked the personal workings and offerings section, so I suppose it all evens out in the wash. I was also troubled because technically Aine is Irish and Cernunnos is Gaulish! They both fall under the umbrella heading of Celtic, but it’s still a bit mixed-and-matched.

Still, I had a wonderful time, and as our omen said, I think we did good work.

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One thought on “Beltane 2011

  1. Sounds like a great experience. Never worry about not knowing the “right” etiquette or the secret handshake or stuff like that; nobody is watching to make sure that the new guy knows exactly what to do at every step. The important thing is that you learned a great deal; about the way that this grove operates, and the importance of confidence and speech in liturgy.

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