Monday, May 05, 2008

Ritual Festival

This weekend's Beltane gathering was wonderful. I've worked a number of festivals: some were completely entertainment (like a Renaissance festival), some were glorified craft fairs, but I had never previously been to a gathering like this, where the purpose was ritual, celebration, learning, and fellowship.

We had positively perfect weather, even though the forecast was for rain on Saturday night. The temperature was perfect, and it didn't rain at all. The park we were in had several campsites, each with a number of clusters of cabins and a dining hall, bonfire pit, and infirmary. We had one such site that had four cabin clusters. I stayed with three staff members (one is a current co-worker and another a former co-worker of mine) in the infirmary. We ended up being perfectly situated in the middle of most things and closest to the dining hall where they did most of their work. It was also great because we had our own bathroom!

This is the altar for the opening ritual on Saturday morning. We cast our sacred circle to encompass the entirety of the campsite, and made it permeable so friends could enter and exit at will. Directly after, we crowned the king and queen of the May. Saturday also included the maypole dance.

I don't have any pictures of the actual dance because I was a part of it. I think one of my roomies may have a few. We got turned around once or twice, but otherwise it was one of the best coordinated maypole dances I've seen. It wasn't perfect (I've actually never seen one executed perfectly, though in theory, it's quite a sight) but we weren't there to be perfect anyway. After the maypole had been wrapped, it was left standing all weekend so people could come and get fertility blessings from the maypole. A fertility blessing applies to anything that involves creation; it could have been for a craft, starting something new, or a new life.

After the maypole dance, we held our main ritual. This involved the joining of soil from the sacred spaces of the people gathered. I provided soil from where a maple tree that was sacred to me once stood. We then mixed it together, and each participant took a cup of it and a single sunflower seed.
My workshop was after dinner. I had about eight people and a poor bird that was trapped in the building. I forgot to check if it had gotten out; I hope it did. I had written an extensive lesson that I managed to leave at home, but I did have my outline. I think I was able to talk about almost everything I wanted to talk about. I do intend to write up this lesson, and it will eventually find its way to the Arcanum (it's something I've been needing to do anyway!). I think my little class went well, and I hope those who attended agreed.
Saturday night ended with a bonfire and drum circle. A few of us without drums, including myself, spent much of that time dancing around the fire. No wonder my legs are so tired today! In the infirmary, we got to bed around 0130, which wasn't so bad considering we had to get up early to start breakfast.
My only workshop on Sunday was a mala crafting class. Mala, meaning "garter," are prayer beads. I've made a few small sets in the past of my own design and method, so I was excited to take this workshop and hopefully learn something new. I was not disappointed. In fact, it was quite wonderful, and I hope to make some more sets with my new knowledge.

The one hour time slot this workshop was allotted proved to be too little. We ended up taking almost two hours. That's really because knotting between each bead takes time when you are a beginner, but we all wanted to do it. That's some of the skill that I was really hoping to pick up with the class. I've been wearing and getting to know my mala all day today. For me, it's a comfort to have them around. The very first strand I made broke. The second one recently lost a bead. I have another (I made three that first time) that I haven't used yet, that's how recently the second one lost a bead. The mala I made yesterday is twice as long as my first sets; they're traditionally one hundred and eight beads, but can be made any length that is a multiple of nine (you will usually find fifty-four, which is what I made yesterday, or twenty-seven, which is what I had previously made).
We concluded our weekend with another ritual where we opened the circle we had cast on Saturday. It was a truly fabulous weekend.
I took off of work today so I could finish cleaning up my gear and conclude my part of the ritual. The seed needed to be planted, and I took a portion of our ritual offering (instead of cakes and ale, we had berries and tea) to offer in my own sacred space. I chose the base of the massive oak tree in my back yard to leave the offering. I planted the sunflower in a place that will get sun. I hope it grows.

The theme of this festival was "plant a seed of unity," meant to draw groups, small covens, and solitaries into a larger group: not a coven, but a community. By mixing soil and planting actual seeds, we can take the energy of the gathering and bring it to points all over the region. I've been solitary for a while, but I've also been in covens before. It's refreshing to be reminded that, even though I practice my spirituality alone, I never really am.

I would like to take this blog moment to thank Shadow Grove, the Northern Virginia Pagan Network, and MoonFire for putting on this really wonderful Beltane celebration.

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