For the ritual my buisness partner Jamie and I wrote for PantheaCon 2009 I set myself the challenge of crafting the main god figures for the center altar. It took a while, but i managed to get them done just in time for the convention and the ritual!

Now that ritual is over they are for sale in our Artfire shop and I can show them off here! 🙂 The awesome photos are by Jamie (of course) who now has a whole bunch of her photography up in the shop by the way!

I’ve also been doing a little bit of writing for Artfire.com’s Art Daily. So far they have posted two of my pieces. One is a short article about how to create your own beaded doll head. The other is about how to be friends with people with allergies and chemical sensitivities (like me!) I hope you’ll swing by Artfire and take a look!

Blessings,

Kate

Ritual at PantheaCon 2009

January 26, 2009

Greetings one and all!

Now that the PantheaCon 2009 schedule is live and public, its time for the official announcement of the ritual that Jamie and Kate have been working on with a few friends. Jamie and Kate co-wrote the ritual based on an idea Kate had to celebrate the polarity aspects of the Wiccan God and Goddess. Jamie is also the Stage Manager for the ritual and will be the on site contact, as Kate cannot be at the convention yet due to her health.

PantheaCon is a great opportunity for people interested in alternative religions and spiritual ideas to gather and network with each other. The convention has been held in the Bay Area every year since 1995. Mirth and Reverence is thrilled to be a part of the convention and looks forward to sharing our work with everyone.

“A Walk in the Garden of Polarity”

Written by Catherine Pennington and Jamie Morgan

Come take a walk with us through the Garden of the Wiccan Lady and the Lord to explore and celebrate Divine Polarity from a decidedly eclectic Wiccan perspective. Covens and solitaries from the Gardnerian, NROOGD, Coven of the Sacred Feminine, CAYA, Dark Moon Circle, NineSisters Ritual Group, and Eclectic Wiccan and God. This ritual will contain an extensive guided meditation and is not suited for young children. Participants are encouraged to wear celebratory garb, their cords, and any coven insignia they may have. Everyone, Wiccan, or not are most welcome and share in this celebration!

Program Bio

Mirth & Reverence is Catherine Pennington (by Remote) and Jamie Morgan (on Site). Together they create beautiful art work including Altar dolls and Beaded Jewelry as well as teach classes on ritual and magic, and produce innovative rituals. For this ritual they have the fun of being joined by many talented ritualists including members of their coven – Ratatosk, along with members of DarkForest Coven, Coven of the Sacred Feminine, CAYA, and a collection of amazing individual solitary practitioners, techies and warders. For more information visit their website: www.mirthreverence.com

The ritual will be Sunday February 15th at 7pm in the Cedar ballroom.

If you are at the convention that weekend, look for Jamie to be out and about, when she is not prepping the ritual, and Kate’s husband Scott Pennington at his massage booth Improoovements. Stop by and say hi! Also keep your eyes open for the roving stuffed cat gathering photos of friends to take back to Kate!

My last post “Living the Demetrian Wheel, Reality Strikes” was a first for me. Turns out it was the first time I have ever publicly written about having Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). After two years of living with this condition that seems a little odd, but its true. Up until now I have confined my writing and processing about life with MCS to my private journal, MCS email lists, and discussions with friends. Honestly I think it has taken that long for me to come to terms with this condition and make a certain level of peace within myself around the situation. But as an artist, ritualist and priestess, eventually what is in my heart and mind becomes a part of my work, and I guess my last post was the turning point.

All of that brought to mind that it was time for a little bit of truth in advertising for this blog. A little bit of “who is this crazy lady writing about MCS, ritual, art, gods and goddesses and the like?” And what is it that I am likely to write about on this electronic page of mine?

Five or Six years ago I would have answered that question by saying that I am writer and creator of ritual and ritual theater works, a mother and a priestess. At the time I was the founder and Artistic Director of Magical Acts Ritual Theater an experimental performance group in the Oakland, CA area that explored the boundaries between theater and ritual, between the sacred and the profane. We never made a living at it, but we did manage to pay the bills in the end, which if you know anything about nonprofit, volunteer theater is saying something! I resigned in the fall of 2002 to get some sleep, do some writing and rediscover my family. That worked for a while… but we Type A’s get bored soooo very quickly!

My Bio Photo from my days as AD of MART

Sadly, whatever I had planned for my post-MART days was eaten by the “Flue that would not go away” which started sometime around late 2004 / early 2005. Anyone familiar with MCS can see the plot begin to thicken right about now. Turns out that sometime in that period I was exposed to a very large dose of formaldehyde through a large remodel that was being done on the building that I worked in at the time. Lots of cheap industrial paint and cheap industrial carpet all over the place including right under my feet. Being “normal” at the time, it never occurred to me that this was a problem. Except that from that point on I had this flue and these sinus head aches that would not quit and would last for a week or two, go away, and then reappear – lather, rinse, repeat, over and over again.

In the summer of 2005 I was diagnosed with a massive dust mite allergy. WTF?? I had never had allergies in my life! That started the prescription medication and the allergy shots routine that I now live on. A little over year later I was on my second, or was it third?, sinus infection and a new round of antibiotics. Then in October of 2006 came the lovely adventure to the Emergency Room while at Disneyland that I wrote of in my last post. This was the triggering incident that brought the slumbering formaldehyde into full toxicity and me into the world of life with MCS.

My purple hair – dyed in celebration of my new life with MCS and suddenly jobless because of my health

– weird, but hey it was fun while I could still do it!

The first six to nine months of life with MCS I spent sleeping or watching DVD’s. There was just no energy – no spoons for anything else. So I missed most of 2007, which sucks when you have growing teenagers. Bless my house mates and husband! They stepped in and took over when I couldn’t be there and got the kids and me through the worst of those days! Slowly I learned to breathe again and think again. I discovered that there was a world out there… and of course… I got bored! Lol.

As luck would have it, around the time I got sick, a friend of mine had introduced me to the world of Robert Tonner dolls and Fashion Repaints and it occurred to me to try my hand at redo a doll for myself as an icon of Demeter. So I did and it was fun and other people liked what I was doing… so I tried a few other designs… and people liked those dolls… and started asking if I would do commission work! And now I have the seeds of a business doing Altar dolls! Getting sick lead me to my art – who knew? I have no idea if I will ever be able to make a living doing this, but for the moment it keeps me (mostly) out of trouble, and pays for itself, which in this economy is an absolute requirement!

The Demeter Altar Icon on my altar behind my desk

With my art has coming my writing – my ritual work specifically. I used to say that I was a Writer! Ok, I don’t *think* I was that bad, but I might have been. But this enforced downtime has helped me figure out that its not that I must *write* in the sense that a novelist or short story writer might use that word. When I need to *write* it is almost always to write ritual. I am a ritualist first and foremost, all the writing about ritual comes afterwards. But the requirements of MCS, staying away from all scents and chemical fumes, makes working and being in public damn near in possible – so for now, I am limited to writing ritual for my coven which is small and very MCS wise, and writing about ritual. Yes, its frustrating as hell! And actually its not the complete truth… I am writing rituals, just more complex and detailed ones; the kind that need time to brew and percolate to become their ideal selves.

And last, but never least, I am a priestess. Somehow this has always been true, and now, even with the MCS, or perhaps because of the MCS, it is even more so. I am a priestess of several powers. My work for the rest of 2008 and through June of 2009 at least will focus on my relationship to Demeter, hence the recent spat of work on the Demetrian Wheel of the Year.

So what is Sacred Seeds Weblog about? Art, ritual, life with a chronic condition… ways to celebrate life no matter what the universe throws at you!

I feel like I should title this post “bad priestess no biscuit”. October has been a wash, ritually speaking. Thankfully Demeter seems to understand and be rather tolerant of my efforts to get my life in order. Or at the very least she has not ripped open the ground at my feet or anything that dramatic.

My plan in drafting a Demetrian Wheel of the Year for my own working was to follow it for at least a year to see how it fit into my life and to learn from the experience. After all, if I claim to be Demeter’s Priestess shouldn’t I walk that talk in a very real sense by walking the path of her festivals? Well as with many well intentioned plans… life er… had other plans?

This is the complication of being a priestess and having a chronic illness, everything needs to be adjusted to the needs to the body. Oh. Goodie. So October has become “Flue” month rather than “ritual” month as I was planning. *sigh*. But then again, Demeter seems to understand what she has in me… so this all seems to be part of the process. Yeah, the process of teaching an Aries to mellow out and walk instead of run into everything! Riiiiiiight. Good luck!

All that being said… a few things have been accomplished, a little out of order… but I’ll take all the successes I can get.

I now have my out door altar to Demeter. This is a stand in for the Temple that is to come. The hubs and a cluster of other crazy friends have offered to assist in the creation of a larger exterior “temple” for her in the same spot. We are designing it along the lines of the Asian Spirit / Ancestor Houses which are built as mini houses in various designs for the spirits to live in. Since this is for Demeter, it will be Greek in style of course. And I have finally worked out what I want… hmm… what we want I guess is the better phrase. A four (Doric) column, single room temple with three steps leading up to the entrance. Nice and simple.We are going to rig an opening in the roof so that I can place the Demeter Altar Doll I made several years ago inside during the dry summer months and take her out in the winter. I’m pondering painting the image in Pediment rather than trying to create a set of mini sculptures for the whole thing! I found this very cool website that goes through the stages of development for the Greek temples complied by John Porter of the University of Saskatchewan. I’m hoping to have the temple built and put in place in time for Plynteria in April/May.

Over the weekend I ordered Barley seed so that I can plant a winter batch as soon as they arrive. I will need to work out a private honoring of Proerosia (about a month late, ah well) and include preparing the container and the location I am going to set the seeds out in – near the new altar.

I have a great idea planned for honoring the Stenia, but my schedule keeps getting messed up and timing with the group of ladies who are game to join me has been fubared – we all seemed to have gotten sick this month. My plan is very un-ritualistic and horribly contemporary but entirely within the spirit of the thing. A Girls Night in with videos, tasty things to eat, questionable drinks, and lots of bawdy girl talk. In particular we’ve been plotting a viewing of a lovely little musical called Naked Boys Singing. The Musical is much fun and the dvd was well done… and well… what can you say about lovely men with no clothes on who are enjoying themselves and singing about it? So again, the celebration will happen… just very out of sequence to the actual calendar.

I did manage to do an honoring of the Thesmophoria in a way… another very contemporary approach to ritual, but honoring the spirit of the festival if not the actual script. October 15th is the anniversary of the day I went into the Emergency Room at Disneyland in anaphylactic shock, which is a much longer story that does not need to be told here. That event triggered the toxins that had been stewing in my body from an exposure to Formaldehyde about 18 months earlier. The anaphylaxis pushed me over into full blown Multiple Chemical Sensitivity – the chronic illness I now live with. This year my business partner Jamie and I created a ritual to help me mourn some of what I had lost through that experience and celebrate some of what I have gained. We performed the ritual on Friday October 17th at the Berkeley Marina with a handful of other friends who shared in letting go some of their grief and celebrating some of their joys. It was a quiet and poignant evening.

Now the wheel turns and the Wiccan in me prepares for Samhain this weekend. More honoring of grief and joy at the end of the year. Somehow it all fits together. And just behind me, supporting and offering comfort and understanding, I can feel Demeter’s presence. Sister, Lover, Mother, Goddess, Cohort in Crime, and Friend.

This is the first of several posts that I made in a private journal exploring some aspects of my research work on the calendar used for festivals and rituals related to Demeter. After many wonderful comments in private, I made the decision to bring this work public and cross post the core material here. This is an on going process of discovery and exploration.

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I have begun a cycle of work with Demeter that will lead to interesting places. Among them, are a set of rituals I need to do, many will be just me, myself, and I, others will have invitations sent out to them on a small scale. These rituals follow what is called by some the Demetrian Wheel of the Year. As you might imagine the fall is rather busy for this harvest Goddess, which makes my life more than a little interesting right now, but I have plans and plots that will make this work without too much stress (I think). What’s bugging me is the fact that the year as laid out for Demeter’s festivals is not meshing with what I understand of growing cycles here in California. I’d sum up for you, but that really wouldn’t help – so here is the long version…

(dates are contemporary approximations of when the rituals happened in the past – the ancient Greek Calendar being rather different than our current one. The Description of what happens comes from Jennifer Reif’s “The Mysteries of Demeter” – a good book over all. )

October 7 Rites of Proerosia Preplowing rites. Blessings and magic for to

prepare the sacred field

October 15 Stenia Festival Bawdy humor, sacred sexuality. Barren

Demeter becomes Fertile Mother.

October 16 Arkichronia Festival Creation of fertility talismans. Combining

Earth and Underworld powers.

October 22 Thesmophoria Proper Celebration of Demeter’s sacred laws.

Remembering our divinity.

October 23 Rites of Nestia & Kalligenia N = The Sadness. Queen Persephone leaves

her beloved Plouton/Hades and the

Underworld. K = The Rejoicing. Ascent of the Maiden. Reunion of Demeter and Kore. Planting.

January 10 Festival of Haloa Celebration of new green growth in both

cultivated field and wild nature.

March 1 Festival of Chloaia Festival of flowers, of Verdant Demeter and

Kore, and of the green earth.

April 12 The Lesser Mysteries Ceremony of the whole festival cycle.

Purification. Consecration to Demeter.

May 15 Thargelia The Harvest. Demeter the Harvest Queen.

The seed and the Maiden are matured.

June 7 Kalamaia the Threshing. Freeing the seed grain from

the chaff, honoring Triptolemos.

June 28 Skira Festival The Maiden’s descent. In love, Plouton and

Persephone unite. The grain is stored. The fallow period begins and in the following months, Demeter becomes the Crone.

September 20 The Greater Mysteries aka The Eleusinian Mysteries Proper

The Sacred Drama. The reconciliation of

Demeter, Plouton, and Persephone. The Rite

of the Cista Mystica. The Thanatos Rite.

The Crowning.

Now… the cycle as stated here, starts in October and everything is geared toward the Greater Mysteries being the end of the cycle … so in a way, that helps me. I could do nothing now, i.e. skip the GM/EM… which just sounds wrong, or go ahead with a small thing, and then do something a bit bigger next year as a way to complete my year of processing.

The other odd thing to my poor wiccan brain is that the reason the cycle starts in October is that the planting apparently starts in October. Now maybe I am just to Temperate focused but that just sounds wrong to me. Eve in Greece, or it did back in olden days… I don’t know what its doing know… Mum… do you recall from your days in Greece? Meanwhile here, where we have a supposedly Mediterranean Climate the plants are completing a cycle of growth and harvest. We are not preparing the soil for planting. We are preparing for dark time, and a time for the land to lie fallow. Reif talks about the Proerosia as a rite of “pre plowing” – am I just not understanding? Is this something we do to prep the soil before winter so that it will be ready to take seeds and grow in the spring? … But she also has planting happening at the Rejoicing during the Kalligenia. So again with the confusion.

New growth in January I get. “The hills turn green with winter rain” is a powerful line in one of the songs from the Spiral Dance. And by March we have flowers so that I can see… but the rest is messing with my head.

So I am trying to sort out this planting cycle thing Part Two

… June through October is not a fallow time in California. Though honestly is there ever much of a fallow time in CA? I went looking for growing season information starting with Wheat:

Wheat ( Triticum aestivum L. ) can be classified as winter or spring growth habit based on flowering responses to cold temperatures. Winter wheat development is promoted by exposure of the seedlings to temperatures in the 38 degrees to 46 degrees F (3 degrees to 8 degrees C) range. Such types are usually planted in the fall which exposes the seedlings to cold temperatures during late fall and winter. Spring-types, however, do not require exposure to cold temperatures for normal development and can be planted in spring. Both winter- and spring-types, when properly grown in Minnesota, head in the late spring or early summer and mature by mid- to late-summer. this from: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/cropsystems/DC2547.html

grrr. Everything I am turning up in my web searching is showing me exactly the same thing as what I thought I knew from two years of working in the Produce industry and from actually paying attention to both what comes in at Whole Foods and to the Farmers Markets. While we might get classified by some as a Mediterranean climate, we have the growing cycle of the Temperate Zones only better. But overall the cycle is similar.

What all this means food wise is that the summer fruits are ending now. While you will see peaches and nectarines in the stores, they are past their peak. Ditto for all of the berries. I have been told that Pears are coming into season – the interesting ones, not the year round crap, so I need to try some of the good stuff and enjoy.

Oranges have become a year round crop, so I can’t actually tell what their natural cycle is. Same for Apples. I did find notes that January is the month to tend to Apple planting and apple trees. I know that fall is “apple season” in my head. Back east is was when we would get the organic apples in to the farmers market. And apples last through winter because they store well so that is why they are one of the common fruits used in the fall for feasts. Same with onions and potatoes. If you store them right, they will get you through a lot of tough times.

The vegetables I am less clear on. Artichokes are summer. Cucumbers are traditionally summer but are force grown now for year round use, same with all the lettuces, celery, carrots, and tomatoes. The heirlooms you get in the summer though. Corn is a late summer / early fall crop. Here’s a lovely blog by a Bay Area gardener who is growing corn: http://mybayareagarden.blogspot.com/ The squashes have specific seasons depending on their nature: Winter squash or Summer squash. The Zucchini have been over grown so most people don’t know that they are a squash let alone that they are supposed to have a season. *sigh* Pumpkins of course are a fall/winter veggi. I *might* get one from my attempt to grow them this year, which would be way cool.

So I am back to the fact that I am not convinced that the cycle as practiced in ancient Greece fits contemporary Northern California, or really any of North America for that matter. What to do about that is another matter. …

See it’s the May date that really starts my problems. The Thargelia – Harvest in May. For Temperate zones this is the beginning of summer. While we all call Summer Solstice The First Day of Summer, in Pagan/Wiccan terms Beltane is the first day of summer and Summer Solstice is the Height of Summer and the Height of the Gods power – hard to be the beginning and the height of something at the same time, how did you get to the top of the apex anyway? Here things are still reveling in life and growth and sex for Goddess sake. Who wants to be harvested now? Just after Beltane? Yuck! So now. That does not work for me. Ditto the Kalamaia on June 7th – Thressing and seed from the chaff? That’s John Barleycorn time. Nope, not working for me. Skira Festival June 28th – the Maiden’s descent. Excuse me? What is she doing going down in the bright sun? And then Demeter is supposed to be a Crone at the height of the growing season for this region. I don’t think so. Nope, also not working for me.

Ok… Wiccan wheel of the year – starting at harvest for a visual:

August 2 Lammas First harvest

Sept 21 Mabon Harvest festival threshing. Seed from the chaff

Nov 1 Samhain New years. The dead. Mourning and Celebrating.

Preparing for fallow period.

December 21 Yule Festival of Ligts during the dark. Land lies cold. No

growth. Dark nesting seeds.

February 2 Imbolg Milking of the lambs, celebrating new life in the

sheep. One last storm before spring.

March 21 Ostara flowers and green growth

May 1 Beltane Vibrant life growth all around

June 21 Litha Height of growth and sun.

But what if we pushed all of those back a few months? If the Thargelia is actually a cognate to the first harvest that the Celts and contemporary wiccan’s celebrate as Lughnassad / Lammas, and Kalamaia is what we celebrate at Mabon / Autumn Eqinox, then the Maiden descends into the underworld with her lover at oh I don’t know… Samhain? Heck, I’m easy… it could be any date about two weeks after Autumn equinox, so the 1st of October even. Which for contemporary pagans works out nicely since some of us end up doing the Greater Mystery anytime in the first two weeks of October, and really that makes much more sense to me (though why that would be I think is a separate diatribe) .

It also seems to me that the Rites of Proerosia happen out of order here in Northern climates. I suspect, though I need to do more digging because its not a rite I am familiar with yet, that it has more cognates with Imbolg magic and that level of preparation before spring than it does with Mabon’s harvest magic. If I am correct, I would vote to move this rite to early February between Haloa and Chloaia – honor the human work that needs to go into helping the land be ready to produce on an agricultural scale vs celebrating what nature does naturally when the rains come (Haloa) and after plowing and work has been put into the fields (Chloaia).

Hmmmm….

Alternatively move Proerosia to January when the land here is rich and wet and able to receive. Prepare it for the work ahead. Then push Haloa and Chloaia each back. That puts Haloa in February as the celebration of green growth as the rains begin to slow and trickle off. Chloaia at Beltane and the Festival of flowers. Move the Lesser Mysteries to June / Summer Solstice – the height of Demeter’s power with so much growth happening all over the place. Then we are in sequence with the other dates for the local harvest. That feels better, it doesn’t leave the whole summer without festivals to honor the Goddess who brings us the yummy stuff.

Haha! The damn cycle does map to the stuff in my head!! So this is what I think it should look like:

January Rites of Proerosia Preplowing rites. Blessings and magic for to

prepare the sacred field

February Festival of Haloa Celebration of new green growth in both

cultivated field and wild nature.

May Festival of Chloaia Festival of flowers, of Verdant Demeter and

Kore, and of the green earth.

June The Lesser Mysteries Ceremony of the whole festival cycle.

Purification. Consecration to Demeter.

August Thargelia The Harvest. Demeter the Harvest Queen.

The seed and the Maiden are matured.

Autumn Equinox Kalamaia the Threshing. Freeing the seed grain from

the chaff, honoring Triptolemos.

October 1 Skira Festival The Maiden’s descent. In love, Plouton and

Persephone unite. The grain is stored. The fallow period begins and in the following months, Demeter becomes the Crone.

Pre Thesmophoria

October Stenia Festival Bawdy humor, sacred sexuality. Barren

Demeter becomes Fertile Mother.

October Arkichronia Festival Creation of fertility talismans. Combining

Earth and Underworld powers.

Thesmophoria Main

October Thesmophoria Proper Celebration of Demeter’s sacred laws.

Remembering our divinity.

October Rites of Nestia & Kalligenia N = The Sadness. Queen Persephone leaves

her beloved Plouton/Hades and the

Underworld. K = The Rejoicing. Ascent of the Maiden. Reunion of Demeter and Kore. Planting.

October 10 – 25 ish The Greater Mysteries aka The Eleusinian Mysteries Proper

The Sacred Drama. The reconciliation of

Demeter, Plouton, and Persephone. The Rite

of the Cista Mystica. The Thanatos Rite.

The Crowning.

Now this still leaves me with what to do about all the damn rituals I need to celebrate… but if I can get Demeter to agree to this calendar, then I think I have something to work with. I see a meditation in my future.

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A few days later… I learned more… that changed my world view again!

On Defining Ritual

November 19, 2007

Ritual is many things, easy to define is not one of them. I see ritual as celebration and transformation; a creation of the human heart and our need to make connections. It is a dialogue with spirit and with self that enables us to make deep and lasting change in ourselves and the world we share, and through that process learn about and explore elements of who we are and what we think. Ritual is that which transforms us with our active participation and intention. That transformation may be minute – the shifting of a mood, from a very bad day or a bad headache into a calmer space with a decrease in pain, or it may be enormous- the movement from uninitiated, blind practitioner of a religious system into an initiated, knowing member of a religious community. While there are a number of things that go into creating and performing ritual, without the shift of consciousness and reality that happens through some form of transformation, ritual is merely play and story telling. And it is this power to transform and make lasting change, that gives ritual its power and its magnetism. And yet, what is ritual in truth? How do we define it ways that are usable and less than a page long?

In “Deeply into the bone; reinventing rites of passage” Richard Grimes, a Ritual Studies scholar who has written several books on ritual and ritual studies, digs into the difficulty of how to define ritual. In discussing the thoughts of Robbie E. Davis-Floyd, he quotes Davis-Floyd as saying: “a ritual is a patterned, repetitive, and symbolic enactment of a cultural belief or value; its primary purpose is transformation.”   In his discussion Grimes focuses on the quality of generalization in this definition. Davis-Floyd is choosing to name the actions of doctors in hospitals as ‘ritual’ in contrast to the usual approach which is to see them as technology or science. Grimes points out that this generalization is rather broad, making it possible to define many more common activities such as going to work or school as ritual. “Even taking out the garbage is repetitive (Tuesday mornings before 8:00 am), patterned (from countertop to under the sink, to bins, behind the garage, to street curb – always in the same order), symbolic of primary Western values (cleanliness, orderliness), and transformative (of the landscape).”  Even Grimes admits that he is taking this to an extreme so as to point out how general this definition is and how it therefore allows anything to be defined as ritual, but this is something we see in a lot of definitions and discussions of ritual, mine included. Grimes eventually resolves his issues with the use of ‘ritual’ as a meta word, by suggesting that what happens in the hospital is not ritual specifically but a ritualization of actions. “I am willing to think of hospital birth as ritual provided we signal the metaphoric move we are making by the use of a special term such as ritualization rather than rite.”   Using the word ritual as a kind of umbrella word to encompass a spectrum of meanings, Grimes defines ritual at one end of the spectrum as ritualization or ritualized actions, and at the other end as “rites”

I think it is very important that we understand and be conscious of our choices when using the word “ritual’ to describe many different ways of working. We need to be clear that we are using ‘ritual’ in a broader and more generalized sense where ritualization and rite are ends of the spectrum. Where I once would have said that brushing my teeth is a ritual, I agree now that it is a ritualized action. Clearly the work I do most of the time, what I call ritual most often would fall into the end of the spectrum as a ‘rite’. Grimes defines rite as referring “to a set of actions intentionally practiced and widely recognized by members of a group. Rites are differentiated, even segregated, from ordinary behavior. Often they are classified as “other” than ordinary experience and assigned a place apart from such activities.”   I think it is important to see that Grimes is adding “intentionally practiced” which touches on one of the core elements of magic from the wiccan perspective: intention, and differentiating the actions of a rite as set apart from every day actions, which touches on Mircae Eliade’s distinctions between sacred and profane.

In searching for a definition of ritual it is easy to stumble over the issue of what to do with meditation and prayer. Meditation and prayer are both prescribed and repeated sets of actions which are created by an individual or group for the purpose of better understanding the self and/or the Divine. And generally meditation or prayer is a time set aside from the every day, profane, world. We even talk about having a time of meditation and quiet as sometime different from the rush and noise of daily life. It is also an intentional act and one sometimes associated with the sacred if not a specific manifestation of the divine. So does this make them both rites or ritualized actions? Grimes again proves useful here. Grimes explains that conventional ritual theory splits the work of humans into two categories: “ritualistic (nonutilitarian, expressive) action and nonritualistic (utilitarian, means-end oriented) behavior.”  It is this distinction between expressive and means-end orientation that I think is one of the final pieces to defining what is a rite and what is ritualized behavior. Meditation and prayer are both means-end oriented. They may have ritualistic elements in them, but their purpose is to achieve an end result, generally a particular state of mind. Rites are expressive in that they have as a goal the expressing of thoughts, opinions, ideas and even emotions. While there is usually an end goal to the magic at the heart of a ritual and that goal can be very utilitarian in nature (finding a job or sending healing energy) and so a means-end orientation in part, the primary purpose of the rite that the magic is a part of is expressive. So to the spectrum of types of ritual I would include a distinction about whether the purpose of the action, not just its component parts, is expressive or about an end result. As the dividing line between ritualization and rite is not always going to be easy to see, the distinction between expressive and means-end is not always going to be easy to see.

Understanding, and accepting that I am using ritual where Grimes uses rite, and that rite is part of the spectrum of ritual actions, I can finally define ritual for myself and my work as:
A set of expressive, sacred actions, intentionally done in one or more prescribed ways, outside the boundaries of profane life for the purpose of transforming the self and/or the community.”

Or to put it less academically and more practically:
ritual is a dance with the divine that stretches and changes us and the world around us.

—–

Davis-Floyd “Birth as an American Rite of Passage”
Grimes, Ronald “Deeply into the Bones”

Altars and Altar Building

November 15, 2007

I have been an avid altar builder for years. At first it was simple things, a candle or two, a feather, some incense and off we go. Over the years, and depending on the reason and need, I have built more lavish altars to the point where some folks have suggested I write a book about altar building. In this case, my lack of compiling with this suggestion is more about my own puzzlement than any procrastination in my head. And by puzzlement I mean thoughts running through my head like “well… ok, but you just put stuff on the altar and it looks pretty.” I am really not trying to be dense, I guess I just do altars as an instinctual process so much of the time that I forget that others don’t do things the same way. For me, building an altar is “simple”. I really am not trying to sound like an ego maniac here… I just don’t think it through most of the time. So I thought I would give it a shot and try to describe my altar building process.

I build altars for a couple of reasons. One reason I build altars is to have a focal point for meditation, ritual, or magical work. Another reason I build altars is because they are pretty and fun (I know that’s a two for one, but work with me here). A more practical reason is because sometimes you just need a place to put the script and the cork screw, so you might as well make it pretty. Altars are also made for specific functions and seasonal needs.

Like most humans I am very visually oriented. I need images, objects and the written word to move between tasks and places. So magically an altar serves as one of the anchor points for me. the main altar is usually the main place of focus and attention, though not always where the majority of decorating happens. This altar needs to be functional, so there must be room for the matches, the wine, the cakes and the script along with the ritual tools (in my case usually this means a cup, an Athame, a pentacle, a scourge and a wand). If the space for the altar – the table or box is small then this altar needs to be stripped down and basic. It needs to have the tools first and foremost, the mundane as well the magical, and only after those needs are seen to does the decorating happen.

Other altars get to be prettier more of the time. Directional altars, altars for specific deities, the ancestors and so forth, while at times the focus of the working, usually are not the focus of the mundane elements and so can have more decorative components.

I guess this is where I say that while altars don’t have to be pretty, and filled with lots of stuff, I think if they are not at least aesthetically pleasing in their simplicity, then something is not working quite right. Maybe that’s my bias, but that’s what I strive for when I build altars – beauty along with functionality.

Before I start building an altar I decide what its function will be: will it be the main altar of an Essbat or a Sabbat? Will it represent a deity or archetypal energy like one of the elements? Here are a few examples of work I have done, two are for deities, and two are main altars for specific events.

Deity altars are lots of fun because for most deities there is enough information about who and what they are, what elements or energies they work with, what animals they are associated with and the like, to provide many options on things to include on the altar.

Demeter’s altar

 

This is an altar for Demeter that I built a few years ago for my private use. I like using varying levels in altars to give a variety of visual shapes and looks. The box in the middle is a box of holding – it includes two drawers to hold the items I used to make offerings to Demeter: olive oil, poppy seeds, barely, orange spray and honey. On top of the box is a bowl to receive the offerings bracketed by two stone carvings of horses to represent Demeter’s role as Queen of Horses. Behind the bowl are two different representations of wheat. The front one is actually a candle holder, the back one is a plaque that I accented with strategically placed bits of paint. The colors of fabric range from blue to gold both of which are colors that I associate with Demeter. The gold is the more common color for her with all her associations with wheat and honey. The blue is for her connection to the ocean.

 

When I started building this altar, I converted a bookshelf and so needed to find a home for the misplaced books. Next was a quick cleaning to get all the dust and old energies out of the space. Then honestly there is a lot of sitting there listening to the space, to Demeter, and my instincts. Slowly I get a feeling for what might work and start hanging fabric to create the container for the other elements. Next came height issues… so I played with a couple of different sized boxes to see which would both work well in the altar and give me the storage space I needed for the offering supplies. I already had a collection of items like the plaque, the candles and the horses set aside as elements I knew I wanted to work into the design. Now that the surfaces were set up, I could start playing with laying out these items and see what fit with what. A little tinkering and I settled on a design that felt right. Over the next few days, as I worked with the altar I tweaked a few things here and there, adding one or two more items, taking away some things in balance.

 

Here is another example of an altar to Diety – this time several in one. This is an altar my housemate and I created to honor all the Dead Gods that members of our household are working with: Hella, Ghede, and Mamman Bridgette specifically.

Dead Gods altar 2007

 

This altar was built in a space under the spiral stairs connecting the upper and lower parts of our house. We all like the symbolism implied in the altar to dead gods being under the stairs and on the lower level. Here again we used several levels both for visual interest and to help get all the gods a section for their icons and offerings. In years past we have used black and white, this year black and red felt like a good choice. The first thing we did was to cover the space in black fabric for the color and feel, and to keep the dust off the elements of the altar (all the traffic on the stairs brings lots of dirt and dust between the treads). In keeping with the theme, there are several skulls used here. One is in fact a human skull that was legal purchased from that joy of shopping – the bone room. Another is a resin skull representing Papa Ghede, and the third is actual a votive holder made of plaster. In addition there is the lower portion of a horse jaw bone that is used in connection with Hella. The two bowls of stones and stuff are representative of burial mounds. The one on the middle level belongs to Hella, the one on the upper level belongs to Mamman Bridgette. Once again, we provided a plate to receive offerings as needed and candles, this time home made, for the various powers.

 

Altars for a specific ritual natural have other needs to be addressed. General these can be seen as highly decorated main altars where the decorations help to align the altar with the theme and focus of the ritual.

This first picture is from a ritual my husband and I did with our coven to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary and to support all the member of the coven in making and keeping strong, vibrant partnerships.

 

Altar for Wedding Anniversary 2006

Here I used the underskirt from my wedding dress, with its heavily beaded trim, as the altar cloth to tie all the energies of the altar and the ritual in to the purpose and theme of the work. The rest of the altar items are things normally used by the coven during ritual with the addition of our wedding goblets as the chalice for cakes and wine, and flowers reminiscent of those used in my wedding bouquet. As flashy as this altar seems, most of the difference and flash comes from the choice of fabric for the altar cloth. Using the skirt could have been awkward, but in fact worked out very well magically for all involved.

These last two altar pictures are from another coven event, this time for Beltane several years ago. The ritual was held out doors in our backyard using an old willow tree stump as the main altar.

Beltaine Altar full

There was an amazing crop of Lilacs that year and I had bought several bunches which we used around the base of the stump to give that luscious Beltane, fruitfulness of the gods feeling that comes with the season.

Beltaine altar close up

The items on the altar are again several tools that are normally used by the coven in ritual with the addition of the plaque and goddess statue in the middle and the bowl of beads (that later had water added to it) to the right. All the statuary by the way is from Paul Borda of Dryad Designs… I just added a little paint to my copies to spice things up.

As far as I can tell, there really is no wrong way to make an altar. Sure, you can put too many things on a small surface or use clashing colored cloths, but in the end, if you come to the process with love and focused intention of making something beautiful for yourself and the gods, then I think you will succeed, no matter how many kitten statues or feathers you choose to use. And above all, have fun and enjoy the process. Altar building is like coloring with three dimensional objects… inside or outside the line does not matter, what matters is having fun and making something you like.

Blessings,

Kate

One of the founders of NROOGD, Adian Kelly has been spreading the word that he is working on a History of NROOGD – a book to be published soonish. It was to be the earlier history, which is the part he knows, but has been expanded to include everything up to the date of publication (basically). Folks with the more contemporary stories have been asked to contribute. I finally got off my duff and wrote up my thoughts! So.. .here in lou of more relevant content are my brief notes and thoughts on NROOGD.

Blessings,

Kate

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When did you help found/ join/ get initiated into the NROOGD?

I was first introduced to NROOGD in the fall of 1993 when Laurel O-M. invited me to be Brigid’s priestess for the 1994 NROOGD Imbolg ritual that she was doing. From there I began training with Laurel and the then recently formed DarkStar Coven. I received my white cord with DarkStar in the fall of 1996 or there abouts and my Red cord in late 2000.

What do you remember as being especially significant to you about that passage?

In many ways my passage into NROOGD was through the Brigid Ritual and the year or two of rituals I did with DarkStar prior to my initiation. While my white cord was a significant and wonderful experience, I was caught hook line and sinker by the power and beauty of the NROOGD Basic Ritual and the ways in which ritual could be done in a public setting for profound results.

Do you regard the (NROOGD version of the) Craft as your religion?

No, I don’t actually see the NRGOOD version of the Craft as my religion. I see it as my training ground and as a really good way to teach people the basics of craft. I am also cross initiated as a Gardnerian and have found my Gard coven to be my “home” religion and my spiritual “family” I love NROOGD and all the flavors of the rituals and ideas woven throughout the tradition, but it has never felt like “home” in the same way that Gard has.

How, by the way, would you define “religion”?

I think religion can be defined as a (sometimes loosely) organized collection of ideas about spirit and the nature of life, the universe and the divine which is followed by a person or group of people and which is expressed through ritual, prayer and dialogue.

What stands out most in your personal memories of the NROOGD?

Wow… ritual, ritual, ritual. 🙂 no surprise there, I am a ritualist and a liturgist by passion and design.

I remember meeting the NROOGD/Black Oak line quarter guardians as a build up towards initiation. In DarkStar the Gaurdians were Merddyn in the East, Prometheus in the south, Morgaine in the West and Gudrun in the North. I had the hardest time connecting with Prometheus and Gudrun at first, which I always found odd because I am such a fire spirit (Aries and all that) and I normally have trouble with Air, though I love water. In this case, I can distinctly remember meeting Merddyn for the first time. We had gone out to the marsh along Alameda near Park Street. It was evening, past sunset. We sat out on the boardwalk between salt sea, land and sky. Laurel led us on a meditation to meet Merddyn and I was *there* with him, and he was *there* with me. It was incredibly visceral and real. At the time I was using a paint brush for my wand and I could feel it in my hands, though it was back at home on my altar. Merddyn was quiet, but very very present. Thoughts passed between us rather than words and I knew that I was meeting a great teacher. Even today, the invocations of the quarter/elements remains one of my favorite parts of the basic ritual – and the words for those four guardians in particular will always call up the connection I now have with each of them as close friends and guides.

In late 1995 I talked a group of fellow NROOGDies and several Gard friends into forming a little company to do theatrical rituals. The group ended up founding Magical Acts Ritual Theater (MART) and for years the bulk of the company was made up of NROORGD and Gard trained folks. As the company grew we were able to attracted more folks from across the pagan community and add their ideas and training to the mix. Many of the early ideas about ritual and public works in particular came out of this blend of craft ideas rooted in large part in NROOGD training.

Several years after the founding of the company several of us found ourselves hosting a MART hospitality suite at PantheaCon 2001 (I believe). We were presenting what we thought was going to be the final performance of “the Oracles from the Living Tarot” created by fellow NROOGD initiate Catherine S. with the members of MART (little did we know the show would be revised not once but several times over the years!) and had attracted the attention of an old time NROOGDie – none other than LeighAnn Hussey of Black Oak. LeighAnn had been intrigued by this company of ritual performers and came by our suite to see what we were all about. Through the course of the evening we discovered that she had not realized how many covens had grown out of the training and work done by Black Oak folks or that there was now a so called Black Oak Line of NROOGD, of which most of us in the room that night were members. Much more talking and sharing of stories continued throughout the night to everyone’s delight. LeighAnn later joined MART in our first ticketed show – “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” playing Bottom the weaver. She was an amazing performer and a terrific Bottom.

Prior to Midsummer, I had asked LeighAnn to be part of the crew for the 2001 Eleusinian Mysteries that I was producing for NROOGD with the help of Magical Acts. LeighAnn served as our Musical Director and the head of the chorus. The 2001 EM was the first NROOGD public ritual that I wrote and produced (with a heck of a lot of help!).

The EM is an interesting ritual with a long history in NROOGD. I have had the pleasure of being in the ritual several times, with several different approaches used to bring the material to life. I have also attended several NROOGD EM’s as a celebrant. So when it came time to tackle it myself, I had a lot of good material to work from. Along with reading through as many of the earlier versions of the ritual as I could find, I did a lot of research into what is known about the original ritual, which is very little, and what we think might have gone on when the doors were closed. I will admit, I made a fair number of changes to the script. And one of the main things I was looking for was how to make the Mystery relevant to a contemporary audience. As I wrote in the program for the event: “In the 21 Century, the myth of Demeter and Persephone, of winter and spring, of life and death, has become a story to tell children, and teach in Literature classes. We are told that science has taught us all about the rotation of the planet and the how’s and why’s of death and the changing seasons. That there is no longer any mystery to be learned; science has revealed it all to us.” One of the answers I went with was to put the choice of how Kore goes into the underworld in the hands of the people attending the ritual. They were given the choice to choose her fate, but did not know what they had chosen until they met Persephone in the underworld with her Hades. I also poured a lot of my research into the script, adding titles for the ritualists based on what we know of the temple structure at Eleusis; adding a procession from “Athens” to “Eleusis” along which the participants made offerings to the gods of the ritual; and footnoting the script damn near to death so we could see where older material was left intact, where pieces had been added from “The Hymn to Demeter”, and where new work had been added like the altered “Dance of the Feet” that Liadan and I created for the Priestesses.

Creating the 2001 Eleusinian was a turning point for me in my own magical and professional work. I found my passion and skills as a ritual writer. I can look back to day and see where my NROOGD training has played a deep roll in making me the ritualist I am today and I am proud of that training and grateful to the tradition and all those in it who have influenced me along the way.

Please describe whatever you think were important events for, or turning points in, or just good stories about, the nature and evolution of the NROOGD during its first 40 years.

I think the creative and magical work done by Black Oak, and the plethora of off shoots from that coven have had a huge impact on the tradition, even if that impact is “only” to create a very large off branch from the older, one might say, more traditional, form of NROOGD. Love it or hate it, the existence of Black Oak and her children has made its mark on the trad. Being off that line, I think it’s a good thing, but then I would, I have received great benefit from this work.

Aside from the Full Moon Coven (which I still have detailed info on), what other covens have you been active in and when? Exact dates would help, and if you have access to the Family Tree graphic, could you send me a copy of it?

DarkStar Coven as mentioned above and a coven, now defunct, in the Seattle area called Big Cats of the Serengeti.

RE: the family tree graph, I am attaching the verion I have which is dated August 2001.

How has your being in the NROOGD affected the rest of your life?

Through NROOGD and my training with Laurel and DarkStar in particular I was able to see an enormous variety of public ritual from both sides of the fence as it were. I was able to attend many Sabbats and learn about Craft ideas on the seasons and the gods along with how other people present ritual – for good or bad. As a member of DarkStar and as a trainee of the coven I was able to take an active roll in creating and presenting lots and lots of different types of rituals throughout the year. All of these experiences combined with the years I had spent previously working in theater productions and the two worlds naturally smashed up in my brain. The result was Magical Acts, and boy did that change my life!

Comparing the NROOGD to other versions of the Craft, what do you think is uniquely important about the NROOGD?

I think one of the great gifts of NROOGD is its openness as a system of magic. Without the layers of oath bindings that come with other traditions, NROOGD becomes a fabulous tool for teaching people the basics of craft theory and practice. NROOGD is not for everyone, but it is a great place to start and to learn and if more is wanted, then at least the individual has a good grounding to take with them on their adventures. I actually refer to NROOGD a great deal when I teach Magic 101 classes, because it does lend itself to public discussion and application.

I also think one of the powers of NROOGD is its flexibility and adaptability. As I learned NROOGD, it is a showcase for creative ideas and experimentation. Because of this openness to new ways, we have a huge bank of beautiful rituals written by some truly talented liturgists. I trained with one – Laurel O-M and had the opportunity to learn about the work of another – LeighAnn, and there are many other amazing ritual writers working in NROOGD thankfully!