Continuing our latest Tradition, Sacred Grove will gather in cyberspace for Yule this Turning of the Wheel. On Sunday, December 20, at 8 pm EST, please join us for ritual on ZOOM. The link to join is below.
We will seal the gathering (no one further will be admitted) at 8:15 pm.
Without regard to the name of the celebration or the phase of my life, the celebration has always had the same main meaning to me: it has always represented hope. After the darkness of the longest night of the year, the sun is reborn – and with this rebirth, light is rekindled in our hearts and spirits. After this very difficult year, I think hope is what we need the most.
This is Pagans, polytheists, and others continuing our sacred traditions under difficult circumstances. This is using all the resources at our disposal to maintain our commitments to our Gods, ancestors, and other spiritual allies. This is us, doing what must be done.
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We, the living children of Earth and starry Heaven, are composed of body, mind, and spirit. While we speak of three named components, those are so tightly interdependent as to be inseparable this side of the Veil.
In this excerpt from Israel Regardie, The One Year Manual: Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment, we are led to explore spiritual growth through mindful practices of body relaxation and breathing, with thanks to the Servants of the Light mystery school for bringing it to our attention.
“ONE OF THE MAJOR GOALS of any system of self-development or spiritual growth is the acquisition of sensitivity or self-awareness. There is only one way of acquiring this awareness — and this is to become aware.
Sitting comfortably in a straight-backed chair, or lying flat on one’s back in bed, one merely attempts to observe what is happening, as it were, “under the skin.” You simply watch your body, its sensations and feeling here and now.
This only — and nothing more. Do not try to relax or to breathe in any unusual or special way, or to try to control the thoughts that float through the mind. All these processes and methods will be dealt with later.
For the time being, merely become conscious of any sensation that arises anywhere in the body. I suggest you wriggle around for a moment or two to find that one position which seems most comfortable. Having found it, stay in it, and do not move from it in any way.
There should be absolutely no voluntary muscular movement for the rest of the practice session. Not even a wriggle of a toe, or a wiggle of a finger.
The session should last not more than ten minutes at first, but gradually by the end of a month should be extended to half an hour. For many people this will seem an eternity in which every instinct will cry aloud for a wiggle of some kind to ease the tension. This should be resisted. Other students will find the ten minutes to pass, as it were, in a flash.
John Beckett, who is farther along the path to online ritual than we are, is presenting a Samhain ritual via U-Tube on Friday, October 30. His blog post, linked below, has given me a few ideas to incorporate in our Zoom ritual on the 31st. He has prepared a video; we will be co-creating the ritual in real time. He does not require checking in, responding to an invitation, or even identifying yourself; we’re doing the Zoom thing and will see each other’s faces ( or profile pics).
All in all, we have much the same intent. I commend his article to your attention. I’m planning to watch/join in his ritual on Friday.
I really thought we’d be able to have a public Samhain celebration. Denton CUUPS went so far as to write up a proposal for an in-person event. It would have had limited attendance, mandatory masks, social distancing, and other precautions we believed would be sufficient. There is no such thing as “safe” but we thought this would present little additional risk to people who are not completely quarantining.
But before we could send the proposal to the Board of Denton UU for approval, the “third wave” began. Even with precautions, holding a public event right now would be irresponsible.
So we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing – hold online rituals. Denton CUUPS’ ritual will be on their Facebook page. It’s in progress and should be finished early next week.
Under the Ancient Oaks Online Samhain Ritual Friday, October 30 8:00 PM CDT YouTube Premiere
The ritual follows the same general liturgy as my other rituals, which is the same as I’ve used in public rituals for the past 15 years or so. Except I made a couple of tweaks, which happens rather frequently. There may be a blog post on the evolution of my Pagan liturgy someday…
The Deities of the Occasion are Lugh, who we honored at Lughnasadh, and the Morrigan, who we honored at Summer Solstice. We are calling on Them because we previously honored Them in UTAO rituals (and thus everyone who participated in those rituals has at least the beginnings of a relationship with Them) but also because we have a need for Their virtues and Their skills.
There will be a two-part main event. The first part will honor those who have died from Covid-19 this year. Samhain is a time when we honor our dead, and this year over a million people have died from Covid worldwide. Whether their lives were cut short by days or by decades, they all died before their time, and they deserve to be remembered.
The second part is a working for victory – in particular, victory in the upcoming U.S. elections. The Gods I follow have never told me who to vote for. But I think that’s less because They don’t care and more because They think government is something we have to figure out for ourselves.
The ritual mentions no candidates or political parties by name. But I’ve made my positions clear. The intention of the ritual is that those who oppress refugees, the poor, racial and religious minorities, women, LGBTQ persons, and anyone else be thoroughly and decisively defeated.
If your politics includes voting for people who do these things and revel in them, this isn’t the ritual for you.
What you need to participate where you are
You’re welcome to simply follow along. If you’d like to participate where you are, you’ll need a candle and something to light it with, something for offerings and something to pour them into. I’m using whiskey this time – you offer what seems right to you.
Repeat the calls of ‘hail and welcome’ and such. Pour offerings as I pour them, and light your candle as I make offerings to the central fire. For the main working, add your will and your magic to mine.
When we’re done with the main working, we’ll share a drink among ourselves. After the ritual, be sure to dispose of your offerings in a respectful manner. Pouring them on the ground is ideal. Never pour offerings down the drain.
The ritual runs about 25 minutes.
As much as I prefer to celebrate Pagan holy days on the actual dates, the reality is that Covid or no Covid, Saturday October 31 is going to be a busy day. Those of you with kids will have to find an alternative for trick or treating. Many of you will celebrate Samhain with your family or close friends. More people will be available on Friday than on Saturday.
Of course, because this is a video ritual, it will remain available after it’s done – if you can’t make it Friday evening, it will still be there on Saturday, or whenever you’re ready.
A note for non-U.S. readers: most of the world goes off daylight saving time the last Sunday in October. The U.S. doesn’t change until the first Sunday in November. So the time difference between “here” and “there” is likely to be an hour off from what it usually is. Check your phone’s world clock or one of the online time zone conversion sites. Or set a reminder on YouTube and let it do it for you.
The future of online rituals
I’m getting more comfortable with the video production aspects of online rituals.
On one hand, I always enjoy learning new skills. On the other hand, my goal in life is to be the best Druid and priest I can be, not to be a better videographer. I wish I didn’t have this on-going opportunity to keep making ritual videos, but we learn the skills we need to do the work in front of us.
I will continue to facilitate online rituals until we can start meeting in person again, or at least until I can do it. It’s too early to make a commitment for Winter Solstice, but given what I’m reading about the “third wave” I think it’s likely I’ll be doing another one.
May your beloved dead be honored and remembered, and may your Samhain be deep and meaningful, however you choose to celebrate.
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Is Samhain coming, or is it already here? The answer is a little bit of both.
For those of you who are new to Paganism, Samhain is one of the four ancient Celtic fire festivals, along with Imbolc (February 1), Beltane (May 1), and Lughnasadh (August 1). The word means “summer’s end” – it marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter. In modern Pagan lore it’s the third and final harvest festival. It’s a time to think about the reality of death, and to remember our loved ones who have died.
This 2014 post by Jason Mankey has all the history of the day and the season, and it describes how we got from there (i.e. – ancient Ireland) to here.
After several very quiet years, Sacred Grove Community Circle (SWC) is exploring celebrating the rites of the seasons more consistently through the use of ZOOM, beginning with a somewhat open circle on Samhain. We will invite a number of people via email and provide the instructions for joining, then be prepared to proceed with whatever number of people join us.
We are working on adapting the traditional Bhakti-Wiccan ritual format to this new environment. We have recently updated the websiteSacredGroveSWC.org for easier reference, and details on the ritual format are included there in the Book of Shadows. In particular, Finding Our Way to the Grove provides a quick introduction.
For Samhain this year, our Working will be a version of Rest for the Warrior, which I’m sure will be welcome to all of us in the stress of Covid-19 and (US) election politics. As the Veil is thinning, I hope the Beloved Dead will find their way to join with us. They will be welcome.
Chaplain: @Home in a Crisis — An Attitude of Hospitality for Crisis Chaplaincy by Sandy Harris SB / Rev. Khalila RedBird 7 December 2011 for Cherry Hill Seminary: Survey of Chaplaincy Fall 2011
When I first encountered the Goddess in the Sacred Grove, my High Priest of the time knelt before Her in praise and adoration. I threw myself into Her lap and said, “Hi, Mom! I’m home!”
How wonderful it would be if we could carry this sense of being at Home with us in our ministry and act from within its support – far better still, we could welcome others in need to make themselves at Home for a while, sheltered in our ministry of presence.
Home is where one starts from.
– T. S. Eliot
I am a Chaplain – by choice, by training, and by intermittently being called to serve in that capacity by organizations that are minimally inclined to pay for such services. Most of my ministry has been in the wake of crisis or trauma for the people I encounter – so far, in hospitals, and in the future, as part of crisis response teams for the county in which I live.
Stepping into a crisis or traumatic situation as a chaplain, I need to be “all prayed up”, as my colleagues say, when I arrive, and I need to release the clinging threads of concern back into the Cosmos when I leave. This protects my own well-being and allows me to function in the moment with all the spiritual support available to me. I project – assume – really think that a similar need and resolution is common to most of us involved in chaplaincy for any period of time.
Given the extreme diversity of our Pagan community, I am not sure that we share common language and particular ritual elements supporting these needs and I have found it cumbersome to caveat and tiptoe when trying to discuss these spiritual practices in an eclectic group. Therefore, I propose a model for our collective attitudes toward chaplaincy and interacting with the people we serve that relies on a heritage older and more deeply embedded in the human spirit than our various traditions (however ancient and venerable) and modern language.
I propose encouraging a mystical and magical mindset of chaplaincy in which the chapel is the chaplain’s own state of being grounded, centered, and in the Presence of Ultimate Reality, the All, the One, the Ground of Being, or however the chaplain personally conceives of That Which Is most important and most sacred – wherever the chaplain is at Home.
I suggest that, conscious of being at Home, we align ourselves with ancient customs and standards of Hospitality as we find them throughout human cultures and consider ourselves as Host in our Home,holding each person we serve as awelcome Guest in our Home, with the intent that our words, actions, and demeanor will convey to our Guests the comfort of safety and sufficiency that are the epitome of being at home.
At the same time, it is important to remember that others offer us hospitality and we incur the obligations of a Guest when, acknowledging our presence as chaplains, people in need admit us into their lives through sharing troubles, fears, and times of great significance, into places where a stranger might not be invited.
Heritage, Needs, and Skills
The code of hospitality is an ancient code common to just about every ancient culture and moral code. What it states basically is that anyone who comes to your home, invited or uninvited, should be treated with the utmost respect, provided food, comfort and basically be treated like family and once the guest’s immediate needs are met, the guest then had the right to ask for a favor to help him on his journey. Turning away someone’s request for shelter or mistreating a guest was a terrible, shameful act, worthy of severe punishment by the Gods. The flip side of that is that anyone who visits another’s home must treat their hosts with similar respect. Stealing from your hosts, damaging their home, causing injury to them or other guests are all severe violations of the code of hospitality, equally deserving of divine justice. Guests were expected to treat their hosts’ homes like their own and to be helpful when they could and to move on as soon as it was convenient for them to do so.
All of our skills and intentions are of little use unless and until we can enter into a mutually-acceptable relationship and communication with the person we are endeavoring to serve. Particularly in times of recent or imminent danger, our presence and interactions must be accepted as safe – or at least worth the risk of tentative trust – if we are to be of use. A chaplain whose demeanor or dress or actions are perceived as a threat may find it impossible to achieve any level of rapport with someone who is already aroused to fight or flee.
Home is where the heart is.
First attributed usage by Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)
Drawing upon our common heritage of ancient codes of hospitality that we acquire with our earliest training and find reinforced in practice throughout our lives, we have a vocabulary for establishing tentative rapport even in the midst of crisis when rational thought and detailed memory are out of reach. Fortunately, most of us have had the experience of meeting strangers in our lives, initially in the safety of our earliest homes under the protection of a parent or benevolent elder.
We have lived through overcoming the urge to flee and reinforced the lessons of hospitality: a guest is to be welcomed, introduced respectfully to others present, offered a beverage, told where the bathroom is, and invited to sit down. Making a guest at home comes before questions, requests, and serious discussion.
Crisis: Our Common Needs
In the midst of disaster and chaos and fear, a tiny, quivering voice afraid of being heard says, “I want to go home.”
Sometimes the expression of fight-or-flight, when neither response to stress is feasible, is an unspoken “I want to go home!” Once the instant of surging neurotransmitters has passed, returning cognitive functions can assess the situation and weigh alternatives, but, for that frozen moment, we would rather be someplace else – someplace safe.
As chaplains, we can find ourselves in such frozen moments with such unspoken primal wishes. With practice at coming home to ourselves and carrying that home with us, we can be ready to find and carry that sense of being at home with us in crisis as the chapel we bring to the place of need.
@Home: Our Common Skills
Frustrated with my tendency to lose focus – and touches – in competition when my tactics weren’t working, my fencing coach asked me if, being a Witch, I knew how to ground and center. When I said I did, he told me to practice that until I could do it in the space of a deep breath – then do it! Do it between the halt! that ends one touch and the fence! that begins the next encounter. I did. It works. ctrl-alt-del does the same for my laptop.
In many of our traditions, as well as in the martial arts, we learn to return our bodies, minds, and spirits to a known and balanced point, independent of time and space, between excursions and experiences.
I suggest that we can hone that practice into a tool that is always with us so that, when moving between chaos and confusion, we can always return to that place I call @home. When we are @home, we are in control of our attention, balanced, stable, relaxed, breathing freely, aware of all that supports us, and full ourselves. Once @home, we can choose to open our awareness to our surroundings.
Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms.
~William J. Bennett
At Home as Host and as Guest
When it came time to terminate medical intervention and let his final illness run its course, all Dad could tell me was, “I want to go home.” For a man who denied the embrace of any religion and would argue definitions if asked about spirituality, Home had a deeper personal importance and meaning than the place where I live when I’m not in the hospital (he had had no such place for months). When we placed him gently in a borrowed hospital bed in the middle of my living room, he was comforted and content: he was Home.
Making Ourselves @Home
Any number of Paganism 101 books provide instructions and meditations for grounding and centering, and many of us are quite accustomed to doing so. I have included a separate document for reference: a treatise on the subject that I presented to a Clinical Pastoral Education group in 2008.
Once comfortably grounded and centered, I suggest we open our attention to home, surrounding ourselves with all the sights, sounds, smells, and impressions of home at its best – whether our childhood home, our beloved home now, or an idealized home of our imagination. Taking time to visit and revisit home in unhurried meditation will bring it more quickly to mind in a crisis.
Even if the home of your childhood was of more danger than refuge to you, form this home of your best memories, until its existence is solid and you can pull it around you at will.
There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits.
– Robert Southey (English Poet and Writer of prose. 1774-1843)
Find a mnemonic or trigger for yourself that will invoke your feeling of being grounded, centered, and at home (@home). You may think of the great ideas from cinema:
ET phone home
Click your heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” (Ruby slippers are optional.)
Choose whatever signal will work best for you to start grounding, centering, and making yourself @home. Then practice. Do it every time something startles you. Do it in the dentist’s chair. Do it at traffic lights. Do it when you feel out of sorts. Practice. Your body will thank you.
Receiving a Guest in a Crisis
In a crisis, the first individuals likely to need our help are those who are in the primal state that, at once, prepares us to fight or flee and, concurrently, protects us from seeing or feeling more than we can accommodate at the moment. This state can follow immediately upon learning of a loved one’s death or peril – or hearing shots fired nearby – or when your telephone wakes you from a sound sleep at 3 a.m.
Neurophysiologically, the logical and higher functions of the brain have been bypassed in the interest of fueling the primitive portions of your brain and your body systems that are needed to fight or to run away. Often this state passes quickly and your higher functions return for use. Until that happens, nothing else does.
As chaplains in crisis situations, we are susceptible to this shock as much as anyone. If we can grasp that one small trigger for @home, we will take the first steps toward returning to useful function and protect ourselves from the cascades of hormones where they do more harm than good. Once @home, we are in control of our steps in venturing forth. Our concern is with the survivors of the crisis, leaving the matters of rescue and response to others. We have built a small bubble of safe space for ourselves, and we can expand its peace to shelter guests.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
– Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man (1914)
The disasters of the past decade have spawned research into the human neurophysiological and psychological reaction to trauma, and effective methods are now being widely taught to first responders to help survivors through the immediate shock toward a return to independent functioning and eventual healing in the hope of forestalling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Training is available, in classrooms and on line, and a chaplain who is a first responder will seek the opportunity for training.
Assess the situation
In a crisis, others around you will be the state of physical and emotional shock that is our human response to the totally unacceptable: frozen in place with bodies primed to fight or flee, higher cognitive functions – any useful thinking – cut off and unavailable. As a chaplain, if you can, find a quiet location, apart from the crisis scene, with places to sit and the necessities of life at hand. Your role as host, bringing @home with you, is to welcome each person in need as a guest in your home and, through hospitality, help your guests until each can find a way to continue to the journey. Here and now, your home is safe space for you and your guests. Make it so.
The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) bases its intervention with individuals on the SAFER-R model developed by George Everly1. The steps of this model have much in common with welcoming a stranger in distress as a guest into one’s home and providing hospitality until the guest is ready and able to leave. As a chaplain@home, remembering your role and duties as host can provide comfort and protection in a crisis as you and others address the immediate and specific needs of your guests.
S Stabilize A Acknowledge F Facilitate understanding E Encourage adaptive grieving and coping R Recovery – or R Referral
First of all, see to it that you and your guests are safe and will remain as safe as possible from bodily harm and exposure to physical or nonphysical threats.
Begin building rapport while helping your guests to achieve some level of grounding and centering of their own: make your guests @home.
Greet your guests as welcome strangers in your home, calling your guests in shock back toward higher cognitive functioning through your own confidence in the safe space, speaking slowly and calmly, offering opportunities and cues to automatic responses: making eye contact, acknowledging your greeting. Hear them where they are and welcome them to be, to be here, to be here now – essentially facilitating their tentative grounding and centering to the point where simple speech is possible.
Introduce yourself clearly and simply. Learn and use their names. Tell your guests what is most important: We are together. You are in a safe place. Remind them of their personal safety, of time, of place, of who else is present. Perhaps a more-stable guest will help introduce one who is not. Repeat yourself as necessary: in shock, much that is heard is filtered out or forgotten immediately.
Home is indeed a place where you are loved unconditionally. Home is where you feel safe and protected. Home is where your heart is most happy.
Make your guests at home: Offer seating and water, if possible. Reduce distractions. Ask simple questions that can be answered simply. Monitor their physical well-being: injuries, hyperventilating, hunger, fatigue, thirst, medical conditions and seek help if necessary. Point out the nearest restrooms. Gently divert any conversation to the here-and-now within your home. Ask no other questions but listen to what is said.
Give your guests a chance to tell their stories and to test your listening and acceptance.
Open simple social conversation with and about the people present at the moment, accepting that this will focus quickly on the crisis or trauma. Your intent is build safety and rapport while people are beginning to face their immediate memories and regain their ability to speak calmly and rationally. Use your best active listening skills and maintain your own awareness of your Sources of support. Tell them what you do know: This happened. There is much we do not know yet. You/we are safe here. Help is coming. We are doing what needs to be done here and now.
Allow the conversation to grow deeper, contributing your own information and reflections. Encourage interaction among guests.
Answer questions simply and clearly confirming what just happened and what is happening at the moment, without speculation and without volunteering or encouraging additional detail. Keep focus on the here-and-now, redirecting when conversation strays to the past or future – or to why, how, and what-if. Listen to the question and the fears behind the question; in answering, reframe them as simple truth – without judgment. Welcome periods of silence. Tell them what you do know: What you are feeling (experiencing) is normal.This hurts. What you are saying is normal (helpful) (reasonable). This is a safe place. Everyone grieves (reacts) differently.
Gently release the reins of the conversation and return to listening. Reflect on what you have heard so far. Expand on a topic with helpful information if appropriate. Enjoy watching your guests take up the reins of the conversation and, with them, control of their lives.
Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule.
~Frederick W. Robertson
Eventually, people, one by one, may come to the point of sharing memories with each other, finding bits of humor, telling stories, and purposeful planning. This is the time to sit back, centered and mindful, affirming the healing parts and gently questioning the speculations or intentions that might hamper healing. This is also a time to offer suggestions and information on further help that is available.
Resume life or Refer for continued care if needed
See your guests to the door with your blessings, as well refreshed as was within your power. If someone needs more help, do all you can to put them in the hands of that help.
When help becomes available, or when other matters intrude, your guests will leave on their own. When all have gone and at least before leaving the scene of the crisis, sit quietly with yourself @home and let any misgivings you have rise up for attention. You will never know all the details of why the crisis happened or how everyone else responded in its wake – leave the questions in sacred space or ground them – they are no longer yours to carry. For concerns you cannot ground or leave behind, find someone on scene to follow up. Someone in pain may need follow-up care: share your misgivings with a professional on scene. If you need help yourself, ask for it.
The winding path
This intervention process is iterative – you may find your guests slipping back into shock, and needing your help to stabilize and move forward again, even multiple times.
May Peace be with you, all Love surround you, and the good Light within you guide you all the way Home.
It was disconcerting at first, as I paid a chaplain’s call on an elderly woman in her hospital room, to be greeted from the bed, offered a chair, and asked if I would like a drink of water or something – from whatever beverages were at hand. I accepted the chair and declined the beverage, feeling somewhat unbalanced, as if roles had been reversed. They had. I was being received as a guest in her home. Through all the intrusions on personal space and autonomy, the lady held firm to her training as a hostess and staked out her room as home.
As we become sensitive to our roles as hosts in crisis chaplaincy, we may begin to notice the ways in which we are being received as guests in the lives of those to whom we offer hospitality. They offer us a place, however temporary, in their lives at times when their homes are in disarray and the family’s dirty linen is hung in the living room. They welcome us based on little more than our identification as chaplains, exposing vulnerabilities we are trusted to protect.
This is an area for more reflection and mindfulness as we encounter others in crisis on our journeys.
Hindsight and Foresight
There is nothing like a crisis to point out the information we wish we had had and the training we with we had taken.
Brymer, Melissa, Chris Layne, Robert Pynoos, Josef Ruzek, Alan Steinberg, Eric Vernberg, and Patricia Watson. “Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide”. National Child Traumatic Stress Network and National Center for PTSD, 2005. http://www.vdh.state.va.us/oep/pdf/PFA9-6-05Final.pdf.
Everly, Jr., George S., Rob Dewey, Glenn Calkins, Thomas Webb, George Grimm, and Ed Stauffer. Pastoral Crisis Intervention Course Workbook. Elicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., 2002. www.icisf.org.
Hanson, Rick. Buddha’s brain : the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009.
Hatcher, Edgar. “Complicated Grief: Navigating Traumatic Grief and Crime Scene Realities”, November 15, 2011.
———. “Death Notification: Navigating Traumatic Grief and Crime Scene Realities”, November 14, 2011.
Lawrence, Brother. The practice of the presence of God [by] Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection translated by Donald Attwater introduction by Dorothy Day. Translated by Donald Attwater. Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1974.
1George S. Everly, Jr.,, Rob Dewey, Glenn Calkins, Thomas Webb, George Grimm, and Ed Stauffer. Pastoral Crisis Intervention Course Workbook. Elicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., 2002. http://www.icisf.org.
I understand ritual as a process that mediates a transformation or change of state in each individual involved. In the spiritual domain, the ritual process occurs in a place and time set apart from our day-to-day reality. If only for a moment, a chosen set of assumptions and understandings interacts with our personal worldview on many levels, from critical consciousness to its deepest foundations. The liturgy of a ritual is designed to effect changes that remain when we return to day-to-day reality.
In the Sacred Grove, I look to ritual to provide me a focused, guided way to enter the presence of the Lord and Lady — into the mystical and numinous experience of interaction with the Divine. The Grove and the trance journey by which we reach it have become a sheltering framework within which I can explore the infinite spiritual realm, with anchor points I can reach and grasp without looking for them. I am grateful to Wilddragon, the author of the Bhakti-Wiccan tradition, for encouraging me to extend it.
When the ritual reality of the Sacred Grove became a spiritual home for me, after many trance journeys to the Grove, it became clear to me that there were more layers as yet unexplored than the imagery suggested. The initial spark for expansion, if I recall correctly, was a journey another Priestess and I led with a newly-acquainted couple.
The preparatory elements affirm the presence of a LivingTree in the South, a great Sword in the East, a Cup in the West, and one or more Standing Stones in the North. The Sacred Grove itself is the home of the Lord and Lady, Whose presence is our ultimate goal.
We left the Living Tree in our pathworking and arrived at the Sword, only to find that the woman with us was in great discomfort. We returned to ordinary reality to work our way through the dilemma with her.
Two things emerged: the Sword had some painful associations for her that were not going to yield at the level at which we all were able to work together, and we developed a term for the situation where everyone else on a trance journey can see the Sword (or whatever) and you want to but can’t. It’s called trance envy.
What is the Sword — any sword — but a tool that extends our reach, extends the capabilities of our hands, in particular one that separates one thing from another? It is a tool of discernment. The woman could approach the concept of the Sword by visualizing the Xacto knife she used in her daily work. While that did not trigger the discomfort, it did leave her with trance envy.
On my own first encounter with the Sword, about 20 years ago, I really wanted to see a cool Excalibur-type sword of great import and meaning — and so forth. The vision wavered at first — and settled firmly into the battered sabre from my fencing bag, with which I practiced two to three nights a week and competed on weekends. Hardly romantic.
But the Sword did have a message for me, and the quest kept me busy for the next several years.