The Rites of Earth

April 7, 2011 by Categorized: Earthly Rites.

Greetings, friends and Pagani!

I am very excited to be a part of this great project. And what better season than spring for its inception?  Here in the fiercely wild urban midwest, the signs of spring are truly everywhere – we are newly and ecstatically witness to crocuses on every corner, their sweet and sturdy purple, yellow and white brushstrokes flaring in and among the old mulch and early spring mud.  The robin has declared hirself, and seeks for spring meals beneath the suddenly and brilliantly green grass.  The silvery rain is omnipresent.  Soon enough it will be daffodils – a sea of them giggling along roadsides and the borders of the park by Mother Lake…and then, O Friends…tulips.  By all that’s holy, I *love* tulips.  And then summer…with its wildflowers – its wild parsnip and lovely blue chicory blooms…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  It happens.  Point is: Spring!

For yes, the winter was long and so it seemed that the grass would never wake.

The earth would never melt.
The flowers would never open.
The leaves would never unfurl.

But oh, my friends, in the night still it was we dreamed of sea and crocus and rain, and our dreams were like a bell throughout the winter world, wide and blooming, and in the sweat and saltwater, the blessed Kore heard us calling.  And so it is now that we wake, and the rain has come in over the field, and we are restored.  We wake, and the Mama laughs in flowers.

My people, this is the season of light.  The season of wind and breath and newness.  The running of sap and the promise of the sacred egg.  Awakening.  In this moment, honeybees leave their homes, winging away to collect first pollen, first nectar.  All around the sweep of the earth awash in freshness and rain and flute music.

Yes, there is a fierce joy in our every breath.  We can feel it in the cherry blossom, in the black earth we hold in our hands, the seeds we plant in our hearts, nourished by water and wind and time.

-from “Kore Evohe: Rites of Spring” by Ruby Sara and Johnny Rapture

Indeed, the People of the Mama celebrate – lifting up their palms and dancing out their joy in ritual celebration, singing praise to this mossy stone upon which we all rock and roll. Praise, worship, thanksgiving, offering, storytelling, joy, community…the rites of the Children of Earth.

In this column, entitled Earthly Rites, I hope to engage in a series of explorations regarding the various implications and applications of Pagan ritual and liturgy in an earth-centered context.

Friends, I love ceremony and liturgy and ritual. As many of us can attest, ritual is powerful. Poetry and storytelling is powerful, and what is ritual but a method of embodied storytelling and poetry in motion, where people come together to orient/re-orient/remind/tell themselves of the stories they choose to enact in their lives and in relationship with themselves, their communities, and that which they consider Divine. In a post on ritual over at my blog, I wrote:

[Ritual's purpose is] to remind the people of the stories we choose to embody together.  I further think that the result of this embodied storytelling should be a sense of collective inspiration. Ritual should invoke emotion, thrill, breathless anticipation, communitas, and a sense of awe. Worship is the act of giving praise. I know some folks dislike the term “worship” because they equate it with grovelling, but worship can also mean to be in possession of a feeling greater than oneself – a feeling that leads to awe and praise, for the gods, the spirits and powers, the Mama, the awful and wonderful human animal, and the Exquisite Majesty of Heartbreaking and Heartmending LIFE In Action. To witness Beauty. That ineffable feeling that washes over the body in inspired moments. Weeping. Laughter. Ecstasy. Though let it not be said that rituals should not also teach, or challenge. Ecstasy and Beauty are not always joyful and pretty – they are intensities, and they can rock us to our very centers and send us home with more questions than answers, and a terrible need to talk about the Meaning of Things with friends and loved ones. Inspiration.

To me the goal of earth-centered ritual is worship in that sense – the sense of praise and awe in the face of the grand, knee-shakingness of the Mama, as well as to step outside our individual selves and experience communitas, with each other as Children of Earth as well as the many and sundry other spirits and beings that live within and on the planet, to establish/maintain/reconnect to communal identity, to tell stories about who we are, who She is, and our place in the great scheme of Life, to celebrate Her beauty, and to give offering and thanksgiving.  To orient us to authentic relationship with the bedrock of life. Orientation…ritual as internal compass.

So it is I believe that as religiously earth-centered, earth-honoring or eco-conscious/eco-justice oriented people, the rituals we craft and the stories we tell are equally as important as the Work we do politically and personally towards right relationship with the planet…and sometimes they might even be the same thing.

Some of the content I look forward to exploring include:

  • Book reviews and resources for Earth-centered ritual/liturgy planning
  • Explorations of Earth-centered and Liturgical theology in general.
  • The role of aesthetics and beauty in Earth-Centered ritual.
  • The role of human beings in ceremonial relationship to Earth.  Celebration, thanksgiving, contrition.  The notion of forgiveness and confession in Earth-Centered liturgy considering the current ecological crises.
  • Embodiment and the Senses in Ritual and Worship
  • Bron Taylor’s descriptions in his book Dark Green Religion of a more global Gaian spirituality alongside bioregional animism and how ritual may differ in these contexts.
  • Specific rites in relationship to Earth: Circle casting, quarter calling, offering and libation, sacred eating, divine possession, divination, spellcraft, etc.
  • Organization: practical resources and recommendations for Green ritual-planning and the challenges of planning earth-based rituals (finding venues in urban settings…the difficulty in presenting earth-honoring rituals indoors…the balance of aesthetics with practicality and Green practice)
  • “Wheel of the year” resources as well as earth-honoring non-Wiccanate** liturgical holidays
  • Various other topics as our conversation progresses!

A few notes regarding terminology and my own personal approach. My predominant experiences in Pagan liturgy/ritual has been with Wiccanate** forms in the context of large public ritual (including those I and my co-ritualist Johnny Rapture have presented that are more or less in keeping with what I’ve been calling Rootwater Paganism), as well as Wiccan, Druidic (ADF), Feri and other witchcraft, and some (Hellenic, Kemetic) Recon ritual forms in private and small-group ritual. I will be focusing on ritual/liturgy in terms of earth-centered Pagan theologies specifically, and will probably tend to focus on those forms I have had most experience with, but as we are all aware, the Paganverse is vasty, and covering all ritual forms and offerings is of course impossible, and try as I might, I am also inevitably going to miss things in those traditions I have had experiences in. Which is why I will rely on you, dear reader, to let me know if you have thoughts regarding the earth-centered theologies inherent in pagan ritual forms/rites I miss, and I look forward to learning! I may also explore some resources and theologies from non-Pagan sources that are earth-honoring, as I believe that our rituals are only enriched by knowledge of other liturgical theologies and practices (bearing in mind of course the tricky and complicated landscape of cultural appropriation). I tend to use the terms ritual and liturgy interchangably, though when it comes down to brass tacks I tend to define ritual as the performative act of worship itself, and liturgy as the written words of worship such as litanies, prayers, songs, incantations, invocations, quarter calls, offerings, etc., and the order of service in general. For our purposes, I will use the term rites predominantly in reference to individual ritual acts, such as the rite of cakes and ale in Wiccan liturgy.

And finally, one other set of terms that I’ve found particularly helpful is described in the same blog post I linked to above:

One really effective tool I’ve found for thinking about the nature of size in ritual was inspired by this video featuring internationally recognized voice and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg, wherein she discusses what she refers to as “first, second and third circle” acting. I think this terminology adapts brilliantly to the conversation concerning ritual. In my opinion, first circle rituals would involve those personal or deeply intimate rituals wherein the emotional energy is close, intimate and private – primarily between you and your gods and involving other folks only if they are so close to you that you almost work as one. The baking of bread for me is a first circle ritual – there are no other human participants, and the energy created loops back through myself – an intimate relationship between my body (my priest, myself), the bread, the Mama in the wheat, the Beloved in the fermentation, etc. These can be spontaneous, inspired in the moment, and are naturally leaderless rituals (obviously). A second circle ritual then, would be at the small group or coven level – perhaps up to 20 people (this is hardly a hard science – I’m just guessing at numbers of course), and would involve an intimate shared experience, the kind of bonding that results from eye-contact, time for individual sharing and exchange of emotional energy. Second circle rituals allow the leader of the ritual to have one-on-one exchange/contact with each individual participant, or even for there to be no leader at all. The last circle then would be third circle rituals – large groups and public “all-comers” rituals. These rituals involve spectacle, color, costume – big gestures, big voices and the ability to hold an audience in thrall. Naturally, there will be some cross-over – these aren’t non-porous values, and neither are they hierarchical: each circle is incredibly valuable to spiritual and religious experience.

These terms have been very helpful for me when discussing various types of ritual in our communities.

Whew!  That was a bit longer than I had planned.  So it begins! I look forward to our conversation. May we celebrate a glorious Beltane full of fire and song as we unwrap the gifts of the season. In the glory of spring unfolding, friends, I wish you many days of green grass and the exquisite, shocking colors of the Mama in bloom.

Grok Earth!


**”Wiccanate Paganism refers to the ecumenical or “intrafaith” theological ideas and liturgical forms commonly understood and performed by American Neopagans, which are most readily visible in large public rituals that often include diverse “types” of Pagans. In this phrase, “Wiccanate” designates that the ideas and forms to which Wiccanate Paganism refers are derived from specifically Wiccan ideas and forms, despite many participants perception that these ideas and forms are “generic,” “universal,” or similarly unmoored to a particular tradition. Thus, the term Wiccanate Paganism does not designate a particular Pagan tradition or lineage per se, but rather a trend observable in gatherings (and written material) that are meant to be para- or extra-traditional. A clear example of Wiccanate Paganism would be the tendency of ecumenical American Neopagan rituals to be structured in the form of a “magic circle” that is “cast,” which is punctuated by references to the “four quarters” or “four elements,” a notably Wiccan liturgical setup. Note that rituals sometimes take this Wiccan (Wiccanate) form even if none of the ritual presenters themselves identify as Wiccans.” – Johnny Rapture

Comment Feed

8 Responses

  1. Oh Sara, you brainy woman. You seriously rock. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. I love this! Blessed be!

  3. I’m looking forward to more of this kind of intelligent and insightful writing on ritual — an important and under-addressed topic for Pagans.
    Grok Earth, indeed!

  4. I am really anticipating your future posts. :D

  5. Great article, but Wiccanate!
    What an awful word.
    In my thirty years of Wicca.. this has to be the worst example of words included within Wicca… sorry.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] a few points. But before I go there, I should explain two things. First, “Wiccanate” is a term coined by Johnny Rapture, and it refers to American Neo-Pagan theological ideas and liturgical forms common to large public […]

  2. […] is a term coined by Johnny Rapture, and it refers to American Neo-Pagan theological ideas and liturgical forms common to large public […]

  3. […] is a term coined by Johnny Rapture, and it refers to American Neo-Pagan theological ideas and liturgical forms common to large public […]