Rituals for Our Lives

by Caroline Borne

Ritual has been undergoing a reformation along with spiritual thinking. People are taking ritual into their own hands and creating new forms to define and shape their spirituality. Not only are people making new rituals for birth, adulthood, marriage and death, they are also bringing the sacred into everyday life by creating rituals however small, to help personal issues release and change.
I have been making my own rituals and facilitating and empowering groups and individuals in this work for many years. I’ve taken this work into a variety of contexts; with Catholic nuns in a convent in Liverpool, in prisons, education centres, at women’s festivals, with children, and taking groups into nature using the natural elements to support the work.

Self, Community and the World

Rituals can be used to help self or society. Anna Halprin, whom I trained with, responded to a crisis in her community with ritual. Her centre, (Tamalpa Institute) is on a mountain called Tamalpais. Most of it is a national park but in 1983 it was closed to the public for months because of a series of rapes and murders there. Anna ran workshops locally and in nearby San Francisco, culminating in hundreds of local people processing up the mountain together with poets, dancers and singers, accompanied by police presence. At the top they performed a peace ritual to enact the conflict of the forces of good and evil. The intention was to bring peace to the mountain. Shortly afterwards the killer was found and the mountain was opened again, perhaps simply by people talking to each other more openly.

The mountain is held sacred by the native people, and Anna was asked by them to enact this ritual ‘On the Mountain’ every year for 5 years to make the healing complete. This led to her creating ‘Circle the Earth’, a peace ritual that takes place at the same time in several counties at once. I have facilitated parts of this ritual in the U.K. several times. One year we performed it on top of Glastonbury Tor which was a powerful focal point for the ritual.

Having led traditional structured rituals from the American Indian and Celtic traditions, I now create rituals with people that are ‘hand made’ and present moment. People take time to connect to themselves and their lives, drawing on this so the structure and meaning is personally connected to all. It’s a collective creative process. We may use aspects of traditional ritual as for example calling in the four directions to orientate and balance the four elements within us, but for rituals to be alive and real they need to be created in present time. If it is a short workshop, and there isn’t time for everyone to co-create the whole ritual, I use a simple structure that is designed for everyone to participate within it.

Connecting to the Body

I facilitate embodied ritual because it is important to be in your body when doing ritual. My main work is teaching movement and dance and I am a movement therapist. I help people to become more embodied and to develop their own language of self-expressive dance and movement.

Spiritual work needs to be connected to the body, not just from the heart upwards, but fully embodied so that the lower body and legs are awake and alive and connected to the earth. Much psychic and spiritual work gives more value to the upper areas in the body, but all of the body is sacred and needs our respect and love. This can be given by relating to the body with breath work, movement and kinaesthetics awareness which increases our awareness of our body movement. Thus I start all my ritual workshops with movement, stretching, and releasing the joints, muscles and breath.

The Power of Intention

Choosing and holding an intention gives focus, direction and unity. Having an intention for a ritual also acts as a central channel for everyone’s will to join together, so everything can galvanise around it to support the process. Holding a clear joint intention has a lot of power. It is important to respect that power. In the 90’s I ran a ritual series for Centre for Creation Spirituality at St. James, Piccadilly in London and one week I called the theme ‘Be careful for what you ask for, you might get it’. That statement reminds us of the power of thought and intention and how we can forget it, even to the point of finding it hard to believe or receive something really positive when it comes, especially when it appears miraculous. If it happens to you, don’t say ‘I just don’t believe it’ as you just might wish it away!

Intentions have more potential when they include all of ourselves. If it is just a ‘head thought’ it is only two-dimensional. It has to be felt in your heart and experienced in your body. Your mind can name it in words, but it needs to be felt deeply.

The key factor that defines ritual and brings people closer spiritually, is that ritual always calls on a higher power. This can mean different things for different people, and willing communication always brings mutually agreeable words and actions. It is important to speak from your heart, and say what is real for you in the process before, during or after. The form of the ritual must never be more important than the moment to moment life of the ritual. Laughter, sometimes tears, a spontaneous song or a thought or feeling that was calling to be spoken out loud may not have been planned, but as long as everyone is aware and open to the process it will feel right.

The spirit in ritual can die, becoming an empty vessel in the more organised religions. Forms that were meaningful once don’t stay meaningful for ever because we evolve and change. You have to listen to changing times and needs, otherwise ritual becomes associated with the negative connotation of mindless repetition.

A ritual will mean different things for different people. To simply be gently touched by the experience will be more than enough for one. Some may feel connected to spirit again, or feel a sense of peace. To feel inspired and energised or strengthened enough to make an important decision. Others gain more consciousness with which to make a transition in their lives, and others feel transformed. Although a spiritual teacher of mine once said God is equally found in a an inner city skyscraper as in a beautiful place in nature, for me rituals in nature strengthen and renew me in very different ways to indoor ones. Finding the tangible and symbolic connections between our bodies and nature gives us intimacy with nature. But wherever the rituals take place, with our heart intent behind physical actions we can create magic and healing.

Beauty and love

Making ritual brings out the artist in you, even if you believe you’re not artistic. Making a simple altar with beautiful objects gives attention to your spirit in a physical way, and the act of making an altar can be a ritual in itself. Wearing soft silky flowing clothes, choosing colours you would not usually wear, but want to try can be liberating. Whether you are creating a sacred space alone or with others, it will remind you of your ability to lovingly create something beautiful.

Caroline Born has been facilitating and training groups since 1979 in Movement work, movement therapy and ritual. She is a graduate of the Tamalpa Institute and teaches in a wide variety of contexts including schools, prisons, colleges and theatres.

Celebration & Reflection on the Four Paths

devised by a GreenSpirit group in Devon
Celebrating the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality; via positiva, via negativa, via creativa and via transformativa, can provide a useful way of encompassing different aspects of the spiritual journey. Here are some resources and poems.

 Via Positiva

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
To speak your
Name.
Listen to the living walls.
Who
Are you?
Whose
Silence are you?  ~Thomas Merton

The earth is not a dead body, but is inhabited by a spirit that is life and soul. All created things, minerals included, draw their strength from the earth spirit. The spirit is life, it is nourished by the stars: and it gives nourishment to all the living things it shelters in its womb. Through the spirit received from on high, the earth hatches the minerals in her womb as the mother her unborn child ~ Basilius Valentinus


Chant:
I feel the water flowing
I feel the water flowing,
Underneath the ground;
I hear the grasses growing
Without a sound.
I see the trees so tall
In the sunlit skies;
I’m thankful to the Earth for growing
Right before my eyes. ~Connie Berens

 

Via Negativa

The ground of the soul is dark
Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness. ~ Meister Eckhart

Yet no matter how deeply I go down into myself
My God is dark, and like a webbing made
Of a hundred roots, that drink in silence. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
We have forgotten who we are
We have alienated ourselves from the unfolding
Of the cosmos.
We have become estranged from the movements
Of the earth
We have turned our backs on the cycles of life.
We have forgotten who we are.
Now the forests are dying
And the creatures are disappearing,
And humans are despairing .
We have forgotten who we are.
We ask forgiveness
We ask for the gift of remembering
We ask for strength to change.
We have forgotten who we are ~ United Nations Environmental Sabbath Programme
You are the last whale,
Washed up on a far beach.
The waves are pushing against you,
Your brothers and sisters are gone.
The light is too bright for your eyes.
You cannot breathe,
Small children are throwing rocks and laughing,
Climbing on your body;
You die alone, your ears are full of wind.
You are the last buffalo,
The sun is setting over the plains.
You stand alone, enormous,
Heavy with fur, lonely.
You are tired of running, tired of running.
All your friends have gone
It seems even the earth has turned against you.
There is no-one to say goodbye.
You rest, listening to the wind.
When the time is right,
The spirit of the wolf returns. ~ Gary Lawless.

 

Via Creativa

Flame-dancing Spirit, come
Sweep us off our feet and
Dance us through our days.
Surprise us with your rhythms;
Dare us to try new steps, explore
New patterns and new partnerships;
Release us from old routines
To swing in abandoned joy and
Fearful adventure. And
In the intervals,
Rest us
In your still centre. ~ Collect from ‘Women Included’

The violence of the Universe is everywhere. Out of that violence galaxies were born, and we need to learn to use it creatively, not let it paralyse us, to act our part in the cosmic drama.
The earth has lost its story, but perhaps a new story is emerging out of the depths of the universe. Ideas are pressing from the future, and need to be explored. Comfort doesn’t help, strength is needed. We must chose our world from the source of our dreams, to enter the world of love and wisdom, and that will shape our world ~ Brian Swimme

Something is afoot in the universe, a result is working out which can be best compared to a gestation and a birth: the birth of a new spiritual reality formed by souls and the matter they draw after them. Laboriously, by way of human activity and thanks to it, the new earth is gathering, isolating and purifying itself. No, we are not like flowers in a bunch, but the leaves and flowers of a great tree, on which each appears at its time and place, according to the demands of the All. ~ Teilhard de Chardin. Human Energy

 

Via Transformativa

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world . ~ Adrienne Rich. The Dream of a Common Language.

When we get out of the glass bottles of our own ego,
and when we escape like squirrels from turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forest again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down, we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like
burnt paper. ~ D.H.Lawrence

Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.    ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Never before has the human community been confronted with a situation that required such sudden and radical change in lifestyle under the threat of the comprehensive degradation of the planet and its major life systems….When we hear corporations speak of “feeding the world” as a global enterprise, we can only reflect that feeding themselves belongs to each local community. It belongs to any people to be intimately related to the region of their dwelling. This includes a mutual nourishment…..We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future. We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension. But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours not by domination but by invocation. ~Thomas Berry. ‘The Great Work’

 

Celebrating the Celtic Year

by Ian Mowll

Build your celebrations on the traditional ideas associated with each festival, equinox or solstice. Caitlin Matthew’s book Celtic Devotional is one of many sources of information.

Celtic Year Wheel

Some groups find that celebrating some or all of these festivals help the group to connect with the earth through the seasonal cycles of the year. These festivals are rich in mythology and are connected with our ancestral past. Many of these festivals started in Pagan times and have been overlaid with Christian festivals. For instance; Samhain – All Soul’s Day. Winter Solstice – Christmas. Imbolc – Candlemass. Spring Equinox – Easter. Lughnasadh – Lammas. Autumn Equinox – harvest festival. Both of these traditions have something to add.
In each section, there are some ideas for rituals. These are ideas to prompt your thinking, you may wish to add further readings, meditations, circle dances or chants.

Samhain – 1st November
Background:
Samhain is a fire festival which marks the beginning of winter and the start of the Celtic year. At this time, pairs of hilltop bonfires were lit as divine “eyes” though which the goddess could see and communicate with her people. It was between these fires, in the sight of their deity, that our ancestors walked and drove their cattle, hoping to obtain fertility and fortune to survive another winter season. In the flickering light, the boundaries which divide the worlds, human and spirit, dissipate in the thickening atmosphere. It is said that at Samhain, the veil between the worlds becomes thin and so some use this time to communicate with, or pay respect to, their ancestors.

Ideas for a Ritual
Make a bonfire and, whilst standing around, talk about your ancestors, remember them and what they meant to you. In turn, offer your ancestors a meditation or a prayer.
Remember people in history who have influenced society in a positive way. Give a short reading or talk about a person you particularly respect or identify with. Explain why you value this person’s contribution.
Build two bonfires and each walk between the two bonfires, accept the ending of something in your life.

Winter Solstice – 21st December 
Background:
The solstice (from old English meaning “sun-standing-still”) is the time of turning, when the days change from shortening to lengthening. Many cultures around the world perform solstice ceremonies. At their root was an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration.
Once it could be seen that the days were lengthening, there would be much celebration; the light is coming back, spring would soon be on its way. Christmas, on the 25th December, was originally a pagan festival which was the first day that our ancestors could be sure that the days were indeed getting longer and that the wheel had turned. It is no co-incidence that, at this time, Pagans celebrate the re-birth of the sun and Christians celebrate the re-birth of the son of God, bringing spiritual light into the world.
Around the Solstice cluster symbols which give physical presence to the powerful energies which visit this time each year. The Yule log is a pagan bonfire brought indoors. A Christmas tree is a contemporary symbol of the World Tree and is often decorated with an angel, a symbol of the Goddess.
Idea for a Ritual
Start the room in darkness and have a reading or poem about the darkness. Pass round a bowl of water and, in turn speak of something that you wish to leave behind. Imagine that this is passed into the bowl of water.
Go out into a garden and ask the earth to accept what each member of the group wishes to leave behind and ask that the Earth will support the group. Then, pour the water into the earth.
Read a poem about the coming of light into the world or universe. Light a central candle and then each lights a candle from the central candle. Welcome in something new as you light your candle.
At the end, blow out candles and thank each other for participating in the ritual

 

Imbolc – 1st February 
Background:
The Celtic spring begins on 1st February. It is a season of seeds and of great beginnings deep in the underground.
Imbolg means “in the belly” it is the time of first milk, of the birthing of spring lambs and the provision of milk and meat which meant survival to our forebears. To greet Imbolg was to notice the lengthening of days and the first visible signs that light and life were again returning to the land.
Contemplate the Sun in early February. The days are growing slightly longer. The Sun is waxing and the new warmth is beginning to melt the snow in the mountains. The rivers and streams are filling with the Water of Life. The dormant seeds are warmed by the Sun and nourished by Mother Earth, even though they may still be hidden under a blanket of snow. They begin to germinate and grow.
This is a time of hope and expectation. It represents new life, purification and new beginnings. Today, Imbolc is often seen as a time for Dedications and Initiations, rituals of new beginning. Many groups celebrate Imbolc as a Festival of Lights, white or pale blue candles may be lit during the ritual and taken home to burn later, when a magical new beginning is needed. This is a good time to make a personal rededication, reaffirming vows or making new ones.
This is also a time to involve the Maiden by all Her Many Names. All of the Maidens have in common the aspects of youth and virginity. They represent the freshness of the new season .
Candlemas, another name for the festival, was originated by the Christian Church but came from a Pagan source. Roman Pagans held candlelight processions in honour of Juno and this festival has been used and adapted by the Christian Church.
Ideas for a Ritual
Plant a seed in the ground or each light a candle and as you do so, ask the Universe for a growth in some aspect or quality in your life. Share with each other the new aspect that you wish to welcome into your life.
Celebrate the creativity of the Universe through the creation of the planets. Each choose a planet and reflect on its meaning to you both as a physical body and as a god of mythology.

 

Spring Equinox – 21st March
Background:
The Spring Equinox is the mid-point of the waxing year. The spark of light that was born at the Winter Solstice has reached maturity and from this day forward, the days grow longer than the nights. This is the time of full Dawn, and was the time of the festivals of the Grecian Goddess, Eostre, and the Germanic Ostara, both Goddesses of Dawn – this is where we get the word “Easter”.
Spring is the time for a celebration and of the greening the Earth. We have survived another Winter and are once more surrounded by the delights of Spring. Many traditions associated with Spring Equinox still exist today; people arise early on Easter morning to attend “Sunrise Service” and decorated eggs have always been symbols of fertility. Many cultures see the eggs as a symbol of Life, or the actual home of the soul.
If you want to go to a little more trouble, and be more authentic, gather various leaves, roots and flowers and tie them tightly to the eggs before boiling. The vegetable dyes released in the water will create lovely patterns on the eggs. The following day, the eggs can be used as alter decorations and given as gifts. Eggs and sunrise circles continue to represent the coming of Spring as they did for our ancestors. As this time, think about the Continuity of Life and having a Bright and Blessed Spring.
Ideas for a Ritual
Find out about, and explain the scientific account of life forming on Earth about 4 billion years ago. Use this to create a sense of awe and wonder about life on the planet.
Put a small tree (this is called “the tree of life”) or a shrub in the centre of the room. In turn, tie a ribbon or coloured piece of paper onto the tree. As you do so, make an intention or a prayer. You may speak this out loud if you wish. For instance, wishing for more serenity, offering a prayer for a loved one, offer support for a local campaign.
Boil some eggs and paint them with colourful colours. Maybe drawing something symbolic on the egg that represents some aspect of new life. You could explain what this symbol means to you in your life. Put all the eggs in a basket and then each draw one of the eggs from the basket. This represents the group sharing its energies and talents.

 

Beltane – 1st May
Background:
Beltane marks the beginning of summer and is the fertility festival par excellence! Beltane is an extravagant holiday; at this time of year the roses are in full bloom and the berries are ripe. In Britain, the countryside is filled with the delicate may-blossoms of the Hawthorn tree. This is the Love Dance of the Gods, the Wedding of Heaven and Earth, the Bridal feast of the Goddess!
Since Beltane was primarily a Fire Festival, fires are prominent among the early customs. The Sun is the prime promoter of life of Earth, so at this life-oriented celebration, fires were lit in recognition of its vital radiation and to enhance its waxing powers. Bonfires were kindled on hilltops and the revellers danced around them until dawn.
As this was also the time of the annual migration from the Winter home to the Summer home for some Celts, the fires were divided into two parts and the herds driven between them for purification and fertility. People ran between them, too, especially new brides and childless women.
In some places, the festivities began on May Eve, when the young people of the villages would go off into the woods or Forrest in search of the perfect Maypole. Throughout the night, they would sing, dance and make love, to hasten the arrival of Summer. At Dawn, they would return to the village, bearing with them a living tree.
Like Samhain, the veil between the worlds at this time is thin. May Day is about life, about falling in love, and frolicking in the woods. The Goddess who manifests herself at May Day calls you out of yourself and you may never return, at least to the same world that you knew.
Ideas for a Ritual
Stand a small pole in the centre of the room as a maypole. Each hold a coloured thread tied to the maypole and walk around the pole. As you walk, be aware of one of your own aspects of humanity such as an emotion or a skill.
Notice that the maypole becomes a swathe of colours, each person’s contribution is needed to make up the colourful pole. This helps us to understand how much we need groups and communities to make new things happen.

 

Summer Solstice – 21st June
Background:
Midsummer is the moment when the warmth and beauty of the year are at their height as the sun reaches the highest point of its arc in the sky. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and a time in which the humming fullness of summer seems endless. The rippling transition into the warmth of the year has passed and the cooling winds of autumn are yet to be.
In these days of sunshine and deep blue skies it is difficult to accept the darkness which must befall the light half of the year at midsummer. The wish for warm moonlit nights and soft sunny breezes, of days from such seasons passed, is met by the fading bloom of summer’s flower – time and tide wait for no one
Pause and listen to the song of the birds of summer, breathe the fragrance of a beautiful flower or take a moonlit walk. Soon the shadows of the coming season will turn inward once more.
Ideas for a Ritual
Drum, chant, dance and sing to celebrate the height of summer. A bonfire can be a good focus for a group celebrating in this way. If possible, this celebration can go on late into the night.

 

Lughnasadh – 1st August
Background:
The Celtic festival Lughnasadh (Loo-nah-sah) or Lammas heralds summer’s end. August 1st marks the first day of the Celtic autumn and the beginning of the harvest and so this is a harvest festival.
Two ancient festivals with similar purposes are celebrated on August 1st. Lughnasadh is associated with the Irish god Lugh which means “he of many gifts”. As the harvest came to its conclusion, before the corn was stored, the druid worshippers of Lugh had to take thought for the following year’s harvest and reserve a supply of seed corn, which itself became part of an offering to the gods of the harvest. In later years this offering was symbolised in many places by the elaborate corn dollies formed out of the last sheaf to be cut.
Lammas is one of the four major pagan festivals originally celebrated in Britain. During medieval times, loaves were baked from the first grains of the harvest and blessed in a church ceremony known as the “loaf mass”. Many believe that “Lammas” is a shortened form of “loaf mass”. Others attribute “Lammas” to a combined form of “lamb” and “mass” which reflects a time when lambs were offered as a tribute to feudal lords.
Both festivals celebrate the fruits of the harvest with games and contests and a magnificent feast.
Ideas for a Ritual
Bring a loaf of bread and share it between the group representing the first loaf of harvest.
Share a meal, each bringing some food to the table. As you eat the food, share readings, sayings and quotations that help you to connect with the abundance and generosity of nature.

 

Autumn Equinox – 21st September
Background:
At the equinox we are not yet at Samhain and no longer at Lughnasadh. The harvest and our summer activities are winding down, but not yet completed. We have bid farewell to summer, but the sun’s light has not yet faded.
Mabon, (pronounced May-bun, May-bone, Mah-boon, or Mah-bawn) is the Autumn Equinox. The Autumn Equinox divides the day and night equally, and we all take a moment to pay our respects to the impending dark. We also give thanks to the waning sunlight, as we store our harvest of this year’s crops. The Druids call this celebration, Mea’n Fo’mhair, and honour the Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering drinks to the trees. Offerings of ciders, wines, herbs and fertiliser are appropriate at this time.
At this festival it is appropriate to wear all of your finery and dine and celebrate in a lavish setting. It is a time to draw together as we prepare for the winding down of the year at Samhain. It is a time to finish old business as we become ready for a period of rest, relaxation and reflection.
Mabon is considered a time of the Mysteries. It is a time to honour Ageing Deities and the Spirit World. Considered a time of balance, it is when we stop and relax and enjoy the fruits of our personal harvests, whether they be from toiling in our gardens, working at our jobs, raising our families, or just coping with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. May your Mabon be memorable, and your hearts and spirits be filled to overflowing!
Ideas for a Ritual
Find a tree and stand in a circle around it. Reflect on the qualities that you feel the tree embodies. Meditate on how that can give you strength.
Spend some time reflecting on the past year, the good things that have happened and the things that were challenging. Each place a piece of fruit into a central bowl and reflect on something good that has happened. Then, each person can take a different piece of fruit from the bowl. This can represent the sharing and giving of the group.

 

 

The Place of Ritual – a personal journey

by Don Hills

Reprinted from GreenSpirit, Winter 2000
MandalaMy journey into ritual during the past year has profoundly affected every area of my life. During the 1999 GreenSpirit Wild Week I was captivated by the deceptively simple Threshold Ritual. All we did was cross a bridge but it was the preparation and what it symbolized that was so powerful for me. We had previously split into pairs to discuss what we wanted to leave behind, what we wanted to preserve and what we wanted to newly embrace in our lives. Care had been taken to lovingly decorate the bridge and each of us had the opportunity during the week to quietly meditate on the likely implications of our choices. In other words, emotional energy was invested in the build-up to the ritual itself. Before crossing, half the group smudged each other in preparation, whilst the other half gathered on the other side of the river preparing to welcome each individual after she or he had crossed. As my turn came, I found myself trembling in anticipation with what I was about to promise myself in the presence of the group. It was as solemn a moment as I had ever experienced previously. It was as though that walk across the bridge was ‘summing up’ all my life until that moment and that a new life awaited on the other side – a kind of baptism in the rushing waters below!
Little did I realise at that time that many ritual journeys lay ahead. Just a few weeks later, Ian Mowll and I were deputed by the AGM to investigate possibilities for the development of ritual within the GreenSpirit movement. This was a real challenge as we were both relatively new to this most intimate area of spiritual life and we were well aware of the vast amount of experience already held within the movement.
During the early autumn last year Ian and I met on several occasions to work out a plan of action. What struck us immediately was the power latent in our various GreenSpirit vision statements for developing ritual, particularly in the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme on the emerging Universe Story. In their book of the same name (Harper 1992), an incredible mixture of science, cultural history and poetic language, they draw out the main elements of ‘the unfolding of the cosmos’ – the Big Bang (or Flaring Forth); the birth of the galaxies and stars; the creation of our solar system; the appearance of the first forms of life on earth; the appearance of human life; the rise of culture and religious expression; the Enlightenment. But how could such a monumental scenario possibly be encapsulated in ritual? Yet this is precisely what Swimme and Berry are calling for with urgency.
Until the present we have not been able to celebrate properly this larger story of the universe, yet this is the high achievement of our scientific enquiry into the universe . . . Without entrancement within this new context of existence, it is unlikely that the human community will have the psychic energy needed for the renewal of the Earth’. (ibid. p. 268)
I am indebted to Ian for the next creative step. Why not link the Universe Story with Celtic festivals, which begin in Samhain’s darkness and progress through the reappearance of light, the beginnings of life at Spring time, the full flowering of Summer and the fruitfulness of harvest-time? The Universe Story would then be grounded for us in Earth’s Story, the cosmic drama reflected in the planetary experience as it circles its sun. What better way for us to celebrate our humanity as children of the Universe? Here’s how it looks diagrammatically, with each item having a notional date, a festival, a significant stage in the unfolding of the world and a theme

1st November –Samhain –‘Big Bang’ –Cosmic birth – unity

21st December — Winter Solstice — Birth of Galaxies — Light coming into Universe

1st February — Imbolc — Creation of our Solar system — Earth in perfect balance to produce life. Creativity

21st March — Spring Equinox — First appearance of life on earth — Celebration of new life. Renewal

1st May – Beltane — Human life appears — Celebration of our existence

21st June — Summer Solstice — Rise of culture & religious expression — Acknowledging the diversity of spiritual expression

1st August — Lugh-nasadh — The Enlightenment — Benefits of Science

21st September — Autumn Equinox — Today! — Need to link the combined wisdom of the ages to ensure our planet’s survival

Since Ian was organising the Wimbledon GreenSpirit programme and I was doing the same with Southampton, we put these ideas to our respective groups and both were willing to ‘give it a go’. Now we had a real story to work on as a basis for ritual-making for an experimental year’s cycle of meetings. And not just a story – in every sense the ultimate story, the universal myth for our time and all time! The challenge was now to embody and empower the outline programme with rituals worthy of such a vision.

Rather than producing identical programmes for both groups, we decided to work separately to allow for experimental diversity, but at the same time to keep in touch about the outcomes of meetings as the year unfolded.
The following are some examples of rituals that each group came up with during the year:
Wimbledon:
‘At the Winter Solstice 1999, we celebrated the birth of the galaxies which resonated with the birth of the sun in the pagan tradition and the birth of the son in the Christian tradition. We decided that the ritual would be about leaving something behind and welcoming in something new.

To start the ritual, we lit a candle in the middle of the floor to represent the original flaring forth. Each person wrote down, on a piece of paper, what they were leaving behind and this was burnt on the candle in the middle of the floor. Then, each person lit their own candle from the centre candle, which represented the birth of the galaxies. Whilst doing this, each person welcomed in something new for themselves.
Of course, the mechanics of the ritual does not express the feeling or the meaningfulness of what happened. We included a creative visualisation and had time to share our thoughts and feelings. The ritual helped us to engage both with the mythology of the New Universe Story and ground it in each of our own spiritual journeys.

At Beltane 2000, we linked together the wild energy of May-time with the appearance of human life on this planet. The meeting started with the chant ‘we all come from the Goddess’ with an accompanying dance around the Hazel Maypole. This was followed by poems from Louis MacNeice and D H Lawrence, reminding us of the destructive shadow of Spring balanced by a song of life and joyfulness. We then listened to a compelling story of Gawain and the Green Knight, where themes of courage, life, death and rebirth are inter-linked.

The scene was now set for a quiet meditation on the links between springtime and the ancient Cave paintings, during which time reproductions of these amazingly vibrant paintings, as well as a colour photograph of the Willendorf Venus, were passed round. We asked ourselves what Spring-time 2000 meant to us individually. The group was then let loose with materials for painting any images that formed in our minds during the meditation, onto a roll of wallpaper that was laid out flat down the middle of the hall.
It turned out that the experience of painting became the high point of the ritual. I was taken aback at the colour and vitality of the images produced, and wondered what the original cave painters would feel about our efforts! I venture to think they would recognise and resonate with the life and spirit evident in the painting even though the images were so different.
For me, there have been two main outcomes to the year’s experimental ritual-making. First, is the confirmation of the latent power of the Universe Story to bring a whole new dimension of life and meaning to the ritual aspect of our GreenSpirit gatherings, both local and national. As James Roose- Evans says in his seminal book Passages of the Soul – ‘Rituals, if performed with passion and devotion, enhance and strengthen our capacity to live’. Having the opportunity to spend a whole year with my local group reflecting on, and feeling part of, the unfolding of the incredible cosmic drama was like entering a magical world – but a magic with its feet literally on the ground. In the words of Joseph Campbell (in dialogue with Bill Moyers) – ‘Ritual is the enactment of the myth, and the only mythology that is valid today is that of the planet’.
Second, has been the opportunity to report back to the national membership at the recent A.G.M. at Hereford on our findings in the form of a little booklet, outlining the kinds of rituals carried out at Wimbledon and Southampton, and to gain feedback from interested members. We were particularly taken by the suggestion of Michael Colebrook that the year’s ritual round could commence with a Cosmic Walk to help participants get a real ‘feel’ of the tiny, but essential part that humans have played in the great transformations  of the cosmic drama. Indeed the act of reporting back with Ian felt to me like the end of a personal journey – only to find myself at the beginning of another.

 

A Lammas Celebration

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by Erna Colebrook

(from GreenSpirit Winter 1999)

“You are invited to our Lammas celebration”, a voice said over the phone.

It was Freddie Denman speaking. He is the Church of England vicar of Sparkwell and Cornwood, two villages on the lower slopes of southern Dartmoor which have retained a pleasant rural aspect though only 20 minutes drive from Plymouth.

All Michael and I knew about Lammas was that it was an ancient celebration, a ritual to do with harvest. Brewer put us right: ‘the day on which, in Anglo Saxon times, the first fruits were offered. Formerly, bread for the Lammas day Eucharist was made from the new corn of the harvest’. It is also the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, which means ‘mourning for Lugh’, the Sun God of the Celts.

As soon as we arrived at Bickford Town Farm where the celebration was to take place, we knew we were in for a very special evening. From the field were wonderful views to the highest tops of Dartmoor. What a setting! A good bonfire had been prepared and was waiting to be lit. There was a tableau with sheaves of corn, surrounding a reproduction of a painting of Christ with an open book and an effigy of Mary half hidden in the corn. All charmingly and creatively put together. Unmistakably present was a public address system and overhead spotlights. Young people were making the last preparations to ensure the smooth running of the evening. For this was a young people’s event. They belong to a church group called Genesis with which Freddie Denman hopes to revive the old festivals.

We estimate that there were around 70 people at the celebration of whom a good number were teenagers. The rite started with the words from Teilhard de Chardin which we use at our own earthwalks. Then the fire was lit. This is the celebration of the Harvest Mother As she gives birth to her Harvest Child This is the time when the Sun King dies with the waning year and the Corn King dies when the grain is reaped. The celebration was under way. The four spirits were summoned to form the sacred circle by four girls standing at each direction. We all received a bread figure with the words, ‘with this discard your harvest fears’ and we duly threw our figures in the fire.

A song and dancing followed. In the order of service it said, ‘A few thoughts’. The Reverend Freddie Denman’s words turned out to be a wonderful plea for a return to embracing the Earth Mother, for aligning ourselves with the Earth’s energies and for casting out our fears. It was a rousing address full of creation spirituality. I am sure the distant hills were looking and listening to the figure in white robes standing at the microphone. It was a truly moving time.

Another song followed after which the Harvest Loaf was carried round and each person broke off a piece and ate it. Here was the heart of Lammas. The song, ‘My heart will go on’ was followed by a reading of Olive Schreiner’s ‘Third Dream in the Desert’ voiced over some gentle music by Freddie Denman. Next came readings by Hildegard of Bingen and another song.

All too soon the four spirits of the sacred circle were dismissed. A song of thanksgiving summed up the celebration. ‘Thank you for hearing me, Thank you for loving me…. Thank you for breaking my heart.’ It was time for a Celtic blessing. The evening had darkened. We left the glowing embers with a deep sense of gratitude and feeling of being deeply blessed. Things are stirring, a new confidence in a more earth-directed spirituality is slowly taking root and growing.

A Parish Priest’s Tale

by Freddy Denman
(from GreenSpirit, Summer 2000)

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Cornwood Church

I am an Anglican priest, ordained in 1970, and now a Vicar of two rural parishes on South Dartmoor. I’m 54 years old and suddenly feel in my prime! Why? Because I’ve stumbled across Creation Spirituality. It would be nearer the truth to say Creation Spirituality found me – I’ve been brought up to believe God always takes the initiative and comes looking for us. But then I’ve always been told that life begins at 40. How wrong for me! It seemed that I had staggered through that decade burdened by the breakdown of my marriage and a midlife crisis! But so often experience teaches ‘for breakdown, read breakthrough’. And as I look back from where I am now, how true that is: in the words of Edith Sitwell, ‘nothing is ever lost, all in the end is harvest’. Poetry and prose mean so much to me especially words that seem to jump out at me when I read them, like Eliot’s ‘In my end is my beginning’ and ‘to arrive at where we started’ and ‘know it for the first time’. I feel that with Creation Spirituality – it’s a ‘coming home’ – a feeling that this is what I’ve always believed but been too afraid to say it!

I could be like some of my colleagues who have reached the age when retirement is in 10 years time and you sink into a routine of just keeping the parish ticking over with the same old stuff you’ve trotted out for years. But I’m beginning again! Unlearning so I can receive new things. Every day is a fresh beginning, a ‘greening’ – God is always young – the newest thing in the universe. I am at my prime!

The breakthrough or change began in the summer of ’98 with the death of a boy in the village: an eleven year old playing in a tree from which he fell, never to regain consciousness. The village was stunned and the whole community turned out for the funeral. It’s at times like this that one realises how inadequate are the services provided by the Church. I decided that the funeral would be entirely what the family wished for and I involved them and the village in planning for it. At this time I had been reading about the Goddess tradition and especially the old Celtic vision of the afterlife. I decided to use a guided visualisation of the boy’s journey across the sunless seas to the beautiful island of Avalon, the Isle of Apples, the Summerland. There it is always summer and the trees are in fruit and blossom at the same time, and loved ones and ancestors welcome us to this Paradise.

The church was packed with about 400 people, many of whom were children. Afterwards parents told me how thrilled they were that I had offered a ‘vision’ and symbolism for the children to hold on to. It had made all the difference, and what might have been a terrible ordeal especially for young people became a truly spiritual experience.

This began a change in the spirituality of our village. Shortly afterwards there was the death of Princess Diana, and peoples’ reactions of grief. Her funeral service made a great impression, and I felt the Church of England got it right for once. But whatever ones thoughts about Diana, something happened during those days, and especially on the funeral day. I realised people were hungry, nationally and locally, for spirituality. I began to sense the gulf between religion and spirituality: the Churches were failing to deliver the goods. Folk wanted something more – something deeper. Diana’s death and funeral had opened doors – touched ‘deepdown things’.

In October of that year the Diocese of Exeter called its Triennial Diocesan Conference and met at Woolacombe Bay Hotel, North Devon. It was a lovely venue, and a good range of outside speakers was brought in to fire us. One of the speakers was Dave Tomlinson who now convenes an unusual Church called Holy Jo’s which meets in a pub in Clapham, South London. It was through him that I learned I was becoming a ‘post modern’! Dave’s book The Post Evangelical is a read I recommend. Not that I was ever an evangelical – I was brought up and trained as a spiky Anglo- Catholic. I learned at that conference through his enlightened and charismatic lecture that we are really moving from one age to another – from the modern to the post-modern.

My generation – the one that makes up the traditional congregation – does not understand this. But it has been a joy to see the world through fresh lenses. This is what I understand by post-modern: it is a world which sees itself through biological rather than mechanical models: where we see ourselves as part of the natural world rather than over or apart from it. This is a view distrustful of hierarchies, male-dominated institutions and centralised bureaucracies. Networks and local grass-root activities take precedence over large-scale structures. Books may be replaced by screens. This is a world hungry for spirituality yet dismissive of systematised religion, a world in which image and reality are so deeply intertwined that it is difficult to draw the line between the two. So the world acts in a postmodern way when it picks’n’mixes; it is laid back and playful, it distrusts logic and rationality, and is suspicious of history and tradition. It distrusts the idea of progress – it likes fuzzy boundaries and it refuses to judge.

When in 1998 I discovered I was post-modern, I personally felt a great release – a sort of coming out of the closet! It was then, and, strangely enough, only then, that Original Blessing and Matthew Fox found me. It found me in a seedbed prepared and ready for planting and spirituality, and completed my change of life. My vision is for a Creation Spirituality centred parish. At the moment this is still a vision. But since the beginning of 1999 one of my parishes, Cornwood, where we had the funeral for the young boy, has begun to embrace that vision too. We have kept the earth’s cycle of celebration, presented by our young people using their music. The response has been remarkable. On most occasions there are 150 people, a large percentage of them being young. Halloween/Samhain was absolutely marvellous last year with well over 200 people attending I thought it might cause some controversy but somehow it spoke to the people – it touched ancestral voices. I sent a letter to all the parents of the school children explaining that Halloween is nothing to fear – rather welcomed as a time to help children and adults come to terms with their fears of change and death. This a time for celebrations, stories and games; a time for laughing in the face of adversity.

In addition to keeping the great earth festivals we have a Creation Spirituality Eucharist on the first Sunday of each month. This liturgy draws on all traditions, notably Native North American, Celtic, Jewish, Buddhist alongside Christianity; deeply ecumenical, believing in the words of Matthew Fox, ‘wisdom springing from global faiths coming together’. There is no preaching at this Eucharist, and all, whatever age, can receive communion. Everyone participates. It is full of beautiful poetry and prose supplied by our local Greenspirit support Group in Plymouth – rather like the widow’s cruse in the Scriptures – ‘it never fails’. The music is from all sorts of traditions. I’m finding that here and there I have to rewrite a line or a verse of an old hymn to make it Creation Spirituality friendly!

That has been the great shock and has brought tensions within me, going from fall/redemption to becoming an original blessing person! Reworking hymns, unlearning and starting again, and coming to the conclusion that Christianity must change or else it will die. We need a new Pentecost. As we come from fire and are fire, it’s time we started using fire to melt and heal and change. For me, the new cosmology is a new Pentecost.

People in the parish have responded very positively to these changes. I have found support from Bishop John of Plymouth, and good friends locally, not least the CS group at Erna and Michael Colebrooks’.

Thinking this over now, and reading this, going into my last 12 years of ministry, it is rather in ‘bits and pieces’. But that may be as it should be. I see Our Lord feeding the multitude and telling his disciples to ‘gather up the fragments’. Maybe that is what I’m now offering: fragments out of which people can put together their lives in a new way. Sometimes I feel isolated with all this, like Elijah under the juniper tree: ‘Lord, I’m the only one left’. Sometimes I feel my people are putting all this down to one of ‘Freddy’s little gimmicks’. The regular folk who are there faithfully for traditional Communion and Matins are happy with the old ways, and why should I disturb them? I have sought those who are on the edge of Church life, on the margins of community life – who see the Christian faith a bit of a ‘merry-go-round’ that won’t stop to allow them to get on!! To these people, Creation Spirituality has come as Good News – a Gospel – and so for me there’s no turning back, and now it’s a question of leadership with promised support from the local GreenSpirit group. The ecologist Rudolph Bahro wrote: ‘when the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.’ We GreenSpirit folk must be prepared to make fools of ourselves.

Recently I gained some inspiration from an unlikely source – John Adair’s Great Leaders. He quoted Field Marshall the Lord Slim – ‘to begin with we do not in the Army talk of ‘management’ but of ‘leadership’. This is a significant difference. The leader and those who follow him or her represent one of the oldest, most natural, and most effective of all relationships. Managers are neither so romantic nor so inspiring. Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision; its practice is an art: management is of the mind – of statistics, methods, timetables and routine; its practice is science. Managers are necessary; leaders are essential.’ As a Parish Priest, I sometimes muse that making a leader of yourself can be an art form, that leadership lies within us all – it is of the spirit. That is a new lesson Creation Spirituality continues to teach me: still a long way to go, but I like to think I’m committed to it. And once one is committed then Providence steps in! Doesn’t it?

Father Freddy Denman is the Vicar of two parishes, Sparkwell and Cornwood, on the edge of Dartmoor. His address is Sparkwell Vicarage. PL75DB, Devon.