by Selena Fox
originally in Fall 2011, pp. 31-32
Every year, at our Welcome Summer Festival, in early June at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, we craft a special kind of herbal amulet known as Spirit Bags, for members of the Pagan Spirit Gathering Community.
We make enough so that each participant in the Pagan Spirit Gathering can receive one upon arrival and use it as part of personal and group spiritual activities throughout the week. We also make some extras, which later are given to others as tokens of healing and well being.
Each Spirit Bag consists of a small fabric pouch made from a square of all-cotton cloth and containing a blend of dried herbs and a small sacred stone. The cloth, once filled at its center is tied with a piece of yarn, which in turn is tied to a circlet fashioned from a longer piece of yarn.
Each year, we select fabric, yarn ties, and a type of sacred stone to match the theme for that year’s Summer Solstice festival. For 2011, our theme is Solstice Magic, and we have Tiger’s Eye, representing healing, protection, wisdom, awareness, prosperity, and well being.
The fabric and the yarn may be a solid color or patterned. For 2011, the fabric is lavender with a pattern of white celestial six rayed sun stars with arches representing motion, and the yarn is white to match the Solstice Stars. Our fabric squares are of uniform size and usually are between four and five inches square, depending on fabric width.
Every year, we select and combine dried sacred herbs grown in fields, forests, and gardens of our land, Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in southwestern Wisconsin. We ritually harvest these magical herbs, dry, blend them, and then place a bit of them, along with a stone in each Spirit Bag we create.
The blend of herbs each year has Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) as its main ingredient. Mugwort is a versatile ritual herb used to enhance intuition and bless dreaming as well as to cleanse, heal, nurture, protect, and consecrate. It also is an herb associated with Summer Solstice celebrations.
Other herbs that usually are part of the blend include dried leaves of Mint, Yarrow, Bee Balm, Sage, Thyme, and Lemon Balm.
Participants wear their Spirit Bags around their necks during the Pagan Spirit Gathering. Some continue to wear them after the Gathering. Others place them on their altars or hang them in their dwellings as home blessing charms.
* Focus: decide on the purpose of the Spirit Bags you will be creating and qualities.
As with the creation of other sacred objects, it is important to keep spiritual intentions in mind at each part of Spirit Bag crafting as well as during completion and throughout use.
* Fabric: select a natural fabric of a color and pattern suited to the focus. An all (100%) cotton fabric works well. Cut the fabric into five-inch squares. Have one for each person who will be receiving one.
* Yarn: select a soft yet durable yarn of a color that matches or complements the fabric. Cut a six-inch tie and an eighteen-inch piece to serve as the necklace for each Spirit Bag.
* Herbs: select dried herbs with spiritual properties that suit the focus of the Spirit Bags. Place them in a large, non-metal container, such as an enamelware canning pot, plastic cauldron, or large wooden salad bowl. Name the spiritual qualities of each herb that you wish to activate as you place herbs in the container and begin the blending process. Then thoroughly mix the herbs, removing twigs and any prickly parts as you do. There should be enough herbal mixture to fill but not stuff each bag.
* Stone: select a type of sacred stone that suits the purpose of the Spirit Bags. Stones should be small and of similar size and shape. A good source are tumbled stone chips that are typically sold in strands at craft stores and rock shops.
Assemble the items for Spirit Bag making. Have enough tabletop space available for the Spirit Bags crafting process.
Do a spiritual centering and attunement. Connect with the sacred according to your own path and ask blessings on the crafting process. Connect with the spirits of the herbs and the stone, and ask for their support. Call to mind the focus of the Spirit Bags.
Place fabric squares, with the outer side down on a table. In making multiple Spirit Bags, it is best to have enough tables so that every piece of fabric can be laid out. Next to each square, place a single yarn tie.
Now place a single stone in the center of each fabric square. Call the spiritual properties of the stones in mind as well as the focus of the Spirit Bags as you place each stone.
Once all the stones are placed, take a large pinch of the herb blend, about the size of a strawberry or large grape and set it atop the stone in the center of each square of fabric. There should be enough of the herb blend to fill but not overly stuff each Spirit Bag so that it can be securely tied when its four corners are brought together. Call to mind the focus of the Spirit Bags as you set the herbs in place.
The next step is to craft each Spirit Bag. Pull each of the four corners of a fabric square up so that they touch each other. Compress the herbs and stone together in the fabric to form a small ball-like pouch. Tie the yarn piece firmly in a knot to secure the pouch.
Once the Spirit Bags have been tied with the shorter lengths of yarn, take each longer length of yarn and tie its two ends together to form a circlet. Place a circlet by each Spirit Bag. Now, placing the knotted end of a circlet next to the knot of the shorter yarn tie of a Spirit Bag, take the two ends of the shorter yarn tie and tie them twice to affix the circlet to the Spirit Bag.
The circlet with the Spirit Bag attached can now be worn around the neck. Or, to wear later, hang it on a hook or wrap the circlet of yarn around the ends of the Spirit Bag so that it can be unwrapped later.
Once the Spirit Bags have been assembled, energize each one and all together with blessings connected with the focus of the Spirit Bags. This can be done through chanting, prayers, and/or visualization. Once energized, Spirit Bags should be handled with care as with other sacred items.
Spirit Bags can be used in a variety of ways. The most common way to work with a Spirit Bag is to wear it around your neck. It also can be hung or placed in your home or vehicle, or carried in a briefcase or purse. It can be placed in a bedroom under a pillow or above or beside the bed as a dream charm.
Spirit Bags not only can be crafted for use by one’s self, but can be crafted for others and given as gifts, such as to a newborn as part of a baby blessing rite, to a couple at their wedding or handfasting, or to a friend moving into a new home.
A Spirit Bag can be crafted as an offering and can be left at a shrine, temple, circle, or other sacred site. Crafted for healing a loved one, it can be placed on or near the one in need, or worn by the one in need.
When not wearing or using a Spirit Bag, keep it in an honored place, such as on an altar or in a box with sacred jewelry. Care for it as you would other sacred objects.
Should a time come to dispose of a Spirit Bag, express thanks to the sacred forces that were part of its crafting, do a prayer of release, and then return it to Nature in some way. Bury it at a sacred site or by a favorite tree. Or, cast it into a sacred fire. Or, cut the tie and cast the herbs to the wind or into flowing water.
A wonderful way to store and display Spirit Bags crafted for various purposes over time is to affix them to a grapevine hoop, hung on a door, wall or other place in the home.
Spirit Bag crafting and spiritual work can deepen one’s connection with the sacred dimensions of plants, stones, and life, and can serve as a reminder of the greater Circle of Nature of which we are all part.
The Morning Fire Offerings at PSG 2011
by Steven Posch
Originally in Spring 2012, pp. 54-55
At the heart of all human culture burns Fire, both hero and trickster, revered in many traditions as a God in his or her own right. To honor this divine being -- the God who paradoxically dwells in every human home -- I crafted the Rite of Morning Fire Offering for the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering at Stonehouse Park in Illinois.
The prototypes for the ritual are drawn from ancient (and modern) Baltic practice, influenced by Zoroastrian fire-offerings and the agnihotras of Hinduism. But the rite in some form was once present in nearly every Indo-European culture and, in a sense, in virtually every traditional culture in the world.
How many billions of times in the course of human history has it happened? The woman of the house rises early in the morning, before anyone else, and wakes the fire that has slept banked through the night. She rakes away the protective bed of ash and adds fresh fuel. Onto the newly-wakened flames she sprinkles a few pinches of meal or flour by way of offering and, as she does so, prays for her family’s wellbeing. Then she starts to cook breakfast. This humble yet profound ritual, repeated daily in every household in practically every traditional culture, is the prototype for the larger, tribal fire-offerings of the Indo-European diaspora generally, and the fire-offerings of Vedic India and Zoroastrian Iran in particular.
Lighting a sacred community fire to mark the ingathering of a group of people is standard practice among American First Nations, and has long been a sacred tradition at PSG. The fire is ceremoniously kindled at the beginning of the gathering, burns throughout the festival, and is ritually extinguished at its end. This fire is in effect the community hearth. It is fitting that offerings on the tribe’s behalf are made daily at the collective tribal hearth-fire.
We made the Morning Fire Offering on each day of this year’s festival, when a handful of early arrivals gathered damply beneath the canopy that had protected the Fire from the previous night’s downpour. We were privileged to number among us that morning the handsome young fire-keeper who, his own tent flooded, had heroically kept all-night vigil to guard the Fire and keep it alight.
On subsequent mornings, we made the offering immediately before Morning Meeting. By placing the ritual at this point in our shared day, I intended to help the PSG tribe begin in a sacred and prayerful way, and to highlight the sanctity of the Morning Meeting and the work that we do there together. Although technically the presence of the tribe is not required at the offering -- it is the priest’s responsibility to make the offerings and their accompanying prayers on the tribe’s behalf whether or not anyone else is present -- it became the custom for those who wished to participate more intimately in the offering to cluster around the fire. If there was a single lesson to be learned from the rituals of PSG, it was that as compressed molecules generate greater heat, so people clustered together generate greater power than they do in a vast one-deep circle. Each morning more and more people came to the fire, and I can testify from personal experience that the intensity of our collective prayer was so strong and so deep as to be (to speak for myself) at some points nearly overwhelming. As the triad goes:
Three things give wing to prayer:
the needful occasion, the offering,
the soaring prayer of others.
My thanks and appreciation to all those who participated in our Morning Fire Offerings. It was a pleasure and a privilege to serve you as, in effect, village priest; in all, the experience taught me many things about the nature and practice of priesthood. My special thanks to heart-friend and brother-in-rites Sparky T. Rabbit, who offered his usual insightful critique during the rite-crafting process.
While retaining copyright and right of use, I hereby make a gift of this ritual to Pagan Spirit Gathering and the entire PSG community, from my hands to yours. It is my hope that you will receive this ritual and take it with you wherever you go, to use (or not) as you see fit. My one request is that if you do make use of this rite or some form of it, that you continue to credit me as its source. It’s a basic principle of human cultural endeavor that the single best way to encourage our creative people to generate more good material is to give them credit for the work that they’ve already done. My gratitude and ongoing prayers go with you all.
Morning Fire Offering Ritual
Fire Priest or Priestess:
My brothers and sisters: we have it from the ancestors, and they from their ancestors, that the avenues of communication between ourselves and the Gods are most open during the making of offerings; so as I, by your leave (bows), make the morning offerings to the Fire, I would invite you to lift up your hands and to make your own prayers to whichever Gods your people make their prayers to. And so we begin.
Priest covers head, and all rise.
Blowing of horns.
Priest uncovers offerings; People intone.
First Offering (oil, ghee) is made; Priest prays for Life for the People.
Second Offering (meal) is made; Priest prays for Food for the People.
Third Offering (herbs, incense) is made; Priest prays for Beauty for the People.
Priest re-covers offerings.
Red Flower, Thunder Flower, Flower of the Sun,
burn among us, burn within us, Flower of the Sun.
Priest or Priestess:
My brothers and sisters, our rite is ended, and let us all say:
All: So mote it be.
Blowing of horns.
Priest uncovers head.
[Lyrics: Steven Posch (based on a New Fire chant by Rosemary Sutcliff) © Steven W. Posch 2011, with special thanks to Bruner Soderberg]
Morning Fire Offering Ritual Commentary
The rite is intended to be performed daily at the tribal sanctuary's hearth fire. By custom, the priest should make the offering with head covered, and for all capable to stand for the duration of the rite. It is desirable for the people to be present; it is the priest’s obligation to make the offering regardless. In a domestic context, the same offerings would be made daily at the household hearth on the family’s behalf. In fact, the domestic offering -- traditionally made at the morning kindling of the Fire -- is the historic pattern for the larger, tribal rite. My use of male generics throughout should not be construed to mean that the performance of this rite is in any way restricted to men.
Introduction: When none of the people are present, or when a majority of those present are familiar with the Fire Offering, the introduction may be omitted.
Priest covers head: It is long-standing tradition for the offerer to cover his (or her) head. This serves both to set him apart visually and to depersonalize him, and thus to keep collective focus where it should be: on the act of offering rather than on the offerer.
Horn: Blowing horn(s) at the beginning of the ritual calls the attention of those present and within hearing distance (including the Gods themselves) to the offering that is about to take place. It represents Primal Sound and inaugurates the beginning of sacred time.
Priest uncovers offerings: It is customary to bear the offerings on a cloth-covered tray. The practical reason is to protect the offerings, especially when performed outdoors; there are of course mystical meanings as well.
People intone: When the people are present at the offering, it is customary for them to hum, drone, or intone during the making of the offerings. This continues until the offering tray is re-covered.
First Offering (oil, ghee): The First Offering causes the Fire to flame up and be seen in all its beauty and power. The priest prays for Life for the People. Note: it is customary to make each Offering in three portions.
Priest prays for Life (Food, Beauty) for the people: The prayers are best recited aloud but in an undertone. It should be apparent that the priest is praying, but it is not necessary for them to hear what he says. These are known in Latin tradition as the secreta: not "secret," but "separated" or "set apart" prayers. One paradox of priesthood is that the priest best serves the community by being set apart both in person and in prayer from others, at least for the duration of any given ritual.
While others may pray for their own needs during this rite, the priest is not at liberty to do so: his job is to pray for the collective well-being. While formulas exist for the "secret" prayers, it is best for each officiant to formulate his own. Here as elsewhere in ritual, simple is best.
Second Offering (meal): Cornmeal or any sort of flour is appropriate. The priest prays for Food for the People.
Third Offering (herbs, incense): The Third Offering should be something that burns fragrantly. The priest prays for Beauty for the People.
Hymn (all): A hymn to Fire or some other tribal God is appropriate.
Horn: The second blowing of the horn(s) signifies the conclusion of the rite, informs those present and those within hearing distance that the offering has been duly made, and joins the rite’s end to its beginning.
Priest uncovers his head: Having completed the offering, the priest’s commission to act singly on the people’s collective behalf comes to an end, and he reverts to his normal status as one of the people.
by Paul Herrick
originally in Winter 2010, pp. 51-52
“Eight hundred hands, reaching up. Four hundred people, focused on one illuminated orb. One tall, slim man moving among us in the twilight, carrying the representation of Gaia, our Mother Earth.”
Kathy Nance of St. Louis Today wrote those words about the main ritual of Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) 2010, reflecting what an immensely powerful experience it was. What the article didn’t tell you was that I was that ‘tall, slim man’ that was lumbering along with the representation of the planet Earth.
I am not sure many people have a good understanding of what goes into organizing a ritual for hundreds of people to participate in. Those who do also know what a haphazard process it can be to get a great idea for a ritual, than to quickly pull it together with people you may have never worked with before, and than count on them not to make a major blunder. My Pagan Spirit Gathering memory is about my experience of the quirky process that led to a humbling and profound ritual experience.
The 2010 PSG ritual was conceived by Shauna Aura Precourt, with input from Selena Fox and Nora Cedarwind Young, and a lot of on site help by Shauna’s partner, Mark Mandrake. The intention was not just to do a ritual for some sort of nebulous inner work or warm, fuzzy, community togetherness; rather they wanted to spiral deep into each ritual participant and draw out the power to create real change. Than spiral out into the world where time outside PSG would be more than just a ‘supply run’, rather it would be a chance to bring the PSG spirit in their lives, make real healing change for themselves and rekindle their devotion to the most visible symbol of the Divine: the Earth.
I came into this process when Shauna sidled up to me one day at PSG. Since I was presenting workshops on vaguely environmental topics, she asked me if I would like a part in the ritual. I’ve known Shauna for a while now. We met at a Circle Sanctuary festival and spent the better part of the day talking about community dynamics, modern Paganism, and where we are all headed. After that we kept in touch on Facebook, had a couple phone conversations, and exchanged some emails. At PSG 2009 I’d been drawn into a very strange, late night, conversation with Shauna about how cool her hanging, solar powered, pear shaped, light string looked on her golf cart. By any Pagan’s reckoning we were best buddies, or fellow fifth circle adepts of the blue council, so how could I say “no?”
From there, I plunged into one of the craziest ritual planning sequences that I have ever taken part in. Shauna wanted me to participate in the ritual by helping people fall in love with the world again. She described the role as calling out the moments where people understood the majesty of the Earth, things like ‘the first time I saw the Earth from space.’ This ritual role kicked off a crazy snow ball effect that rapidly increased my level of participation in the ritual. At the first planning meeting Shauna thought it would be logical that I also help with calling the element of Earth. At the next planning meeting I was drawn into helping with the Trance Journey portion of the ritual, where the ritual facilitators would be calling out questions in an overlapping fashion to draw the ritual participants into an altered state of consciousness.
With the snowball still rolling at three ritual parts, shortly after that I was asked if I could carry the world on my shoulders. In a brilliant move, Shauna and Mark explained to me that they wanted a grand symbol of the Earth to be present at the ritual, so they had purchased a four foot wide, plastic, inflatable globe. To use the globe for the ritual that night, Mark and I had to stand around in awkward and possibly compromising positions with a bike pump ‘blowing up the Earth’ for twenty minutes before we stowed it till the ritual in the evening.
With the idea that I was going to have to retrieve the giant globe during the ritual, I was standing squarely at four different parts in the ritual and desperately hoping I could keep them all in my head and their order straight. Nobody wants to be the person who messes up the grand ritual. This made a large portion of the rest of the day as ritual preparation for me, as I continued to go through the different parts in my mind.
The evening of the ritual, I was hastily chatting with other facilitators to make sure I remembered my parts, while the drums of the ritual procession pounded off in the distance. Later, I was equally hastily involved in making sure community elders put their chairs in good spots as the drums from the ritual procession drew ever closer. From the moment that the procession came into the ritual area, the community was caught up in a Spiral Dance led by T. Thorn Coyle with the rest of the ritual facilitators acting as cantors for the opening chant. The Spiral Dance gave way to the very visceral quarter calling and than to the Trance Journey that had even the facilitators sinking deeper into altered states. Space became sacred and time slowed as events started to blur.
I clearly remember breaking away from the ritual group to fetch the inflatable globe and thinking about how corny it was going to be. I couldn’t have been more wrong when I hoisted what amounted to a giant beach ball, painted to look like a globe, and brought it into the circle. Shauna had me hold the globe above my head, and above the crowd, so that people could see it while the chanting was going on. From the moment that all eyes turned on me I could feel the attention and energy that was pressing on the globe, and by extension, me. Some people described the nebulous energies of magic as being electrifying or warm, but this was pure pressure, pure weight, as peoples’ attention poured into the globe. It was at that point that Shauna whispered to me that I should walk around the circle.
It was a surreal thing carrying that globe through the circle. Hundreds of Pagans in trance locked in their attention on the globe and chanting for the healing of the Earth. Many reached up in reverence to touch the globe as I passed by them, seeing the living image of Mother Earth, rather than an absurd, giant, plastic beach ball. As I walked, the globe itself became heavier and heavier and a low vibration came from my hands down to my feet. I had inadvertently filled the role of Atlas, bearing the sphere of the heavens on my shoulders. I walked several circuits of the ritual space with the Earth on my shoulders and between the chanting and the energy swirling around; it was all I could do to center myself and walk forward. I stopped among a group of children near the center of the circle and slowly lowered the sphere to the ground. It seemed appropriate that the children helped lower the Earth symbol to the real Earth. Doesn’t each generation pass the world to the hands of its children?
After removing the globe from the ritual circle it became a beach ball again but the power it had as a symbol demanded that I reflect on my experience. The ritual we had just performed was not a selfish ritual. It did not ask us to heal ourselves, to request something of the world, to be reborn, or to resolve some inner turmoil. The ritual asked us to focus outward on the greatest symbol of our faith as Pagans and demanded that we not only revere it but also sacrifice something of our self to it for all we have received. A sacrifice of intention, attention, energy, hope, and love to both heal the planet and ourselves.
by Raven Bloodstone
originally in Fall 2010, pp.42-43
I walked my first labyrinth at PSG 2009. I was expecting it to occur in the daylight so that anyone could stop by and walk it at their leisure. But it was at night, and one night only. So after a long day of being hot and tired, I stopped by to walk through it.
I was amazed at the number of people walking the labyrinth and even more amazed at the number waiting their turn to enter. It was very quiet, even with all those people there. A few spoke about the lights, or where to turn, when to go, but over all it was very serene . . . very reverent.
This particular labyrinth was outlined by plastic cups that held candles and sand inside. The luminaries cast a soft, flickering glow about the area that made the whole experience seem tribal.
When it was my turn, I stepped into the Labyrinth behind a few people so I wouldn’t get lost. From the outer perspective, it appeared that people were just walking back and forth with no clear distinction of where the beginning, middle, or end was.
The pathways were wide enough that people entering and exiting were passing by each other. At each of the four corners, the altars had been placed inside the labyrinth so those who wanted could interact with the Elements.
Inside the rows, I kept thinking that it wouldn’t take long to get through this so I could go back to my tent and sleep.
Each time I passed around the center I kept thinking that next turn would be the sacred center. Yet each time it was another turn or an altar stop. I was getting frustrated until I realized that I had lost sight of the whole experience. It was supposed to be reverent, sacred . . . not express lane-like. Get in, get through, get on with life. I’d missed a lot of beautiful experiences being in a hurry or being in the middle of something too important to put down.
At the second altar stop, I decided to slow down and actually listen and observe those around me. What were they saying? To whom were they praying? What were they asking for? What were they looking at on the altar? What were they leaving on the altar?
Suddenly it was like a vortex had opened and I was having a different experience within the current experience. It became the sacred journey that it should’ve been from the beginning.
As I heard others mumbling about their triumphs, their obstacles or worries, I began to mull on my own.
Most recently I had converted myself from a life of Christianity for 31 years to a Pagan. I had considered myself Wiccan in the beginning, but discovered that I like several different things that other Pagans were doing outside of Wicca.
As a solitary practitioner, I was still very much in the closet. I read a lot of books and talked to a few people, but I was missing a community mind-set. I felt lost most of the time because I wanted to work magic with people in public to deal with public or community issues. I wasn’t living in an area that was supportive of such things. Just making and following through with the decision to attend PSG was very nerve-wracking and scary.
Yet, walking through that labyrinth let me know I’d made the right decision for me and it didn’t matter what anyone else publicly or privately thought about it. Working through all those thoughts became easy as the labyrinth wound around and around, back and forth.
Suddenly the energy and people in front of me shifted and I was there, in the sacred center . . . just like that.
It was smaller than I thought but very powerful. I wanted a bench to sit down on, to feel what it was like to be in that space and marinate in it for a while. After all those things I had to do to get there, I wanted it to last more than 30 seconds.
Before I knew it, I had moved and was walking back out the way I came. Other people had moved into the center and I wanted to keep my distance and my solitude.
As I walked out to the periphery, I realized that I sometimes go back and forth on problems, searching for solutions. That I can’t wait to get on with life and get to the good stuff, move out of this weird place of awkwardness, and not knowing.
The truth is, the solution, much like the sacred center, has been in sight the whole time. There were just more turns or insights to make . . . more barriers and resistance to drop, before I could get there.
The next day the labyrinth was gone. The meadow it had been in had the grass beat down in the exact patterns of the labyrinth. So many people had walked their thoughts and praises through that path. So many had found solitude, answers, and a wonderful experience.
Others had remained on the outside and just watched the ones who went about their journey.
As PSG continued I wished that the labyrinth had been more than one night so that I would have multiple chances at new discoveries walking that path.
The first week I was home from PSG was my saddest time. I had found the community mind-set I was looking for and now I was without it. I contemplated several things I could do to recreate my PSG experience. My yard was large enough to host a labyrinth, but I didn’t know how to make one, nor did I have the patience at that time. It took the PSG volunteers a few days to get the labyrinth together and running. I only had myself and my husband. We were just too tired and depressed to do it.
I muddled through the second week after PSG, and started to get back in my normal groove until something happened that made me angry. I skipped the gym and went straight home. I wanted to sit on my porch and be by my tree.
Sitting on the porch was fine for a while, but I soon found myself walking around my tree in a circle. I followed the lay of the land, walking up and down the little hills and roots, around fallen branches. I decided to change directions every 10 circles, then I decided to walk for 70 laps or until the sun went down. I walked and walked, gaining enough confidence to walk with my eyes shut.
Several days passed where this was my afternoon hobby. I kept telling myself I had enough room to make a labyrinth in the yard, but I just didn’t want to. Then I realized that I had made a labyrinth, almost by accident. I had chosen a spot, picked a specific pattern and set to task. Mine just happened to have a tree in the middle of it.
Upon looking at other aspects of my life, I realized that I’ve made several smaller labyrinths currently and in the past.
In high school we had plays to run in team sports. At a certain time, we should be in a certain spot. In track, we ran around in a circle. In cross country, we ran through the woods in a specific direction and pattern. On my way to work, I went the same route. When I left my car at the mechanic’s, I walked back to work through the cemetery. Getting ready in the morning, I did the same routine, walked the same path in the house.
All these things had seemed like redundant routines for me, when they were actually my personal labyrinths. And they’ve always been there, I just didn’t see them until now.
I look for opportunities to create new labyrinths now. Not just in the physical, but the ether as well. I go on journeys with a certain guide on the astral plane to the same location. We sit and contemplate or receive a message from the Goddess herself.
My latest labyrinth discovery has been the weather. Arkansas doesn’t usually get the kind of winter weather the northern states do. Our state recently had single digit temperatures and significant amounts of snow. While everyone had electricity, it caused things to move at a slower pace and some to stay inside.
One of my regular clients was complaining about not being able to run outside during this type of weather. He had to go to a local gym and run on a treadmill, which he hated. My only question to him was “what did you see or learn during this time?” He didn’t understand what I was asking.
I explained to him that when a weather pattern causes a significant change to occur in the people and community, it’s a slowing down mechanism. It’s the impetus to get people to stop, hold still, and look at or experience something they would otherwise miss or appreciate. My client never came up with an answer to my question since he had been so focused on being inconvenienced by the weather.
My learning experience from our recent weather was in my gratitude. I was also grateful that last year’s ice storm had warmer temperatures when it knocked out the heat. If we’d been without residential heat during this year’s temperatures, some people would’ve died or had severe frostbite or hypothermia.
This weather also slowed down my thoughts enough to consider writing this story and submitting it to be published. Thanks be to the forces that sometimes slow down our thoughts and speed up our impetus!
by Selena Fox
originally published in Winter 2009 pp.22-24
Sacred Fires and Sacred Flames have been an integral part of the Pagan Spirit Gathering since it began in 1980. The Pagan Spirit Gathering, also known as PSG, is one of America’s oldest and largest celebrations of Summer Solstice and Nature Spirituality. The Fires of PSG symbolize Sun, Summer, Community, Culture, and Celebration. They are sources of illumination and inspiration that are an integral part of celebrating Summer Solstice and creating Community.
A variety of traditions involving sacred work with Fire have developed over the years at PSG. Some of these traditions are forms of ancient Pagan practices, while others are more recent in origin.
Community Sacred Fire
A Community Summer Solstice Fire has been part of each PSG since it began in 1980. Called the Sacred Fire, it represents the Spirit of the PSG Community and its celebration of the Sun at Summer Solstice time. As was done by Celtic, Germanic, Scandinavian, Baltic, Roman, Greek, and other old European Pagan peoples, we use Oak wood as a fuel for our Sacred Fire. Before the Sacred Fire is lit, we add ashes and charred wood from the previous year’s Community Sacred Fire. This kindling a new fire from remnants of a previous one is an ancient Pagan practice representing continuity with the past in the on-going spiral journey of life.
In creating each year’s Sacred Fire, we also include dried stalks of Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), a ritual herb long associated with Summer Solstice celebrations. The Mugwort we use is from the Mugwort Circle, a tall hedge and ritual circle around our Maypole at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in Wisconsin. We harvest the Mugwort in a special ceremony at Lughnassad time during our Green Spirit Festival in early August.
On the evening of the opening day of the Pagan Spirit Gathering, we light the PSG Community’s Sacred Fire during our Opening Ritual. The Fire is located in the center of our main Community ritual circle area.
Each year, one of the elders in our Community serves as the PSG Firekeeper. The Firekeeper, assisted by a small crew of other Community members, ritually kindles the Fire as the rest of the Community chants and our Community drummers make rhythms. After the Sacred Fire ignites and grows in intensity, my husband, Dennis, and I walk clockwise around the Fire and carry a large wreath of evergreen boughs used to celebrate Yule six months before at our Winter Solstice celebrations in Wisconsin. We cast this wreath into the Fire to signify the turning of the Wheel of the Year. As the wreath blazes and burns, gathering participants cheer and welcome in the Summer.
Then, PSG coordinators of various aspects of gathering Community life come into the center of the ritual circle and encircle the Sacred Fire. As they cast in handfuls of dried sacred herbs, they speak blessings upon the gathering and the Community.
Throughout the entire week of the gathering and through all types of weather conditions, the PSG Firekeeper and crew, assisted by other Community members, continue to watch over the Sacred Fire to make sure that it continues to burn day and night. In instances of heavy rains, the Firekeeper and crew usually place a portable free standing canopy over the Fire or use other methods to protect the Fire and keep it burning.
A variety of individual, small group, and large community rituals, meetings, workshops, meditations, and other activities take place around the Community Sacred Fire during the gathering. Community members often feed the Fire dried flowers, sweet smelling herbs, paper talismans, and other spiritual offerings. No trash is burned in the Sacred Fire. The Sacred Fire is respected as a spiritual presence embodying the Community Spirit as well as a sacred area.
Each day’s morning meeting is held in the ritual circle around the Sacred Fire. Community members gather to share news, announcements, discussion, music, drumming, and meditation.
Some PSG Community members do personal healing work at the Sacred Fire at times other than large Community events there. Some scry into the Fire and do other types of Fire divination for personal spiritual guidance. Some Community members keep vigil at the Sacred Fire throughout the night and then ritually greet the rising Solstice-time Sun at dawn.
In late morning of the final day of our week-long gathering, the Community Sacred Fire is thanked, honored, bid farewell, and then extinguished as part of the Closing Ritual. Following this ritual, after the remains of the Sacred Fire have cooled, the PSG Firekeeper collects some ashes and chunks of charred wood for use in starting next year’s Sacred Fire.
Other PSG Community members have the option of taking bits of the Sacred Fire’s remains home with them to bless their home fires and remind them of their connection with the Pagan Spirit Gathering Community and the larger global Pagan culture of which we all are part.
Bonfire Drumming & Dancing
Another ancient Solstice Fire practice which has been part of each PSG over the years is that of celebratory dancing and drumming around blazing bonfires. In addition to happening as part of rituals around the Community Sacred Fire in the main ritual circle, this also occurs at other places within the gathering site.
The Community Bonfire Circle space has been developed in a wooded area of the gathering site as a place dedicated to drumming and dancing. The Bonfire is initially kindled from the Community Sacred Fire following the conclusion of the Opening Ritual in the main ritual circle. One of the major PSG rituals, the Tribal Dance and Drum Ritual is held there on the second night of the gathering.
During the daytime, a variety of drumming workshops are held at the Bonfire Circle. Each evening, ecstatic dancing and drumming happens throughout the night. Drummers and dancers interact with each other and the Bonfire in the center of the circle. Various drummers and dancers take turns establishing rhythms, which vary in pace, style, and intensity.
In addition to rhythm making with drums, often there are the additional sounds of tambourines, rattles, zills, flutes, bells, and other instruments. Sometimes there also is chant-singing. A variety of dancing styles may occur during an evening, such as trance dancing, ribbon dancing, and circle dancing. As with the Community Sacred Fire, herbs, wood, and other spiritual materials may be added to the Bonfire as part of dancing and drumming experiences.
Next to the Bonfire Circle is the Fire-Spinning Area. Fire-Spinning instruction and performances take place there. By special arrangement, some Fire-Spinning also is incorporated in large Community rituals and other events.
Another special area of deep spiritual practice is the Sweatlodge. This sacred place is an area where sacred sweat traditions of the Americas and, occasionally, old Europe are practiced.
The Sweatlodge has its own Sacred Fire. This Fire is used to warm the stones that provide the transforming sacred heat during Sweatlodge rites. The PSG Community Sweatlodge coordinator, trained in traditional ways by a Native American elder, watches over the PSG Sweatlodge area and activities, to make certain that spiritual and safety protocols are abided by. The Sweatlodge Coordinator also interfaces with the elders and teachers of different sacred sweat traditions who conduct Sweatlodge rites.
Prior to each Sweatlodge rite, the ritual leader and participants gather around the Sweatlodge Fire and prepare for the ceremony. During each ceremony, the Sweatlodge Firekeeper tends the Fire, serves as a guardian of the area, and attends to the needs of participants. Following a ceremony, participants often spend additional time around the Fire as they reflect on and integrate their experiences of healing and transformation.
Other Sacred Fires
Other ritual fires sometimes are kindled in workshop areas and gathering centers as part of various small and large rituals, such as child blessings, handfastings, coming of age ceremonies, other life passages rites, guided journeys, and consecration rites. Also, each year, at least one potter facilitates a clay sculpture workshop in which participants create sacred images, ritual bowls, pentacles, and other altar pieces. After the clay pieces have dried, they are pit fired in a ceremonial Fire created for that purpose.
The campfire in Amethyst Circle, the alcohol free camping area for Pagans in recovery, serves as a focal point for meetings and socials as well as ceremonies there. There are social campfires in other encampments such as the Rainbow Center and Camp, for GLBTQ Pagans, and the Guardians Camp which coordinates First Aid and Safety.
One of the oldest and most spectacular of the Solstice Fire traditions at each year’s PSG is the candlelight procession to the Opening Ritual. As twilight approaches, PSG community members dress for ritual and each lights a candle in a lantern or jar to carry with them. With these lights, they join the community procession as it weaves its way through camp toward the main ritual circle. Like a great ribbon of flickering flames, the procession spirals around and around within the great circle.
Hundreds of lights gleam and glimmer in the darkness. Our lights represent both our individuality as well as our unity. Our procession with these sacred flames spiritually connects us with each other, with the Spirit of the PSG Community through its history, and with the many others who have used sacred processions with flames through the ages as part of their religious and cultural practices.
A long-time favorite PSG Solstice Fires tradition occurs at the end of the opening ritual, when each participant simultaneously lights a sparkler from her or his candle flame. Participants then wave their glowing sparkler wands overhead as they make wishes and blessings for the gathering.
Another way we celebrate Summer Solstice at each year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering is with a Candlelight Labyrinth Ritual. One thousand votive candles, each set in sand in translucent cups, are arranged in an ancient labyrinth pattern within the main ritual circle.
Known as the Seven Circuit Labyrinth, the pattern we use is more than 5000 years old and dates back to Pagan Crete. At twilight, the Candle Labyrinth Ritual facilitators and helpers light each of the candles and do a special blessing of the Labyrinth.
Over the course of the night, from dusk to dawn, hundreds of PSG community members silently and meditatively enter and walk the Candlelight Labyrinth as a ritual of spiritual transformation. After walking the Labyrinth to its center, which is next to the Sacred Fire, most pause and meditate for a time before walking the Labyrinth back to its gateway. Experiences with the Labyrinth vary. For some, it is calming, while for others it is energizing. For most, it is a renewal ritual that deepens spiritual understanding.
Torchlights & Campfires
As twilight approaches each day of PSG, flames are kindled to illuminate roadways, centers, and campsites throughout the gathering site. The PSG Community Torchlighting coordinator and crew make their way along main roads and side paths and light the many tiki torches that they have filled with kerosene, citronella oil, or other fuels earlier in the day. They also light torches at the community altar, stage, and centers.
Throughout the years, there has been a growing number of tiki torches appearing at individual campsites as well, and these are lit by campsite members as part of their welcoming the night ritual process.
In addition, or as alternatives, to tiki torches, some individuals and groups kindle votive candles, oil lamps, and candle lanterns to illuminate their campsites, and in recent years, some solar-powered torches also have been used by some participants. Many Community members have sacred flames on campsite altars and shrines. Merchants who keep evening hours often light their booths as well as their campsites with flamelights. Most campsites with Fire rings also have campfires. In addition to their use for cooking food and warming beverages, these campsite fires serve as focal points for small group evening activities, including discussions, storytelling, singing, and merry-making. Some of these campfires also are used for household or small group private rituals.
The widespread use of many types of Fire, including torches, lamps, candles, and campfires throughout the gathering site each evening creates an enchanting ambiance which is timeless, bringing forth ancestral memories of living in community during times when live flames were the customary means of night time illumination. The flickering of flames and the various Sacred Fires in rituals, in community areas, along paths, and throughout the gathering tribal village is a visible reminder of our connection with each other, with ancient ways, and the Summer Solstice.
Contributors: River (aka Stacey Enslow), Fearn (aka Leslie Campbell), Aspen (aka Robert Paxton), PathWalker (aka Harry Dorman), Ouibe (aka Beryl Ouimette), Hawthorn (aka Bo Nelson), David Doersch, and SilverDrake (aka Drake Spaeth)
originally published in Fall 2009 pp.48-52
For many years now, the Sacred Hunt Ritual has been an integral part of the Pagan Spirit Gathering. Even after many Hunts at PSG, there seem to be a range of impressions and ideas about the Sacred Hunt that those who have not participated do not seem to mind sharing—that also seem very far from the reality of the ritual. For instance, I have overheard some telling others knowingly that the Hunt "is not open to women." I have also heard this sentiment: "I don’t know how they do it; I simply do not have the energy to throw things all night." Last year I heard this variant: "I’m sorry, but the notion of chasing each other through the woods at night just does NOT appeal to me." For those who participate in the ritual as Villagers, Hunters, or Drummers—and for the facilitators— the reality of the Hunt is one that encompasses moments of exhilaration, despair, terror, awe, determination, grief, triumph, joy, sweetness, and…love.
I have on occasion been exhorted to clarify misunderstandings about the Hunt publicly. I admit that I enjoy the fact that the Hunt still possesses a mystique that eludes those who have not (or have not yet) been drawn to it. I also respect the layers of Mystery that are woven throughout the ritual, that mercurially reveal themselves differently (and perhaps only partially) to every individual who is taking part, and yet also paradoxically forge bonds of family and friendship among participants that last forever. While I would never wish to "de-mystify" the Hunt (assuming that I could realistically do so), I will say that it is an alchemical, syncretic melding of key components of the Hunt. The Hunters expend themselves in physical fatigue and emotional longing in pursuit of their desire to slay something which they no longer need or that poses some sort of challenge or obstacle in their lives, or to quest for and embrace something that is missing or needed to make them whole. The Villagers also give everything they have in them to the Hunters in energy, magic, and nurturing, loving support, enabling the Hunters to persist well past the traditional limits of their strength and endurance. The Drummers unflinchingly maintain a very rapid, intense rhythm, drawing upon what surrounds them to maintain the flow of energy and balance of the elements, performing feats of drumming that can only be described as superhuman.
The Firetenders not only keep the Hunt space illuminated, but with their unique mysteries also weave and coax the flames in a manner that teases and defies imagination. Other key figures each play a role whose purpose I will leave in shadow. Drumbeat firelight, smoke, shadows, and forest smells—and the cries, moans, screams, and defiant laughter of the Hunters are the sensual elements that ecstatically and ritually alter consciousness so that Sacred work might be accomplished, for both participants and the community.
I am SilverDrake, one of the Huntmasters for the Sacred Hunt. I wrote the preceding to serve as an introduction to this article, in which facilitators of the Hunt (past and present) as well as a past participant in the Hunt share some reflections on their experience of this ritual. The following section is written by River, my fellow Hunt Coordinator, whose passion and intensity have made him a marvelous complementary partner in mentoring and leading the Hunters:
The first thing people know about the Hunt is usually from hearing it, or seeing Hunters stalk and prowl about the PSG community grounds before the ritual. They are intense, often self-absorbed and focused. The Hunt is a raw, powerful act. There is no calling of quarters, no decorum of any particular ritual written in stilted rhyme. No waiting for your turn and practicing lines or repeated choreography. Those may have their place, but that place is not here. This is an act of will, sheer determination, and although it is awe-inspiring, it is not pretty. The process is an arduous one; fasting, single-minded dedication, and the immediate acting of one's intent. There are few rules, but those rules are the framework of an intense ritual act that will leave echoes radiating out from that moment into the long years of days yet to come.
There is screaming, flesh is sometimes torn on unyielding earth, rocks, brambles and trees. Howls of anguish, rage, animal passion and most powerfully, defiance, fill the night. Hunters dance, beat the earth, swing hand-crafted weapons and are haunted and joined by the spirits of the dark; the ghosts of Hunters, the Shades of the primordial spirits of Hunts that have happened since the dawn of humanity, and older, stalk the forest.
The Sacred Hunt was my very first reason for coming to PSG, in 2001. I had flirted with the idea of going to PSG for years, but the description of the Hunt from the PSG website, and the urgings of my friends who had been to PSG for years, finally overcame my initial reluctance. The transformative process of the Hunt called to me, seemingly from inside my very bones.
Like everyone who has been a part of the Hunt, I was in transition. Since then, that work that I accomplished in that Hunt has helped me form the framework of the remainder of my life, and was in many, many ways a culmination of spiritual practices I had been a part of since my childhood.
Like others in our community, I have participated in radical and unconventional ritual and transformative spiritual practices before. I have almost frozen on icy beaches in rituals to cold, wintery oceanic spirits, and I have danced in dappled sunlight in lonely wooded glades, and I have participated televised rituals of hundreds of Pagans, and I have been initiated into solitary, chthonic rites in deserted old ruins... But this was different: this time it was not just me, or just I and intimate, trusted guides. A whole community would join in this act of shamanic catharsis. I had never participated in a group ritual of intense, spiritual, naked transformation before, but I instinctively knew that this ritual was the one group ritual of transformation I could believe in.
I fasted, I sought out a weapon, hearing the call from a piece of fallen wood -a gift from the land- and crafting it into a ritual tool I still carry this very day. Community members I did not know, and old friends re-met, helped me without complaint: some offered leather for my weapon, others words of respect and encouragement, and yet others silent acceptance. Some were frightened, or uncertain, and mostly kept it to themselves. All of it mattered. I was alone in my Hunt: part of the Mystery is that your Hunt is yours alone. Yet I was not alone in my Hunt: the community banded together for all of us Hunters, and made us know that we were NOT alone, even though we went to face our demons in the dark by ourselves.
We were not entirely by ourselves, but those who would aid us were far removed. The villagers were there, we knew, but meanwhile, out in the wood, we Hunters were alone with the spirits of the forest, and our Prey.
I shall only say that my Hunt was successful.
The Hunt is (rightfully) considered a Mystery. What you learn is not for words. Those that have hunted, know. Each aspect of the Hunt has its Mystery, and each aspect of the Hunt draws from the participant resources that are miraculous and powerful, and even terrifying.
I have helped in the Hunt every year since that time. I have drummed, and learned a Mystery that still amazes me; I have been a villager, and discovered more, a mystery of my inner workings I couldn't have known any other way. Now, with SilverDrake, I aid in the facilitation of the Sacred Hunt for others. I have Hunted, now, I serve the community of the Hunt.
I am blessed, in that not only have I experienced the Hunt, and its Mysteries, but that I can help others do the work that they need to do.
The next section is written by Fearn, the beautiful, compassionate woman whose gift of gifted empathy has made a lasting impact on the Hunt. Fearn is currently the Village Coordinator (or Head Villager):
The Sacred Hunt. The beloved Village. It was four and a half years ago at PSG when I first became a part of the Village of the Sacred Hunt. A friend was going to be Hunting for the first time and when I learned that I could help him, I got involved. I knew intuitively that I had to be there though didn’t realize at that time that it would be such an incredible experience that would forever change me.
I went to the orientation meeting and listened in wonder and excitement to David Doersch and Liz Wiley as they explained the framework of the ritual and the general purpose of the separate roles: Hunters, Villagers, Drummers and Firetender. I realized that this was going to be unlike any ritual I had ever participated in before.
The next night I entered Hickory Grove and felt it transformed, the magic begun already. In silence, the Villagers walked around the space quietly preparing in their own individual ways. The air was crackling with anticipation, then hugs, smiles, and heart connections that were quickly forming amongst us. We became stronger in our collective purpose, energy, and intention. From that point, I was no longer just myself, I was One of the Village.
The drum’s heartbeat began and I was quickly wrapped in the energy and momentum of the ritual. My heartbeat became one with the drums, with the Drummers, with the sacred land we stood on, with the Villagers beside me, with the Hunters who entered the space. Though our roles were separate, we were One.
When the drumbeat quickened, I stood and watched, feeling the different roles and how they were interacting with one another. The Villagers stood together in the light and shadows of the Sacred Fire, often combining their efforts and energies in support of the Hunters and Drummers. The energy swirled around, was directed as needed, was accepted as needed.
During the ritual, the change in me happened so deeply, so quickly, yet I did not consciously feel it let alone understand or comprehend it yet. The ritual gifted me with the incredible opportunity to witness intense and deep spiritual work unlike any which I had seen up to that point in my life. It helped me to see a potential for self-transformation that I had never been aware of before. I felt so blessed, so grateful to have been able to be of service, to have been a part of the Village.
That following day walking through the "town" of PSG, I could feel other members of the Village before I could see them. We would nod to one another and greet each other "Greetings Hunter," "Hello Drummer," "Good morning Villager." Our hearts open to one another through the experience of coming together in the Village.
At the post-mortem we shared common feelings, visions and impressions. It seemed to seal the experience somehow. As I was talking to some of the Village at the conclusion of the post-mortem, a Hunter, who I had supportively cradled in my arms after his Hunt, gathered me and a few other Villagers who he had felt a deep connection to during the ritual. Taking us to his Hunt Space, he offered as gifts some sacred objects that had been a part of his Hunt as a way of showing his gratitude, then suddenly turned and walked off. I was moved to tears that this Hunter, whose name I never knew yet who I had bonded with deeply in ritual, was gifting us for our service when the service itself was the incredible gift.
I brought those gifts back to my personal sanctuary, my apartment where I live, and they have sat in a circle on my main altar since the day I returned. For four and a half years, they have been a reminder of the change that occurred in me when I became a part of the Village of the Sacred Hunt. It was a reminder of the deep sense of honor that service to community was and continues to be for me. It was a reminder that the Village is always there, always in support of one another, even if we are not near one another physically.
The following piece was written by Aspen, the Drumming Coordinator, whose gentle spirit belies a fierceness and tenacity that allows him to orchestrate the Drumming (while also drumming himself) in a breathtakingly intuitive manner.
Hunt drumming is full of dichotomies and contradictions - - and mysteries.
It is the steady rumble of energy which heats the crucible of the Hunt grounds, implacably urging each lonely Hunter to continue his or her quest - - a private urging to each one, saying "Carry on. Go." It is also the most public of the Hunt's manifestations; the sign that energy bends now to serve and support the Hunters, the clamor of each kill, the stark silence when all is done.
Hunt drumming is not like bonfire drumming; there are no soloists, there is no danceable beat, there is not and cannot be a jockeying for ego. We all play the same flat, fast, implacable pulse for hours without end. We drum in service, which is not like playing for dancers' delight - - it does not feed the competitive spirit or open up space for flirty fun.
Each Drummer approaches the same abyss that each Hunter does, and each one must exert conscious will to press through. Each Drummer (and Hunter) asks "Do I have the strength for this?" Though we sit together in a tight phalanx, each of us has our own internal battle of will to fight with the exhaustion of our own bodies. On the spectrum of individuality, the Hunters are the most alone; the Villagers have the greatest freedom to confederate or go solo; and the Drummers are the most rigidly conjoined - - and yet the snake swallows its tail, for each Drummer must choose alone to press on.
And yet in a strange way, Hunt drumming is incredibly accessible to anyone who wishes to do it. Pretty much anyone, regardless of drumming experience, can drum for the Hunt - - provided they have the internal focus. Physical prowess is not a predictor of success as a Drummer; willingness to accept the powerful energetic gifts of the Villagers is.
The next section was written by PathWalker, long-time Fire-tender for the Hunt, whose wise and humble presence and ability to shape fire is a gift beyond measure for this ritual:
Sacred Celestial Fire brings Universal aspects into being, and marks their existence. Our Sun's Solar Fire represents a portion of the Elemental Balance required to sustain life upon our native earth. And each year at Summer Solstice, Fire in its many aspects comes to life in the arena of PSG's Sacred Hunt, where it helps weave together the fabric of this awesome and transformative experience.
Preceding the event, the Sacred Hunt Fire purifies the event's Sacred Space, providing a beacon to the Ancient Ones of Hunter realms as well as supportive residual energies of prior participants. Once underway, Sacred Fire helps unify the magickal workings of Villagers, Drummers and Hunters alike. A sharply flaring Sacred Fire enhances that climactic moment when Hunter and Hunted momentarily merge then forever separate, via a symbolic "kill." Following the event, residual energies are released to the Universe as the Sacred Fire dies and silence returns.
For several years it's been my honor to participate alongside Ouibe as the Hunt's Sacred Fire Co-tender. I look forward to the Sacred Hunt's reincarnation at Camp Zoe, where the Sacred Hunt's magical energies past and present shall once AGAIN illuminate the night.
The following was written by Ouibe, who is currently the Sacred Fire Co-tender in the Hunt, a woman with a sparkling sense of mischief and wit and a breathtaking ability to pierce the Veil with her perception:
The Sacred Hunt from the Alchemical Center
All year we’ve been preparing, the staff members that create The Sacred Hunt. From conference calls to compare notes, progress and ideas, to the studying, path working and Pagan practicum of magic, we have each been incubating all year the magic that makes the Sacred Hunt what it cumulates as: an intense, transformative and highly cathartic ritual.
My role in the Sacred Hunt is that of one of the Fire Keepers. This service goes far beyond making sure there is enough wood to keep a fire going for a few hours. I am honored that my fire kin, PathWalker, has blazed this path before me and has shared with me his wisdom, stories and mysteries of this role within the Hunt. Individually and together, he and I prepare the Hunt area with blessings and wards. I have for the past two years actually laid and started the fire, a sacred process that I dearly love.
Fire burns up
We keep the birthing of the fire as natural as possible, avoiding the use of an aim-a-flame or accelerants. One of my earliest memories of ritual is that of my father teaching me to light a fire. I was probably 7 or 8 years old (my, how times have changed). Each time I go through this ritual, I can feel his spirit accompany me and even lead me to the best of components.
I was taught to gather, in order, fluff, tinder, kindling and firewood. Fluff is material that burns easily and straight away – dead pine needles and fallen birch bark, naturally imbued with an oil that takes off easily, bits of animal fur, dried leaves, rolled up hairs from my own head, etc. Starting a fire in this way is most satisfying if materials are all natural. The magical associations with many of these components are deep, runic and weave much of the mystery of the sacred fire tending.
After laying a railroad of small sticks on the ground for circulation, the fluff gets arranged in a long, neat mound atop the length of it. It looks like a small, awaiting body. At each end of the bier, sticks are jammed into the earth at an "X" and a supporting spit stick is cradled above it.
Next I gather pieces of tinder, small twigs to be smaller than my smallest finger in diameter. I was taught to find dead branches that had yet to fall from the trees, for they remain driest, and won’t be moist from lying on the ground. Tinder is arranged above the bier, lean-to-style, and supported by the spit stick. The more tinder, the better.
Next comes the kindling. These branches ranged in diameter from my smallest finger to smaller than my wrist. Also, the deader and drier, the better. These were laid atop the tinder in the same configuration.
Last comes the firewood. Larger pieces, wrist-diameter and larger split logs, waiting nearby for the laid fire to take off. If everything goes as planned, they will be within easy reach to grab and lay atop the flaming kindling.
A match is struck and set to the fluff…gently. Flaring to life, burning quickly and bright, the flames leap just a few inches and ignite the tinder. The hot flare of the burning fluff is enough to get the tinder going, which has just a bit longer life span than the fluff. By the time the fluff is burnt to ash, in just a few moments, the tinder is already heating, charring and igniting the kindling. As the flames grow, I breathe life into the fire, exciting it with oxygen, chanting magic, blessings, protection, life, ferocity, into the jumping and licking flames. Up it goes.
The base of this fire has to be solid – a long, slow burn. This is like the very base of community, which has come together to create a space where a Hunt like this can be held.
At the beginning of the ritual, the fire is stoic, holding space; it is there for illumination and as the touchstone for the center of the Hunt community. Once the ritual begins in earnest, however, this fire takes on a life of its own.
The fire tenders continuously stoke fire with smaller fuel. We blast our breath into the base of the fire, which tears oxygen up the height of the flames. It has to burn brightly, viciously, hungrily, to feed the energy of the hunters, to fuel the support of the villagers and to forge the roar of the drummers.
During the wild ride of the hunt, the fire is a visual and alchemical axis. The Earth’s energy blasts up through the fire, shimmering into the heavens and radiating outward into the Hunters, the PSG Community, and the world, feeding and echoing the energy of the tribework here. It is a hearth fire for the hunters to glance up and visually touch, through sweat-stung eyes, a contact of the center, community and primal energy. It touches the sister flames in the forest, one with each hunter, keeping the connection alive. It illuminates the eyes of totems, protectors, phantoms and monsters in the darkness of the forest, at once a voracious predator and a fierce weapon at our backs. It leaps to the howls and shrieks of the hunters, almost exultant, defiant. And on we feed it.
As the ritual cumulates, the fire is a beacon to bring the hunters in. Explosions of sound, heat, light and fury accompany each hunter’s success in the night, more mysteries. When the last hunter is back, the fire exhales, slowly banking down, serving now to warm, to consume just the energetic and spiritual offerings and remains that are fed to it. Its job as a illuminator, protector, catalyst, and engine, a geyser of raw, primal power, is done.
The next section was written by Hawthorn, a man who writes beautiful songs and has a strong voice as a Hunter:
The modern world has evolved faster than the human spirit. This is why I participate in the Hunt. Because I believe inside all of us are primal urges and raw instincts that we bottle up on a daily basis. I have tried to stalk my prey (at the local grocery store). I have attempted to keep the wolves at bay (and off my city block). And I have felt the thrill of the kill (just try to run from my level 71 gnome frost-mage). But with all sarcasm aside, having the opportunity to be able to truly explore and work with all of those energies. To be able to release them in a safe way; in a safe environment. Then to focus all of that raw energy towards a specific spiritual purpose. Knowing that when it is all done I will never be the same, but comforted knowing that while this path and magick is my own, I am surrounded by others who feel the same drive.
The last section of this article was written by David Doersch, a complex, multi-faceted man who we all honor as the founder and creator of this ritual experience that has so profoundly touched the lives of so many:
Those who Hunt, don’t do so just for themselves, but are Hunting for the entire Hunt Village and the ripples of Hunts spread and benefit the PSG community and beyond.
Some two decades ago, within the larger Pagan community, I perceived a trend in the ritualizing towards a very gentle, nurturing and affirming pattern in the rituals. Don't get me wrong, these were lovely and supportive and very nice. That was the problem, they were nice. While I have no issue theologically with what was being practiced, I found that these yin rituals really weren't speaking to my deeper self. The form was not matching my personal needs. I have always responded better to yang energy and while I support and encourage the beauty and gentleness of the yin practices, they were not helping me to reach my deepest areas of transformative work.
I began to work on a concept using the ancient archetypes of the Hunt. The idea would be that a group of "hunters," i.e. individuals working on significant personal change and growth, would be wordlessly driven to battle their own demons, hunt their own goals, chase their own needs. This would and could be intensely powerful because each Hunter would be answerable only to Herself or Himself. Coming from a background in the Theatre, I have always understood that it is the portions of the story that are left to the imagination that are most powerful. All too often, we create, even with the best intentions, divisions and separations -- diminishments of effect with our words, whereas with the unspoken, we are left only to the common Human experience. Of course, I hadn't thought all this through when I began work on the ritual. It was more of an inchoate feeling, guiding me towards a kind of ritual, rather than a clear-headed, perspicacious series of choices towards a specific ritual.
The first experiments with the Hunt occurred in the early 90's with my group in Minneapolis. Very intense, but lacking in several details. I shared the ritual with my wife, Liz, and she -- a very gentle and nurturing person -- determined that I had gone too far into the yang and had not balanced the act. While the Hunters' experience needed the yang intensity, the energy within the circle needed balance and grounding. We needed a yin source to counterbalance and provide a stable platform from which the Hunters could launch. The idea of the Villagers was born. The Villagers are a group of supporters, nurturers -- but more than that -- they are active energy givers who feed the Hunters energy and cloak them with protections during their journey. With this addition brought by Liz, something aligned and was triggered.
We could never have predicted the Sacredness that occurred when we added the Villagers to the mix. Something about their selflessness, their focused support and love detonated an explosive new level of commitment from the Hunters. Now they were not Hunting only for themselves and to fight their own demons. Now they fought and struggled for us all. Now there were others depending upon them to succeed in whatever their personal transformation entailed. Now, they were not just Hunters, but Sacred Warriors.
A similar change happened concurrently, and really cannot be separated out in discussion. The corps of drummers went from two or three overworked but valiant souls, to nearly twenty. A wall of drummers, four or five thick, that created a massive wave of energy and sound that transported the Hunters to a magickal place, to a sacred and powerful place. I cannot overstate the contribution that the Drummers brought, often unwittingly, to this ritual.
Over the years, new additions and tweaks have been added. A post-Hunt feast, to help the physical grounding of the Hunters -- and to touch again the archetypal world towards which we strove. Each addition brought new power and somehow moved us closer to the indescribable towards which we yearned.
Liz and I had experienced numerous metaphysical and incredibly powerful events over the years. We had seen and felt things that could only be described as the miraculous, and watched in awe as we all touched the Divine and Timeless in some arcane and ineffable manner. But it was never me or Liz that caused or created it. We had bumbled forward over the years towards a feeling of greater Truth. We made some mistakes (such as letting spectators observe the ritual one year), and we left some holes unfilled. But mostly we listened. We listened to our inner voices moving us towards some Artistic whole, we listened to the participants sharing their experiences and reflecting on what would have made it better. What has made this ritual powerful, through all of our changes and efforts, has been the intensity and integrity with which the participants -- those beautiful souls who have earnestly engaged this event over the years - embraced the ritual. How indescribably powerful and joyful those transformations have been; some were poignant to the point of tears on all our faces; some were obviously the pain of a torn or tearing spirit, needfully but agonizingly having to excise some toxic part of itself. How enriched and blessed we have been to have stood witness to this over the years! How humbled and awed we have been by the privilege granted us by the Hunters, Villagers, Drummers, Fire Tenders and Feast Partners.
Three or four years ago, after many years, Liz and I realized that it was time to step down from leading the Hunt. Even the most powerful and rich creative relationships can be spent, and we both felt that we were no longer bringing to the ritual the energy and focus that we once had. It wasn't that we had lost any of the respect or awe for the ritual, it was merely that we were exhausted and needed to hand off the baton.
But to whom does one trust a sacred event like this? We were thrilled when Drake stepped up and agreed to take this on. Besides being a psychologist who specializes in archetypal relationships to the world, he had personally gone through the Hunt as a Hunter, not once, but three times. He had seen his personal journey as a trilogy. He wisely gathered River, who had also Hunted, Villaged and Drummed for this ritual over the years, and Fearn, who brought a woman's perspective to the Hunters. Together, they have continued our efforts, ennobled the vision and kept this yang ritual alive. Liz and I are deeply grateful to their efforts and successes. We know that the community will be blessed for years to come with the opportunity for honest, painful and necessary transformation that this ritual provides. It is not a ritual for everyone, but in its edginess, it provides a critical and necessary ritual for many. We are deeply proud to have played a part in the history of this ritual and look forward to watching it grow and develop over the years.
"For it is in the grey area beyond exhaustion, where the magick lies."
These are the Voices of those who love this ritual for many reasons. For me, the Sacred Hunt satisfies a deep longing for a real connection to what Carl Jung calls the Numinous—the very real magic and mystery that comes into being when people work together, passionately united in intense focus and purpose. I honor David Doersch and Liz Wiley for what they created together, and I honor all participants and facilitators of the Hunt, past, present, and future. Thank you for taking time to share with us our excitement about this beautiful ritual.
This year, PSG will have a new home at Camp Zoe, and the Hunt will take place on new grounds in the Ozark Mountain region. I am admittedly sad about the loss of our beautiful ritual space at in Hickory Grove at Wisteria. On the other hand, if the Hunt has taught us anything, it is that we may face the unknown with courage and anticipation. I eagerly look forward to meeting the land spirits there that will protect, challenge, and help future Hunts.
Postscript: Since the publication of this article, the Hunt has continued to evolve further and continues to be a PSG tradition. The Hunt is now coordinated by Hawthorn, and has adapted gracefully to several PSG locations.
originally published in Spring 2007 p.60
PSG 2006, for me, was the year of Balances. This was my second one, and it was much cooler and wetter than 2005. More than that, though: some of the soggy ritual fires didn’t light as readily as hoped, but the rain kept us huddled under shelters, having deep, spirit-feeding conversations which don’t happen many other places - - and which struck fires of inspiration and hope.
We missed Spiral Rhythm, but Incus had us dancing in the mud under the lightning until the speakers crackled. We missed Emerald Rose, but Celia brought us all to tears with “Symbol”, her plea to put the Pentacle on Sgt. Stewart’s grave marker.
And while there was no Sacred Hunt, we had instead Windwalker’s splendid “Awakening the Blade” ritual, with rain and torches and deeply serious seekers working through potent questions about personal power and responsibility.
Which isn’t to say it was all Too Serious For Words; our camp took great pleasure in introducing red clown noses and Zorro masks and snorkels to the Morning Meeting, and dressing in elf costumes & caroling “I’m dreaming of a dry solstice...” on Tea Dance night.
There was beauty all around, too: much of the week’s rain came in quick, intense storms which caused a crackle of activity as we buttoned up camp, awed us passing over, and left rainbows which caused some of us to break out in song at the sheer wonderfulness of it all. And once again, the Brazilian Carnival parade blew through the grounds in a samba thunderstorm of feathered beauty, clearing the air and leaving us festooned in strings of beads.
We had no lack of top-notch workshops to choose from; most memorable for me were Windwalker & Drake’s workshop on PTSD and Soul Loss, Garan du’s talk on Dionysian worship, and Ivo Dominguez’ workshop on Divination, Prophecy & Oracular Vision as mapped to the Tree of Life. This I’ve come to love about PSG: I am ever amazed at the scholarship of the presenters and the technical virtuosity of the performers. And even more than that, at how so many who come to PSG bring the best of whatever they do: their drumming, their costuming, their contact improv, their singing and their mead.
The grand challenge of the week for both me and my wife Ursaluna was our work as co-coordinators of the Mens’ and Womens’ Rituals, with Garan du and Nora Cedarwind. We were both humbled at the generosity of time and energy all involved brought to the ritual work. The Mens’ Ritual focus was Fatherhood in three aspects: Fathers of Children, Builders of Community, and Mentors to Spirit. The Men present crafted pledges of how they would be good fathers in the year to come, according to whatever aspect they felt most strongly about, and presented them to the Community as a whole during the next day’s Morning Meeting. I was proud to stand among them as they crafted their pledges, and I was also glad the ritual happened on Wednesday so I could enjoy the last half of the week without fretting!
Wrapping up the week was the Saturday night Main Ritual, this time coordinated by Ivo Dominguez and the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. Once again, something you only get to see at PSG: a cast of characters in gorgeous matching costumes, and a really innovative way of speaking to a group of hundreds while letting sacred words run together and fall apart like golden threads in a tapestry. Inspired ritual work by a talented group of people.
Yes, of course I’ll be back. Right now, in the slush and the salt of a Wisconsin winter, nothing sounds more appealing than to be flagged in by loving, beautiful people calling out “Welcome Home!”
by A.C. Aldag
originally published in Fall 2007 p. 56
The 2007 Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) main ritual remained true to the week’s theme of “Lights of Liberty.” A lively bagpipe and drum led the festival procession on a march through the town, winding our way to the Stone Circle. As we entered the ceremonial area, we could easily view the incredible, hand-made statue of Lady Liberty, towering above the northern quarter. Her torch was held aloft, just like the famous lady in New York harbor. Called “Libertas” for the purposes of ritual invocation and ceremonial gratitude during the festival, she even shined with the patina of ancient bronze, true to form. She was breathtaking.
But would the main ritual live up to its lady? This was my first PSG, and I wasn’t really certain just what I was expecting. The ceremony, I was told, was intended to be a working for peace, an honoring of our war veterans and service members, as well as a celebration of the Pentacle Quest victory.
My husband Dave, wearing his camouflage Desert Storm uniform for the third day of pomp and circumstance, was even cranky. He doesn’t do crowds well, and there were nearly five hundred people within this circle. A gathering of that many worshippers can sometimes be fidgety and scattered. The magickal background noise was nearly overwhelming.
We settled into the western quadrant as the elements and God/desses of Liberty, Justice, and Peace were flawlessly invoked. You could feel the energy flowing into the circle, playing among the stones, at the same time simultaneously cooling, warming, cushioning, and invigorating. Along with many other veterans and spouses, Dave and I were privileged to have had a small part in the ceremony. We ignited white candles that represented the Lights of Liberty, which encircled the unlit ritual fire. This was to clear the way for the forthcoming festivities, as well as to honor the service members and spouses who’d earlier earned their Order of the Pentacle medallions. The drums pounded cadence to our march.
Next, priestesses clad in gauzy Grecian-style robes began to perambulate around the circle center, bearing swords, books, and scales which were symbols of American freedom. They summoned the Goddesses of Liberty and Justice into manifestation. Tibetan bowls intoned their ethereal vibration as the ritualists chanted, “Peace, responsibility, life, justice, liberty, let it begin with me…” Their gentle, yet powerful, voices rang with authority. Attendees worked to reveal their own concept of liberty, justice, and peace. As the ceremony progressed, the energy shot skyward. At just the right moment, Lady Liberty’s torch was lighted, shimmering and sparkling. Then it rocketed downward to ignite the ritual bonfire. Drums boomed a frenetic tempo and the attendees exploded in a joyful climax of ecstatic dance. The energy was released with the twang of a longbow, arching skyward, glimmering over the foothills.
Now, I’ve been attending Pagan gatherings for over 20 years, and this was the most powerful ritual I have ever witnessed. This was like a combination of a patriotic 4th of July parade and human rights rally, accompanied by music, pyrotechnics, and a very positive sense of accomplishment in the material world. Grounding seemed mandatory, yet we still swam in power for weeks afterward. Wow. Just, wow.
The Lights of Liberty have been ignited. Let’s make sure to keep ’em burning.
by Selena Fox
The Stone Circle is the best known and one of the most frequented of the ritual sites at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, which is located 13 miles west of Mount Horeb in southwestern Wisconsin, USA. The Stone Circle is atop a naturally occurring sacred mound known today as Ritual Mound.
I first journeyed to the place that was later to be the site for the Stone Circle during the Summer of 1983 as part of my explorations of the property prior to purchase. Sensing an energy vortex, I climbed the mound and discovered a naturally occurring grassy circle space that was in the center of a grove of Oak and Birch trees. Immediately upon discovering this wonderful place, I knew it would be a great site for the Stone Circle we had planned to create on Circle land. Others that accompanied me to this spot that afternoon agreed.
The first Shamanic Wiccan ritual done at this site occurred on Halloween night in 1983, just prior to Circle's signing of purchase papers for the land. I did a Samhain rite there with Jim Alan, who was my spiritual partner at the time. It was during this rite that we discovered that this circle area was a gateway to the Spirit world and to the realm of Faery. As we held up the Samhain offerings we had brought, a radiant white ball of light appeared in the darkness in the North. In our meditation that followed, we strongly connected with the Spirit of the land. We knew it was right to proceed with the land purchase, as well as to create a Stone Circle at this place.
Construction of the Stone Circle began at Yule 1983. Eight of us (Dennis, Beket, Jim, Jeff, Axis and Starfire and their young son Little Hawk, and I) carried rocks and trekked to the circle area through more than a foot of snow in below zero Fahrenheit cold. In the center of the circle, we placed our large altar stone, which had been at the center of Circle's first stone circle near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Then we placed smaller stones next to it to form a fire ring. We lit a small Solar fire there to celebrate Winter Solstice and this group ritual space.
At Spring Equinox 1984, a much larger group joined together for ritual at the Stone Circle. We brought and placed stones of various shapes and sizes to form cairns at each of the four sacred directions. More stones were added to these cairns during rituals that Summer. At Fall Equinox 1984, we expanded the circle in order to accommodate the growing number of people taking part in rituals. We moved each of the quarter cairns several feet outward, began forming the stone ring connecting these quarters, and did a realignment ritual. Just prior to Yule 1985, a small group of us dedicated the Stone Circle to Mother Earth as a planetary healing place.
We usually work with seven directions in our Community rituals at the Stone Circle, beginning in the North and honoring the spiritual forces we associate with the directions. Our directional associations are: North=Earth; East=Air; South=Fire; West=Water; Center Above=Cosmos; Center Below=Planet; Center=Spirit. We make a distinction between the Element Earth, which we call in the North and associate with soil, rocks, and the physical realm, and Planet Earth, which we call in the Center and associate with the biosphere containing all the Elements.
Over the years, numerous group and individual rituals have been held in the Stone Circle. In addition to Sabbat and Moon ceremonies, there have been rites of passage, including weddings, baby blessings, and memorial services. My husband, Dennis Carpenter, and I had our legal handfasting there on June 7, 1986. Each year, Circle's public Earth Day ritual is held at the Stone Circle. It has also been the site of individual and small group quests and vigils.
The Stone Circle is open for visitation by participants in festivals and other events at Circle Sanctuary land. Except for our annual Earth Day and Fall Equinox celebrations, most rituals, meditations, and other spiritual activities at the Stone Circle and Circle Sanctuary land are closed to the media. However, in the few cases where we have permitted media with advance arrangements, coverage has been accurate and positive. The Stone Circle, the most public of our ritual sites, has been featured in several documentary films, magazines, newspapers, books, and on television. From time to time, some university professors and Sunday School teachers have arranged field trips here and brought classes of students to the Stone Circle as part of multicultural and interfaith learning experiences.
Over the years, our ring of stones has continued to grow. The Stone Circle is now comprised of several thousand rocks, pebbles, boulders, and crystals from all over the world. Some of these have come from contemporary and ancient sacred areas. The Stone Circle also includes a variety of small objects, such as amulets, coins, shells, fossils, feathers, and beads left as offerings. Some of its more unique items include some copper from the Statue of Liberty obtained during its restoration, a piece of the Berlin wall obtained during its dismantling, and a pottery chard from ancient Crete. Stones are added to the Stone Circle at most group rituals. Each stone or offering item is placed with a prayer or wish for well-being for the planet. Individuals also make additions as part of individual meditations and rites.
Contributions of rocks, stones, and crystals for the Stone Circle are welcome. Stones can be any size. Mail stones to us at Circle or place them there yourself during a visit at one of our events (see the gatherings page in issues of this magazine for dates). Send stones to: Stone Circle, Circle Sanctuary, P.O.Box 9, Barneveld, WI 53507 USA.
Selena Fox is High Priestess and founder of Circle Sanctuary.
by Selena Fox
The Mugwort Circle at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in southwestern Wisconsin, USA, is a sacred place for meditations, rituals, learning, healing, and celebration. It is located near our center's main buildings and is in the center of a large, flat grassy area known as "The Green," a Commons area used for festivals, concerts, dance performances, and other events.
The idea for the Mugwort Circle came to me in Spring of 1985 during our center's landscaping planning process and emerged from our need to have a Community ceremonial area within a shorter walk from our buildings than the Stone Circle which we had begun creating in 1983 shortly after our move to the Land. Having worked with Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) for many years, I knew it to be a versatile and powerful magical herb, which aided dreamwork, intuitive development, divination, trance journeys, purification, healing, and other spiritual work. I also appreciated its hardiness and ability to thrive in this region, where temperatures, on occasion, could range from more than 30 degrees F below zero (-35 C) in the Winter and to over 100 degrees F (38 C) in the Summer. Familiar with the garden design tradition of Boxwood hedge plantings in geometric patterns in colonial America as well as in Europe, it occurred to me that a ritual circle could be formed and enclosed by a Mugwort hedge.
In April, 1985, Dennis and I began making this idea a reality. We created the Mugwort Circle by digging up and dividing four large Mugwort plants which we had grown in the gardens of Circle's previous home near Black Earth, Wisconsin. After doing a ceremonial honoring and attunement to the Land and the Spirit of Mugwort, Dennis and I planted the core of each of the four mother plants at the compass points of the Circle area. We then formed the ring by planting the new plants along the perimeter of the Circle between the compass point plants. We created a gateway into the Circle by leaving a small opening in the West, the direction associated with dreams, visions, and intuition in the Circle Craft tradition. We finished by watering each of the plants and then mulching around them to help them get established. During our Beltane activities that year, we dedicated the Mugwort Circle as a sacred site.
When it was first created, the Mugwort Circle had at its center a sundial atop a pedestal made from a portion of an Oak log set on end. At the base of this pedestal, we planted a circle of Thyme, and inside the Circle of Mugwort we planted a ring of Lemon Balm and Catmint. The following year, we replaced the sundial and its pedestal with a 10 foot tall Maypole, which we danced around as part of our 1986 Beltane celebration. We have been doing a Maypole dance at the Mugwort Circle each Beltane ever since. The Mugwort hedge thrived and grew so tall and wide, that the following year, we transplanted the Lemon Balm, Catmint, and Thyme within it to other locations where they could receive more sunlight. We then expanded the ground cover, a mix of green grass and Ground Ivy, to the areas where these other plants had been.
On May Eve, 1993, we installed a new, sturdier Maypole in the center of the Mugwort Circle. This Maypole of Oak, which was more than twice the size of the previous one made of Pine, was harvested in a sacred way that day by Dennis, Don, Kia, and Nicholas. It was one trunk of a double trunked Oak growing in Cernunnos Glen, a part of the forest on Circle Sanctuary Land near the Restored Prairie. New, longer ribbons were attached to this new Maypole and it was topped with a Green Crown. We energized the Mugwort Circle and its new Maypole during our Maypole dance Beltane ritual. This Maypole continues to form the center of the Mugwort Circle. At its base, facing the West, is a two foot high Mother Earth Goddess sculpture of concrete crafted by Arachne of Hawkdancing Studios.
The Mugwort plants that comprise the Mugwort Circle continue to thrive, and over the years additional Mugwort plants have sprouted up and added to the fullness of the ring through the Mugwort's own self-seeding process as well as its expanding root system. Because this ritual circle is created by living plants, its form changes with the seasons and the yearly life cycle of this perennial herb. From Beltane to Lughnassad, the Mugwort in the Circle grows from a small mound of leaves appearing at ground level to a hedge more than seven feet tall and three feet wide. The peak of Mugwort's yearly cycle coincides with the Green Spirit Festival, our celebration of Lughnassad in early August, and it is then that we do our first harvest. As we clip sprigs and stalks from the plants, we help shape from both the outside and inside portions of the Circle. Some of the harvested sprigs we fashion into garland crowns which we wear during the Festival. We also cut and bundle whole stalks of leaves and flowers which we hang in the loft of the Barn to dry. We do additional harvesting in late Summer and early Fall while the leaves are still green. However, with each harvest, we take care to take only a few stalks from each plant in order to keep the Hedge intact and to stimulate rather than diminish Mugwort growth.
Some of the dried herbs we harvest from the Mugwort Circle we use in the making of dream pillows, amulets, potions, smudge sticks, and other magical items. In addition, Mugwort from the Circle is a major ingredient in the Spirit Bags we make each June for participants in our annual Pagan Spirit Gathering. We make some of the Mugwort we harvest available to others through Circle Magic Herbs (see page 62). We burn dried Mugwort stalks in sacred fires at Beltane, Summer Solstice, and other occasions.
With the onset of frost, our Mugwort harvest ends, and the hedge begins its transformation into its Winter form. Leaves and stalks darken as they die back in the cold, giving the hedge a silhouette like appearance in contrast to fallen snow. With the coming of Spring, as snow and ice melts away, the old stalks, now quite dry and brittle, give way to new, green supple shoots that start appearing at the base of each plant. At our Sanctuary work day in April, we clip off these old stalks at their base and store them for later use in ritual bonfires. This pruning not only allows more light to reach the new shoots, but facilitates Maypole dancing in and around the Circle at Beltane in early May. By early August, the new hedge has risen up and we begin the harvest again.
Because of its proximity to the buildings and visitor parking areas, the Mugwort Circle is one of the most visited of the sacred sites at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve. In addition to being the site of our main Beltane ritual which includes the Maypole dance, the Mugwort Circle has been the site of many meditations, handfastings, child blessings, coming of age ceremonies, all night vigils, healing circles, Full Moon rituals, classes, and other spiritual activities. Whether doing a solo meditation or taking part in a small group or large festival ritual, the Mugwort Circle is a wonderful place to commune with the magic of Mugwort and attune to the transforming wisdom of Nature.