[A Pedagogy of Gaia] “Preparing a Ritual” by Bart Everson

Nothing tests one’s ideas like putting them in action.

I was recently asked to host the Lammas celebration for my local circle. I’m both enthralled and daunted by this prospect. Lammas has a special place in my heart, but I’ve never organized a ritual for group of willing and enthusiastic Pagans before. The creative process can be a sort of torture, but I’m determined to savor every moment.

There are some complications. We can’t host the ritual at our house. It’s just a crazy time of year for us. Never mind, people are generous, we can have it at another member’s house. Can we have a bonfire there?

Of course, a bonfire would mean having the ritual outdoors. Our summer solstice ritual was indoors, and most of the participants seemed grateful to escape from the heat which was, frankly, oppressive. So perhaps this isn’t such a great idea.

66c230430d1b08bba30eb48d3e9b8c4aWhat all goes into preparing a ritual space? A beautiful altar will help to establish a mood of reverence and wonder and openness to possibility. I’ve got a couple sheaves of wheat which will be appropriate, but I’d really like some dried flowers. To that end, I’ve collected some flowers on our recent trip to Indiana, but they don’t seem to be drying out properly despite hours of baking in the sun. They look kind of shriveled and ugly. This will never do.

I like drums at rituals. I like the idea of using drums to summon the participants and to build energy and to accompany chants and songs. I really need to get a drum.

When celebrating at home, with my family, it’s about folksy-crafty activities and special food. We don’t go in for high ceremony. We don’t call quarters or cast a circle or anything like that. Nevertheless, I know the value of such practices in delineating a sense of sacred space and time. Exactly how we’ll get things started isn’t clear to me yet, but I imagine we’ll evoke or observe the elements in some way.

I believe it’s traditional to invoke deities at some point. I’ve promised a certain family member that we’ll include Bastet. She is, after all, protectress of the granaries, and Lammas is, after all, a celebration of the grain harvest.

Yet I’m not really “comfy” with this sort of thing, because —

But I’m going about this all backward. A ritual should have an overall purpose, and everything should contribute to that, similar to what Edgar Alan Poe termed the “unity of effect” in a short story. The purpose of this ritual is, of course, to celebrate Lammas, but that’s somewhat ambiguous. What does Lammas mean? Or, more properly, what meaning shall we make of it?

Glenys Livingstone uses the Lammas bread figure as a symbol of our dissolution into the larger self of Gaia. (See Chapter 7 of PaGaian Cosmology.) This is not some airy theological premise but a recognition of evident fact. We arise from the Earth and return to the Earth, and whatever identities we embrace in the interim are fleeting, ephemeral constructions.

For years now I’ve baked a bread figure to celebrate the day, so I’ll start there. The bread represents us. When we tear it apart and feed it to each other, it will represent how we feed the universe. Everything else in the ritual should support that mystery, ideally.

Perhaps, instead of invoking deities, we might honor our extended family by reading the names of recently extinct animals. On a gut level that seems to resonate, to emphasize our interconnectedness with the natural world, while at the same time recognizing the special role humans might play, and sharpening our sense of justice. I feel it’s important for us to “count the cost.” I’m not thinking of the biblical reference here, but of being cognizant of the stress we are putting on the planetary ecosystem.

I’d still really like that bonfire. For years on Lammas my family has kindled a fire, to which we commit the Brigid’s crosses we made at Candlemas. Then we make dollies to hang on the wall where the crosses were. This pattern of burning the old and creating anew links the two holidays across the year and reminds us of the cyclical processes of nature and life. Plus, it’s fun to roast marshmallows after the burning. This reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Ritual is a lens through which we collectively project our shared mythic fantasies, understandings, deeply held emotions and convictions, even our very identities. Can our Lammas celebration provide even a hint of this confusion, or the courage needed to face it? I hope so.

Still, I’ve got my work cut out for me if I’m going to pull this all together. I’ll be consulting the Atheopagan Ritual Primer as well as Áine Órga’s essay on the shape of the ritual. I think I need to get a drum and cajole someone into singing “John Barleycorn Must Die” with me.

Wish us luck.

The Author: Bart Everson

“What can we learn, and how can we teach, from the cycles of the Earth — both the cycles within us, and the cycles in which we find ourselves?”

15361388775_0be73debd1_z-2In addition to writing the A Pedagogy of Gaia column here at HumanisticPaganism,Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle.

See A Pedagogy of Gaia posts.

See all of Bart Everson’s posts.

2 Comments on “[A Pedagogy of Gaia] “Preparing a Ritual” by Bart Everson

  1. Would love to hear how it goes! I like your idea of reading the names of recently extinct animals.

    In the spirit of brainstorming: You could invite participants to reflect on their spiritual and emotional harvest, too, on how they’re manifesting the intentions they set earlier in the year. Write down on a slip of paper those that have been realized or no longer serve and burn them. Then give gratitude for what is and for what lies ahead. I like doing that at First Harvest.

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