Yesterday afternoon was hot and sunny, a day of baked earth and precious little wind. It was also the day that our naissent ‘protogrove’ had chosen to celebrate the high day of Lughnasadh. On a more personal note, this Lughnasadh marks two years since I first went to an ADF ritual and started ‘druiding-it-up’.
That sounds crude, I don’t mean it that way. My people are masters of understatement, and using humor or sarcasm to hide our true feelings about the things that are important to us. It’s why you’ll see sick jokes flying around after pretty much every national disaster. We seem to hide our hurts so they cannot be used against us and treasure our deepest joys to keep them safe.
A week ago, a friend asked me if I was now ‘dual trad’ because of my involvement in ADF, but to me that suggests a kind of separation, when my experience has been anything but one of separation; it’s been whole-making. Metaphorically speaking, my Heathenry waters one side of my ‘tree’, and the Druidry waters the other. Joining ADF has been literally life-changing, I’ve been much happier, and feel like my worldview is far more coherent than before.
Comparative Indo-European studies will do that for you. When you only see the Norse sources, you only see the tree, the eagle, the deer, and the serpent. When you only see the Irish Celtic sources, you only see the land, sea, and sky. But when you trace it back, eventually you’ll get back to the Hittites and find a tree with the eagle representing the sky, the deer representing the land, and the serpent representing the sea.
So yesterday, I was baking under the hot Pennsylvania sun with people I consider to be genuinely good, celebrating an Irish High Day in accordance with ADF’s Core Order of Ritual.
The Importance of Good Ritual
Good ritual is something I find lacking in many Heathen circles, we seem constrained by the bid to not be too ‘Wiccan’, or too ‘Christian’. We use words like ‘honour’ rather than ‘worship’, we ‘talk to’ the gods rather than ‘pray’, and bending a knee to the Holy Powers is rare. We typically laud simplicity and mostly veer away from scripted rituals , when all the evidence from other Indo-European cultures suggests that not only did ritual involve the recreation of the cosmos in ritual space, but that once that cosmos was recreated, great care was taken over what words were spoken within that space.
“<em>If anything was said improperly, if anything was done improperly, let it be as if it were done correctly.”</em>
These were words that were written on the Inguvine tablets, a set of seven tablets discovered in Italy in the 15th century, and dating back to possibly the 3rd century BCE. When you stand at the centre of the cosmos performing actions and prayers with the intent of upholding the sacred contract between the community of man, and the Holy Powers, a misstep can affect so much.
Let it be gone.
Let it be as though those mistakes were never made.
This is one reason why there is such a thing as the ‘Core Order of Ritual’ in ADF, by creating a framework we minimize the missteps. Another reason is because we’re an orthopraxy.
The past few High Days, our little group has been finding our pace, figuring out what works for us, and how best to organise our rites. Some High Days have been almost pulled out of our asses, and the omens have reflected that, others, like yesterday, have felt like we *got it right*.
On a personal level, I often feel self-conscious when I have to speak in ritual. I can drill myself on what I am to say over and over again, for days before the actual day, and I can almost guarantee it that I will go blank around the third line. When I go blank, I typically notice the people I’m around rather than the the Holy Powers that I’m addressing; the focus becomes less on the contract and doing it right in the sacred centre for the good of the whole, and more on petty concerns like, “Oh no, I can’t remember what I’m saying, *think*, I think people are looking at me, they probably know..”
And it becomes a kind of tailspin, when it is the last thing anyone should do or think about in that kind of a situation.
Learning to Focus on the Music
When I was a teenager, I used to play tenor horn/ B flat cornet in a band, I used to perform often, and as the lead, I couldn’t blend in with the background. One day in music class, we each had to stand up and perform with our chosen instrument. As each classmate stood up and performed, I felt myself getting more and more nervous, until eventually my mouth went dry and my heart pounded. When it came to my turn, I stood up, fluffed my notes, forgot what I was playing, and sat down ashamed as my classmates laughed at my ineptitude. The teacher, who had heard me play before and had placed me as lead trumpet in the band scolded them, then pulled me aside and gave me a marble telling me to focus on hearing the music instead of their faces, and suck on the marble so my mouth didn’t go dry; an old bandsman’s trick. The second time I stood up, I played a fantastic rendition of ‘Rock Around the Clock’, to the now shocked faces of my classmates. When I sat down, I sat down to complements.
It’s lesson I’ve been working on resurrecting, sometimes with more success than others. Yesterday during ritual, I remembered how to ‘hear the music’. It’s not about us, it’s about doing it right, being focused, and doing the job at hand. Anything else is as incidental as the complements I got as I sat down with instrument in hand, high off the adrenaline and my soul still buzzing with the dance of the notes.