22 June, 2008

Druidic Ritual

Just a couple nights ago, I did a google search and came across a website for a local group of Druids, and it was advertising a summer solstice ritual, free of charge and open to the public. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to get some experience in how /other/ neopagans celebrate their spirituality. So I gathered up my courage and went off to meet some pagan strangers in the dark of pre-dawn before the summer solstice sunrise.

The ritual took place on a beautiful hill overlooking the suburban "country"-side, in a park not far at all from where I live. I found the place and arrived at the parking lot still over an hour before sunrise, so it was pretty dark, and there was only one other person there. I felt uncomfortable, because it was just a single woman in a car, and here I was rolling in in the dark of night in a van, and so I tried my best not to act intimidating, which is my usual behavior anyway. I was relieved when cars started flooding in shortly after, and there was a good twenty or so people - druidic hippie types, I guess - for the ritual. I'm pretty sure I was the only newcomer.

We walked up a path through the fields of tall-grass-or-whatever, to the crest of the hill, where the spectacular view unfolded in front of us. I thought it was gonna be more mountain-like, covered in forest, with a ledge overlooking the area - but no, it was a hill, with no trees. Still, you could tell when you were at the top (and not just because of the circle cropped neatly in the tall grass), and the view was no less beautiful.

The moon was shining pretty bright, just a little bit past full, with what I understand was Jupiter shining brightly beside it, still high in the western sky. As the sky gradually brightened, illuminating the world below, you could see the hills and valleys spread out toward the horizon, covered in long columns of morning fog.

Have I mentioned yet what a beautiful view it is? I really have to go back there some day, hopefully on a warmer night, and take in the unfolding view the way I like it best - alone. I wanted to get some amazing pictures, but being caught up in the ritual (as well as not being alone), made that too hard, so I abandoned the idea.

Speaking of the ritual, I was kind of hoping, being a newcomer and all, that I could kind of sit off to the side and just observe. In fact, I wasn't even entirely sure how formal the ritual was gonna be. But it was fairly formal - comfortably formal, and the people were all very friendly, as you would expect of druids - and I guess it would have been a waste (if not an insult) for me to have come but not at the least join in the semicircle.

There was only one point that made me uncomfortable, and that was the part about making an offering to the sun, which just required me to say a few impromptu words. Not too serious, but still, not the sort of thing I'm best at. But I was just trying to accommodate the group and their ritual, you know.

It was very cool, some songs were sung, a lot of very druid-like words were said, a sun beacon was lit up with a spiralling firework, and I think my favorite part was the horn call which sounded very surreal - like actually being transported into the prehistoric past.

But the bottom line is, it was still far too organized for my tastes. In content, it's a far cry from your typical Sunday mass, but in form, very little was different. Sure, we were standing outside on top of a hill, pelted by very un-summer-like winds, waiting for the sun to rise, but ultimately, it still felt more religious than spiritual. There's all this talk about traditions and symbolism. And reading up on this group, they're not hung up on trying to "recreate" ancient rituals as closely as possible - which is good. But any kind of formal ritual like this just feels very insincere to me. I'm not saying that it's insincere to the people who practice it. But I just can't get behind it personally.

I mean, you can talk about making offerings and sacrifices to the sun, and talk to the sun about how you respect it and everything, but the sun doesn't care if you respect it or not. To go to these lengths to show your reverence just to me seems like you're putting on airs. Being there, on that hill, and experiencing that sunrise, is a transcendent experience. That right there is my spirituality. I have absolutely no need to decorate it with words and songs and circles and traditions. I mean, if something came to me, like a song or something, that would be great. That would be inspired. But forcing this experience into a shell - the shell of the ritual - it's just not me.

If it were me, I'd gather my druid friends (this is a hypothetical, of course), and we'd go up and sit on that hill and just chill. We'd take in the experience, without formality. We'd each take in the magic in our own personal ways, without distracting ourselves with a timetable. Granted, part of my discomfort comes from being the stranger, and I'm not trying to ignore that, but I have to say, the formality doesn't much suit me.

Everything having been said, it was quite an experience, and one that I definitely don't regret. I do wish it had been warmer, though. I wasn't anticipating that much cold or wind, and with the dew-soaked grass - let's just say it made it that much harder to stand for like 2 hours going through the ritual, especially during the part where the sun was supposed to rise, and it was like half an hour late because of a fog bank or band of clouds or something on the horizon. But the sun did come out eventually, so that was nice. It could have been totally overcast. But it wasn't.

1 comment:

  1. I was hoping there was going to be some nudity involved. For your sake.

    I knew a guy in college who would go to Pagan rituals every Friday night with likeminded introverts.

    I agree with you about rituals. I even tried to do my *own* ritual, and half way through I bagged the plans and just went with my heart, and it still sucked. I'm with you about the activities and their effects being the true act.

    In regards to the horn... definetly not your type of thing (yet) but what I would consider one of the greatest albums of all time is this album by Nokturnal Mortum called Nechrist. They're an underground Pagan band and Nechrist blows my effing mind because there are several segments with ancient pagan instruments and sometimes they'll go into chants or just sounds where it sounds like druids sitting around a campfire. It literally makes me feel like I've been teleported back 4,000 years into the past. There's a huge pagan movement in undergound metal. Varg Vikernes started a lot of neo-pagan movements in Europe.