When I discovered the Women’s Spirituality movement some thirty – five years ago I knew I had found home. As a feminist and a naturalist the festivals of the Old Religions ‘fit’ like a glove because most of these pagan rites (pagan means country person) revolved around Nature as Goddess, and the observations of country folk who were wed to their agricultural practices; these rituals always followed the seasons. One way of visualizing this idea of Nature as Goddess is to see the goddess as the center of wheel and the god(s) as the traveler(s), moving around the center. In Goddess theology both male and female elements are understood as being equal in importance.
I remember so clearly my astonishment when I finally found the feminine face of god; what I didn’t know then is that this reality would change my life in profound ways. Perhaps the most important realization came to me gradually as I began to believe that humans were just one of many species and that all species carried a form of consciousness and awareness. Most exciting to me was also the realization that I could communicate across species and that trees and frogs, dogs and bears all wanted to converse with me as much as I wanted to commune with them.
I found myself slipping through the veil as I began to write my own rituals shamelessly borrowing whatever elements appealed to me from world mythology and incorporating them into my own rites. It is probably just as accurate to say that these rituals also came to life through my dreaming body, since almost from the beginning my dreams directed the process. I chose the Celtic calendar as my own because the eight festivals of year, four involving the equinox’s and solstices, and the other four occurring as cross quarter days. Beltane or May Day is the next cross quarter ritual, the Feast of the New Grain occurs August 1, and All Hallows, or the Feast of the Dead occurs on October 31, and lasts through Nov 2nd which also corresponds to the end of the Celtic year… At the Winter Solstice the next year begins so there are a few weeks when “the space in between” acts as an open door to the universe and is a powerful time to self reflect… Each of these eight rituals follows the obvious and subtle change of each season.
The very first ceremony I ever wrote was the first cross quarter festival of Imbolc, which occurs February 2nd. I renamed it “First Light” because it is at this festival that those of us in the northern hemisphere begin to bask in the warmth of the winter sun which is now rising higher in the sky each day; icicles begin to form on the roof because melting has begun. This is a festival associated with fire and water. I also dedicated this festival (and continue to do so today) to all animals and the Animal Soul believing then as now that making contact with the latter would help me on my personal journey. I didn’t know for many years that in folklore and myth the Bear Goddess came out of her cave on February 2nd to see how much longer winter would last… The propitious Bear, perhaps the first religious figure ever worshiped spoke to rebirth, renewal and hope for the people.
When I researched Native American mythology I learned that indigenous peoples also held festivals around the same times that the European festivals were held. These synchronous eruptions reinforced my belief that there are invisible “fields” or regions of influence in Nature that people tap into intuitively if left to their own devices. Nature literally became my compass as I continued to write and celebrate ritual every full moon and eight times a year. There is something in my psyche that loves this whole process and for many years now I have left it to Nature and my dreams to inform me what comes next, so although cyclic my rituals are also continuously evolving. All I have to do is to pay attention to the animals, birds etc. that might be acting as guides in daily life or in my dreams, stay open to synchronicity, and reflect on whatever is hooking me mythically in my research and the rituals write themselves.
Celebrating, I frequently tap into a specific archetypal field and at these times my rituals become profound religious experiences. Not always though. Sometimes I don’t feel any connection to anything. However, I have learned that the only important thing is that I keep paying attention, writing, and celebrating; that Nature will eventually reveal herself again to me in a meaningful way.
Each ritual follows a simple pattern. I call in my guardians – the animals and birds that are most important to me, I call up the elements honoring each – fire, water, earth, and air, and I honor the four directions. I compose a brief essay or poem to use as an invocation and write about whatever moves me in the body of the ritual. I give thanks. In each ritual I release something in myself that I no longer need, and I set intentions that have emerged through my dreams/day-life. To end the ritual I thank the guardians and the four directions for being present to witness the rite, and I imagine the circle that has been created by the ritual remaining unbroken until the next festival.
These rituals have changed the way I live my life, tuning me in to Nature on a level I couldn’t have imagined.
Below is a ceremony that I wrote this year for the festival of “First Light” to help the reader see how Nature’s rituals work through me.
My hope is that this example will excite the imagination of the reader and that perhaps S/he will want to write a ritual of her/his own choosing to enter the world of Nature at will.
Guardians of the east…south…west…north ( choose a guardian for each direction)
Ascending, burnished in copper and gold –
“Our Lady of the Beasts”
Raises her paws to purify all waters…
She is the Promise of Spring.
…The Bear Goddess comes to us through the Veil – epochs pass- She can be recalled through Neanderthal peoples who cashed her bones. Paleolithic and Neolithic peoples honored her through ceremony leaving carefully placed skulls deep within caverns to protect them from desecration. Until the advent of patriarchy She still reigned throughout the northern hemisphere as a powerful solar and lunar Goddess first as a Bear and then as a Bear Woman. Her latest incarnation in human form is the Greek Artemis, goddess of the wilderness, a protector of women she presides over birthing. Some say Mary is called “She of the Bear.” Today she is totally absent as a theriomorphic figure, this once Wild Goddess of all.
I bring the Bear Goddess to life again through my imagination, by inhabiting her field, and by writing about her. She emerged for me this winter as Brigid, (whose root meanings include the words “bear” and “brightness”) the Celtic Fire/Light Goddess who in her human form is patroness of poetry, a healer, and mistress of the forge. She transforms through fire…
At this second fire festival at mid winter we begin to think about the promise of spring; In February “the Big Bear’ moon will have take her son’s place in the sky as the Great Bear follows the changing season. Snow will begin to melt under the warming noon – day star; one day emerald waters will overflow their banks to nourish the earth and seeds will sprout… This festival also marks the birth, and perhaps the first emergence of wild bears from their dens. These animals once heralded the coming of the Light, as the Great Bear Goddess, Wild Mother of us all… Grandfather Bear makes the necessary sacrifice, giving his life so the people can live…
At this festival we give thanks for the element of water, the music of the waters as well as for the gift of Brigid’s transforming fire … We release what is no longer needed to the flowing waters and the mindbending fires of the universe in preparation for the Vernal Equinox and the coming of spring. We ask for Her Blessing at this time of purification.
Because the Great Bear is Wild Mother to us all it is at this festival that we give thanks for all animals and for the Animal Soul imbedded in each body, animal or human and also surrounding it – that wise instinctual soulful self that unites us with the our precious Earth Body, our home.
We give thanks for our bodies and ask “how might we better listen to the voices of our bodily selves as they manifest psychological distress, bodily pain, dreams, visions, intuition, or messengers from the spirit world?” We recall that animals in our dreams may be the manifestation of our instinctual bodies and spirit crying out to be heard.
We also give thanks for the clarity of dreaming that comes with winter moons, Earth’s Renewal Moon (December) and the two bear moons that follow, the Little Bear moon in January and the Great Bear moon in February. Some Native peoples including the Ojibwa call these three “Great Spirit” Moons.
We are mindful of the moon because her clear blue light embraces each of us with a clarity found only during the winter…We recall that the moon was once a part of the earth 4.6 billion years ago, (theory has it) that the moon split away from earth, and that she is slowly drifting away from our blue-green planet …Only one face of the moon is ever seen because the moon rotates around on her own axis in exactly the same time it takes her to orbit the earth. The moon is in synchronous rotation with the earth so the rabbit and his grandmother can be found each month on the side we see … the other side of the moon remains dark, but only to those of us who live on this precious blue – green planet. To honor the moon is to honor the earth. Once physically attached, now the moon remains entrained to the earth by means of an invisible field. Each one of us has the same kind of field around us; each of us is an earth-moon soul-body in miniature! The moon draws up the tides and let’s them go reminding us that change is constant but also cyclic…that both diversity, and patterning are part of the whole.
(a) Release to the mindbending fires of the universe or to open fire: as many releases as you like
(b) Blessing of the Animal Body with waters – use water from a brook, river, well, the sea, if possible – bless self and animals if you have them
( c ) Light the candles for the coming light to set intentions – as many as you like
Thank the guardians for witnessing – guardians of the east etc.
Circle is unbroken… Imagine the circle that you have created remains unbroken…