Over the past few months, I have been stepping outside of my own bubble. Its a bit daunting, at least for me, as I have noted before in this blog. But I have also been subjected to some experiences I had never had before. Such as my first encounter with someone who has been a “fan” of my podcasting work for a few years now. A moment of sheer, inner terror for a momentary flash…but I survived, at least I think I did. ::grins:: But there are other experiences I have had that were far different. Here’s one that had me a little bemused, befuddled, and feeling somewhat awkward – from the same Brigid retreat held by Hearthstone Grove.
As a solo practitioner of my Path, its very rare that I attend group rituals. Typically when I do, the format has rarely called for an individual moment within the ritual. However, during the rituals held during the Brigid Retreat I attended earlier this year, I found myself confronted by just that, and more than once. And before I continue, let me note that I am not placing blame or anything like it on anyone other than myself — and even than its not really blame, just a “critical” observation.
The first time, a chalice cup was passed around, from which all were offered the chance to drink. I had watched the preparation of the cup, and knew that there was alcohol in the chalice. Being a diabetic, I knew I had to pass on drinking from it – alcohol is not a friendly thing for a diabetic. However, I was unsure if this was to be some sort of affront to my hosts. When the Chalice reached me, I held it in silence, raised it to the skies, and then handed the chalice to the next individual within the Circle. As I watched the Chalice make the rounds through the Circle, every individual drank from the Chalice, and every single individual offered up some words to Brigid or the God or Goddess of their choice. Damn I felt out of place! Worse still, I felt that I may have committed a faux pas of some sort.
At the second of the three rituals I was a part of, I knew that the Chalice would be passed again. I wondered what I should do. This time, however, there were quite a few more people who had made it into camp since the previous ritual. Even before the Chalice reached me, there were others who had made the same silent gesture I had made before. Relief! I had not committed some social error. But then, there was a curve-ball thrown my way: an offering. Oh damn! What in the Nine Hells was I going to do now??
I actually take offerings very, very serious. When I am doing a working where I encounter Crow, I take the time afterwards to offer fresh water and fresh bird seed outside in the shade of my backyard tree. As I pour fresh, cold water into the bird-bath, and as I spread seed with nine throws from my hand, I silently give thanks to Crow and hope that what I offer helps to nourish the bellies of the flock.
But that’s at home. Here I am in a Circle in ritual with a large group of folks – some of who I know, others that I don’t. No birdseed in my hand, none in my pocket, no water bottle with me. When it comes my turn, I will be offered some incense to toss into the fire, or some alcohol to pour into it. Neither offering feels “right” to me. So, I quietly shake my head when my turn is offered. I watch individual after individual step up to the fire, make a statement, and provide their offering. I stayed silent. Oh shit, certainly I have done the wrong thing here…
After the ritual, I waited for someone to come and pull me aside and tell me what I had done wrong. Essentially I was waiting to be scolded like a child. It never came. No one looked cross-eyed at me. No one treated me any differently than before. I breathed a sigh of relief, and made my way back to my bunk in the cabin, where I had a small baggie of birdseed sequestered within my giant plastic tub that was doing double-duty as a footlocker and a suitcase. I pulled a small handful from it, grabbed one of my last bottles of water and made my way up the hill towards a tall wind-vane. As the darkness started to come down around me, I scattered the handful of seed, and poured out some water. I took a long pull from the bottle for myself, and silently gave my thanks to my patron God for the finish of the day. The next morning, I would get up before dawn and repeat the process in a little grove of trees on the other side of the community fire.
By the time the third ritual had come around – I knew that my previous actions were perfectly fine and acceptable, so I was at a much greater ease continuing my silent acknowledgement of the moment.
Now, my purpose with this is not to put shame on the folks who put on the Retreat…I know full well, if I had brought my concerns to them, they would have put me at ease. The purpose behind this is to showcase how different ritual can be for a person who is a solo practitioner and someone who is used to doing group work. Those first moments in a ritual that one is not familiar with can (and typically is) filled with moments of trepidation and inner terror. What if I do something wrong? What if I say the wrong thing? Will I be looked upon with derision because I don’t know the “basics”? Will I be an embarrassment to my hosts?
While some of may not remember those moments – we have all been there before. And we have all survived those moments. I can say that I am a survivor…many times over…