“…So I suppose I could say I have DonkeySlut’s ring on my finger. Though in the dark I thought it was red, in the light I found it was brown…”- Me talking about the wooden ring I was wearing during the ritual. DonkeySlut was the name used when the artist drunkenly introduced herself to my boss….
And so, the annual celebration of the Longest Day had arrived (Ok, I know this was over two weeks ago, but hey), and it turned out to be a promising day. Especially when the weather report had threatened rain all week, I’d say we got off lightly.
I had volunteered to MC the solstice ritual, and I even had an idea I wanted to try:
Imagine, if you will: a woodland Grove with the usual suspects following a Robin Hood theme. Herne the Hunter in his entire prime, resplendent with horns, giving sage counsel. Teams of Grove members shooting a bow with the winner having the chance to best Herne in a quarterstaff duel to become the new ‘Hood’…
Didn’t quite work out like that, and if anything, I was kind of bricking it because I knew that vision couldn’t possibly come to pass without some major theatrics and props; plus I wasn’t sure how to make it gel with the solstice theme and make it into a fluid ritual combat.
Thankfully theses things have a way of working themselves out, call it Awen, call it luck, I’d be happy with divine inspiration (which is Awen, right?).
I remember asking Danceswithweasels if her boys had a toy bow we could borrow, to which I’ll never forget her reply: “A bow and arrow set? God no! The cats would be phoning the RSPCA!” amusing, yet truthful.
She did however provide us with some lovely sticks (sycamore?) for our duel.
Speaking of sticks, Cymro ap Arthan brought some lovely hand-made staffs which he declared “are gifts”, this I foolishly misinterpreted as being gifts for the Grove, sorry matey! My mind was elsewhere and trying to piece the ritual together.
We arrived to an overgrown Grove, Cymro and Dances set to work their crop-circle making abilities and made our ritual circle while Luch Dorcha, and myself got spat at by a volatile burning charcoal (a sign of things to come…). Tatterhood, Briseilid and Lady Morgana and River helped place the ceremonial candles into their respective places and we decided who was going to represent each quarter. Luch Dorcha and Tatterhood had agreed to be our ritual combatants and we were ready to begin. It wasn’t until the blessing of water around our circle I had completed, in my head, the ritual into a three layered one!
This allowed the ritual to be split into the following phases:
Land: Those familiar with modern Western paganism, and indeed if you have read our Alban Arthuan 2012 blog, will no doubt have heard of the duel of the Oak and Holly kings. In this version, I wanted to pay respects to the rejuvenation of the land with the duel ala Robin Hood Style: Luch Dorcha volunteered for the role of Little John (Holly, the spirit of the Winter Solstice to come), whereas Tatterhood played Robin Hood (Oak, the spirit of the Summer Solstice about to pass), which seemed quite unfair for her as she did play the Holly last time… who was beaten by Oak.
Both combatants play-acted as I told the story of Robin Hood coming upon Little John at a stream, resulting in their conflict and eventually Robin’s loss as he was beaten and fell into the water! Thankfully no Grove members were injured in this ritual.
As spirit of the wood and of the Land, Herne the Hunter (Again, Tatterhood) was used in the Robin Hood myth in the Television series: Robin of Sherwood. So I felt it right for the character of Herne, in this case Lady Herne, to give everyone in the circle their own individual rune reading as a blessing of the Land. The runes were Saxon, very fitting indeed for the Saxon roots of the Hooded Man himself.
Sky: As the Solstice is about the longest day, I used the element of Fire to represent the sun with three candles. This was to symbolise the light and the magic of the solstice time.
I asked everyone to think of something they wanted to achieve by the Autumn Equinox, or if not achieve then to make significant progress by that time. This was enacted by everyone lighting their own candles when they were ready to do so. Luch Dorcha began and made sure all three ‘solar’ candles lighted his candle, this proved a wonderful symbolic gesture and mostly everyone followed suit. Such a shame then Luch Dorcha was rewarded later in the ritual with the burning of his beard! Thankfully he wasn’t hurt and only suffered some minor singeing. Sorry.
Water: I didn’t feel it right to call upon the sea, especially when we’re based in the heart of the Midlands, so the blessing of water was a cup filled with water from the Chalice well. This was kindly donated from Briseilid, I used it to give a blessing to every Grove member, like the drawing of a single rune, this was individual to each member.
And so, I got away with it: a little jiggery-pokery on an idea I had, which then fell into a pattern of continuity. I have to thank the Grove members as they contributed to the ritual too, be it showing us their collection of staves, donating ‘quaterstaffs’ or blessed water, an improvised mini-ritual, a reading, or even a joke or support. Thank You!
Once everything was wound down we got to enjoy the rare treat of picnicking at the Grove itself in the light. We were even joined by Cthulhudruid and his pack of canine stick-hunters and candle-eaters. It was indeed good to just spend time chilling out as well as ceremonially marking this time of year. Luch Dorcha and Tatterhood even told me they would like to decorate the staffs and when they are passed on to the next Oak and Holly kings, those combatants get to add something of their own. I look forward to seeing how they will change.