As pagans we are aware that education brings understanding and acceptance. How we can do that when we step into the public arena is important.
This article was first written in 2001. I am republishing here as I feel this period of my life was a significant time, helping me shape-shift into someone who not only accepts diverse spiritual beliefs but also chooses to make a conscious effort to pro-actively support and encourage individual spirits, regardless of their current path. These times were a substantial part of my own learning and a training ground preparing me for my upcoming life in Glastonbury.
For a time, I was a host, UKHostCrow, for AOL (America Online) in an area called Mystic Gardens; leading talks and discussions on diverse subjects to be explored, not only by pagans, but by any spiritual seeker. Like Glastonbury itself, these gatherings were made up of people with varied beliefs, stretching my understanding and practices to be inclusive and open. I find it quite amusing that, totally separate from this little zone in the great machine of AOL, Glastonbury now has a shop called Mystic Gardens, filled with the work of the talented artist Linda Ravenscroft.
…Many solitary pagans have felt isolated and without others to share in their beliefs, but over the past few years the World Wide Web has opened many opportunities for people to communicate with others of like-mind. Thousands of communities have sprung up within the internet, giving rise to opportunities for people to learn and develop as they weave their own network of pagan webs. Many of the individuals of these 2-D communities also meet up in life, firm friendships and groups have developed, meeting often to share experiences, knowledge and wisdom.
An area within AOL known as The Mystic Gardens, is one such chat room in which a community has developed. The people are wide and varied; from accountants to healers; from policemen to shamans, from doctors to witches, from the experienced and the adepts to those taking their first steps into the more esoteric world of the many paths of alternative beliefs. Once a year, many of these people meet during Lammas time on a campsite in Somerset to share a few days of togetherness and strengthen the friendships cultivated over the last year. Many of those who gather might follow such as Christian, Druidic, Buddhist, Taoist, or Native American traditions. Many are still looking for what works best for their own spirit and, not having any particular belief, simply seeking the kinship that the Mystic Gardens community offers.
The fourth year of the camp saw one that was bigger than ever, and many people came from all over the country; with some people crossing the oceans to share in the event. During the camp, various workshops took place as people offered their own experience into the melting pot and this year a special ceremony was to occur, in which all were welcome. The intent of the rite was to call blessings onto the union of Sam and Martin, a young couple who had met at the previous year’s meet and wished to share their love with the people that had helped them come together. Next year, after a year and a day has passed, their ceremony will be one of Handfasting.
I was called upon to perform the ceremony some time ago, and it was there that I began to struggle. I did not want to ‘perform’ anything. This was not the usual rite in which all walked the same path and was led by an officer of a higher degree, but nor was it to be a side-show and a novelty to others. It was however, an immensely special time within a pagan space for both a couple and their parents, all of whom are just beginning their chosen path and the ritual needed to hold their own desired elements.
For a long time now, I have been struggling with the titles and the hierarchy of the particular system that I first began in and have stepped away following a more open and individual path. So how best to move away from the Wiccan High Priestess mantle, and create a circle in which the formality of a set ritual, of a set path, is left behind? How best to enjoy a ceremony that Pagan and Christian and non-believer alike were attending and all could feel part of the whole shebang? Yet still containing the elements required?
The sacred space would consist of two circles, one within the other. The outer circle would be made up of friends and well-wishers and the inner circle consisted of the couple, their parents, their supporters, the four representatives of the elements plus myself. In total there were thirteen people. Though this had not been intentional we were finding that, even from the first draft of the written ceremony, the energies flowed, and everything happened just as it should. None of the family had ever had the experience of being in a circle in which they had contributed, but as the days leading up to the ceremony arrived, the flowing rhythm developed an organisation of its own and felt that every step we took was guided.
Robed and personally prepared, we began the preparation of the inner circle. This was a gentle peaceful time; the sun was shining; the air was soft, and the ground was warm beneath our bared feet. The young teenager who swept the circle was slow and focussed in her work, there was no sense of hurry, no sense of unease; all were gently reflecting in this special time. Several people were beginning to draw close and observe our preparations. The altar, an apple tree stump topped with a very large and very thick slice of oak, was placed in the centre and adorned simply with symbols of the Male and Female and of the four elements. Jan and Steve, the parents of Samantha along with myself, set up the central altar whilst the elemental altars were being set by the four representatives of each direction. Sam and Martin were being taken through a guided meditation to calm and balance them as they prepared to declare their love and make their promises of betrothal to each other.
There were no leaders, no one person in charge, and no one individual that couldn’t contribute something. This was exactly what I had hoped to achieve. How many times have we been ‘witness’ to such occasions without ever feeling involved? How many of us have been ‘just a spectator’ at public ceremonies? In her book A Witch Alone, Marian Green writes: For time immemorial people have gathered in circles. From small children huddled around a playground - to wise scholars exchanging their views. The circle is a shape where all are equal, all can be heard, and all can offer themselves. The circle cast by the ceremonial magician or witch; the circle swept by the broom of the solitary wise old woman is a magical one. Its use is ancient, its powers unfailing. The circle may be as small as the span of our arms visualised within our own will or built by the ancients from stone and earth banks such as those at Avebury and Stonehenge.
This particular circle was a circle built of love and hope on a campsite in Somerset. It contained people from all walks, all beliefs, and all faiths. It was a circle in which everyone felt that his or her contributions had validity and worth. No one person was ‘higher’ than the next nor was any one person in charge. Because the circle was a true one, participator and witness alike all felt that they could offer themselves and all knew that what they offered was a true blessing indeed to send a couple onto their journey together.
This lovely occasion was finished with a spectacular professional thirteen-minute firework display, kindly provided by a Mystic Gardener experienced in such matters, accompanied with some rather splendid music. A campfire, around which another circle formed consisting of mirth, merrymaking, fire jugglers, drumming, singing and a strong bond of togetherness, took a very special day into the hours of sunrise.
As pagans we are aware that education of our path brings understanding and acceptance. How we can do that when we step into the public arena is important. If we demonstrate our path in a public place, we need to always be consciously aware of the image we are presenting. How much better is it if we present one of unity and equality, one of respect and of love and one in which no leaders dictate and dominate? Where all can partake, and all can learn?
My intention within that particular public circle was to show that there is nothing in the ritual and rites of pagans to be feared and that no one path or individual has the supremacy to claim something that connects them to the ‘divine power within and without ourselves. For quite a few people it was the first glimpse of ‘What Witches Do’ and many went away wanting to learn more and knowing that they themselves were able to do whatever they felt was right for them. Everyone took with them a little more understanding and the feelings of having taken part in something very magical. After all, isn’t that what we should be doing? Making positive magic, that all can share and benefit from? …And to do it to the very best of our abilities, perfecting our Craft? I think so. What say you?
Special thanks to all the Mystic Gardeners that helped me on my journey and for the photos capturing that special day in 2001.
My experiences are as yours - filled with challenges, pain, joy, laughter and love.
The settings of our scenes might be different but along our journey together, we will discover similarities and shared experiences.
Adventure with me for a while, for it is in the Journey, we become One.
High Sierra Winter Solstice
Postcards from America (1)
God's Own Country
An Avalonian Anniversary
..'And did those feet?'
Glastonbury/Avalon of the Heart
Finding Colour in the Grey
Lessons from Morocco
Under African Skies
The Earth Mother
The Glastonbury Unity Candle goes to Knight's Enham