The chemo is not for you

May 31, 2013

I am reading Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the World, her account of her encounter with cancer. She is terrified of chemo. But a talk with her therapist shifts her entire perspective:

“The chemo is not for you. It is for the cancer, for all the past crimes, it’s for your father [who incested her], it’s for the rapists, it’s for the perpetrators. You’re going to poison them now and they are never coming back. Chemo will purge the badness that was projected onto you but was never yours. I have total faith in your resilience and the magical capacities of your body and soul for healing. Your job is to welcome the chemo as an empathetic warrior, who is coming in to rescue your innocence by killing the perpetrator who got inside you. You have many bodies; new ones will be born out of this transformational time of love and care. When you feel nauseous or terrible, just imagine how hard the chemo is fighting on your behalf and on behalf of all women’s bodies, restoring wholeness, innocence, peace. Welcome the chemo as empathetic warrior.”

I love this paradigm shift.

My good friend Margot was suddenly diagnosed with cancer which has metastasized. She just finished a round of chemotherapy but says she may be on chemo for the rest of her life. She asked the Pagan community to work magic for her because she saw how Patricia Monaghan had died quietly and in pain, not availing herself of the resources of the Tribe.

When I do magic for Margot, I call on the chemo to kill the cancer. This is a serious Call—the Threefold Law says that anything you do comes back to you three times over. I have only outright cursed someone once and that initiated one of the worst years of my life. I had to keep checking in with myself about this Call. Is it the right thing to do?

Yes. In the mystery of lifeanddeath, we are permitted to fight for our lives. We are permitted to resist death. We are also encouraged to embrace death on our own terms, in our own way, according to our own lights. But if we want to live, we can struggle to keep on living—not rejecting death but engaging with life. It’s a subtle difference but an important one. And when the time for fighting is over, we can death in the way that seems best. If we are so fortunate to have the power to do so.

Modern medicine is obsessed with staving off death. It prolongs suffering because it views death as defeat, death as enemy. Witches and other Pagans have a more nuanced view, where death is as sacred as life. It is another rite of passage, as sacred as birth or menarche or marriage. It is part of the Whole.

When we embrace things like chemo, which causes temporary suffering for the sake of the greater health of the body, we engage in the powerful mystery of lifeanddeath. We partake of the goddess Kali—destruction so that creation may begin anew. It is not suffering for the sake of suffering, as is so often the case in Christianity, but a means to an end.

In the initiation of a Witch, we are asked, “Art thou willing to suffer to learn?” I always mentally amend that with the disclaimer that we can learn just as well from love and positive experiences, but the question is really about discipline. Are you willing to get down and dirty? Follow the path wherever it leads, no matter what light gets shined on your shadow self? Fully embrace all aspects of your being? Undergo constant and sometimes painful transformation?

“To dare, to will, to know, to keep silent.” These are the watchwords of the Witch. In this case, the challenge is “to dare.” Embrace the chemo. Let it purge you of the violations, all those experiences which stand of the way of your being truly alive. Embrace the empathetic warrior.

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The enduring appeal of Xena

May 26, 2013

{Let me preface this by saying I hate adding images to these posts because WordPress always makes the formatting funky. Apologies for the weirdness.}

For the last few months I’ve been working my way through the Xena series, mostly skipping the first and sixth seasons but delving in deep to the superior second through fifth seasons. And it’s blowing my mind how many women there are in these stories! And none of them are defined by their relationship to men. Men are friends, allies, rarely lovers, and in one case, husband (one episode where Garielle marries Perdicus only to have Callisto murder him). They are “gods, warlords, and kings” but they don’t rule the destinies of the women in the series. This is unprecedented and, to my knowledge, has never been repeated in popular film or television.

One need only look at the other popular “girl power” series of the ’90s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In stark contrast to Xena, Buffy rarely goes a single episode without a love interest. Her friends are also constantly linking up with lovers. They aren’t necessarily defined by those relationships, but the show’s creators obviously saw those relationships as essential to the series’ effectiveness. When they aren’t talking about slaying, they’re talking about their relationships. Xena’s creators had no such bias. And they seem to be the only creators in popular media who believed that.

Xena-Warrior-Princess-xena-warrior-princess-16076576-1024-768

Xena
While almost anyone will tell you that Xena is defined by her relationship to Gabrielle, I think her primary relationship is to her path. As “Evil Xena” she saw over a reign of terror that lasted ten years. She was driven by her lust for power. While at first just a petty warlord after her brother was killed in a territorial dispute, her encounter with Julius Caesar changed everything. She was enraptured by him and he returned the favor by betraying her, breaking her legs, and crucifying her. When her (female) rescuer M’Lila was killed by Caesar’s men, Evil Xena was born. And she wanted power. After ten bloody years wreaking havoc from Greece to “Chin” to Norway, she was turned by Hercules. She starts her series by trying to come to terms with the damage she’s done. The rest of the series is about redemption. She is a warrior, but pledged to fight for good and to make amends. But it is never enough. She is haunted by her past and feels she cannot be forgiven for the mistakes she made. Gabrielle saves her soul and is her guiding light and constant reminder of goodness, but when Xena’s past comes calling, she often leaves Gabrielle behind to go deal with the consequences.

I could go on. I adore Xena. I identify with that feeling of having done wrong, trying to do right, and coming up short. She is a flawed hero, much more compelling than the tripe served up in summer blockbusters. Onward!

Gabrielle, the Battling Bard

Gabrielle, the Battling Bard

Gabrielle
While Xena is all action and mind, Gabrielle is heart and spirit. It is her influence that keeps the two in an almost constant dialogue about the role of violence. This is also unprecedented in an action genre. What movie or TV show questions whether violence rules the world and whether destiny must only be shaped by warriors? Who tells stories where the sidekick commits to “the path of love” (non-violent resistance as personified by the Jesus figure Eli)? Gabrielle eventually embraces her path as a warrior but she is lit by a deep spiritual love that Xena doesn’t have. She doesn’t have Xena’s past so she’s less burdened. As the sidekick, her character is defined by her relationship to Xena, but it’s totally different from the standard role of “virgin, girlfriend, mother, whore” that’s standard fare in contemporary storytelling.

Callisto

Callisto

Callisto
A recurring character and everyone’s favorite villain, Callisto is Xena’s constant reminder of her past. Evil Xena killed Callisto’s family and burned her village to the ground. Callisto then embarked on a mission of revenge. She has an army of male warriors but she explicitly turns down both male companionship and alcohol—certainly not something you see at the movies. (Callisto is as complex a character as Xena is—she’s ruled by a thirst for vengeance but when she finally triumphs she discovers all her hatred has left her “just empty.” By then she’s immortal, so she endures the living hell of hating her existence.)

Alti

Alti

Alti
This recurring character still gives me the creeps, no matter how many times I see the series. She is a shaman, completely amoral, interested only in the pursuit of power. Evil Xena falls under her spell because Alti promises to make her “Destroyer of Nations.” Instead she practically destroys Xena’s soul. She wants spiritual power more than physical domination but she’ll take anything she gets. She has no male companions.

Ephiny

Ephiny

Ephiny
One of everyone’s favorite recurring characters. Ephiny is an Amazon and, unlike most of the other recurring female characters in the series, takes a husband. But I’m not sure if he even shows up or if they just talk about him. If he does show up, it’s only in one episode and he’s completely tangential to the plot. Ephiny has a son but her identity is first and foremost as an Amazon, not a mother or wife.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite

Aphrodite
Unlike the Hercules series (Xena was a spin-off that ended up being more popular than its parent), the Olympian gods don’t show up much in Xena. Ares and Aphrodite are the most commonly appearing characters. Aphrodite loves to be worshipped by hot men but her primary relationship in the series is with Gabrielle, whose life she saves during one of Xena’s big showdowns with the rest of the Olympians.

Amazons
In an early episode, Gabrielle is given “the right of caste” by an Amazon queen, and so is considered an Amazon leader wherever she goes. Xena is not considered an Amazon but is always welcome to fight at their side. Amazons are recurring characters in the series, possibly because they prep for battle by dancing in skimpy costumes. (A friend once told me the scriptwriters would put in these scenes with notes saying, “This will drive viewers wild!” They were trying to appeal to men and lesbians, not something a typical Hollywood demographic mix). There are tons of Amazons in the series, none of whom have relationships with men. Amarice, Variya, Cyane (I love love love her), Otere, Velasca, Melosa, Chilapa, Marga, Gwyn-Teir, Mawu-Ka, and Yakut are just a few.

Livia

Livia

Eve/Livia
Xena’s daughter and Callisto’s reincarnated soul. Her birth heralds the death of the Olympian gods, so she’s under constant attack. While she’s still an infant, Xena makes a deal with Octavian (who she made emperor of Rome) to take Eve while she and Gabrielle fake her and their deaths. Unexpectedly, Ares steps in at the last minute to try to stop Xena from killing herself (he’s “got a thing” for her). She defies him and takes the poison which counterfeits her death. And then Ares ruins everyone’s plans by taking Xena and Gabrielle’s bodies to an ice cave and burying them there. It takes 25 years for them to come back to life, which allowed the scriptwriters to bypass all that messy childrearing stuff and focus on adult relationships among Xena, Eve, and Gabrielle. But since Xena never came for Eve, Octavian raised her as Livia, a Roman warrior, to protect her from the Greek gods. She turns into a monster, combining Callisto and Xena’s worst traits. While she says she will marry Octavian, she’s really working with Ares (who doesn’t realize she’s Eve) to take over the empire. Xena and Gabrielle eventually turn her back to the light side of the Force (oops, wrong saga) and she renounces violence for Eli’s “path of love.” Aside from her flings with Octavian and Ares for the sake of gaining power, she has no relationships with men.

Boadiccea

Boadiccea

Boadiccea
Based on the historical Boudica, Boadiccea is a British fighter who leads the rebellion against the Romans. The historical Boudica took up the fight after her husband was killed, but Boadiccea’s only relationship with men in the show is as the leader of their army.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra

Cleopatra
Ruler of Egpyt and friend to Xena. She shows up a couple times in the series and Xena impersonates her to Mark Antony after Cleopatra is assassinated. Cleopatra is very sexual but it’s clear she will not subjugate her empire to the Romans or anyone else. She has a brief fling with Autolycus, “King of Thieves.”

Cyrene

Cyrene

Cyrene
She is Xena’s mother, so you’d expect her to have a relationship with a man, but no, she killed Xena’s father herself when he threatened them with violence. She runs a tavern in Xena’s hometown of Amphipolos but has no romantic relationships.

Hope

Hope

Hope
Gabrielle’s daughter, the product of a rape by Dahak, an evil spirit. Hope proves to be a killer as an infant and is the cause of much friction between Xena and Gabrielle. She kills Solon, Xena’s son, just as the two are getting to know each other (Xena left him with the Centaurs as an infant—long story) and before Xena has a chance to tell him she’s his mother. Hope has a fling with Ares to create a bizarre-o spawn that kills everyone in its path but both Hope and her offspring are strangely driven by love for their mothers. Hope continually talks about manifesting her father’s reign on Earth but she also wants to understand how Gabrielle could have abandoned her. So in a way she’s a servant of a male figure but since he only ever appears as a column of fire, her primary relationship is with Gabrielle.

Lao Ma

Lao Ma

Lao Ma
If you wanted to understand the appeal of Xena without watching the entire series, you could just watch the two episodes of “The Debt” to get what all the fuss is about. It is set during the Evil Xena phase, when she’s based in Chin. Lao Ma saves Xena from a rival leader and heals not just Xena’s broken legs but Xena’s evil spirit. Lao Ma is married and committing her wisdom to a book which she writes in her husband’s name. He is dying but she uses her power to keep him on the brink of lifeanddeath in order to keep the peace. His name? Lao Tsu. So passages from Taoism inform the whole story. Xena and Lao Ma are powerfully drawn to each other and Xena submits to her teachings, first to try to gain martial powers but then because she loves Lao Ma and how her heart is changing. As she explains to Gabrielle, it’s at that point that she had the choice to turn her back on violence and rule with Lao Ma peacefully, but when she’s pushed she reverts to form. Lao Ma is very powerful and tries to be a loving mother to her son Ming T’ien, but is rebuffed. She uses it as a reminder to rid herself of desire and focus only on The Way. She is beautifully played by Jacqueline Kim and I luuuurve her.

Naima

Naima

Naima
Xena and Gabrielle travel to India to see the sights and almost immediately come upon a suttee. Xena saves the woman, Naima, from the flames and they go into hiding. Naima reveals to Xena that Alti is seeking to destroy Xena in a future incarnation. Naima shows Xena and Gabrielle how to use the spiritual power of mehndi to defeat Alti. So in one episode you get this amazingly powerful Indian woman, Xena and Gabrielle invoking both physical and spiritual prowess, and Alti using her powers to cripple everyone in sight. No men need apply.

There are many more characters in the Xena universe of course, but this is intended to be an exploration of a dominant theme in the series. By keeping so much emphasis on women’s relationships with each other, the writers created a universe where people talk about things besides sex. This is revolutionary. Think about your favorite TV shows and movies and see to what extent romantic relationships limit the themes that can be explored.

Of course, many people feel that Xena and Gabrielle were lovers, and it’s left somewhat ambiguous in the series in order to appeal to lesbian audiences, but they always speak to each other in terms of friendship. They regularly express their love and respect to each other but they are about other things as well.

And I guess I do have to say something about Xena’s relationship with Ares (played brilliantly by Kevin Smith), since it could be argued that he’s a recurring romantic figure. It’s true that Xena’s drawn to him, but she’s very clear that he’s bad for her. He never gets the best of her in bed or on the battlefield. Inevitably, she rejects him in favor of Gabrielle and her chosen path of redemption.

Perhaps most importantly, none of these female characters is portrayed as missing something. They are not lonely. They don’t pine for men. They are fully realized, fulfilled, actualized human beings living rich lives in the company of friends, sisters, comrades, and family.

When the cast and crew speculate on the enduring appeal of Xena, they all say “strong female characters.” That’s certainly the case, as I’ve been blathering about here. What I think is also interesting is how by focusing on strong female characters and keeping romance to the fringes, the creators could explore epic, mythic, and homespun themes of loyalty, spirituality, redemption, honor, violence, and other forms of love besides romance. I would love to see contemporary writers pick up where Xena left off.


10 Tips for Large Group Rituals

May 25, 2013

This is the world’s shortest post: I just want to link to this excellent blog post on constructing/running large group rituals. Great tips. Well done!


The Sight of the Stars

May 10, 2013

This is the script for a cabaret I wrote as part of an acting class given by Richard Perez of the Bloomington Playwrights Project in 2003. I performed it twice. I would love to perform it again.

The Sight of the Stars
For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. ~Vincent van Gogh

 

(Darkness)

Lights up.

(Lights are dim)

(To audience)

Can you see me? Ok, great.

I have this particularly useless form of second sight. I dream of things that later come to pass. Sometimes in a week, sometimes in a few months, but while it’s happening in this world I remember the dream.

The only problem is, it’s never anything particularly exciting. It’s always something like “I’m putting a can of corn into the grocery cart and my knee itches.” Now really, what is the point of being able to foresee that??

I have another kind of precognition, of course, the kind most people have. Future-vision. The sight of certainty. The sight where I envision the future and know it will come to pass, simply because everything in my past points to it.

(Jumps up, spotlight)

I was gonna be a STAR (A Star is Born pose) on Broadway. (Break pose) I was born with a spirit of fire, and I tell people on that first day I sang instead of screaming.

I started singing professionally at age 11. “You’re going places, kid,” the adults would say, their eyes shining, hungry for some piece of my success, eager to hang on to the tail of my shooting star, desperate to cling to my afterimage and somehow make it theirs.

They didn’t need to tell me; I knew. I knew with the ardor of the true believer.

I’m twelve. “I’m going to IU for my degree – you know they have the best music school in the country – then I’m going to New York. I’ll starve for two years and then I’m going to make it.”

Can you see me? Augh, I could see it all, see it as clearly as I could see myself, sometimes more so. And I believed. I was young, I was lit from within, and I was Hungry.

I Sing The Body Electric

(Lyrics Dean Pitchford, Music Michael Gore; From the movie Fame)

I sing the body electric
I celebrate the me yet to come
I toast to my own reunion
When I become one with the sun

And I’ll look back on Venus
I’ll look back on Mars
And I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

I sing the body electric
I glory in the glow of rebirth
Creating my own tomorrow
When I shall embody the earth

And I’ll serenade Venus
I’ll serenade Mars
And I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

We are the emperors now
And we are the czars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

I sing the body electric
I celebrate the me yet to come
I toast to my own reunion
When I become one with the stars

And I’ll look back on Venus
I’ll look back on Mars
I’ll burn with the fire
Of 10 million stars
And in time 
And in time
And in time
And in time
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

Throughout high school my star was ascendant. I sang at weddings, I sang at nursing homes, I sang at sporting events. I sang in countless musicals, choruses, swing choirs, you name it. Always with the leading role, always with the solo, always the STAR.

My spirit, my ambition, my burgeoning mental illness, and my Catholic messianic fervor all swirled together so by my senior year I believed my light would change the world. Just by the power of my singing I could transform the world’s dross into gold.

(Light intensifying)

Let me envelop you with my sound, let me purify you with my fire – give me your sorrows and your suffering and I will bear it, I will suck it into the inferno of this heart crowned with thorns and I will transfigure it into divine splendor. For I am a chosen one, I am blazing, I am righteous, I am strong, I am swift, I am hard, I am brittle, I am break-ing.

(Lights down)

(Silence.)

There was a long period of silence. No singing. No light. Years of darkness. Years of grey.

Present became past. The Wheel turned. I learned to live again.

(Lights up a bit)

(beat)

My father’s eyes are hazel. He’s always had problems with his sight – glaucoma, detached retina, you name it. Then on yet another routine surgery he was suddenly blind in one eye. Some degenerative disease; soon the other eye would lose sight, too.

I remember setting on the loveseat with the man I would marry, our fingers intertwined like some Celtic knot – interwoven, solid and sure. Looking at my Cyclops father, a shiver continually running down my spine as I contemplated my all-powerful, all-seeing, all-comprehending dad going blind. One light winking out, then two. Light, then grey, then darkness. Forever.

In that moment I saw my future with crystal clarity – the home I would create with my husband, radiant with love and children and comfy old furniture, furniture I would guide my father around when he and mom came to visit.

But like my other second sight, my future-vision proved useless. Nothing I foresaw came to pass. My father miraculously regained his sight, light from darkness, a solstice sun reborn.

My marriage was not to be.

What is the sound of one soul shr- shred-ding into two? Lights out. Darkness. Out of sight, out of mind, my heart still stops when I see a man with copper-colored hair.

(Lights dim for song)

Angel Eyes

(Lyrics Earl Brent, Music Matt Dennis)

Try to think that love’s not around
Still it’s uncomfortably near
My old heart ain’t gaining no ground
Because my angel eyes ain’t here

Angel eyes, that old devil sent
They glow unbearably bright
Need I say that my love’s misspent
Misspent with angel eyes tonight

So drink up all you people
Order anything you see
Have fun you happy people
The drinks and the laughs are on me

Pardon me but I got to run
The fact’s uncommonly clear
Got to find who’s now number one
And why my angel eyes ain’t here

‘Scuse me while I disappear

(Lights up somewhat)

A fire consumed my apartment complex. Eyes wide in horror I watched the flames leap four stories into a black sky as the people trapped inside flame-filled rooms were screaming, “oh my god, help me, help me, I’m gonna die!” We all saw the future. The future glared back: a living funeral pyre.

The firefighters saved them. Certainty averted again.

The future-vision is never right, because it relies solely on the past. In the future, there are no surprises.

(beat)

Sometimes at night I go outside and just gaze upon the stars. I feel so peaceful, so still. There’s something about the night sky that’s so NOW. I feel enveloped in the honey cloak of the universe, the Goddess who brings peace to the mind and delight to the soul.

Did you know we are made of stardust? Of course you do. And isn’t it odd how we can feel lightyears distant from the person right in front of us and yet so connected to the stars in the sky?

Light out of darkness. The oldest mystery, from the moment we first open our eyes outside the womb. Intertwined, interwoven, in a dance as old as the cosmos.

When I feel my place in that dance, I have no need for the future. Sure on this shining night, I see with my heart what my ancestors saw, praying to the Goddess of Fire,

Every day, every night that I praise the Goddess
I know I will be safe.
I shall not be chased, I shall not be caught, I shall not be harmed.
Fire, Sun, and Moon shall not burn me
Nor lake nor stream nor sea shall drown me.
Fairy arrow cannot pierce me.
I am safe, safe, safe, singing her praises.

O Watch the Stars

(Appalachian folk song)

O watch the stars, see how they run
O watch the stars, see how they run
The stars run down at the setting of the sun
O watch the stars, see how they run

O watch the stars, see how they play
O watch the stars, see how they play
The stars come and play at the end of the day
O watch the stars, see how they play

O watch the stars, see how they run
O watch the stars, see how they run
The stars run down at the setting of the sun
O watch the stars, see how they run

(Lights fade throughout song; fade to black by last line of song)


Bealtaine invocations and prayers

May 5, 2013

Every sabbat (there are 8 per year) I pull out a folder full of scripts for rituals I’ve written over the years. When I first began practicing Paganism, I wrote a new script for every ritual. Now I re-use bits of past scripts and do the rest of the ritual extemporaneously, since I’ve internalized so much of the inner meaning of each sabbat.

This Bealtaine (May Day, which according to Celtic tradition should be celebrated the night of 30 April but which I always celebrate on the 1st) I went back to 1999 for inspiration. Bealtaine is a joyous sabbat, celebrating the first day of Summer and the ripening of the Goddess and the God. This year it was absolutely gorgeous, with blue skies, temperatures in the high ’70s, and my gardens bursting with new life.

I always begin in darkness and silence, facing the North. North is the direction of the element of Earth, the home of the ancestors, and the “womb and tomb” of life. I briefly meditate on all which has brought me to the present place and time and set in stillness to prepare myself to transition Between the Worlds.

I then light sandalwood incense and the main candle on my altar while saying the following prayer, which comes from Vivianne Crowley’s Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age (which is so well-used that the binding is completely broken and the pages keep falling out):

Let me be at one within myself
At one to celebrate the power
The power which moves the universe.
For behold! The lords of light have set their stars upon the heavens
The Earth spins and the Moon holds her course.
I will walk proudly and hold my head high
For the Sky is my father
And the Earth my mother
And I am a child of the Gods.

Then my own prayer:

Blessed and gracious ones, on this night do I bring to you my mind, my body, and my spirit!

I then light a candle and place it in each Quarter and invite the elements. Different Pagans use different systems but I honor the North first (“from you we come, unto you we return”) and then place the candle in the appropriate Quarter. Each Quarter corresponds to an element and a patron goddess.

INVOCATION OF THE EAST

Here do I bring light and Air in at the East, realm of Arianrhod. Arianrhod and all beings of your realm, all beings of Air, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Lend your swift voices to my growing song, send your fleet messengers ahead that my ravens know the course. Open my eyes, open my heart—all is awareness, all is choice, all is flow. Beings of Air, I welcome you in proud reverence here.

INVOCATION OF THE SOUTH

Here do I bring light and Fire in at the South, realm of Brighid. Brighid and all beings of your realm, all beings of Fire, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Light my way this night to awareness and understanding; add strength to my commitment to manifest my passions. Let my heart remember what it means to dream and let my spirit take flight! This is the time of rebirth, as sure as the buds on the trees and the sunny faces of the daffodils. Give me faith in my fire. Beings of Fire and passion, I welcome you in proud reverence here.

INVOCATION OF THE WEST

Here do I bring light and Water in at the West, realm of Rhiannon. Rhiannon and all beings of your realm, all beings of Water, I welcome you to my Circle this night. Dearest mother, open my heart, still my brain, let me hear your rhythmic and persistent tones. Let the sea awaken me, let the waves wash me clean, let the seagulls crown my joyful head. Seahorses and lily pads, treasure and sweet dominion—flow, flow in sacred sexuality, let music flow in the briny waves, let all of us dance in the graceful, lilting flow. Great Goddess, Mother Rhiannon, it is time for rebirth. From you our race emerged, cold and naked, searching for some greater truth. Yet still we long for you. Help me bridge the worlds of Earth and Water, Fire and Air—make me whole and unique, in love and in tune with the song of living. Give me flow, give me flow, let me ride the waves in inner stillness, let there be room for musings and whispered confidences and secret self-assurance. Great Mother, let your waters heal and sanctify me, your priestess of lifeanddeath. I am on the path. I welcome you in holy reverence here.

INVOCATION OF THE NORTH

Here do I bring light and Earth in at the North, realm of Cerridwen. Cerridwen and all beings of your realm, all beings of Earth, you know the enduring bonds of relationship. You know the ties of kith and kin. Great gods of forgotten ancestors, open the veil which shrouds my mind. Free my mind, heart, and body from the ravages of my history. It is time to be made anew, to carry seeds to fruition, to plant seeds anew. It is a new day, a new time, a new me. Give me the Sight—give me the breath, the clarity I need to make my dreams come true. I welcome you in blessed reverence here.

CAST THE CIRCLE

Casting the Circle can be done in a variety of ways, using a tool such as an athame, sword, or feather, or simply using your body. For Bealtaine, I used my body to cast a full sphere of water surrounded by Fire. I then said my traditional prayer, which may or may not be original (it’s hard to tell after almost 25 years!):

This Circle is sealed, and all within are free to glorify the Lady and the Lord, whom we adore.

I always follow this with a personal prayer suitable to that particular ritual’s needs, drawing on the mythological, psychic, and psychological themes of the sabbat.

After that, it’s anybody’s guess. My rituals vary year to year, sabbat to sabbat. There are a few things I like to do for Bealtaine. From Crowley’s book:

THE ARADIA CHARGE

I am Aradia
Daughter of the sea
And daughter of the wind
Daughter of the Sun
And daughter of the Moon
Daughter of dawn
And daughter of sunset
Daughter of night
And daughter of the mountains

And I have sung the song of the sea
And I have listened to the sighing of the wind
I have heard the hidden secrets of the Sun
And I have drunk of the tears of the Moon
I have seen the beauty of the dawn
And the sorrow of the sunset
I have lain ‘neath the darkest dark of the night
And I have beheld the might of the mountains

For I am stronger than the sea
And freer than the wind
I am brighter than the Sun
And more changing than the Moon
I am the hope of the dawn
And the peace of the sunset
I am more mysterious than night
And older than the mountains
Older than time itself
For I am she who was
And who will be
For I am Aradia.

SPRING GODDESS CHARGE

Hear then the words of Diana the Moon
The Bright Virgin
Changing but unchanging
My mystery is unanswerable
But solve ye that mystery
My nature is unknowable
But strive to understand me
Darkness and light are met within me
I flee from thee, but lure thee on
I seek for thee, but hide my face
I speak to thee, but my words are silent

I use the latter prayer at both Vernal Equinox and Bealtaine because I love it so much. It explores a great mystery: How can you solve a mystery which is unanswerable? How can you catch the Moon, which ever flees from you? I am caught up in the beauty and power of Diana, goddess of the hunt, fleet-footed and free in the greenwood.

I also have fun with Robin Goodfellow, adapted from Ben Jonson:

From Oberon, in Fairieland,
The king of ghosts and shadows there,
Mad Robin I, at his command,
Am sent to view the night-sports here.
What revel rout
Is kept about,
In every corner where I go,

I’ll oversee
And merry be,
And make good sport, with ho ho ho!

More swift than lightning can I fly
About this airy world and soon
In a minute’s space, I descry
Each thing that’s done beneath the Moon.
There’s not a hag
Or ghost shall wag,
Or cry, “‘Ware Goblins!” where I go,
But Robin I
Their feats will spy,
And send them home, with ho ho ho!

Whene’er such wanderers I meet,
As from their night-sports they trudge home,
With counterfeiting voice I greet
And call them on, with me to roam
Through woods, through lakes,
Through bogs, through brakes;
Or else, unseen, with them I go, 
All in the nick
To play some trick
And frolic it, with ho ho ho!

Sometimes I meet them like a man;
Sometimes an ox, sometimes a hound;
And to a horse I turn me can;
Top trip and trot about them round.
But if, to ride,
My back they stride,
More swift than wind away I go,
O’er hedge and lands,
Through pools and plants
I whirry, laughing, ho ho ho!

This is obviously based on Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I love how it conjures up a mischievous spirit. Bealtaine is on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year from Oidche Samhna (Samhain/Halloween), the night when the Veil Between the Worlds is at its thinnest and all kinds of spirits walk the roads. Puck is a nice reflection of that.

At some point I also sing the lovely tune The Young May Moon (this is a slightly different version from the one I sing but gives you the idea). My version was collected from England in the late eighteen hundreds. The lyrics are definitely from that time but the tune may be older, who knows.

Bealtaine is a good time to check in on how I’m doing with my reading from Oidche Samhna. That’s the in-depth (3-hour) tarot reading I do with Catlín Matthews’ Celtic Book of the Dead. It’s my guide for the spiritual year. This year is all about finding my true vocation, deepening my connection to the Otherworld, and relying on that connection to strengthen me as I travel through the Sea of Mists, unsure of my destination.

As with any ritual, I may include trance work, ecstatic dance, meditations, spirit journeys, prayers, and magic. But I always ground with “Cakes and Ale,” the traditional feast at the end of the Witch’s ritual. Of course, my “cakes” are a chocolate chip cookie from Butch’s (so delicious, I just can’t even describe) and a lovely glass of milk. The prayers that go with them are something like:

I know that every seed is a record of times past and a promise of what’s to come. Thank you for this gift of the Earth and may I live out its promise in love and courage.

Just as the grape undergoes change to become wine, and that wine may bring the enchantment of the divine realms or the stupor of the baser ones, so do I recognize that all rise or fall according to their talents and their strength of will. Thank you for this gift of Earth and may I live out its potential in courage and grace.

I always put aside some of the Cakes and Ale for the Little Folk (I toss it outside afterwards with the quick prayer, “Back at ya, Goddess”) and then tuck in. I often feel the spirits of those I’ve invited flitting around, chatting and gnoshing along with me.

I close with prayers and by saying thank you and good-bye to each Quarter, knowing that I carry the promise of each in my bodymindspirit always. I open the Circle and then say,

The Circle is open, but never broken. Love is the law and love is the bond. May I have a straight spine, a clear mind, and a heart filled with love and with joy. Blessed Be!

I am usually left with a great sense of well-being, clarity, and peace at the end of ritual, and often have a lesson or two to take with me onto my path to the next sabbat.

I share the above resources freely; adapt as you will for your purposes (for the good of all, may it harm none). Blessed Be.