Yesterday, I took a few hours to attend the Indianapolis Pagan Pride Day, an event which I love dearly. My very first time meeting other pagans was at something like the 4th or 5th Indy PPD, and I have loved seeing the event grow and change and become a major community staple.
These days, Indy PPD feels more to me like a vendor fest than an easy place to meet other pagans and experience other practices. Unfortunately, the schedule of rituals and workshops isn’t readily posted anywhere (not even online!) and the organizers of those events have a tendency to cancel last minute anyway. Still, there’s usually a great event or two. This year, my most powerful ritual experience was one crafted by Novices of the Old Ways.
Novices of the Old Ways (NOW) is a group based out of New York City with chapters in various regions across America. They describe themselves as a progressive Witchcraft community, which they further define as being based on a philosophy of using whatever methods necessary to better serve the immediate and broader communities rather than being based on a formal tradition. They do, however, promote connection with Deity on a personal level as being of vital importance. There is, naturally, a great deal of eclecticism in their practice, but they stress the importance of being thoughtful and selective in their choices, and they adapt praxis to the specific purposes of a ritual.
And man, did they ever create a great public ritual. There are so many things that can go wrong in creating a ritual for many people. It has to be simple so that many people can perform it and find meaning in it, but it also has to have strong visuals, ‘audience’ participation, and be fun to boot. NOW pulled it off seamlessly.
The ritual began with NOW members carrying a papier-mâché sculpture they had created of Gaia into the ritual space while singing an adaptation of Reclaiming’s Harvest chant: “Our hands will work for peace and justice. Our hands will work to heal the Land. Gather ’round the Pride Day Circle. Let us vow to heal the Land.” Gaia was veiled during this procession, and garnered herself quite a bit of attention. People were ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the spectacle, and quite a crowd amassed to draw near and take in the detail. I, for one, was utterly charmed by the breaching whales and penguins and erupting volcanoes on her legs, and the dinosaur fossil tucked by her left hand.
When the crowd settled, the ritual leader, Tamrha Richardson, sensibly had us practice the chants we would be using and explained the outline of the ritual. Essentially, she said that the earth, our mother, is hurting. We pollute her and have become inured to that pollution. This ritual would be a sacred marriage in which we would create a vow to Gaia to improve an aspect of our ecological footprint.
From my perspective, NOW accomplished that beautifully. They had a member with Native heritage offer tobacco to the quarters while we sung Spiral Rhythm’s “Hey Yeh”, which I felt honored the First People and the unique spirit of America without co-opting Native culture. We followed a simple Wiccan inspired circle casting, with a grounding and centering that used strong, simple visuals on the chakras and elegantly centered the energy medium upon voice. We invited the quarter elementals to each space, adapting the elementals to quarters that made sense for our geographic location. People at a quarter simply chanted the name of their quarter in unison-ish, and I was deeply moved to hear and feel the energy waving around the circle, building, ebbing, and building again even stronger. We called in Deity, with all participants encouraged to call the deities they worked with best (as Gaia is such a massive concept), and hearing and feeling all the different archetypes join the circle was so strangely moving. A pregnant woman, for example, called upon Isis, and I felt Her enter with such a strong, protective maternal energy, it brought tears to my eyes.
The core of the ritual saw three pairs of officiants conducting a sort of token Great Rite wherein participants would come up, take a wand one of the officiants held, put it into a cup of wine offered by another officiant, and state their vow to Gaia as they directed energy into the wine. After this, the wand officiant tied a garland of green, white, and red yarn around the participant’s wrist to serve as the outward symbol of this marriage vow we had just made to Gaia. As different participants were moved to come forward to make their vow, the whole group sang Spiral Rhythm’s “I Summon Her”. Then, finally, to celebrate our marriage, the whole group danced a spiral dance, then dismissed the Gods and quarters.
Beautiful. Simple. Powerful. NOW’s Gaia handfasting was definitely a textbook example of a public ritual done right. I watched so many people walk away visibly moved by what they had done, and a large group of people clustered around the ritual leader and talked for a good half hour or so after the ritual concluded. It doesn’t get much better than that.