Winter Solstice Bear Ritual

Molly rushed to get to the Community Center in time to help with the set up of the Solstice ritual, a little late for her role of backup for Ursula. She had been talking to the paper buyer about the lousy recycle market situation. When she walked in the door, the room was already well into the process of being transformed. Owen and Jay were standing on tables hanging the dark fabric to divide the large room into two sections. She could see people in the kitchen setting up serving tables, Marsha Quince looking very much in charge. Someone had moved the Women’s Club Christmas tree under the East windows.

“We need one more piece of fabric to really partition it off,” said Ursula bustling up. “Did you bring any new stuff?”

“The Goddess must have been whispering to me,” said Molly. “A big green one came in today and I had a feeling it would come in handy. Let me just unload these muffins in the kitchen and I’ll dig it out. I brought the extra lights you asked for too.“

“Where do you guys want the lights?” asked Mariposa flitting up behind her.

“We talked about the inside of the bear’s den being dark, so string them up along this entrance area. People can leave their give-aways under the tree here. We moved it from the other corner to have the festive feeling out here and not in the cave. Come see it,” she said turning back to Molly. “Can you help Pia and I sort out how the altar inside should look? We have different ideas and are pretty irritated with each other. She’s always so sure she’s right and I’m too scattered to focus very well. I’m not even sure why she’s helping, the folks from the class need to learn this….”

“OK, how ‘bout if you ground first,” suggested Molly reaching out to give her a hug.

“Oh, yeah right! I guess I am sort of out of my body. I still tend to do that when there’s so much going on, don’t I? I feel a particular responsibility to Bear with this one and the students that are looking to me…. It’s all making me cranky. It’s too much….” Ursula was close to tears.

“BREATHE,” commanded Molly firmly looking Ursula in the eye, belly to belly. Then more gently, “Breathe.”

They stood quietly together for a minute amidst the bustle, going deeper with each breath and imagining their cords going down into the earth from their second chakras.

“Aahh. Much better,” they both said at once.

“I love how we can do that for each other,” said Ursula. “My cord was brown today, of course. What color was yours?”

“Silver with little sparkles in it. Like Christmas lights,” she smiled. “Would you like me to do the altar with Pia? Then you could go sit quietly with your Bear mask for a while to get ready for the anchoring.”

“Actually, I think I’ll walk down to the beach to watch the sun go down. That always seems an important part of Solstice to me. It’s like if I don’t watch it go down it might decide not to come back up.”

“Oooh, radical move, Ursula! Good letting go! I could learn this from you,” Molly admired the shift Ursula was making.

“Well, I know if I don’t go I will be no good at anchoring and mess up the energy all around…”

 

By the time Charley walked in, others were arriving too. The place was dimly lit and mysterious. He’d been held up at the Conservancy Trust working some bugs out of the mailing list. It was great to have so many people helping with ritual these days. He could sit out a few out prep-wise. In fact, two young women he didn’t even know greeted him quietly. Ursula’s new ritual class was already proving fruitful. The taller one took his plate of deviled eggs into the kitchen. The other smudged him with cedar and sage, brushing the fragrant smoke with what looked like Ursula’s hawk feathers.

As always, the smudge instantly calmed and grounded him into a trancelike state. He felt a little buzz of anticipation as Owen, recognizable behind an Eagle mask they’d made together in the Men’s Medicine Circle, pulled aside a gauzy curtain and gestured him into what felt like a dark cave. A couple of parachutes were draped low from the ceiling representing Air, while a small fire cast a glow from the fireplace in the South. He could dimly see chairs and pillows in a circle on the wooden floor, many with people already in them. Candles twinkled on an altar at the west end. He couldn’t see what else nestled there, probably shells and a dish of ocean water for the West. He had a flash of the year they’d done a ritual around Sedna, the Kwakiutl seal goddess who was especially meaningful to the surfer part of him, with a handmade kayak filled with Christmas lights in the center. Tonight the room smelled of the cedar branches that had been placed around the outside of the circle. Earth.

All the elements were there. He always liked to check. Not that any would be forgotten. Maybe it was more like “checking in.” Calling his personal circle. Soon their individual hearts would intertwine like a Celtic knot to bring Spirit, the fifth sacred thing, into the Center. Would they remember to make that explicit as they called in the directions? “Stop it,” he chided himself gently. “They’ll do just fine and all the old hands are here to hold the space and provide the deep energy.” Always there was something new to surprise them and neither the “audience” nor the “celebrants” ever knew quite how it would appear as the distinctions between them blurred.

He found one of the pillowed floor seats with a comfy back and realized he had settled in between Gideon Terranova and Michael. Finch Terranova was on the other side of his dad. It was so great to have more men involved these days, especially young ones. For a long time Owen and he had been the only ones – or the only consistent ones anyway. It quickly became obvious that Michael was kind of fidgety. Charley patted the knees on either side of him in silent greeting, leaving a calming hand on Michael’s for a heartbeat or two until he felt the younger man take a deep calming breath. Charley knew Michael was not very into what he called spiritual fol-de-rol but was present for Uri’s sake.

A dark shape suddenly loomed followed by others. The Ritual was about to begin. Draped and masked figures took their places, two in each of the Directions, while two more stood slightly to the left of the altar. The silence deepened. Another figure in a mask – a bear mask – appeared and sat on the floor on the right side of the altar. On the bearskin that he hadn’t noticed before. Gordy’s bearskin. Ursula…. He settled in another degree into a meditative place and breathing deeply himself, sent grounding energy to his wife as one more figure holding a candle came into the Center with arms outstretched.

 

 

Ursula sat silent and still by the altar. It was good she couldn’t leap up to coach or nudge her students as they made their way through calling in the directions and the elements. She’d insisted they get over the hump of wanting to read their parts. It was always tempting for those new to ritual to script things out. They wanted get it “right.” As if there was a “right.” For her the strong power came when it was done intuitively, when space was left for Spirit to inhabit, inspire and shape the words. Written out it stayed in the literary, planning part of the brain, not nearly as connected to the Creative Source. In her experience Spirit needed a lot of open space. That’s what the first clearing was about – to allow breath in so there was room for inspiration. In-spire. To Breathe. Fern had done a great job of grounding and centering the group. Soon Thea in tandem with Rhea would be telling something of Bear and the intention for the ritual. It was Ursula’s job simply to be, to anchor. She imagined the splash of leaving the boat and sent her claws down deep.

Firmly rooted, yet barely able to see out of the mask even if there had been enough light, she slipped into a dreamy state…. Soon she couldn’t remember what the intention was.… Could people could see her there in the mask?…. It didn’t matter…. She was holding the deep space…. leading them under…. welcoming them there. Being Bear. Her consciousness stretched as she put out her hand to the stuffed head of the real bearskin underneath her. She thanked this particular bear for the gift of its presence in their midst, and felt him in the Spirit world…. lumbering through the woods…. plucking a salmon out of the rushing stream…. Felt his pleasure at finding a stump full of bees…. his sleepiness as this deepest point of winter was reached, the longest night of the year…. Wanting to snuggle with his She-Bear, yet feeling that before relaxing there were some important messages to convey to these two-leggeds gathering here in this Spirit Cave…. Not from themselves necessarily… they were just setting the space…. Being the conduits…

“Is that what Bear does??” thought Ursula and with that thought tuned into the circle again. She should probably be listening while people around the circle spoke of their experiences, what they had dreamt, but somehow she knew that the deeper part of her was hearing them…. Had that been the intention? She didn’t need to take care of those dreams or figure out how to make them real…. They were being felt deep in Bear’s heart. All she needed to do was be Bear…. What do Spirit bears dream about? What will Bear ask of me this night? Or of us all?

 

Molly was enjoying being gathered up in sacred space. To her the feeling was almost tangible – a soft mossy bubble wrap that enveloped them all. She was glad her informal part of grounding Ursula was over early and she had plenty of time to sink into the familiar glow. She had thought about her health issue for a second in the beginning and then successfully pushed it out of her mind. “Let Bear’s healing energy take care of things tonight.” Now the talking stick was being passed around and people were sharing their experiences from the visualization.

Tuning in she realized the person speaking now had a familiar ring that slowly formed an image in her mind…. Ariel.

“…. As Uriel’s voice led us into the forest, I found myself imagining being at the base of a giant Sitka. I could feel hemlock and cedar nearby. A circle of Old Ones told me they are exhausted and need some respite from the caretaking of this place. They were grumpy and frail. They said we’ve put ugly structures on most of their sacred spots and only a few of their tree friends are still standing. They told me I must be part of the change – part of opening the door – part of taking over as a Guardian of the Mountain and this place….”

Her voice trailed off in uncertainty and there was an almost audible hum as everyone absorbed this news.

“I received a similar message.” The voice was Owen’s and Molly’s heart warmed. “I was inside a cave in the Mountain – really, under the Mountain. I couldn’t actually see anybody but I felt a huge, impatient presence. They told me they’ve been watching…. that we are doing a good job stewarding places with the Conservancy Trust…. some of us as individuals as well….” Owen hesitated, trying to speak what had probably not come to him exactly in words. “There is no time to lose, we must find the… meanders…. the paths…. get through the blackberry bushes…. We must see… recognize…. the Old Ones and let them go…. They want to be thanked…. We must step up to the…. the plate…. the table….”

A young man spoke simply after a space of a few heartbeats. “It was all like a dream. I saw myself walking tall and moving forward with my work at the day care center. There are children there who need to be nurtured and taught about Bear and the Mountain and the Old Ones…. This will heal them…. I can do that.”

“I am to study herbs,” said a young voice. Flicker maybe? “There are people here to teach me.”

“The community is ready for what I know…” said Jasmine Terranova.

After each there was the silence of witness. The “how” conversation would come later after the circle was closed and they shared food and chose gifts from the unwrapped offerings under the tree, emerging again into the sparkle of the Holiday season or perhaps even later as things rounded into the New Year.

 

Bear & Ritual Class

“We should do another Bear ritual for Winter Solstice,” said Owen out of the blue as a bunch of them lingered after meditation one evening.  

“You don’t think people get tired of Bear?” asked Ursula. “I don’t of course, but…”

“Who can get tired of Bear?” said June. “She’s such a basic earthy presence. Besides I have a feeling we need her this year.”

“Can you elaborate on that?” asked Ursula.

“I don’t know…It’s like everybody is going through a lot and…”

“Molly, of course,” said Owen.

“Bears keep climbing over the elk fence at the Conservancy Trust garden to get the apples,” said Janna. “I’d like to get in touch with that Spirit a little more.”

“It’s coming on for hibernation and story season, that’s for sure,” contributed Owen.

“Well, I have to admit I did have a dream,” continued June. “Really a fragment of a dream where Ursula’s Mama Bear with the apron was beckoning to me from the clearing. Like she had something to tell me. But when I went towards her she faded away. It felt like it wasn’t just me she wanted to connect with but all of us. Thanks, Owen for bringing it up. I’d actually forgotten the dream.”

“It takes a village….”

“I just don’t want people to feel like I’m pushing my stuff on others,” said Ursula. “Yet I’ve certainly learned to trust your feelings over the years and if no one objects I’d like to have the class take on the event this year. Owen, does your brother Gordy still have the Bear skin from that kill a few years ago?”

“Yes, I’ll ask him if we can use it,” said Owen.

 

“Doing ritual is all about setting intention,” said Ursula to her class gathered in a circle around her on a late November evening, “then playing with the pageantry that wants to unfold. One approach is to act out god and goddess stories like the Women’s Medicine Circle did in September. Our intention then was multi-layered which is not unusual. We wanted to learn what the ancient Demeter-Persephone-Hades myth had to teach us about children growing away from mothers, plus honor the post fall Equinox direction into the dark of the year. In the process it became about how we might change ancient stories to better suit our times. Someday I’d like to act out and shift the Egyptian Isis/Osiris myth in a ritual setting, but that feels too complicated for the moment.” She took a deep breath.

“We almost always do rituals on the spokes of the year’s wheel, but also for an approaching birth or around a loaded subject. Menopause and money are good examples of subjects that push buttons. Once we actually burned some dollar bills. It was literally shocking for all of us, but I’m convinced that breaking that taboo helped bring about the current state of abundance manifesting around here. We let go of some of our attachment and opened up the flows. I’ll tell you more about it one of these days or maybe it’s time for another variation on that theme.” She chuckled, feeling the possibilities for a moment before focusing again.

“There’s a marvelous account in Guliana’s Legacy by Alexis Masters of a huge ritual centered around Aphrodite’s return in small Tuscan town complete with a sacred marriage and the climax of the bad guys vs. the good guys plot. Cerridwen Fallingstar’s Heart of the Fire has some of the best accounts I’ve read of small scale and individual rituals and initiations. It’s from a past life of hers from the Burning Times. Both are on the list I sent out the other day.”

“I love the elaborate stuff just as much as the simplicity of spur of the moment inspiration…. like suddenly consigning old letters or dusty artwork to the fire in a conscious manner. It all works and is important. It is all true as long as we are in true. As long as we are in touch and centered.”

“I’ve been to a few of yours over the years,” said Fern, “and I’m excited about having the chance to experience putting one together. That’s why I signed up for this class.”  Others nodded.

“I’ve never been to such a thing,” said Marsha. “How can I take part without a sense of how it’s supposed to feel?”

“Experience helps but we all had to start somewhere. In the early days very few of us had any practice with ceremony. We wound our way with sheepishness, shyness and bravado to the center, picking up clues along the way. This class has already been practicing with some of the elements of it, you know. Smudging, calling the directions. Setting up the altar. Closing.

“Winter Solstice is coming up,” she continued with a flourish, “when many religions have ceremonies of light to counteract the dark point of the year. I experience it as a high energy time which is kind of counter-intuitive.  Especially thinking of Bear.

“Yet oddly enough, it’s at the Summer Solstice that I have come to expect the laid back energy with lots of lying around and plans going awry – people with big parts not showing up, potlucks getting ruined. We long to be outdoors so rain can be a disturbing factor. It poured the year Native American mucky mucks came for a Medicine Wheel. Another year, leaving in a hurry, I backed one of our cars into the other!

“Winter is the opposite. Is it high because of our hyped up excitement around Christmas and Hanukkah or did our current traditions arise out of a primal urge to dance and make merry at this extreme of the year’s round? Are we simply staving off the dark with manic energy? Certainly the Yule tree, candles and holly wreathes were appropriated from the pagans by the ‘newer’ religions. If you think about it those traditions are an odd way to celebrate what are essentially Middle Eastern events of miraculously burning oil and the birth of an avatar.”

“I don’t care what gets celebrated, but I love the rush of being with people,” said Marsha.

“Making presents,” said Jay.

“Singing carols,” offered Ariel.

“All of that,” agreed Ursula. “Sooo – I’ve volunteered our class to put the Solstice piece together for the community. I invite any of you who are comfortable to take a speaking role in this.”

“Ooh, that makes me… like…really nervous,” said Mariposa.

“Do we know enough for that?” asked Ken.

“You need only do what you are comfortable doing,” Ursula reassured those who were squirming. “You can all be part of the preparation and the overall experience. I sense that it is growing inside of you and it will manifest as you are ready.”

“By coming to this class, you declared yourself up for it at least some degree. Desire to explore at least,” interjected Jay.

Ursula continued, “We rarely repeat the content of a ritual and certainly never do it the same way twice or follow any kind of a script. I experience the speaking parts as having the most punch when they come from a deep place within rather than because of rules, somebody else’s customs or prescribed content. Really we shouldn’t even call it ritual.

“I always think it should be called ceremony.” Owen spoke quietly.

“Yes,” said Ken, “I’ve wondered about that. Ritual sounds so…. ritualistic. Primitive.” Everyone laughed.

“I know,” responded Ursula, “it should be ceremony or even celebration or honoring, and yet…. Maybe it’s about reclaiming that word too…. I don’t know. Ritual is what always comes out of my mouth and I need to trust that too…. Anyway, it isn’t repeated in the sense that it follows a liturgy or script. Thus one important proviso is that I’m a stickler for not reading one’s piece. As said, I feel strongly that it is more powerful when it comes out of the moment – when it is inspired by the energy rising in the group. If it’s written out, it comes from the time and place where you were writing. Plus, reading has a stiltedness that keeps people at a distance. The Dogon in Africa say that the literary part of the brain shuts off the psychic, connecting part. It’s the direct inspiration from Spirit that I like to go for. I’d like you to take the leap from the get-go into trusting the perfection of what comes out of your mouth, even if you forget something “important” that you meant to say. This doesn’t mean you can’t think about it before hand… or that we can’t do that as a group.”

“What do we want our theme to be,” asked Jay who had been in on such planning in the past.

“Normally we would hash that out in the group, sometimes logically and rationally and sometimes because one person has a guidance. It would be good for you to have that experience, but in fact, that part already happened spontaneously outside of this class. I’m suggesting we take the lead from Owen and Janna here, along with guidance from June to focus on Bear.

“What hasn’t been decided is the intention beyond honoring or anything about the content. We can come up with that together. What do we want to accomplish? What is it about Bear that we want to evoke? Or maybe the better starting question is, ‘What do we know about Bear?’ I’d like you to break up into groups of three or four to brainstorm these questions. Here’s pen and paper to jot down what you come up with.”

 

With only a little hustle bustle, they settled into groups and a creative hum ensued. When Ursula called them back together, she asked each sub-group to report on what they found which she summarized on butcher paper:

  • Healer – because bears find their own medicine
  • Growly
  • Fierce, protective Mother
  • Scary
  • Human like – uncannily so when skinned
  • Hibernation – good reason to do it this time of year
  • Dreamer
  • Messenger
  • Story Teller

“What comes to me,” said Uri, “is that our Intention might be for each to listen for Bear’s message for ourselves.”

“Ooo, we could start in the dark,” suggested Ariel.

“Someone could lead a visualization, guide them through the forest and then into a cave….”

“Would you be willing to do that part?” Ursula asked Uri.

“Don’t you want to do it?” he responded deferentially.

“I could, but while you guys were talking I got it that I am supposed to anchor the ritual. That means taking myself out of the action to sit quietly on the sidelines grounding deep into the spirit of the ritual we outline. To hold the space.”

“You won’t be helping us?” asked Janna.

“In a way I will already be in the cave where Uri will lead the rest of you. I’ll be there as Bear.”

There was a little silence while everyone absorbed this information.

“So that’s what’s happening when I see someone sitting so still in the ritual,” said Fern. “I knew various ‘heavies’ were undoubtedly performing some subtle task, but I could never get a handle on exactly what that was.”

“’Weighty Witches,’ I like to call us for all the roles we different play,” chuckled Owen. “After the concept in Quakerism of ‘weighty friends’ rather than designated leaders.”

“It’s hard to describe but hopefully modeling that role will give a sense of how it adds to the ritual.”

“It’s appropriate for you to do that given your connection with Bear and all,” said Jay. “I suggest you ask Pia or Molly or somebody to help us during the setting up. I know that preparing to anchor is a delicate process.“

“Excellent idea!” said Owen.

“But, but….” protested Ursula thinking of all that would need shepherding.

“Now don’t get all controlling,” said Owen. “You can’t have it both ways and I don’t want all that pre-ritual flutter on my shoulders, though I will wear my Eagle mask for overseeing the big picture. I just have to make the eye holes a little bigger.”

In the end Ursula had to give in gracefully. Owen and Jay were right, much as she hated to admit she couldn’t do it all. She flashed on getting someone else to do the anchoring but then relaxed, knowing the students would be fine without her fussing over them and there could be plenty of old hands on deck to help. “Okay, I’ll talk to Molly.”

“I’d be happy to do the visualization,” said Uri, “I’ve had some experience of that and find it powerful.”

Rhea spoke up next. “Glad that’s settled. Shall we call for sharing after the visualization if anything about our own future path comes to us. Sometimes speaking stuff into a circle gives it a little more oomph. I could lead that part.”

“Good idea. Everyone agreed? “

“We could do a part about speaking our intentions for the coming year.”

“That feels like we’re getting too complicated.”

“Agreed,” said Janna and everyone else nodded.

“Who wants to call the directions which usually also involves closing them at the end?”

“I’d like to be Owl in the East,” said Thea. “That’ll stretch me in good ways.”

“Maybe everyone could be a creature. Something that goes inward or connects to Bear.”

“I’ll call in Elk in the North,” said Gabe, surprising himself.

“Gray Whale in the West,” said Ken thoughtfully.

“Can I also be  in the West with Salmon?” asked Janna. “Seems like it would be cool to have something that Bear eats to bring in the food chain concept.”

“I don’t see why we can’t have more than one person in each direction,” agreed Ursula, “That would give each of you a little support. Bringing in Salmon would be a gift to Pia who wants to create salmon honoring ceremony soon.”

“Then I’ll help in the East with Butterfly,” said Mariposa. “I can handle that!”

“Promises of spring,” suggested Thea thinking that Butterfly wasn’t a very wintery creature.

“Cougar in the South,” Jay said.

“I wonder if I should have taken that one,” wondered Thea to herself, thinking of Owen’s admonition about playfulness. She looked up and caught him watching her with a twinkle in his eye. “Can he read my mind?” she wondered.

“Beaver in the South,” said Marsha, “I might as well live up to my nickname, plus I wanted something in the marshes.” Everyone laughed feeling how appropriate that was.

“Mountain in the North,” volunteered Ariel. “Could we all make masks? I’d be willing to lead an extra session or two at the Art Center for that.”

“Cool!”

“I’m in.”

“Me too.”

“You guys are ambitious. Let’s see how that plays out,” suggested Ursula. “Center?”

“Could I do the grounding first from the Center?” asked Fern.

“Good for you,” said Ursula proud of seeing her step forward. “It looks like everyone has a speaking part. That’s great. On to practical earth-plane details. Can somebody take notes? We’ll use the next sessions to iron out details and practice.”

“I can light the fire in the fireplace,” offered Jay. “And we can bring the big red parachute to create the cave.”

“We’ve got pillows and futons to lend from Benden Farm,” Rhea said thinking of previous rituals.“

“It’s coming together,” marveled Ursula honoring the thoughtful flow of inspiration.

 

 

 

Bear & Ritual Class

 

“We should do another Bear ritual for Winter Solstice,” said Owen out of the blue as a bunch of them lingered after meditation one evening.

“You don’t think people get tired of Bear?” asked Ursula. “I don’t of course, but…”

“Who can get tired of Bear?” said June. “She’s such a basic earthy presence. Besides I have a feeling we need her this year.”

“Can you elaborate on that?” asked Ursula.

“I don’t know…It’s like everybody is going through a lot and…”

“Molly, of course,” said Owen.

“Bears keep climbing over the elk fence at the Conservancy Trust garden to get the apples,” said Janna. “I’d like to get in touch with that Spirit a little more.”

“It’s coming on for hibernation and story season, that’s for sure,” contributed Owen.

“Well, I have to admit I did have a dream,” continued June. “Really a fragment of a dream where Ursula’s Mama Bear with the apron was beckoning to me from the clearing. Like she had something to tell me. But when I went towards her she faded away. It felt like it wasn’t just me she wanted to connect with but all of us. Thanks, Owen for bringing it up. I’d actually forgotten the dream.”

“It takes a village….”

“I just don’t want people to feel like I’m pushing my stuff on others,” said Ursula. “Yet I’ve certainly learned to trust your feelings over the years and if no one objects I’d like to have the class take on the event this year. Owen, does your brother Gordy still have the Bear skin from that kill a few years ago?”

“Yes, I’ll ask him if we can use it,” said Owen.

 

“Doing ritual is all about setting intention,” said Ursula to her class gathered in a circle around her on a late November evening, “then playing with the pageantry that wants to unfold. One approach is to act out god and goddess stories like the Women’s Medicine Circle did in September. Our intention then was multi-layered which is not unusual. We wanted to learn what the ancient Demeter-Persephone-Hades myth had to teach us about children growing away from mothers, plus honor the post fall Equinox direction into the dark of the year. In the process it became about how we might change ancient stories to better suit our times. Someday I’d like to act out and shift the Egyptian Isis/Osiris myth in a ritual setting, but that feels too complicated for the moment.” She took a deep breath.

“We almost always do rituals on the spokes of the year’s wheel, but also for an approaching birth or around a loaded subject. Menopause and money are good examples of subjects that push buttons. Once we actually burned some dollar bills. It was literally shocking for all of us, but I’m convinced that breaking that taboo helped bring about the current state of abundance manifesting around here. We let go of some of our attachment and opened up the flows. I’ll tell you more about it one of these days or maybe it’s time for another variation on that theme.” She chuckled, feeling the possibilities for a moment before focusing again.

“There’s a marvelous account in Guliana’s Legacy by Alexis Masters of a huge ritual centered around Aphrodite’s return in small Tuscan town complete with a sacred marriage and the climax of the bad guys vs. the good guys plot. Cerridwen Fallingstar’s Heart of the Fire has some of the best accounts I’ve read of small scale and individual rituals and initiations. It’s from a past life of hers from the Burning Times. Both are on the list I sent out the other day.”

“I love the elaborate stuff just as much as the simplicity of spur of the moment inspiration…. like suddenly consigning old letters or dusty artwork to the fire in a conscious manner. It all works and is important. It is all true as long as we are in true. As long as we are in touch and centered.”

“I’ve been to a few of yours over the years,” said Fern, “and I’m excited about having the chance to experience putting one together. That’s why I signed up for this class.”  Others nodded.

“I’ve never been to such a thing,” said Marsha. “How can I take part without a sense of how it’s supposed to feel?”

“Experience helps but we all had to start somewhere. In the early days very few of us had any practice with ceremony. We wound our way with sheepishness, shyness and bravado to the center, picking up clues along the way. This class has already been practicing with some of the elements of it, you know. Smudging, calling the directions. Setting up the altar. Closing.

“Winter Solstice is coming up,” she continued with a flourish, “when many religions have ceremonies of light to counteract the dark point of the year. I experience it as a high energy time which is kind of counter-intuitive.  Especially thinking of Bear.

“Yet oddly enough, the laid back energy is what I have come to expect at the Summer Solstice with lots of lying around and plans going awry – people with big parts not showing up, potlucks getting ruined. We long to be outdoors so rain can be a disturbing factor. It poured the year Native American mucky mucks came for a Medicine Wheel. Another year, leaving in a hurry, I backed one of our cars into the other!

“Winter is the opposite. Is it high because of our hyped up excitement around Christmas and Hanukkah or did our current traditions arise out of a primal urge to dance and make merry at this extreme of the year’s round? Are we simply staving off the dark with manic energy? Certainly the Yule tree, candles and holly wreathes were appropriated from the pagans by the ‘newer’ religions. If you think about it those traditions are an odd way to celebrate what are essentially Middle Eastern events of miraculously burning oil and the birth of an avatar.”

“I don’t care what gets celebrated, but I love the rush of being with people,” said Marsha.

“Making presents,” said Jay.

“Singing carols,” offered Ariel.

“All of that,” agreed Ursula. “Sooo – I’ve volunteered our class to put the Solstice piece together for the community. I invite any of you who are comfortable to take a speaking role in this.”

“Ooh, that makes me… like…really nervous,” said Mariposa.

“Do we know enough for that?” asked Ken.

“You need only do what you are comfortable doing,” Ursula reassured those who were squirming. “You can all be part of the preparation and the overall experience. My sense is that it is growing inside of you and will manifest as you are ready.”

“By coming to this class, you declared yourself up for it at least some degree. Desire to explore at least,” interjected Jay.

Ursula continued, “We rarely repeat the content of a ritual and certainly never do it the same way twice or follow any kind of a script. I experience the speaking parts as having the most punch when they come from a deep place within rather than because of rules, somebody else’s customs or prescribed content. Really we shouldn’t even call it ritual.

“I always think it should be called ceremony.” Owen spoke quietly.

“Yes,” said Ken, “I’ve wondered about that. Ritual sounds so…. ritualistic. Primitive.” Everyone laughed.

“I know,” responded Ursula, “it should be ceremony or even celebration or honoring, and yet…. Maybe it’s about reclaiming that word too…. I don’t know. Ritual is what always comes out of my mouth and I need to trust that too…. Anyway, it isn’t repeated in the sense that it follows a liturgy or script. Thus one important proviso is that I’m a stickler for not reading one’s piece. As said, I feel strongly that it is more powerful when it comes out of the moment – when it is inspired by the energy rising in the group. If it’s written out, it comes from the time and place where you were writing. Plus, reading has a stiltedness that keeps people at a distance. The Dogon in Africa say that the literary part of the brain shuts off the psychic, connecting part. It’s the direct inspiration from Spirit that I like to go for. I’d like you to take the leap from the get-go into trusting the perfection of what comes out of your mouth, even if you forget something “important” that you meant to say. This doesn’t mean you can’t think about it before hand… or that we can’t do that as a group.”

“What do we want our theme to be,” asked Jay who had been in on such planning in the past.

“Normally we would hash that out in the group, sometimes logically and rationally and sometimes because one person has a guidance. It would be good for you to have that experience, but in fact, that part already happened spontaneously outside of this class. I’m suggesting we take the lead from Owen and Janna here, along with guidance from June to focus on Bear.

“What hasn’t been decided is the intention beyond honoring or anything about the content. We can come up with that together. What do we want to accomplish? What is it about Bear that we want to evoke? Or maybe the better starting question is, ‘What do we know about Bear?’ I’d like you to break up into groups of three or four to brainstorm these questions. Here’s pen and paper to jot down what you come up with.”

 

With only a little hustle bustle, they settled into groups and a creative hum ensued. When Ursula called them back together, she asked each sub-group to report on what they found which she summarized on butcher paper:

Healer – because bears find their own medicine

Growly

Fierce, protective Mother

Scary

Human like – uncannily so when skinned

Hibernation – good reason to do it this time of year

Dreamer

Messenger

Story Teller

“What comes to me,” said Uri, “is that our Intention might be for each to listen for Bear’s message for ourselves.”

“Ooo, we could start in the dark,” suggested Ariel.

“Someone could lead a visualization, guide them through the forest and then into a cave….”

“Would you be willing to do that part?” Ursula asked Uri.

“Don’t you want to do it?” he responded deferentially.

“I could, but while you guys were talking I got it that I am supposed to anchor the ritual. That means taking myself out of the action to sit quietly on the sidelines grounding deep into the spirit of the ritual we outline. To hold the space.”

“You won’t be helping us?” asked Janna.

“In a way I will already be in the cave where Uri will lead the rest of you. I’ll be there as Bear.”

There was a little silence while everyone absorbed this information.

“So that’s what you guys are doing when I see you sitting so still in the ritual,” said Fern. “I knew various ‘heavies’ were undoubtedly performing some subtle task, but I could never get a handle on exactly what that was.”

“’Weighty Witches,’ I like to call us,” chuckled Owen. “After the concept in Quakerism of ‘weighty friends’ rather than designated leaders.”

“It’s hard to describe but hopefully modeling that role will give a sense of how it adds to the ritual.”

“It’s appropriate for you to do that given your connection with Bear and all,” said Jay. “I suggest you ask Pia or Molly or somebody to help us during the setting up. I know that preparing to anchor is a delicate process.“

“Excellent idea!” said Owen.

“But, but….” protested Ursula thinking of all that would need shepherding.

“Now don’t get all controlling,” said Owen. “You can’t have it both ways and I don’t want all that pre-ritual flutter on my shoulders, though I will wear my Eagle mask for overseeing the big picture. I just have to make the eye holes a little bigger.”

In the end Ursula had to give in gracefully. Owen and Jay were right, much as she hated to admit she couldn’t do it all. She flashed on getting someone else to do the anchoring but then relaxed, knowing the students would be fine without her fussing over them and there could be plenty of old hands on deck to help. “Okay, I’ll talk to Molly.”

“I’d be happy to do the visualization,” said Uri, “I’ve had some experience of that and find it powerful.”

Rhea spoke up next. “Glad that’s settled. Shall we call for sharing after the visualization if anything about our own future path comes to us. Sometimes speaking stuff into a circle gives it a little more oomph. I could lead that part.”

“Good idea. Everyone agreed? “

“We could do a part about speaking our intentions for the coming year.”

“That feels like we’re getting too complicated.”

“Agreed,” said Janna and everyone else nodded.

“Who wants to call the directions which usually also involves closing them at the end?”

“I’d like to be Owl in the East,” said Thea. “That’ll stretch me in good ways.”

“Maybe everyone could be a creature. Something that goes inward or connects to Bear.”

“I’ll call in Elk in the North,” said Gabe, surprising himself.

“Gray Whale in the West,” said Ken thoughtfully.

“Can I also be Salmon in the West?” asked Janna. “Seems like it would be cool to have something that Bear eats to bring in the food chain concept.”

“I don’t see why we can’t have more than one person in each direction,” agreed Ursula, “That would give each of you a little support. Bringing in Salmon would be a gift to Pia who wants to create salmon honoring ceremony soon.”

“Then I’ll help in the East with Butterfly,” said Mariposa. “I can handle that!”

“Promises of spring,” suggested Thea thinking that Butterfly wasn’t a very wintery creature.

“Cougar in the South,” Jay said.

“I wonder if I should have taken that one,” wondered Thea to herself, thinking of Owen’s admonition about playfulness. She looked up and caught him watching her with a twinkle in his eye. “Can he read my mind?” she wondered.

“Beaver in the South,” said Marsha, “I might as well live up to my nickname, plus I wanted something in the marshes.” Everyone laughed feeling how appropriate that was.

“Mountain in the North,” volunteered Ariel. “Could we all make masks? I’d be willing to lead an extra session or two at the Art Center for that.”

“Cool!”

“I’m in.”

“Me too.”

“You guys are ambitious. Let’s see how that plays out,” suggested Ursula. “Center?”

“Could I do the grounding first from the Center?” asked Fern.

“Good for you,” said Ursula proud of seeing her step forward. “It looks like everyone has a speaking part. That’s great. On to practical earth-plane details. Can somebody take notes? We’ll use the next sessions to iron out details and practice.”

“I can light the fire in the fireplace,” offered Jay. “And we can bring the big red parachute to create the cave.”

“We’ve got pillows and futons to lend from Benden Farm,” Rhea said thinking of previous rituals.“

“It’s coming together,” marveled Ursula honoring the thoughtful flow of inspiration.