SisterSpirit Candlemas Ritual
SisterSpirit traditionally celebrates the fire festival of Candlemas for our February ritual. In this ritual, we honor all the Fire Goddesses, but especially the Celtic Goddess Brigid, in her aspect of Goddess of the Forge. Candlemas is a time of anticipation of rebirth. It's still very cold outside, and while some buds are starting to swell, most growth is still dormant, at least to the naked eye. But appearances don't change the energy we feel. We know that life is stirring again in the seed. We're starting to get a little antsy. With this ritual, our circle's energy joined in the growing energy all around us. We followed Brigid into her secret forge and let her do her work on us.
We're still in the Echo Theater, our home during the cooler months. About 30 women participated. Here's the ritual program:
Casting the Circle
In a break from our usual custom of casting the circle by the actions of those entering within it, three women cast the circle before the ritual began. They followed each other in line, rattling, carrying a candle flame around, and spreading salt. These are women of great spiritual intensity. There are more ways than one to approach Goddess. At SisterSpirit, no method of worship is graven in stone. Departure from our usual practice just means that someone was inspired to do it, and we gave her the chance to follow her vision.
We entered the circle through a tunnel of arms raised like children playing London Bridge. We called this a birth canal. We decided our backs weren't as forgiving as they used to be, and we didn't want to drag women along the floor on their backs between our legs. Ergonomically reckless, that is. Why a birth canal? Because Candlemas, the time of quickening, is a traditional time of initiation in European nature traditions, and there were some new SisterSpirit members we wanted to welcome into our circle. They and the circle casters entered first. Then, the outermost couple of women holding hands up like London Bridge entered, then the second to last, and the tunnel grew shorter. The last two women dropped arms and entered. We had made a mysterious journey and were inside the cast circle.
As we entered, we sang:
There's a river of birds in migration
Invocation of the Directions
We designate four women to call the directions, and then let each invoke the direction as she wishes. Occasionally, we write these out, but usually, it's up to each invoker. That was the case with this ritual.
The invocation of the South was especially powerful. Ieardeth had lived in Hawaii for many years and had studied Pele's ways. She wore a red Hawaiian print mumu. First, she drummed on a gourd, then she invoked Pele in Hawaiian. I think we all felt shivers down our spines.
Invocation of Brigid
Brigid Owlwoman is a red-haired Crone with a particular affinity for Brigid. Well, the name probably gives that away. Brigid had visited the British Isles last summer, and she brought back some water from Brigid's Well in Ireland. She had placed a photo of the well on the altar in front of a little bowl containing some of that holy water. She stepped forward to invoke Brigid into our circle.
Welcoming of the Season of Imbolc
Ieardeth, the woman in the red mumu, walked slowly around the circle and spoke about the season of Imbolc, or Candlemas. She talked about the coming of growth - not yet, but soon. She spoke of the dedication to change that such newness inspires. This is a time to forge new links and to re-examine old ones. Are they still good? Are they worth repairing? What should be carried forward, and what needs to be shed? Ieardeth has been in women's circles for a long time now. She knows what sacred drama is all about. She walks slowly, with dignity, speaks softly, but with power. Finally, she stopped before her partner, another woman in the circle, and spoke of commitment. We felt the inspiration of the season in her words and how she said them.
Meditation: The Way to Brigid's Ford
Now, another woman in our circle, Frodo, followed Ieardeth's lead and led us in a meditation that led the way to Brigid's secret inner places. She described her own trip to Britian, to Glastonbury Tor, where she had experienced something holy. We made our way up to the top of the Tor, in our spirit journey, each alone. The weather was cool, cloudy, not raining, but air damp with moisture. On the solitary climb up the hill, a little hole in the side of the hill expands before us, and what seemed like a rabbit hole grew mysteriously larger as we approached. We enter into the dreamlike opening. It is dark. We wind our way down into the heart of the hill, drawn by something we can't explain. Each of us becomes aware that we are holding a bag, and we know that it contains our burden of guilt. It's heavy, but we carry it with us, the only familiar thing in a dark and none-too-comforting place. A light grows ahead, and we approach it. It is red, like flame. We round a corner, and come into a room where a beautiful woman is working a forge. Her hair is red, and moves as if alive like a flame. Even her eyes seem to be burning, even though they're green and cool.
She asks each of us for our bundle, and, at first, each of us is reluctant to give it up. Burden though it is, it's the only connection we have with what we left behind, out in the world where Glastonbury Tor rises. But She can't be resisted, and each of us gives her our bag at last. She tells us it is heavy, too heavy to manage in our lives, and she invites us to discard something in it. She puts it on her forge, and works it down. We see her hammer, put it into the fire, hammer again, fire again. Finally, she thrusts it into cold water, and hands it back to us. Our bags are lighter. She tells us, "You need to keep something to remind you to take care and to care for others around you, but it doesn't need to be as heavy as you made it."
Then, She gives us a gift, something she forged from the remains of the burden we all carried. Each woman puts her gift away. It is secret and holy. We leave Her forge and make good speed back up the dark passageway to the cool, cloudy, moist air on the hill. The bag of guilt and the gift together do not weigh what the bag alone did before. Now, back on the hill, in the light of day, it is still winter, but we are refreshed and ready to move foward through the rolling year ahead.
Leaping the Cauldron
Now it's time to raise a little fire energy! A small wok is placed on a wooden stand, and epsom salts and alcohol are poured into it and lit. This is a neat trick for lighting a fire indoors. It doesn't release carbon monoxide and doesn't burn that hot. It's still fire, and you have to be careful, but it's a relatively safe way to have an open flame indoors.
Each of us took a turn leaping the flames to engender our new dream for the coming season. The spirit in which you do ritual is everything; exactly how, physically, you approach the cauldron doesn't matter. One woman in our circle has her foot in a cast. She ambled up to the cauldron and waved her other foot over the flame. Some leaped high. Others were a little cautious. After the first passes, some made additional passes. Groups of women who had something in common leaped over; Ieardeth and her partner made a convincing leap. The SisterSpirit Council joined hands and leaped en masse. Friends made passes over. Many leaped just once. Some who seemed to have decided not to leap suddenly turned and jumped over. All the time we did this, we sang:
We will rise with the fire of freedom,
The Spiral Dance
When the fire had filled our spirits, we began a spiral dance, which ended up as concentric circles around the altar. Ritual has a life of its own. At the peak, we raised our arms and howled to Brigid and to all the Fire Goddesses. We kept howling. It would die down, and then someone would start it up again, and we all felt the energy coursing again. We made a tremendous noise. Then, finally, we released. We sank down, and returned the excess energy back to the earth.
As we quieted down, the Irish bar whose back shares a wall with the Echo Theater erupted with some hearty yells. We giggled. Clearly, Brigid's energy was coursing through all of us!
Our Spiral Dance song was:
Spirit fire, spark of freedom,
We feasted to Brigid with aethelbroth, or milk and honey. We had some apple juice handy for those who had dairy allergies or who just didn't like the idea of milk and honey. Again, it's the spirit that counts, not the form of the ritual. The new members served the feast. We all thanked the Goddess for her gifts and her bounty.
Passing the Basket
We ask our sisters in the circle to share a little of their wealth with us so that we can keep on renting space to hold our rituals in.
We devoked in opposite order from the invocations, as Goddess circles generally do. First, Brigid was dearly thanked, then Hestia, then Pele, again with drum and Hawaiian song, then Cerridwyn, then, finally, the New World Goddess Tonontzin, the Aztec Goddess who later showed herself as Our Lady of Guadalupe on the site of Her old temple.
After devocation, we sang:
The earth, the water, the fire, the air
Ending the Ritual
Well, what do you know. We ended with a group hug! We chanted our traditional opening of the circle, "The circle is open, but unbroken. Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again!" Then, we headed for one of those American-food chain restaurants for more feasting. Never forget - you can find the spirit anywhere!
May the peace of the Goddess be ever in our hearts.