Imbolc 01 Ritual Report: Green Man Grove

Edwin Chapman, Grove Scribe

"Wit is Wisdom in Running Shoes"

-A Quote from Senior Druid Norma Hoffman on the Virtue of Wisdom

Woden’s Day, January 31st, before the ritual, Norma and I drove out to Donaldson Park by the Raritan and I cut a few reeds with my sickle. It really felt like spring, the river high and air not too cold. There was a bit of green shoot in the base of the reeds I cut, a sign that spring might come early. Brought the reeds home and set them down in the hallway. Norma will make a Brigid’s Dolly to offer to Brigid in the fire. We hung out a cloth with a green-red cross-weave pattern on the line outside overnight for Brigid to bless. Burning beeswax candles from Shop-Rite. Just found out that the Middlesex County College Wiccan Club would like us to lecture Frigga’s Day on Imbolc traditions.

Imbolc sort of “comes when it comes”. There’s really no traditional day for the fire festivals, they tend to be on different days in different communities in Europe and the British Isles. A lot of it depends on signs in nature, and what the community is doing. The old Druids would not have relied on a calendar created by Julius Caesar modified by a Catholic Pope. We had our grove Imbolc on Feb. 3rd, a Saturn’s Day.
The Dedicant’s meeting before the ritual was very serious and focused and intelligent: Norma, me, Erica, Hillary, Brenda and Bilé. We read our papers describing what we thought of ADF’s suggested Virtues, and then talked about what guides us and makes us proud of ourselves– what we thought the virtues should be. Bilé argued that we shouldn't even begin to talk about specific virtues until we researched the sources of our ethical system, starting in ancient Greece and working our way through Aristotle to modern ethicists. Others argued that you didn't need to know the theory of electrons in order to wire your house, or replace a light bulb; these virtues are like the rules of a game, a way to create a society of people who respect one another and can count on one another. Bilé responded that all he really wanted was to have the DP group spend some time reading Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics (as Ian has already referenced this work in the DP material) and a paper by Martha Nussbaum on the nature of virtue-based ethics. The discussion left the dedicants really focused for the ritual.

Folks began to arrive for Imbolc around 3pm. I had the grove Bilé altar placed on the floor, the well empty, 9 candles arranged in a circle, and an extra candle for the outsiders... sickle, water and cups, Brigid’s dolly of broom and lace, Brigid’s brats in a basket... the Green Man mask was hooked up to the curio cabinet with the reeds from the park stuffed in back of it.

After the ritual we tried to make a list of who was here. We counted 32 people, but it seemed like more than that. Still, not bad. About the same as Yule, not as many as Samhain, but Samhain’s tourist season...
At about 4:30 Norma started the pre-ritual briefing. She did it so well that Pattie and Bill and I were looking at each other– going “Go Norma!” About 10 of the folks there had never been to an ADF Druid ritual. She finished the pre-rit about 5:15 and gave everyone a pee break. I changed into my robe and went outside and got some snow to put in the well.

After a short talk about the season, Mike Ream invoked the Earth Mother. Norma assigned the parts at the pre-ritual briefing, so folks had about 40 minutes to prepare. Most of our grove consists of experienced Druids and they know we rely on inspiration and eloquence rather than rote and little pieces of paper.
The role of the Liturgist in Green Man– I should say Liturgists– is to plan out the basic idea of the ritual and the focus of it– in this case the Druid Virtues and the usual traditional Imbolc customs involving Brigid– and to explain that clearly beforehand and to train people to perform various elements of the ritual by teaching them the reasons behind the invocations. The liturgist is also responsible for keeping the energy of the ritual growing smoothly and to act as ringmaster, ensuring the continuity of the thing. Norma, as Senior Druid, is also responsible for the magical acts during the ritual: opening the gates, the main sacrifice, consecrating the waters.

If a liturgist writes out the entire ritual and all the parts he might as well go home and do it himself– it’s not a grove ritual. I don’t need to know every time what my liturgist thinks of the ancestors, I want to know what each person in my grove thinks about them.

I’m mentioning this for a reason: because we rely on eloquence and inspiration, we rely on Brigid a whole lot to help us out in a very immediate way. She’s our grove Patroness and Bardic Deity.

In any case, after we honored the Earth Mother, and after Norma led us in the Two Powers meditation, there was a loud knock on the outside door. I went to answer it, and Erica escorted Brigid in. Erica was dressed in a really snazzy tailored suit as Brigid’s escort for the evening. As she returned to the room with the Brigid dolly, I got the sense of a really large presence following her and entering the house– much larger than I ever pictured Brigid in my head, which was really startling. A sort-of cloak-covered shape– an orange and gold cloak– and so tall She had to duck through the doors to get into the room. I don’t know if Erica saw this. I saw it too suddenly and unexpectedly to call it a visualization, although I should say as a disclaimer that I had a pretty bad cold and taken some prescription-strength Sudafed before the ritual, and I hadn’t had much sleep the night before....

We all welcomed Brigid into the house.

I pointed out the four directions. I still don’t see the rationale behind the “Druid Directions” the way that ADF does them. I’m very uncomfortable with them. However, I think it’s a good idea to point out what’s around the ritual space in each direction so people know where they are in a geographic sense. Most people get to rituals driving on superhighways, and people don’t know geography very well. I think there’s a need to remind folks of the oceans, rivers, mountains and towns surrounding the ritual space, so we know we’re part of a larger world, and that helps us to create the ritual space as the center of all worlds. I usually end with “any point in an infinite space can be the center, any point on the outside of a sphere can be the center, and we’re making this room, right here, the center.”

Then Pattie came out of the kitchen to invoke the well– and was alarmed that it was full of ice and snow!– just as you would be if you checked your well outside this time of year. She recovered gracefully, and invoked the well nicely. Hillary invoked the sacred fire, stretching up and lighting the candle on top of the Bilé. Conny invoked the tree.

Norma asked Manannan to open the gates– let the well be a gate, let the fire be a gate, let the tree be a gate– and we all shouted “let the gates be open”. And they opened, very clearly and forcefully.
Erica acknowledged the Outsiders, reminding us of who the outsiders might be and of the outsider parts of ourselves that might like to wait outside the ritual space. I followed her out with the lit outsiders’ candle.
Even though the space was crowded, I think that everyone could see what was going on. I was sitting by the Bilé where I could light the candles for each invocation, and I could feel the energy of the ritual emanating from that point, sort of like the heat from a fire.

I invoked Brigid for bardic inspiration, as we always do, asking her for eloquence and ringing a small golden bell shaped like an apple. We sang a really bluesy version of Peg Kaan Bauman’s song, “Lady Brigid of the Bards”.

Lady Sue invoked the ancestors, and asked everyone to bring their own ancestors into the room. Then we sang the ADF “Ancestor’s Song”. Xuk invoked the Nature Spirits— and asked us all to invoke our own nature spirits and spirits of place, our sacred spaces, houses, cities, totem animals, etc... Then he exhorted us, like a southern preacher, to wake them up, and we all yelled three times, “Wake Up!”. We sang “Fur and Feather”... Goddesses and Gods were invoked by Deb. Although Deb’s been to a bunch of our rituals and is a Grove member, she’s never felt comfortable enough to stand up and invoke anything. Her first grove invocation was beautiful, one of the best of the ritual. It was personal and universal, well said, and she was relaxed and charismatic.

Then, we all invoked our deities, adding to the already crowded spiritual space. Erica went outside the house and brought Brigid in a third time for the main invocation. Erica had a bag of “Brigid stuff” that she handed randomly out to folks: a hammer for smithcraft, a pen for poetry, a candle for the hearth, a book of clip-art for artwork and web pages.... We sang “Brigid’s Jig”– written by our former bard, Brigid Bardette. Now the atmosphere in the room was warm –a golden-red glow, like a big apple– and we began to offer our praises. In the invitations to the ritual, everyone was instructed to think about the virtue most important to them. Norma explained this again, and Erica passed around an inflatable Earth ball. As each person got the world in his or her hands, they talked about the virtue most important to them, or one that they were trying to develop. At first I thought we’d made a mistake– even my virtue, awe and reverence, took me a while to explain– and Erica and I looked at each other, like, Oh shit, how did we let this happen? Yet, as people talked, it seemed the time flew by. Everybody was taking this very seriously, and it was obvious they’d given the task much thought. This also fueled many post-ritual discussions, getting strangers together to talk about common virtues, or ones that they thought were interesting or surprising. We ended the praises by singing Sue’s song about Spring coming in, everyone singing the chorus.

Then I took the well out from under the Bilé, mentioning that the ice was melting, and explained about burning Yule greens at Imbolc, and I symbolically burned a few pieces sprigs of pine, making a nice clean fire on top of the snow in the well. This was a lot of fun for me, and a good dramatic effect, even if it did set the smoke detector off as the fire burned out. I gracefully jumped up on a folding chair, balancing precariously, and removed the smoke detector, saying that we’d planned that. Another sign of Brigid: fire alarms and fire engines!

We replaced the well, and Norma performed the main sacrifice, cutting and breaking a small fluffy stalk of reed. As we drummed, Celestina scryed the omen in the wood door to the bathroom– the omen received was “a praying mantis turning into a butterfly”. We hoped that like her last omen, this might concern George Bush, but all agreed on the value of praying mantises and butterflies and the strong and the weak virtues in ourselves, and how virtues can turn praying mantises into butterflies, and vice-versa...

Norma hallowed the waters– we responded with voice and hand gestures– the “passers out” passed out cups and we toasted and drank.

As the ritual wound down, we thanked the assembled kindreds and deities, the gate closed with a big “slam”, and the rite was ended. Afterwards– for the rest of the night– I was wandering around with a bit of tunnel vision. I was blaming it on the decongestant until, while I talking with Mike and Jacquie they mentioned that when the gate closed it closed so hard that they felt their heads collapse and they were still a little withdrawn from it. They and I were closest to the Bilé when the gates closed, and I think we got our heads caught in it.
The ritual really seemed to bring out a warm community feeling in everyone: a very loving ritual and feast.