Last night, I had the honour of leading my first ever group ritual for Lammas/Lughnasadh with Medway Pagans. It was such a hugely significant event for me and I’m so glad I did it!
As with all rituals, it began with writing it. I’d never written my own group ritual before (my handfasting one was a combination of the one pre-written by Dode with additions from my friend Phoenix Rose), so I felt intimidated the task at first and it took me a long time to actually get down to writing anything! But after reading up on rites for Lammas in my books and online, I got an idea in mind for what to do. I decided to focus on the Golden Bough-esque theme of the Corn Spirit sacrificing himself for our food, and additionally I adapted an old Anglo-Saxon spell in which the Lammas loaf was cut into quarters and each quarter placed at the four corners of a barn to protect the grain. I also incorporated the words from the song “Corn King” by Inkubus Sukkubus and the poem “John Barleycorn” by Robert Burns!
While writing the ritual, it occurred to me that Lammas was a really suitable Sabbat for me to hold my first ever group rite. I was assigned Lammas because it’s perceived as fairly “minor” by several members and it’d therefore be a good one for a beginner, but I actually thought it was perfect for me for several other reasons:
- It’s the Sabbat closest to my anniversary, which is a very spiritually significant event for me
- It’s a festival of grain, a key attribute of my patron deity Inari Okami
- An awful lot of the Lammas concepts, such as the sacredness of bread, and the idea of the God sacrificing himself (and “eating the God” in the form of bread), are shared in Catholicism – and I’m a former Catholic. Indeed, Lammas is one of those Sabbats that is syncretic between Paganism and Christianity.
In fact, once I’d finished writing it, I was struck with how similar so many of the elements of my ritual happened to resemble those of a Catholic mass. One day I shall have to write a post exploring the similarities between Catholicism and Paganism – despite their history of antagonism, there’s a lot they have in common.
I found myself in two minds about whether to begin the ritual with the HI-FU-MI Shinto norito, which is generally what I do at the beginning of my own solo rituals these days. On the one hand, I felt that I wanted to share Shinto with other members…but on the other, the Shinto norito is quite removed from anything in Western Paganism that I thought it might be a little weird, or that people would think I was trying to push Shinto too much. Because I was so undecided about it, I decided to leave it off the ritual script that I printed for participants.
Before leaving for the moot, I did offer norito to Inari-sama at the shrine I’ve now set up for him in the new house (I’ll do a post about this sometime soon). I asked her for guidance and to give me confidence. It also seemed appropriate as I’d included him under the many deities to be invoked at the ritual.
On the day of the moot itself, I was predictably pretty nervous. I had hoped to hold it outside, but the news had forecast rain so rather than take the risk I thought we’d have it inside (actually it turned out to be a very clear night, but never mind!). I had asked everyone to bring something as an offering from the altar, and was overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiasm and generosity. People brought bread, home-made cakes, biscuits, fruit and flowers, to name but a few. The photo above shows just a small portion of what people brought. It made for a very impressive altar to the Gods and Goddesses!
I’d said on previous occasions that if I ever led a Medway Pagans ritual, I would incorporate a little Shinto somewhere. So people were a little surprised that the altar I’d set up was very traditionally Western Pagan with not much in the way of Japanese things. I took this as an indication that people would be be open to me beginning the ritual with the Shinto norito, so I did!
And I’m really glad I did. Not only was it really well-received, but I think it actually did help to build up the right kind of atmosphere – it certainly helped me to calm my nerves and to feel more in tune with the ritual’s energies, and I hope it made other people feel that way. I do think that norito, when chanted well, really does exert a strange kind of power.
The rest of the ritual went pretty well for my first time – largely thanks to everyone’s support. I’d picked four members to play the roles of North, South, East and West, as they were integral to the Lammas loaf spell, and they were really good at their role. Moreover, Abi Normal (one of the founding members), who has many years’ experience doing this, was really supportive and helped the ritual along by carefully directing people where necessary and reminding me of things I might have forgotten!
After the Lammas ritual, Abi Normal also held a cleansing-charging spell, as the energies of the upcoming Blue Moon made it the perfect occasion for this. In a similar way to our cleansing ritual last year, we purified our crystals, wands, talismans and other tools (I took the opportunity to cleanse my athame) in Earth, Water, Fire, Air (incense) and anointing oils, ready to set out before the Full Moon.
We ended by closing our circle as usual! Everyone was so nice afterwards and gave me some really nice comments on how the ritual went.
After the Ritual
It’s become something of a tradition that when we hold indoor rituals, we take a little of the cakes and ale outside to offer to the trees (there’s some lovely oak trees outside the club). When we went out this time, something amazing happened – we spotted a fox! This is the first time I have ever seen a fox by the club post-ritual and it was incredible – not only are foxes the messengers of my patron Inari-sama, but we had specifically called upon Inari-sama during the ritual. This fox was really bold, and watched us with an unusual intent; he was sat bolt upright on his haunches, rather like a cat. This is in fact the post that many fox statues at Inari shrines take. I took this as a very significant sign that Inari-sama was happy with how the ritual went and was pleased that I had included the norito and mentioned her.
Once we all went indoors, there followed the rather long task of dismantling the altar and tidying up.
As I said, I was so, so happy to have led a ritual for the first time. It’s really hard work – holding a ritual, including research, writing, getting materials, setting up the altar, and tidying up, takes hours. But it was so rewarding, I would very gladly do it again. Yes it was nerve-wracking, and it’s certainly much calmer and more relaxed to have someone else take the lead, but I am so proud to have done it. And it certainly made me appreciate the level of dedication and enthusiasm that other people put into their rituals – I realise now that they only made it look easy, when in fact it’s not so easy at all! When the circle closes around you and you’re the centre of attention beside your altar, it’s easy to get stage-fright. It’s also made me realised the importance of a kind, supportive and enthusiastic group – without everyone’s encouragement and guidance, it definitely wouldn’t have been as successful.I have learned a lot from the experience and I can’t wait to do lead my next one!