New moon and reading discussion

Time to catch up on a few bits of recent events.

Life of a coven:

We have, so far, done several rituals together.

  • a founding of the group ritual.
  • a ritual further exploring potential interested deities.
  • a trad-specific ritual that falls around January/February most years.
  • Ostara
  • the April new moon

They are going very nicely, and we are beginning to see our particular preferred methods and adaptations for 2 people, and different sized spaces coming together. We have plans for altar cloths, and for how we generally want to handle quarter altars. More on this in a bit.

For the new moon, we did a meditation focusing on the Great Library, one of the shared astral/pathworking type places that a whole lot of people I know sometimes end up in. For fairly obvious reasons given my profession of choice, it’s a place I’m particularly interested in, and I wanted to introduce L to it as well. (She found it equally fascinating, and we both agree it’s a group working we’d like to revisit.)

It was also our first meditation work with us doing separate things at various points, so we learned quite a bit about how to manage the timing on that, and how much intro and exit verbalisation we need. (And I learned that I can *facilitate* that intro and exit work while still having a very functional and useful and enjoyable meditation experience.)

Discussion:
The next logical step therefore seemed to be a discussion or learning aspect of some kind. We did a bit of back and forth on books we thought we wanted to talk about together (and now have a list of about five) but decided to start with Deborah Lipp’s Elements of Ritual. We picked this for several reasons: we’d both read it earlier in our training (both not long after it came out), and we’d both liked the organization. I knew that there were a number of things I wasn’t sure I agreed with, but that I was pretty sure it’d make for good discussion.

While L and I have done a lot of discussion about our shared preferences and ideas, it seemed like a particularly good time to work through it in detail (and make sure we’re not forgetting something), both because of where we are in the shaping of the group, and because we’re hosting a few guests for Beltane.

(These are friends who are not initiates in the tradition: in part because the scheduling would be otherwise complicated. Also, because I, at least, would like to be a little more comfortable with some of our changes before I go showing them off to the HPS and HP who trained me. I’ve obviously got reasons for them, but I’d like to be comfortable with them in practice before I do the full explanation of why a particular change makes sense.)

So, what did we talk about?
We started with the first three chapters (which comes to just under 80 pages) and skimmed over some topics (the breakdown of tools) that we’d recently discussed in prior group work. We’re aiming on doing chapters 4, 5, and maybe 6 (depending how far we get: it’s about 150 pages) in two weeks.

We both read and came with some notes, and with a lot of things we wanted to talk about (and basically had questions about the same things, which was handy.) Some things we talked about are:

  • A revisit of the associations with air/fire (specifically, whether you do sword = air, or wand = air). Neither of us feels hugely strongly about this, but we really should come up with some sort of answer that we can apply consistently.
  • Lipp discusses the difference between a pentacle (spirit at the top, normally), and a quartered circle. We went around about this for a bit, and the different pros and cons.
  • How to handle people with food allergies.
  • Varieties of pre-ritual cleansing, what we do individually, and what we’d like to establish as group practice, and why.
  • Her ‘magic box’ idea (a list of tools that comes with/is always available for unanticipated needs.)
  • Do we want to use statues/icons of deities? If so, what matters to us in them? (our end decision was that we prefer statues to flat images for a couple of reasons, but that we want the right thing: we are in no hurry to have something just because.)
  • We have traditionally placed the altar in the north, but we’re curious to try the altar in the center and see what it’s like.
  • Whether we want to develop a consistent incense scent for use in ritual, and if so, where to start experimenting with that. (One part of our ritual work is much easier with stick incense: our thought is to buy incense blanks and scent them with oil, but this will take a little playing around.)
  • How we approach tools and their use in other parts of the home. (This definitely needs a separate post).
  • Our desire to establish a practice of doing a formal center + ground before ritual (not so much because we need it – we both do it fast and easily these days – but because it will be a good habit for later with more people.)
  • Wanting to come up with some sort of formal phrasing for “We are now in ritual, and this is our focus” (what Lipp refers to as the Declared Opening), but probably not the ones she directly suggests.
  • A discussion of memorised material versus improvised (often with planning, but not pre-written) material vs. reading from scripts.

(A number of these really deserve posts of their own, so they’ll get them, somewhere down the road. If you, dear reader, have preferences for seeing one sooner rather than later, please do tell me.)

Not so much in the book:
We did also notice things that Lipp doesn’t discuss in much detail (and that are either part of our own experiences, or that we made notes we’d like to discuss more significantly with future students.)

  • Dealing with the limits of rented space (both in terms of preparation – often a broom or other tools aren’t accessible – and in terms of limits the space may impose.) We both have fairly extensive experience of this one, as our first 4 years of our group work were almost always in rented space.
  • Alternatives to fasting that still involve conscious eating and choices about food. (She alludes to this, but sort of glosses past it in a paragraph. L and I actually have fairly different approaches, but we both pay attention to this, at least for major rituals.)
  • Alternatives for ritual baths, and other possible adaptations.
  • There also has not yet been much discussion of how the early parts of the ritual work (and preparation) might be affected by the working. I seem to remember there is more discussion of this later in the book, but we’re looking at how the preparation work helps set up the later work (in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways.)

These do not make the book bad, of course! There’s only so much material that any given book is going to fit, and only so much any given author is going to have significant personal experience with. Especially as in this case, when we were using the book for other personal discussion, having stuff that wasn’t discussed is not a huge issue.

There are also a few glitches: she mentions briefly that glass is not suitable for altars because it’s modern. (Incorrect: it’s actually quite an ancient substance and the earliest glass containers date to around 1500 BCE) but she’s clarified this online in a couple of places.

She also discusses salt as a representation of earth on an altar, without also mentioning that it kills plants. (Don’t get me wrong: salt is also on my altar and it has many uses in ritual. But if I’m doing prosperity or other abundance-related work, I make sure there’s some other earthy representation around as well.)

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  • Ritual baths:

    Technically, I “should” do a ritual bath before my major rituals; I have modified it for the shower.

    My crazed-eclectic ritual group has modified it still further. Thus:

    The full ritual bath includes clean water and a partially salt-based cleanser, and some religion-specific ritual text. High-formal shower includes the same, just not in a bath. Less formal has the liturgy but ordinary cleansers.

    The conclusion of the liturgy is rinsing one’s mouth and spitting out the rinsewater (or rinsewater and salt). Easy enough in the shower.

    Ritual group does not do major ritual bathing stuff, though various of us do it at our discretion. However, at the entering space we set out a stone bowl of clean salted water and a cup. And standard entry to the ritual space includes a pause at the bowl to wash hands, face, rinse the mouth, and spit into the cup.

  • Passionfruit

    Thanks for the link. :)

    Not sure how relevant it is, but salt isn’t plant poison per se. It depends on the dosage (as with humans) if it’s nourishing or killing. You can kill a plant with too much fertilizer, because the fertilizer contains basicly different salts. I don’t know if NaCl is directly needed by plants, but they definitly need stuff which falls into the salt category if I didn’t misunderstand an agrarbiologist friend of mine. I’m no expert of this stuff myself.

  • Jenett

    Oh, I agree that trace amounts are necessary. However, when it’s used as an elemental representation of earth on altars, it’s often used as a bowl of salt crystals: nothing is going to grow there.

    There’s also a historical tradition that ‘salting the fields’ is what you do when you want to make sure the people there (such as during a war) will not be able to grow food there for years to come (you essentially scatter large amounts of salt over the field).

    My understanding from historical documents is that you don’t need huge amounts, either (salt was historically very expensive, unless you were very near a salt producing area). More than a handful or two, obviously, but far less than coating the entire top of the field in salt.

    There’s also the argument that almost all of our salt comes from either evaporated salt water, or ancient evaporated oceans (i.e. the land has shifted, there’s no ocean anywhere near there now), which also makes it a less clear ‘earth’ element than, say, garden dirt or a rock or other crystal.

  • Passionfruit

    Thanks, I didn’t see it from that point of view. Just remembered that I’ve read somewhere it was also connected to fertility in the middle age, especially to fertility of men, but I can’t remember exactly in which history book I’ve read it and maybe they did see it as a remedy against any illness than a fertilizer in the first place.