I was reflecting on Big Rituals, you know the ones, like Big Dreams they stand out in memory as real turning points. Catastophic and beautiful experiences of revelation. Sometimes Big Rituals feel like this at the time. Things come together ‘just so’ and we receive some flash of insight, some beautiful vision or, if we’re less lucky, a Holy Book 😉 Then there are those rites which are true initiations. They may be impressive enough at the time, but it’s only in hindsight (that most splendid of divinatory tools) that we recognise just how awesome they were – or are. That’s the thing with the Big Rituals, they resonate in ones life long-time.
One such ritual, many years ago, was one which took place in Sussex in the company of some Druids. It was a camping affair, our tents creating a temporal autonomous zone of jovial and friendly good vibes. Good music, good company, good food and all the rest. Druids, in my experience, really know how to camp (as it were…).
Anyhow, the ritual consisted of a spectaular fire labyrinth. Laid out on the ground, lines of wood-shavings and soaked with some flammable fluid. The spiral design of the maze enabling people to walk in to the shape, circling back and forth into the centre. At the core of the space was the heart of the labyrinth, with the next section leading straight out. Walking such a beast (once lit and the 6ft flames having died down) would itself have been mindblowing. But add to this a composition of a few mysterious sounding notes that one participant had decoded (from a similarity between the design and some aspect of musical notation) and we had the perfect soundscape too.
But the ritual didn’t end there. The plan was once people had walked the labyrinth they’d leave and go and sit in one of two places around the design. Those sitting in one space would be brought by a guide to the Upper Realm. This was a beautiful large white tent, decorated in fabulous Druid Pagan style. In this tent they could do a divination (if I recall correctly) and would then sit singing ‘Arwen’ until all who wanted to journey that way were gathered in.
Meanwhile those who were going to the Underworld would be guided to another dark tent. There they would face their fear and ceremonially die. Suffice it to say that this process was dramatized in a suitably powerful way.
I can’t remember if I was asked or if I volunteered (hmmm – note to self, always check this in case I need to apportion blame later…) but my job was to be the ‘ferryman’ to the dark side. For three hours I walked back and forth from the Underworld to the dying embers of the fire labyrinth, all the while chanting a suitable Ogham rune. It took that long to ‘process’ all those who wanted to die. But serious practitioners each and every one, those folks in the Upper World tent chanted ‘Arwen’ all that time.
At the end of the ritual in my part of this ritual landscape the dead awoke. We gathered in a circle and the presiding Druid brought us back to the world. We held hands, remembering we were alive again, and in the darkness a cow uttered a long, comic ‘moo!’
The Druid asked us to ‘banish with laughter’, and we did.
Looking back on this ritual it was certainly a Big One for me. It sparked a chain of events which led me into some really challenging territory and has brought me great rewards. This was a major initiatory experience in my own magickal unfolding and while I’ve never formally been part of the Druid tradition I’m honored to have worked with such inspiring and inspired people.
Big Up the Druids I say!