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Liturgy Practicum 1: Domestic Cult Practice in ADF, Question 4, Entry 7

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Week beginning 09/25/06 - Usas and Ratri

I've been playing with a particular idea since I started my journal for Liturgy Practicum 1, and Monday morning I started on that idea.

Particularly, that morning I started dawn and sunset prayers at my altar. It was. . . as hard as I thought it would be.

Ritual timing has never really been a specialty of mine. I'm not so hot at getting things to occur when I want them to, and Monday morning was no exception. I was in front of my altar at 7:22 AM, which was sunrise here, but I'd wanted to be praying to Usas at that time, not starting. Instead, I started with the lighting of the candles and the lighting of Epona's candle, followed by her prayer.

So after a mad dash from my two-minute shower up the stairs in my towel after waking up five minutes before, I started my ritual.

Here's how the rite went down:

7:22 AM, September 25, 2006

  • Stumble in front of the altar, no contacts in, wearing only a towel, fumbling for a match.
  • Try to strike the match two or three times; finally get it lit.
  • Light the three candles, and suddenly realize that I'm on my last match and that one of the key points of my devotionals is my attempt to light all candles off a single match.
  • Decide to put off Usas' prayer, because my prayer to Epona indicates, "I light your candle," and that sounds really silly when you're not lighting a candle, or the candle is already lit, and I was holding the lit match in my hand.
  • Say prayer to Epona.
  • Say prayer to Usas.
  • Realize I forgot to bring my triquettra up from the basement, and thus can't put it on.
  • Take a moment to center myself anyway.
  • Blow out my candles, and continue with the mad dash of getting ready for work.
  • Go back to the basement to find my triquettra, and put it on.

I can't imagine how comical that whole situation was from the outside.

I learned a lot from it, though:

  1. Get your ass up on time. Rolling out of bed, dripping wet, half-naked, and completely unkepmt is no way to meet the Gods.
  2. Evening devotionals ensure that all your morning devotionals will be set up and ready to go.
  3. Epona has to come first in this, because of the wording of the prayer. Rituals should start one minute before the recognition of the sun setting or rising to time things right.
  4. An old episode of the original Star Trek is not a valid reason to stay up until 2 AM the night before a major ritual change.

My prayer to Usas is this:

Monday, September 25, 2006

A maiden dancing, dancing
on the rim of the world
Resplendent, Radiant
I blush to see you rise from your bath
the colours of the ski drip from your bosom
as you open the ways for the sun
Greetings, Usas, who opens the gates of heaven.

It needs some work, as it doesn't do her justice, but I feel a strong affinity to her, personally.

I prayed that night to Ratri at my altar during my evening devotional at 7:24 PM:

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ratri, daughter of heaven
weaving the web of sacrifice
and conducting my prayers with bright rays.
As Usas comes each morning, so do you at night
Cloaked in stars, brightly shining
Maintaining the order of our lives.
Allow me to sleep, my head in your lap
As you sit upon the sacrificial grass.

 I also spoke this prayer to Epona, and realized I had not done an evening ritual in three weeks at my home altar, and so had never needed an evening prayer for her:

Monday, September 25, 2006

Epona, I light your candle
and stand before you humbly

You have protected me today
No matter how fast I traveled
No matter the distances covered
No matter who I encountered.

For guiding, protecting, and nurturing me
I thank you.

Tuesday morning, I woke earlier than I had on Monday, and was able to make a leisurely ritual to my gods, using the same prayer as the day before. This rite went much better for me.

I also made it home on Tuesday night, between PSA and work. I did my evening ritual, and then left the house. It was a bit strange to do a rite and leave, but it was what I needed to do, I felt.

After PSA, I went to the Chadwick Arboretum and spent some time walking the labyrinth out there. I arrived around 10 PM and left around 11 PM. That hour, I thought, walked, and basically just spent time with myself.

I walked into my first descent toward the center, thinking about things. I noticed immediately that the longer I walked, the more the superficiality of my thought slipped away. I started concentrating on things beyond the physical fairly quickly, though a few fun thoughts surfaced in the initial walk.

On my first ascent out from the center, I found that the more I thought about things, the more I saw that some of those things simply had to go. I examined myself for what I really wanted, and I saw paths to those things.

On my second descent and the following ascent, I found myself wanting excellence in worship, and I found myself not utterly without it. I turned over in my mind how to achieve it, and I saw that putting more and more effort into this liturgy journal was a good start: I've already come further than I thought possible, and I've only been doing it for six weeks.

On the third descent, I started to feel the lack of food in my system becoming obvious. My legs trembled as I looked up at the stars.

On my third ascent from the center, I counted the number of steps. There are 317 steps from center to outside, and the labyrinth is 44 steps around the outside circle. I found it interesting that I was able to do the math, counting both steps I'm taking, holding the number of steps for half a circumambulation, and multiplying the half circumambulation by two. I was unaware that I could do that.

I stopped for a second after this ascent, and took careful stock of my body.

My fourth descent and ascent were sprints through the labyrinth. I found I could turn right better than I could turn left, and observed that this was likely because of the muscle training I received as a fencer here at Ohio State. I lost my concentration and became lost near the end of the ascent, and felt cramps and dizziness near the end.

I turned back to the labyrinth for my fifth trip, the cold sweat and hard breathing at the forefront of my mind, as well as the heavy cough that ripped through my lungs from time to time. I stood there, though, and stepped in for another descent. I felt my mind opened to magic, the muscle fatigue obvious, but a clearer, stronger walk available.

By the end of the fifth ascent from the center, my mind was clear, and my body was purged of my wants.

I went home and fell asleep as soon as I laid down.

As the week progressed, various starts and stops occurred, but every dawn and sunset ritual occurred on time and at my home altar until Friday, when I left for the ADF Clergy Retreat at Tredara. Even on the trip up and while there, I still managed to work in a timely manner.

One thing that immediately stuck out at me was the Vedic nature of the prayers I was using day in, day out. Well, really not so much their Vedic nature so much as their focus on Vedic deities (I have no illusions that my prayers are remotely similar to the beautiful prayers in the Vedas).

I am somewhat enamored by Usas and Ratri, partly because Monika and I have a very personal relationship with Usas and her husband Surya, but mostly because of their stunning (and yet subtle) beauty. I love them as dawn and night, but the connection is one of awe and reverence rather than one of religiousness and deep mystical experience.

It may also be a problem for me that I know that action is enough for them: belief is not required to do honour to these deities. Perhaps, in the end, there is no challenge to me on an intellectual level when the deity is happy with no belief, and that feels okay to me.

I doubt that my issue has anything to do with the pantheon. I think I just wish I had some Gaulish deities I could focus these rites on. I'm not sure what to do about that yet.

Despite this, I continue to pray each morning to Usas and each night to Ratri. There have been a few mornings of frantic rush to be ready for work before my morning devotional or to get home from work in time to start my evening devotional, but it has not been a problem.

On Friday, Jenni drove me up to Tredara for the ADF Clergy Retreat. About halfway up (near Mansfield), we stopped for dinner and I took time out for my evening ritual, inviting Jenni to join me for it.

On our way to a small tree near the Burger King just off the highway that we had eaten at, I noticed some very pretty red flowers standing tall above the grass. I picked one and Jenni gathered a handful, and then I set up the altar.

I found I didn't really know what to do with the flower. I wanted to use it as an offering, but I suddenly realized that without a fire to burn it in and no previous thought to offerings, I didn't know how to offer it. I made a clumsy attempt early in the devotional, merely laying it beside the altar. I feel I could have done better.

I had no water, so I breathed into the cup, letting the glass condense with the water vapor, and I had Jenni do the same. I like the gesture, and might call it "two breaths" or something equally fluffy and cheezy, but it really does feel good. It's something I first used with Maggie, and I think it helps bind the ritual participants together a bit.

At this point, a cricket landed on my altar cloth and I knew that someone else was there with me, too.

I suddenly realized that I'm very self-conscious of the prayers I speak to Vedic deities. This is partly because I know so little about them, I think, but mostly because I know that I can never hope to match the eloquence, beauty, and piety in the Rgveda.

Despite this feeling and the embarrassment that hit me with it, I spoke Ratri's prayer out loud, and asked Jenni to blow out the candle when she was done. Then it was back into the car and the rest of the way to Tredara.

Arriving at Tredara on Friday night at about 9 PM, we came into the middle of the divination rite. We asked three questions, described here with the answers I pulled:

  1. What do I bring to this weekend? Fehu - Cattle, mobile wealth
  2. What work can we most effectively complete this weekend? Pertho - the dice cup, fate
  3. What obstacles do we have in our way? Suwilo - the sun, victory

Well, I didn't say that the messages were clear.

On Saturday Morning, I contemplated the power of silence. Because I was in a large room with two people still sleeping and another already up and working, I thought about doing my morning devotional in silence. Instead, I simply went out onto the back porch with my altar.

That night, I was worried about my sunset devotional conflicting with the main rite. I didn't need to worry, it seems, though: the rite happened well before the devotional was scheduled to start. Here is the beginning of the experience that the ritual conveyed:

The vision started with a blending and bending. The Trilathon stood at the center of my vision, the world around it swirling and yet stationary.

To the right of the gate stood the Earth Mother, beautiful to behold, smiling gently, adorned in reds and browns. I was astounded to realise that I had never in my life looked at the Earth Mother, through all my training and work, through five years of honouring her in all my rituals. I was awed by the beauty that radiated from her.

To the left of the gate stood Garanus, wings folded, stately. One leg was folded up, his other foot was rooted to the mud. It struck me as odd to find him in this pose, when so often I have seen him in the deep, sacred waters with one foot, and the other foot on the land. Still, the mud between his toes was the land and sea, and he was still a creature of the skies.

I bowed to the crane and asked his blessing. I knelt before the Earth Mother, smelling her scent. Both granted me entrance to the mists beyond the portal.

So began my vision.

That night, I ran my normal ritual at sunset. The next morning, I again got up. I helped write a chant that I cannot post here, as it involves some of the symbolism from Saturday's ritual. Sunday, I went home and did ritual again in front of my home altar.


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