Yule!

After securing an indoor location, HVP’s Yule High Day rite was held on Thursday evening. Finally, two days later, I have some time to breathe and talk about how it went in some depth.

Turnout was toward the light side — besides me, only the two UU regulars showed up. There were a few reasons for this. The first, and most important, is that this is a pure college town. Things truly do clear out as finals end; it’s one of the reasons Beltane tends to get very light attendance, being right at the start of finals. Even though the undergraduates gravitate to the student group, we do occasionally get graduate students and those in post-doctoral positions — but they’re often heading home for the holidays, too.

Also, the advertising was not as widespread as it sometimes has been. Some of this was my fault; after finally securing room, I forgot to post to a few relevant email lists. Some of these lists I post to solely to ensure Pagans spread across Pennsylvania know of the Protogrove; a lot of those here come from elsewhere in-state. Additionally, the Witchvox listing I was certain I wrote up was nowhere to be found a few hours before the rite.

I was tempted to reschedule, but one thing I know is that it’s important to have regular rituals that start on time (technically, the pre-ritual briefing starts on time). I do occasionally bow a bit to PST when someone new says they are coming, or a reliable regular has said they are coming and hasn’t shown — though the former is usually more often the case I myself took a rather severely put vow to never be late for a ritual I was running without good reason after being a half-hour late for a rite I was running, back before I started the Protogrove.

Enough about the turnout, how did the rite go? It went well. The rite itself was largely the one I put together last year, with some further tuning and addition of chants. It was Norse hearth-culture focused, honoring Frey and Thor. After the powerful results from last year’s invocation of Her instead of Heimdall for Yule, Freyja was again asked to aid us in opening the Gates. The regulars have largely learned the chants we’ve used over the past year, so that flowed well. I tried to go off-script as much as possible — it’s hard for me to let that safety blanket go — and actually barely needed it. The biggest issue I had was when I was pointing out where we were to one of the regulars, which ironically messed up my internal sense of the flow of the rite. I returned to the old Gate Opening we’ve used, did it from memory, and it worked quite well. (I’d removed it from the script to reduce the page count for those who needed paper.) Also, the mead brought by a regular that had apparently been unsampled up until that point was good — always a relief, speaking as a fellow brewer.

There were some hiccups, though. It being indoors, the Fire was three candles. I brought three tealights we’d used before, which was a mistake — always bring fresh tealights to ritual, lest you discover one of the used ones has an issue with its wick. We managed to fix it on the fly, but it’s distracting to be in the Well-related verse of “Fire, Bright Fire” and trying to get one of the candles to stay lit. Amusingly, it also turns out they like the “Portal Song” better — but it’s a little scary to “and offering pour” on a fire indoors (unless one has a proper hearth at hand).

Ar nDraiocht Fein members will ask “How was the omen?” — so, here’s how it went. I pulled out a rune for acceptance: Hagalaz, Hail. Given the nasty effects of a snow/”ice pellet”/sleet storm the other week, this did not bode well for winter.

I was also certain I had something to do with why it was drawn. So I asked what I should do, and pulled out Jera, Year. After a minute to meditate upon the meaning, I took a vow that gives me, oh, 9 days left to accomplish a certain single thing (to the peanut gallery: it isn’t about my Dedicant Path documentation). Then I drew Ehwaz, Horse for acceptance, which I saw as definite indication of acceptance through forward progress.

I then took omens for the blessings, which I will mention I do in a way that is somewhat non-standard for ADF: I draw three runes for each of the Nature Spirits, Ancestors, and Godden (a lovely neologism for the mouthful
“Gods and Goddesses”).

For the Nature Spirits, I came up with Berkano, Birch; Perthro, Dice-cup; Nauthiz, Need. The resulting interpretation was a chance at the growth we need, provided we don’t gamble with what we have. (Or, to the gardener in the group whose bounty gets offered regularly, I said “Don’t plant too early.”)

From the Ancestors, we received Othala, Ancestral Lands; Tiewaz, the God Tyr; Dagaz, Day. This one took me a moment before I said “A resolution of a dispute involving familial property.” I wasn’t certain about this interpretation, but it had immediate meaning for another.

Finally, from the Godden I pulled Laguz, Lake; Fehu, Cattle; Ansuz, the God Odin. My general interpretation was to speak of flexibility leading to increased wealth via communication — but I suspect that as the Ancestors spoke most clearly to another, this one was for me, reminding me of why I need to take the action requested of me; I cannot set aside my own spiritual development just because I’ve added other responsibilities inside and outside of ADF over the past year.

Afterward, we chatted about how life was going for each of us before we went our separate ways for the evening. Since the rite was held well into the evening hours, we skipped the usual after-ritual potluck.

I’ll admit, I would have liked a larger turnout — but each High Day rite held is a step forward. I remember reading that Shining Lakes Grove had nearly two years of negligible turnout before they started to find people; I’d like faster, but I can live with the occasional lighter turnout — “Fast as a speeding oak tree!” is one of ADF’s mottos, after all.

Finding your group

Back a bit, Eric Sink wrote How would you reach YOU? It was about marketing software, but the same question is applicable to any small modern religious group, Pagan or otherwise.

For me, the fact Hemlock Vales is linked from ADF’s main site is enough, as I was interested in ADF after finding out about ADF through Isaac Bonewits’ website, which I learned about from, of all places, Steve Jackson Games when they republished Authentic Thaumaturgy.

But what if we assume a hypothetical Arthur who didn’t get that link set? How would he find Hemlock Vales?

A first answer would be Witchvox. And, indeed, Witchvox has an entry set up for Hemlock Vales Protogrove. Okay, let’s go further. Assume this hypothetical ur-Art doesn’t know about Witchvox.

Okay, let’s go to Google. Other search engines may be equally important, but Google is the most known/best-analyzed.

“state college” druid — click in three pages, don’t see anything relevant

“state college, pa” druid — The fifth link down will get them there via ADF’s main site. Not bad, not great.

It gets worse if you change out “druid” for “pagan”. But there is a bright spot: Try “penn state” or PSU with pagan…and you see the student group’s home page.

Perhaps I’ll ask them for a link.

And I’ll seek out other ways of improving my link-fu. (Let’s be honest, this blog is one of them.)

This is, of course, all about online marketing. What about offline? It seems harder in some ways, yet effort there can yield results. The easiest route is, obviously, word-of-mouth. I’ve had a number of referrals from the UU regulars of other UUs interested in finding a more Pagan-focused group locally. It hasn’t usually panned out…but it’s worthwhile. To get good word-of-mouth, though, requires a positive impression.

Another major offline option is flyers…which I think are best saved for later.

Location, location

I need to find another place to have Yule.

Wait, let’s back up. One of the reasons I felt truly secure starting a Protogrove was having an indoor location for cold weather with a nice, sliding payment scale — well, actually donations — at a local co-op market. I’m not exactly certain how much everyone else donated, but I think it was about $40 total per High Day.

Said co-op market went out of business in October. So, back to needing to find another place to have Yule.

One of the regular attendees is elderly, and does not deal well with the cold. So outside is out.

Other places I’ve used before have their own issues. The local UU fellowship seems to be full up with books for the annual “Book For Every Child” campaign during most of that time frame, though I need to pore over their schedule carefully to be sure there isn’t a convenient gap; the 22nd, which is the solstice proper, is free, but I know at least one regular would be unable to make it. There was an issue with scheduling when I rented the Friends’ School two years ago for Yule that disinclines me to return. Finally, there was the business function space I was able to get for free for Samhain — but I’m reluctant to risk using that favor up. I also only found out later from a mutual associate that the person who let me use it was more weirded out than they let on.

So, I need to locate an appropriately public and affordable space that can reasonably have a High Day celebration in it. This is the part of being a Grove Organizer I feel I’m worst at — but I know if I want Hemlock Vales to grow to be big and strong, I can’t shy away from it.