Avoiding Shipkowski’s First Comment on Liturgical Innovation

For the first time in a number of years, I went to another Grove’s High Day Rite. I knew some members of Grove of the Seven Hills, and their Yule rite was on the way to a visit to relatives.

It was really exciting to visit another grove. There are ways, big and little, in which things are done differently. You get to learn new takes on the same old chants. You observe how they handle their pre-ritual briefings. You see a variation on Kirk Thomas’s gate opening that requires less sure-footedness while still keeping the effect. All these ideas help you see what you’re doing a little differently, spark your own ideas — and give you things to incorporate.

Still, it was the things that didn’t go as planned that made me the happiest. Let me explain by proposing what I’ll term “Shipkowski’s First Comment on Liturgical Innovation” (with apologies to the ironically-named Arthur of “Arthur’s Laws of Love”):

Shipkowski’s First Comment on Liturgical Innovation

Other people’s liturgical innovations seem novel and exciting.

Your own liturgical innovations seem foolish and clumsy.

There were no big problems at all — but it was the little things, like thire Yule Log’s candles going out in the wind — that reminded me that, no matter what, we’re all stillĀ  humans doing this, dealing with fact that things don’t go as planned. It’s very easy to see someone’s ideas and go “wow, I wish I could do that!” It’s another thing to know that innovation happens not in an environment without mistakes, but in the same universe in which you live.

Of course, if they think I’m not borrowing their change to the Portal Song, they are mistaken.

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.