We do things a bit differently at SLG in several ways. The personal praise offering is a bit non standard in that we pass around a focus object and everyone has an opportunity to say something, read poetry, sing, etc, or just silently put energy into the object, which is usually offered during the main sacrifice part. Usually the person leading the ritual calls for people to come up and make any personal praise offerings they may wish to make, although a lot of the time, this needs to be cleared before hand to insure that it is good enough, appropriate, etc. When our Grove had 90 members, this approach was way too unfocused and ended up as 2-3 people repeatedly going up and doing something and it dragged on way to long. So they switched to just passing around an object once and giving everyone a chance to do something, or not. That way, you know when it's going to end. I really like this part of our ritual and get a lot out of it. The first ritual I ever went to, I got that feeling I used to get going to the Mormon church when I was young and felt rather religious and pious and in touch with a Higher Power. It was nice to feel that again, which I never did as a Wiccan, even as a member of a coven.
We tend to open the gates differently I noticed. We don't have a big "Let the Gates Be Opened!" proclamation. Usually we will sing The Portal Song, or Standing at the Crossroads and a person will go up and do an opening (with discreet help from the local Magicians Guild Chapter), and that's that. Then we bribe the Outsiders and welcome Manannan and ask that he watch over the Portals. For Samhain we will have people say stuff as we are going light on the singing. Also we have three purifiers, one with water for Sea, one with ochre for Land and one with a stick of incense for Sky. A dab of water is placed on the forehead, then a dab of ochre, then the incense is waved around them. These people are also expected to be Portal Openers. Water for the Well, Land for the Bile and Sky for the Fire (well the incense is lit). I think we have the most complicated purification in ADF. I may be wrong, but I've not seen anything beyond being sprinkled with water in other Groves and at Festivals.
Another thing we do differently I noticed is that we rarely script our rituals. We have only one scripted ritual which is our afternoon Samhain rite (yes, we have two Samhain rites), which is kid friendly and geared toward having kids participating and doing ritual roles. Thus we have cards for people to read from. The evening rite is too late for kids. The rest of the time, we have a general outline and then extemporaneously say stuff. Of course, we have stuff written down for new people who don't know what to say, but for the rest, we just say what comes out at the time. Also, we are not shy about having total newbies participate in the rite. As I said, there is stuff for them to write on cards and read if they need it. If they open a gate, one of our magicians makes sure that it is open, etc. It helps people feel more a part of things, we find.
So, I will be leading the Samhain Ritual. I usually run the Midsummer and Yule, so this will be a tiny departure for me. We will be doing some cool things. Manannan and the Ancestors will be the Deities of Occasion. We will do purifications before we process, which usually happens during the processional. This will be done at the Hearth Fire where we will also eat afterwords. The Nemeton is further away through a twisting path through the woods. We will be going with the whole journeying into the Otherworld kind of theme. I will ask Manannan to lend his power and help me guide everyone into the Otherworld and then we will process silently except for the bells that will be on a staff that I will carry, rather like the Silver Branch. First I will tie a cord to something by the Hearth Fire and it will be unraveled as we process, giving everyone a symbolic link back to the mundane world, like a silver cord when you astral project. This will be tied to the Bile when we arrive in the Nemeton.
Then when we get to inviting the Deities of Occasion, we will do Mannanan first, with His song, and then the Ancestors. We will have everyone focus on an ancestor or two they would like to have present. I will pass around a doll and everyone will touch it as I pass them. The idea is that the doll will give the Ancestors a physical body to temporarily reside in during the ritual so that they can more fully partcipate in the ritual. This will be placed by the Ancestor Altar which will be in the center of the ritual space along with the other Kindreds around our Bile. Then we will pass around a candle lit lantern as the focus object for the personal praise offerings. This represents the life we have inherited from our Ancestors as well as the Divine Spark we have received from the Gods. This will then be put between the Shining Ones and the Ancestors altars. Then for the Group Praise and Main Sacrifice, we will have everyone pour oil on the fire (it gets cold at night outdoors in MI) while singing Blood of the Ancients. We added a verse about Manannan to honor Him. "It's the branch of Manannan that guides us on our way. And the forms pass, but the circle of life remains. Someone will carry the Ancestor doll during this so they can participate as well.
After that, I will take the omen using runes and if its good, we will have people take a bell from the staff I carried so that they may carry the wisdom and blessings of Manannan and the Ancestors back to the mundane world for the return flow. We will make sure there are enough bells left on the staff to make the journey back. Then we will have announcements, the Cauldron Blessing (something else unique to SLG) and then wrap things up and thank the Kindreds for attending. I don't believe in dismissing Them. We welcome Them and then thank Them. Then I will close the Portals, we all sing our recessional song, I ring our bell three times and that will be that. We will not thank the Ancestors yet, for we will not be ready to say goodbye just yet. We will then process back to the Hearth Fire, using the cord, with the Ancestor doll and set it in a place of honor and feast with the Ancestors. After we've all eaten, we will say our formal farewells to the Ancestors. There was a mental picture of me taking the doll back up the path with everyone waving and calling out their farewells. I will then take the doll back to the Nemeton, release them from the doll and come back bringing the cord with me. The use of the cord is also reminiscent of the practice of buryng the placenta after a child is born to firmly close the gates between worlds so the child is not called back and dies. Our Nemeton has several such buried under trees. The cord will then be burned in the Hearth Fire. We will then plan on using the doll again the following year.
Then the rite will officially be over. We can all go home and come back the next day early to pack everything away. It's just too dark to try to do this at night. Plus we have to be out of there by 10pm so as to not annoy the land owner we rent the site from. And it has to be fairly early as it's Guild Day, which meets at my house, starting at 2pm.
That's what we came up with tonight. Granted things are much easier as we use a set group of Deities and honor Them each on specific High Days. We always honor Manannan and the Ancestors at Samhain, for example. All we need to do for each High Day is to be inspired to add or remove things from how we did it last time to be the most pleasing to the Deity of Occasion. I believe that we are definitely inspired by the Shining Ones during these planning meetings, as ideas really start to flow. We usually start out with, "Well, let's just do it the same way as last year," but as we discuss things, new ideas come out of the blue and leads to others. As Odin said in the Havamal "One word gained me many words; one deed gained me many deeds," (depending on your translation). Last year we didn't think of using a doll, and had a basket of pomegranate seeds and beans to be passed around for the personal praise offerings which was then burned in the fire for the main sacrifice. Nor did we have the leading with bells or the cord. I remembered my story "Painting the Dead" and thought the doll would be a good vehicle to aid the Ancestors in visiting us. A way for them to be alive again, so to speak, temporarily. We try to listen to the Shining Ones and the other Kindreds in these planning sessions and do what They want, not what we think they want. That's important.
Wow, this is long. Thank you for your patience. And the next ritual after this one will be Yule when we have our sacred snowball fight! Yay!