Andrew B. Watt
In my first career as a schoolteacher with a speciality in world history, I was often tasked with making the deep past relevant to a modern audience. In my current, second career as an astrologer and artist, I find that this is still in a sense my real job — finding ways to make ancient insights and wisdom available to a modern readership. This is the first of what I hope will be a regular series.
When modern people engage with ritual in an Earth-centered spirituality, it may not be the case that they are explicitly pagan — that is, they may not worship a pantheon of pagan gods with names like Zeus and Aphrodite, Odin and Thor and Frigga. Some of them certainly do; some of them are quite open about it. Others may follow a Christian path, attending a local church in their home community on Sundays. Some may light Shabbat candles, keeping with Jewish family traditions of worship at home.
At Rites of Spring and other events connected with Earth-centered spirituality, though, they will often engage in public rituals in which no god or gods are mentioned by name by the presiding officers. There are things that are said at these rituals, of course — the names of the recently deceased may be read solemnly, or the names of newlywed couples may be announced with joy. There are things that are done at these rituals, too — attendees may dance around a fire to the sound of drumming; or they may erect a Maypole; or take a walk in the woods to connect with nature. Finally, there are things shown: a loud figure in startling garments and grotesque make-up may stand between two smoking torches, terrifying all who hear her; veiled figures may appear at a meal with everyone present, to chaperone a select few off on pre-arranged journeys.
This formula, of Things Said, Things Done, and Things Shown, is very ancient — we know that this was the standard formula of the secret Mysteries of Eleusis in Greece. Candidates for the initiation process underwent a purification rite in mid-March, and then in mid-September of the following year, they all went into the initiation hall at dusk to spend the night in complete darkness. Nothing was said of what occurred in this hall on penalty of death. The Mystai, as the initiates were called, were only able to say, “Well… Things were said, and things were done, and things were shown.”
The ten days prior the Autumnal Equinox are about when these September Mysteries were celebrated — a season that begins this year on September 12. It’s a good time to reflect on one of the essential parts of the EarthSpirit Community’s traditions — that in our public rites, things are said, done and shown — but the meaning of these things is rarely defined for us as members. It remains the private task of the individual and their trusted family and friends, to sort out how what’s said, done, and shown, affects our personal lives — ethically, morally, intellectually, emotionally.
Many community members call that highly personal and private process, Work—first reflecting on how the public parts of the ritual resonate deeply within us; and second, figuring out how to turn those internal meanings into outward behaviors and actions. Work is an active intellectual, emotional, and creative process. No two members of the community do their Work in quite the same way, either — but you can observe their Work in what they say, what they do, and what they show.
Andrew B. Watt
Astrologer & Artist