A Very Social and Socially Conscious Yule!

I apologize for the brevity of this post, but I’ve got some personal stuff going on that I’ll likely blog about when the tsunami recedes. I very much wanted to get this information out as soon as I could in hopes that people will still have room on their holiday calendars to come join us for a fun ritual in honor of the Winter Solstice.

On Sunday, December 22nd, we of the Apartment at the End of the Universe are hosting a Yule get-together and ritual. It will be very “low church”, and focus more on creating and sustaining bonds of friendship and fellowship for those who don’t have a spiritual home or are solitary practitioners by choice. You don’t have to know anyone, including me, to come; just let us know you found us via this blog and a little about who you are.

Our plans include:

-a low-stress potluck lupper (lunch and supper)

-Swap Meet With a Purpose: The Holiday Season’s commercialization focuses people on acquiring more than what they need, and our ritual intent is to combat that by creating a space for people to give away what they don’t need. So if you have more food in your pantry than you could possibly eat in a year, or a closet full of clothes you haven’t worn since Jncos were in style, or an altar piece that you no longer use, or even some free time you could spend helping a friend clean their house or watch their kids – this is a great place to send those things to a new home. You can bring as much as you like, and you can take as much as you need. We will have a simple structure to ensure that less aggressive or socially expressive people have a chance of getting what they need, too. And whatever is not taken home by a ritual participant, will be donated to either a local homeless shelter, a local domestic violence shelter, or listed on Freecycle/Craigslist. And if you have a particular need, let us know and we’ll see what we can find for you!

-A Short Participatory Yule Ritual: For those of you who like the smells and bells of the season, I’ll be leading a loosely-outlined ritual intended to help recognize how strong our support systems can be, and ways you can let others know about the support you offer them.

-Holiday Toast: It’s not a AEU ritual without a little alcohol. We intend to have eggnog, hot toddies, and other winter-y themed drinks. (If there’s one you particularly like, feel free to bring some to share!)

That’s it! Feedback from our Samhain ritual strongly indicated that people wanted more time to just socialize and share fellowship, and Yule is a great holiday to focus on such things. Again, people of all faiths, including “none at all”, are welcome to join us. Just please RSVP to delandrave at gmail dot com by December 19th. We’ll give you our address in Hagerstown, MD when you RSVP. You should plan to arrive by 3pm, and we’ll likely be done with the “official” part by 7pm.

Whether you plan to join us or not, have a warm holiday season. If you wish, you can join our intent by making donations to local charities as part of your personal celebration of Yule.


Betwixt and Between: A Samhain Open House

We are opening our hearth and home to all those who are looking to celebrate the end of the cycle of the year with friends, family, and like-minded individuals. All people of all ages are welcome to attend (children under 18 must be a known quantity or be with a parent, sorry), and there is no faith-requirement. Yes, this is open to people who are not Pagan, including atheists and agnostics, if the activities seem interesting to them. All we ask is that you maintain an attitude of reverence, and an understanding that this is a religious ceremony for some or all who attend.

Here’s the specifics:

  • When? Friday, November the 1st, starting at 7pm and lasting until sometime around midnight but possibly later.
  • Where? Hagerstown, Maryland. Specific address will be given as a response to RSVPs. You must RVSP by October 30th to ravesblood at gmail dot com. As our place isn’t very big, we will have to cap attendance at 20 people; therefore, RSVPs are important, and we ask that once you RSVP, please honor your commitment. If you RSVP late, we will maintain a “waiting list” in the order people respond, so if we have a cancellation we will notify the next in line. We don’t know for certain we will reach our cap, but it’s likely, so RVSP early.
  • Who? We expect most people will be local, friends and family who want to celebrate with holiday with us. We do have the ability to host a small number of out of towners, so if you’d like to come from far away we can give you a place to sleep (although if we get many, it may be a patch of floor here or a bed at a friend’s place). We should be clear, however, that we have set plans that Saturday afternoon, so although you’re welcome to stay the weekend, we’ll be gone for most of Saturday.
  • What? Samhain is a holiday from the agricultural “wheel of the year” (the literal reality of which we can debate another day, but it’s what’s been adopted by some NeoPagans) that marks the end of the harvest, a time when the veil separating the living and the dead is thinnest, therefore making it easier to feel and hear the presence of our Honored Dead. It’s one of my favorite Pagan holidays, and as Rave and I are at loose ends for a group to celebrate with, we figure there are others who might be as well. You don’t need to ascribe to the Wheel of the Year to take some time to think about and grieve our dead.
  • How? The evening will have three parts. From 7pm to 9pm, we will have several people practicing various forms of divination (and yes, if you’re a diviner, feel free to indicate whether you’re willing to read for people, and what kind of set up you’ll need.) As I have a strong ethic that you pay for skilled labor, but also an understanding that this is a special occasion, I have decided that all readings will cost $5, or you may attempt to enter into a barter agreement with the diviner of your choice – but of course, the diviner has a right to turn down barter they don’t want or need. If you wish to attend only to avail yourself of divination, you are welcome to RSVP thusly, but the reading will cost you $10 (to give people an incentive to stay the whole evening).
  • The second part will be a dumb supper, which Rave will be organizing. A dumb supper is somewhat a Samhain tradition; people cook various entrees and desserts that were favorites of a dead relative or friend (or something the person is just really good at cooking), and bring them potluck-style. When we clear the room from Part 1, a bell will be rung, and at that time all speaking will cease. The moving of furniture, the setting of the table, the meal itself, and a short time afterward will all be held in silence. The idea is to invite our Honored Dead to eat with us, and there will be a plate in the center of the table where people can share a portion of their dinner with the Dead. We eat in silence so we can be better able to feel the dead’s presence, or hear their whispers. When the meal is over, the offering plate will be placed outside and a silent prayer thanking the Dead for attending will be said. If your Dead want a certain kind of drink, or (as in my case) for you to smoke tobacco, you must bring those things with you (and you don’t have to share if you don’t want to). When it is time to speak again, a bell will be rung a second time. There will be a short period of re-adjustment before we move to Part III.
  • Part III will be a Sumbyl. This is a Norse tradition, but is accessible to people of all faiths. We fill a drinking horn with some form of alcohol (probably a hoppy beer, or cider) and it will be passed around as we make three rounds of toasts. The first round will be toasts to Gods of the Dead; it can also be to Death itself, or even a Concept or Archetype of Death if you so desire. The second round will be to your Honored Dead – people who have had a good influence on you, both intimate and not, so you can toast Aunt Tilly and Jim Henson if you want to. The third toast is usually a boast, but it is the only part of the ritual I’m keeping close to the chest. At a sumbyl, it is always okay to skip a round, or to libate the alcohol instead of drinking it (or kissing the horn), so none of it is mandatory. If the feeling in the room is to open it up after the last round, allowing people to make further toasts, we will continue until the hosts decide it’s over.
  • We ask that attendees plan to be at all three parts, but obviously we ask that at a minimum, you be present for parts II and III, as we can’t predict how long the dinner or the sumbyl will be.
  • Also, we can set aside a space for those who may not have been able to get their reading before the supper, to do so during or after the Sumbyl. Of course, it is up to the diviner as to whether or not they’re willing to work later on, so I can’t at all guarantee that it will happen. If someone comes and isn’t able to get a reading, I will offer them a reading at the same cost sometime later on,either via email/skype or in person.
  • Why? Well, the short answer is “because my Gods told me to”, but that isn’t really satisfying for anyone other than me. We feel there is a dirth of Samhain celebrations in the area, and since death magic and the dying/decomposing part of the cycle of life is something I work closely with, it seemed like a no brainer. I also felt that having a ritual where people who aren’t sure where their faith lies, can still come and take a little time to mourn their dead without having to swallow a bunch of thoughts about what the afterlife is like or that Uncle Harry is “smiling down on us” or whatever.This ritual is meant to be built in a way where it is primarily internal – your reading is confidential between you and the diviner, the dumb supper goes without saying, and you can always offer a toast without telling anyone why, or the circumstances that lead you to. (Of course, you can choose to share if that helps you.)

So, again, you must RSVP to ravesblood at gmail dot com by October 30th if you want to attend. If you aren’t a known person to us, letting us know how you found me (fellow Lokean, blog fan, friend of a friend, etc), will make us feel much more comfortable letting you into our house. Also, keep in mind that Part II only works if people bring entrees and desserts to share (plan to share with 10 people), and we’ll be supplying plates and tablecloths and such. It can be store-bought if you’re not a cook; it’s more important that the food have some meaning for you or your Honored Dead.

Truth or Dare: Tell Me A Story

I apologize if I haven’t been posting as often. As you may be aware, I have been offered a publishing deal to collect some of the essays from this blog, as well as Dying for a Diagnosis, into a series of books, the first being focused on spirit work and shamanism. I am in the process of writing new essays specifically for the book, so that’s been where a lot of my writing spoons have been going to. But I promise not to let this blog go fallow in the meantime; this essay is not likely to be included in the first book, but it leaped out of my fingers and onto the page – like most of my essays do – so here it is.

Many of us feel lost, alone, abandoned. We mope our way through life, doing what we think we’re supposed to, little more than children afraid if we step outside the box of expectation, that some Cosmic Hand will come down and deprive us of pleasure until we surrender back into what it is that we think we’re supposed to be doing. Day in, day out, the days blend together; without the invention of the weekend, we’d never know to stop working and get a little sleep.

Once in a great while, something will come along and afford us the opportunity to have an adventure. But how many times have you heard about something, felt a longing for it deep in your bones, but let the voices of scarcity convince you to stay home? I don’t have enough money. I should be cleaning my house. I need to get more sleep. My body won’t be comfortable traveling for that long. It’s scary and unknown, and I need more comfort in my life.

And then those who invited us on this adventure we’ve turned away from return, and their stories are filled with wonder and exploration, and they come away with some deeper connection (to people, to themselves, to a greater meaning, etc), and we do everything we can to comfort ourselves again, that it wasn’t meant to be, that it would have been different if we had gone with them, that we would have held them back, or in some other way been a weight on the buoy of their transformation.

Then it comes time for us to tell a story about who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going, and we can’t think of anything to tell. No one wants to hear about six months of going to work, coming home, eating dinner, watching some tv, and going to sleep, a diligent consumer doing what is expected of them. There is no excitement, no story, no moral, no journey. We shy into the background, feeling ashamed of our complacent life. We yearn for something more, but the yearning passes as soon as we go back to what is familiar.

Many people ask me about ordeal, and they’re surprised when I tell them about my own; we expect ordeal to be physically painful, to be about blood and sweat and tears, and we turn away from that and let it be the story of other people. I have enough pain in my life, we tell ourselves, and I don’t desire to be in any more of it. But my story, my ordeal experience, looked nothing like what someone would expect. Many people come to me for ordeals because in their mind, “ordeal ritual” and “hook suspension” have somehow become linked; in the same vein, more ordeal workers than I can count have asked (or sometimes demanded) that I teach them hook suspension, because they feel without that knowledge they are somehow lesser. But my ordeal, my most transformative experience, had nary a hook in sight.

People get angry when they ask me to facilitate an ordeal for them, and when I come back with my ideas there is no black leather, no floggers, no bondage, no masochism, no pain. This happens even more often when the potential ordeal dancer is involved in the world of kink; because we speak of kink scenes as being cathartic, as being “ordeal like”, they come to assume all ordeals have some sort of kink element involved. My ordeal happened at a family-friendly event, in front of children; in fact, there were aspects to my ordeal that attracted children to me while it was going on. And there was no black leather, no whips and chains, no sexy dominatrices forcing me to my knees. My ordeal did not happen in a darkened room fitted out to look like a torture chamber or dungeon; my ordeal happened in the middle of a green field, at the peak of summer, during the afternoon.

You’re probably yelling in your head, “Well, tell me about your ordeal, then, Del!” But the denial of that desire, that place of expectation, that desperateness to sate the uncomfortable feeling of unknowing, the fear of being the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on; that is the spark from which ordeal is made. We have to find a deeper truth to our lives, in the corners where we do not know all the answers, do not know what to expect, can not set our watches by how long it will take, and most importantly, be in a realm where success is not assured. In order to truly engage in the realm of ordeal, there must be the chance that you’ll never know the real answer. In most ordeals, we only learn that we are asking the wrong questions, over and over again, increasing in volume; if we’re lucky enough to get the answer, it is never a comfort. It only reminds us that we aren’t thinking big enough, wide enough; stuck once again in our boxes of expectation and instantaneous comfort.

Many times, in fact, someone will approach me and detail to me exactly what their ordeal should be. They’ve thought about it down to the last detail; they’ve cast all the characters and chosen the stage, they might have even purchased the tools ahead of time, so that they could feel them first hand. And it pains me, so deeply, as one experienced in facilitating ordeal, because my first and most plentiful order of business is to disavow them of their vision. They’ve created the false ordeal; the one they know they can succeed, the one where they control what happens, where they’ve played it out in their head until it’s lost all sense of potential loss of control, or potential to fail. Many ordeal dancers have gone on, decided to find an ordeal master who will do exactly what they say, exactly how they say it, and unfortunately there are a bevy of ordeal facilitators who, feeling unsure in their own ego, will take the job and execute it perfectly. And yet, somehow, the dancer is back at my door, begging me to explain why their ordeal meant nothing to them, why it didn’t sate the need they had.

My ordeal was completely unplanned. I didn’t have any time to create expectations, and I think it was sprung on me such because I’m the kind of person who likes to rehearse conversations in my head before I get to the party; if I had known I would be challenged in such a way, I would have spent weeks thinking over the hows and wheretos and in the end I would have learned nothing. I would be so caught up in the steps, I’d forget the dance altogether. I also had no facilitator other than myself (although I did ask a friend to spot me a bit, just in case), because honestly, if I could not be both master and dancer at the same time, I needed to get out of the business of providing ordeal.

Have you had enough discomfort yet?

To me, an ordeal is nothing if the story is never told. It doesn’t have to be shouted from the treetops, but even if you just send me an email a few days later, describing what happened to me from your own perspective, and I delete the email after reading it and it is never spoken of again, it is the story that brings the most healing. We need to feel like we have had a significant experience, one that is worthy of story telling, that brings us from faceless drone to Hollywood celebrity, even if it’s just in our own minds.

The other half of this truth or dare game, is that sometimes ordeal is not the right path for you. Even if you’re kinky. Even if you’re open to body modifications. And it could be that those things are why ordeal may not be what you need. Sometimes, we can’t figure out what it will take to move us forward, when the secret is that you just have to do it. The ordeal may be hearing the truth: you don’t need a ritual, you need to do something. The ritual may be fun and fill your desire to be the center of attention, and it may even help you enter into an altered state of consciousness, but if what’s really holding you back is you, nothing I or any other ordeal master can do will get you past that first step. You can’t go back to school if you don’t fill out an application. You can’t move on from your past relationship if you keep reading their Facebook statuses and blogs and sending them emails just to have them respond to you. You can’t heal from the death of a loved one if you keep doing things and saving things that remind you of that loss. If you need to dress up that first step through a ritual, that’s okay; but you also have to remember that it’s just a first step, and that the ritual won’t do the work for you. Nor will the ordeal master. Only you, pulling up your big kid pants and doing something proactive will get you where you want to go.

That was a key to my ordeal, too. I could have chosen to stop, sit, think about the fear I was about to face, and instead of just pushing forward and doing what needed to be done in order to achieve the result, I could have waited and written an elaborate ritual with lots of “smells and bells”, as we call them, and then scheduled it for six months hence, hoping that in that time somehow I would feel more comfortable with what I was about to do. But there it is again, the enemy of ordeal, comfort. So instead of waiting for all the trappings and orchestrations of a ritual to insulate my experience, I just took my damn clothes off.

That was my ordeal. I was at a Pagan event at a local summer camp, where nudity is common. I never walked around nude; I have too many body issues, ranging from gender dysphoria to fear about being fat. My body is shaped oddly. I have a humped back/neck (a genetic gift), a large torso with small limbs (chicken legs, as Rave is wont to say, or an egg on sticks), a belly that hangs low on my thighs, skin so pale I glow, and a lot of scars. I have no need to prance around with all of that in people’s faces; I’m better looking when I’m clothed. So the first step in my ordeal was just to take off my clothes.

In many ordeals, an integral part is stripping away our artifices. We have to stand metaphorically, if not literally, naked in the eyes of those who witness. Ordeal is about showing and facilitating parts of yourself that you’d rather keep hidden; your fear, your rage, your failures, your shortcomings. If you can’t be honest about what those are, the ordeal is meaningless. You must be willing, enthusiastic even, about standing in the fullness of that which you’d otherwise hide. If you’re not ready to bare it in front of witnesses, you’re not ready for an ordeal.

My fear? Thunderstorms. I know many of my friends revel in the power and might that can be felt in the air, on the skin, when the skies turn dark and the clouds rumble. I feel lost and alone, like I’m going to be swallowed up, blinded and deaf, and that everything I love will be destroyed. I have suffered much loss at the hands of weather, and it seems thunderstorms are the reminder of that pain. Admittedly, my fear of thunderstorms isn’t wholly rational, but few fears are. I had originally left the group of my friends who were settling in to watch the storm, with the intent of hiding in the cabin until the worst of it had passed.

But when I got inside, I heard over the staff radios that they were looking for people to patrol different parts of camp, making sure the attendees were making safe decisions. As Pagans are wont to do, many of them were stripped down and dancing in the storm, and however wonderful that may have felt, the storm was raging dangerously close to tornado, and even though the cabins would provide little safety if the winds really got going, it was safer to be inside than out under the trees. So the staff were looking for people to make sure the attendees were inside their cabins, and that they had some form of communication there should we need to move into the stronger shelters if a tornado touched down.

There’s a moment when you’re crafting an ordeal, that you get this inner sense of being on the right track. You just know you’ve found the heart of the challenge, whatever it may be. Often, it’s something that you stumble upon, rather than find or know; asking a dancer to take off their shoes, you learn he has never walked barefoot on dirt before, and PING. There’s the real challenge. This was my PING moment, that I knew my calling to service was stronger than my fear of the storm. And the best and most convenient way for me to discharge this duty was to take off my clothes; after all, who wants to walk around in sopping wet jeans for hours? Especially when there isn’t a dryer in sight?

So in the face of my fear of nudity, coupled with my extreme dislike of thunderstorms, I knew that the challenge being set before me was to get out there and do my job. Naked. In not just a storm, but one so bad it could become a tornado any minute. I stripped off my clothes (except for a pair of hiking sandals, so I could handle all the walking and have a little traction), and readied myself to go out into my fear. On the cubby-closet sat a large rubber duck, a gift from a friend, the duck as big as a 13” television. My intuition said to take it with me, so as I walked out of the cabin, my inventory was:

-one pair of hiking sandals
-one staff radio, encased in a ziplock bag to keep it as dry as possible
-one 13” rubber duck
-a lifetime of fears

My friends were baffled. Less than three minutes ago, I had declared that I was going into the cabin to hide from the storm, and now I was striding out, butt-naked, with my head held high and my left arm curled around a large rubber duck. They blinked in disbelief as they watched me go down to the place I had been dispatched to, the middle of a large hill, and start telling campers they had to go into their cabins. There was something about the rubber duck that made me seem more friendly, approachable, and less of a tyrant trying to end their Pagan-y fun, dancing around in the rain. A small boy came up to me and asked me what my duck’s name was.

“Well, what’s your name?”

“Max,” he replied, seeming very proud.

“Well, that’s funny. My duck is named Max, too. And this Max says that it’s safer for you to be in your cabin until the storm dies down a bit.”

And here’s the real moral of my story. I could have easily chosen to lay down in my bunk, reading a book until the storm passed. I could have done what I thought was expected of me, bowed to the comfort of what I would normally choose. I could have let my fear dictate my actions.

But then I wouldn’t have this awesome story to tell.

And when I die, I want the memories of my friends to be littered with stories like these. I want them to stay up, late into the evening, warmed by a campfire, as they trade stories of my life’s adventures, never being sure which parts I exaggerated or blatantly made up, and which ones were true stories of derring-do. Isn’t that what we all want? I can’t think of a single person who would be happy having their epitaph being “They always arrived to work on time, stayed late when asked, and their house was spotless.” We all want to be heroes of our own mythic journey, have stories to tell our children and grandchildren, making them proud to be related to someone with moxie.

So here’s my question for you: Truth or Dare: What’s your story?