A hearty HAIL and WELCOME to you all, my lovelies! I’ve just returned exhausted, aching, filthy, sun-kissed and exhilarated from a weekend spent at the most sacred of crossroads. In a time out of time, we made a temple between the worlds, as our coven hosted a Witches’ Grand Sabbat of Beltane, over a 3-day camping celebration.
MayKing Jupiter, Lord of the Greenwood, looking out over our encampment as the wedding feast is prepared. Photo used with permission
What can I say? I am really proud of what we all accomplished. The Sojourner Tribe came together in style and brought both the pomp and ceremony of High Witchcraft with the May Court, plus the nitty-gritty, bare feet, howling at the moon, fire dancing and drumming into the night, of old-fashioned, tree-hugging, dirt-worshipping paganism. This group does nothing by halves, and I can tell you that we rose to this occasion, rang the bell at the apex of Spring so loudly and proudly that there are Genus Loci all over eastern North Carolina still tingling with twitterpation, and looking for a smoke. Shazam, I tell you. SHAZAM!
Crafting New Traditions
Our MayQueen Joy Leaf, and May King Jupiter as they sit at feast in their courtly hall with their attendants. Photo by Heron Michelle
This is the first time we’ve gathered for a Sabbat camp-out on our own, rather than attending larger pagan festivals. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a pagan festival. They have a unique mission of bringing diverse people together for sharing and camaraderie, but a larger gathering of relative strangers comes with its own pros, cons and compromises.
For example, paganism is diverse in it’s approach to ritual etiquette, ethics and standards of behavior. From my point of view, what is sacrosanct and non-negotiable, is to never impose your own religious ethos onto people of other religions. I’m a Witch, but I can’t expect everyone at a pagan gathering to even be aware of the concept of Perfect Love and Trust, let alone promise at athame-point to uphold an ideal that is foreign to their practice. By the same token, I’m not enthusiastic about entering into a Witchcraft-style magickal circle with the unprepared, or anyone who would refuse to pledge reciprocity of loving intention and trustworthiness.
Understandably, a great many compromises are necessary so that all in attendance will find some common ground. Namely, don’t even try to foist witchcraft ceremonies onto non-witches. Inclusive pagan festivals can be a good thing for a great many people; however, the larger and more diverse the festival becomes, the more watered down and problematic it inevitably becomes as well.
During this 7th (crowning) year of our coven’s evolution, we’ve taken on an even deeper level of commitment to one another, and our Craft. The Great Work intention our group set for the year was to grow into our own Sovereignty, and to forge a new tradition of Witchcraft in service to building the community. This year, we felt it was the right time to create additional opportunities to celebrate the Sabbat as Witches here in Eastern NC, thus the Sojo Tribe Grand Witches Sabbat of Beltane was conceived.
Crowns worn by the MayQueen (center) the Cauldronkeeper (right) and the Besomkeeper (left.) Our women’s mysteries group, Sisters of the Cauldron, crafted these together. Photo by Heron Michelle
For years I’ve dreamed of what we could create within a smaller, intensive gathering if held among those who DO SHARE a desire for Witchcraft-specific ceremony and DO SHARE a common vow of Perfect Love and Trust. What could we create if we all take the responsibility to actively contribute, and build that event together?
Perhaps your group has considered kicking things up a notch and doing something similar? Here are a few of my favorite new things we tried and they worked for us. Plus, I’d like to share some of the beautifully and magickally made sacred objects that our talented members created for this inaugural event.
Re-vision, Re-organize, Re-Tool
Antler crown (center) was created by our Fire Priest Coyote, of deer antlers, brass, tigers eye stone and sun stone. Crowns for the Staffbearer and Swordbearer were made by Phoenix Echelon. This altar was within the temple of the Sons of Herne, as they prepared the men for the Beltane rites. Photo by Phoenix Echelon, used with permission.
By striking off on our own, we were afforded the opportunity to radically rethink how we approached this sabbat, and even the concepts by which we communally gather. We went “back to the drawing board,” and as a group, decided how our uniquely emerging style of witchcraft wanted to create sacred space and then enact the mysteries.
You’d think that with Mercury, Mars and Saturn all being retrograde at the moment that we were doomed for disaster. On the contrary, we’ve been presented with an opportunity for rethinking everything, starting with WHO we intend to become, and WHAT we stand for. We’ve decided which battles we were no longer going to fight, and which fetters we’d outgrown and could now throw off.
For example, I own a witchcraft shop, and usually at the festivals, I’m working my ass off vending, and I miss out on the spiritual nature of the event. This time, it was important to me that there was no commerce in our temple. There was no competition among vendors, and no commercial sponsors. Just the freely traded divination, Reiki and artistry among family, and everyone contributing equally for our expenses.
A Vow Against “Chur-cle”
We wanted to perform the sorts of magick that are best manifested within a larger group, while modifying the Wiccan-style praxis that was always meant for 13 people or less. We vowed to never again endure the tedium of Chur-cle…you know, the “Church in a Circle” that sometimes happens when 200 people wait for each other to get through a challenge at the gate, or to pass the chalice and cakes.
Bottom line: if our witches are so far away from the altar that they can’t hear or see what is going on, or are bored to tears and aching from standing still too long in our ritual, we did it wrong.
A Temple between the Worlds
We also wanted for the entire campsite to be considered sacred space, and all that we did within that temple for the entire three days to be offerings; the preparations, the meals, the ceremonies, the laughing and goofing off, the children at play, the artistry, singing, dancing, the sleeping, the making of love, were ALL our offerings to the Gods.
So at our opening rites on Friday night, we consecrated and created a temple over the entire (large) site by first meeting at the central balefire that was our “Spirit” flame, kept burning all weekend. Here we agreed to the rules of engagement:
- Don’t burn the Witch: be careful, preserve your precious life and help to protect everyone else on site, too. Don’t drink yourself into oblivion. Love yourself and be kind to yourself and all others. Enter in Perfect love.
- Don’t be the Asshole: in all that you do, be the constructive solution, not the destructive problem. Do as you will, but harm none. Enter in Perfect trustworthiness.
- Don’t be the Weak link: we are all in this together, there was no one there whose job it was to throw you a festival, nor to boss you around, so we all do the Work to create beauty and strength, honor and humility, reverence and mirth, power and compassion. Keep pure your highest ideal, strive ever towards it. (Charge of the Goddess by Doreen Valiente)
- Must be present to Win: everyone on site was there to fully participate in our rituals, there would be no observers, no armchair critics, no mere visitors, no free-loaders. If you entered our temple you were there fully prepared to do the Work of Witchcraft of your own free will.
To begin, our Fire Priest, acting as summoner, brandishing our coven sword, challenged us all with the seriousness of what it means to enter between the worlds. HOW DO YOU ENTER? And we all answered in a big cheering shout, IN PERFECT LOVE AND PERFECT TRUST! After that point, anyone who broke the rules would be asked to leave the site. (And we did it, too.)