Yesterday Husband (reluctantly) and I attend our first pagan ritual. As I'm pretty certain now that the subject of my PhD is going to be modern paganism I thought I'd better start doing more than just reading. This is still a new and emerging religious form so there is only so much information you can get from books. No matter which approach I end up taking some kind of "participant observation" seems to be pretty likely to be involved. So I sought out a public ritual for the celebration of the Winter Solstice from one of the online networking sites. Anyone can attend but I dropped an email to the contact given and she said I was welcome to come along.
The ritual was organised by an eclectic Wiccan coven based in Surrey called the Cauldron of Cerridwen. From what I could tell their patron deities are the goddess Cerridwen and the god Cerrunos - both associated with the Celtic tradition. These fill the role of male and female deity present in mainstream Wicca.
The coven and other individuals met up at the pub in the village of Avebury. This is the location of one of England's greatest stone circles - in my mind, far more impressive than Stonehenge. It's used by a wide range for groups for varying rituals - with an official Druid "keeper of the stones".
The coven and all the bystanders - including me and Husband - formed a circle. With the leaders of the coven - male and female, not sure what they call them in this group - standing in the middle with a table laid with a black cloth, a flaming cauldron, a loaf of bread and a chalice. Words were said, and the four corners of the compass called, to establish the sacred circle. Part of the ritual was the re-enactment of the battle between the Holly King (the waning year) and the Oak King (the waxing year). Two chaps were dressed in green and did a mock fight with sticks , think Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. The Oak King won and was crowned. Then more words were said and then the circle broken. I hung around a spoke to a couple of coven members before heading back to the pub for a late lunch. As Husband commented "how English" to start and end your pagan celebration with the pub.
It was a public, light-hearted ritual and I can't say I felt any particular "spiritual energy" raised, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the point of it. I imagine that most pagan groups only really get going in private. I'm glad I went. It helped confirm that I was studying the thing I should be studying.... but also made me wonder - how on earth am I going to get to know these groups? Well that's a problem for the New Year.