December 1992. Kaiserslautern, Germany. It was my third December overseas in my Air Force career. My third December as a solo Pagan. It was the first December since I had appeared in an October 31st center-piece entitled “Practicing Pagans” in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which was delivered throughout the European Military command. While I knew several Pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, and Ceremonial Magicians in the K-town (The US military’s affectionate nickname for Kaiserslautern), I had never felt more alone than I did on that mid-December night. My face was known to many I had never met after that article release. I had been verbally assaulted several times in public, and physically attacked in the Sembach Air Base Post Office on an early morning after my work shift. I didn’t have the loving arms of the Wiccan coven that I had started out on my Pagan path to turn to. Dallas, Texas was a long, long away. I was very alone.
You’re not alone. You just need to find your footing on your own.
That voice in my head then reminded me that I was capable of being a Pagan on my own. I protested that I knew very little of how to handle a Wiccan ritual on my own. I was further reminded that Wicca was not my Path. It was a starting point. As for ritual, I could create what I needed, so long as suited me and came from the heart – that’s all that really mattered. That voice, as it turned out much, much later, was Coyote. I wasn’t being asked to align myself with Him. As I said, that comes much later – many years later. I was only being asked to pull up my big-boy pants and move forward on my own. Kill the pity party, and just get on with things.
I devised a small “ritual” – something that was easily duplicated, which I could alter as I need to. That first night was a cold one. Well below freezing with about a foot of snow on the ground. I lived in Kaiserslautern, down in the valley. I worked at a higher elevation at Sembach Air Base. Because of the snow, I had parked up the hill from the command-and-control facility that was my duty section, a small bunker under a large pile of rocks next to the football stadium. When the snow was heavy, the snowplows would not come down either of the steep hills that were on either side of the bunker’s entry point. It was a late-night shift change, and I walked through the snow to climb the hill to the parking lot at the top. There was a picnic table there. I did my small ritual here, hoping that someone sitting at a picnic table at 1am in the snow on a Saturday night would not attract the attention of the military police. I certainly didn’t need to be turned in for a psychiatric evaluation.
I had brought a red pillar candle with me in my backpack, along with a lighter that I used to start charcoal fires in the BBQ back at my residence in Vogelweh Housing. I sat down, lit the candle, and looked up at the bright, yellow moon. Nearly a full moon. I had wanted to do this under a full moon, but I wasn’t working that night, so this would be the closest I could manage. Back in Housing, there was no way I could do what I wanted without someone observing and potentially interfering. So here I was.
The entire “ritual” was simplistic and easy. I sat and went through the motions of drawing a circle in my mind, I called the four Quarters in my mind. I thanked the Moon for witnessing my rite. Then I sat there and went through everything that I was thankful for. Depending on the year – I have done this every year at the closest full moon to mid-December – my list of things to be thankful for has been super small or uber huge. But there’s always been a list. In later years, I did away with calling the Quarters and drawing a circle. I didn’t need or want a barrier between me and the rest of the world. Instead, I moved to calling for any of the Gods to come and watch over my rite – asking four times, once at each quarter. For me, this made a lot more sense than creating a circle, calling the Quarters, and establishing a barrier between me and “the big bad world” out there beyond.
Some will say that I am doing this too simplistically. Or that my form is a touch too raw in its form. Not polished enough was one term I’ve heard before. But I always felt like I was behind tall walls of a fortress calling out my gratitude to the Gods and Spirits who have been there but are now locked out of what I am doing. Basically, I felt I was shouting over the walls of the fortress to thank the very individuals I have pulled up the moat bridge and lowered the gates to keep out. To me, that didn’t have a feeling of gratitude to it. More like a frightened “thank you” being called over the wall. You know, a “thank you for not killing me” or some such perspective. As for “polished” – I’ve gone in for rituals that felt more like rehearsed plays. I prefer the raw, emotional aspect of the unrehearsed, but that’s just my choice.
The ritual or rite or whatever you want to call it, its simple. Simple is easy to remember. Simple is easy to prepare for. I don’t have to have the planets aligned, except the moon to be full. Even that is not a requirement more than it is a choice. The only real requirement is to place myself in a mindful state and remember every aspect of gratitude that I can recall. For those that I cannot recall, I typically end my remembering with a statement along the lines of: “…and thank you for all the things that I should recall as being grateful for but cannot. I am, after all, only human.”
What am I grateful for? I am grateful for all of my friends who have stuck with me through what turned out to be one of the most trying moments of my life. I am thankful for all the people who have passed out of my life and those who have entered into my life since last year. I am thankful to be alive…still. I am thankful and grateful to Coyote, Crow, and Abnoba for the guidance that Each has provided for me. I am thankful for Their patience. I am thankful and grateful for the abundance of choices that I have in my life. I would be so very lost without having choices to make. I am grateful for the chance to continue beyond the mistakes that I have made. I am thankful for having the chance to make those mistakes as well. I don’t learn without them.
If this inspires you to something similar, let me reiterate – you should create a ritual that works for you. Something you can do without any heavy thought or major preparation – unless that’s your kind of thing. Make it yours. Do what matters for you. Do the things that give it meaning for you. Whatever that is. Play music if that helps you. This year, I’ll be using a recording of Brooks and Dunn’s ‘Red Dirt Road” as part of mine. The song’s title has meaning for me and where I’ve come from. Some of the lyrics have strong meaning – even despite the overt Christian lyrics. Do what brings meaning to you…whatever that looks like. No judgment from me. And if you get judged for what you are doing…remember, its about what has meaning for you. A moment of gratitude is about what it means for you, not how others will perceive it. Be you. Be true to who you are and what you are. I’d give you a hug at this point if we talked about this face-to-face. But since this is a blog post and not a face-to-face conversation…just feel the hug. I’d goose you too…so long as you promise not slap me. 🙂
One thought on “Thinking About: My Gratitude Ritual in mid-December”
Thanks for this kind and inspiring post. I do like to describe it as ‘kind’ as it reminds me of how we have to be kind to ourselves not just others especially in our spiritual journey and our rituals. Although it’s been many years, my first experiences with group pagan practices were highly structured and ritualistic. The results were very unpleasant. Even minor adjustments were referred to as ‘Making Soup’ and was highly discouraged.
Fortunately and more recently, I have found practitioners more interested in the resulting experience than the ritual, recognizing that simply because we use the same recipe doesn’t mean we’ll have the same product. And in fact it’s almost a necessity to tweak the recipe a little each time. Yes, there have been some burnt cookies and no, salt is not a sugar substitute. But this helps to validate the result was due to the particular causes we thought and not just because it was the recipe of a famous cook.
The reference to ‘behind tall walls of a fortress calling out’ was especially poignant for myself. Since I’ve dropped most of the particulars of my ritual practice, but not essence I hope, I feel more like I’m in the middle of a field and under the moon and starts; much more connected. Thanks for your sharing as it gives me a chance to reflect on my practice as well.