Other people’s solstices

Rather than perform a full-blown summer solstice ritual myself (I did light a candle and think solsticey thoughts), I decided to attend a ritual at a nearby Unitarian Universalist church. The church is in the throes of remodeling, resulting in the ritual being held in the sanctuary. It was an awkward fit. Unitarian Universalism is no longer a Christian denomination, but the design of this sanctuary followed a standard Christian church layout, with rows of pews facing a chancel. The organizers had done their level best to fit a circle of folding chairs into the chancel. Since the chancel is elevated three stair-levels above the main floor, half the circle was up in the chancel and the other half was squeezed into the aisle between the first row of pews and the lowest stair. But as the lower chairs filled, people began sitting in the front pews rather than go for the upper chairs. We may all have egalitarian ideals, but there’s a lot of conditioning that says that a chancel is only for the people actively participating in a service!

The ritual itself was like a Pagan ritual with Christian elements. I don’t mean theological elements, but parts of what I think of as the Basic Protestant Service (BPS). Most noticeably, there were programs. And honestly, programs do solve some of the recurring problems I’ve seen at Pagan rituals. Instead of trying to teach chants and songs to participants ahead of time, the organizers simply printed the words and music in the program. This meant that they could use chants and songs that were more complicated than what people are usually asked to learn before Pagan rituals. Heck, with programs in hand, we even managed a couple of rounds. Programs, though, let the organizers include another element of the BPS: responsive readings. I’ve never been fond of those—a crowd never responds in unison or with much true feeling in their voices—and I didn’t appreciate having them in a ritual, although the poems they were reading were cool.

The ritual had two focus activities. One was a Maypole for the children. Shades of the BPS: it did feel like the children’s time in a Sunday service. Some of the youngest children weren’t sure that this was a good idea at first, so several parents came along for reassurance, but by the end, everyone was laughing. In addition to emotional support, the parents were useful for untangling children from ribbons. Kudos to whoever figured out how to erect a Maypole indoors that could stand strong against all that yanking and pulling! (Without drilling a hole in the floor, that is.) After that, people were invited to place yellow stones for joys and/or blue stones for sorrows in a scale on the altar. This church does this at other services throughout the year, so it both linked this ritual to these other services and seemed particularly appropriate for a solstice or equinox service, what with the symbolism of a scale moving in and out of balance.

By the way, this ritual was 100% deity-free. They called the quarters and dismissed them again at the end, with no mention of any goddess or god in between. It’s not the first time I’ve seen this at their rituals, and I don’t know why it gets to me. It’s not like there’s a lot of theos in my personal theology; I tend to see the Goddess and God as archetypes, even when I’m inviting them in a ritual. The best analogy I can come up with is that a Pagan ritual without gods is sort of like a performance of a sonata for violin and orchestra minus the violin. It would still be nice to listen to, but it’s not the same. Alas, no cakes and ale either. Since there was no energy work, there wasn’t a need for grounding, but its social function would have been nice. Who were these other people who came? I’d like to get to know more Pagans in the area, and a bit of post-ritual eating and drinking would be a good way to work on that. Besides, I like food. Phooey.

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2 thoughts on “Other people’s solstices

  1. Thanks for sharing – I like hearing about how people do rituals, and for a large group of Unitarians, this sounds very true to form, actually. They probably left out the god/goddess so as not to impose or offend any attendees. The program with the lyrics sounds quite helpful, actually. I’m sad to know there was no food and socializing afterwards, though. That’s one thing every public event should have, in my opinion.

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    1. Yes, I figured that was the reason. It has been years since I went to one of their Sunday services, but I may drop by one someday, just to see if they refer to God during it. The more I think about it, the more I think programs are an excellent idea, although they would be an additional cost to any group that used them. It just occurred to me that there might not have been any food simply because the kitchen and parish hall are caught up in the remodeling right now. I have hope for it at future seasonal rituals!

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