Freeing Our Spirits and Breaking Our Chains
by Bronwynn Torgerson
Rituals are born in unexpected ways. They may be birthed by dreams remembered, longings unfulfilled or deep conversations with friends. Two weeks before Samhain, it became clear that catharsis was needed. The Great Between of the Samhain season was manifest in our lives as well, and so many of us had entered the place of uneasy inertia. The Scholar, a single mother strapped with bills, wrestled with her yearning for a degree, while questioning if it might be fairer to her kids and the utility company if she quit school and returned to work full time. The Sage confided his fear of the gastric bypass surgery that his doctor was urging him toward. He told me he felt that without it, he might have 10 or 15 more years of life left. I, priestess of many open circles, challenged and stretched thin by the wide spectrum of ability, knowledge and intent of those attending, stood at the crossroads. Should I continue in this format, which was needed in our community, but didn’t quite feed my soul, or should I ask the Goddess for a different way to serve? Others phoned, came by for coffee, poured out their confusion. A pattern emerged. We all were stuck fast, unable to move, bound by our own individual fears, insecurities and “what ifs.” Something had to be done to end the psychic and spiritual paralysis.
This ritual emerged, simple yet powerful. We elected to perform it just before Samhain, while the Parade of Souls was passing by and the aid of our ancestors might be obtained. It might also be performed near the 4th of July, to liberate oneself from overshadowing or restricting conditions.
We found it visually effective to use a descent mechanism into ritual space, lining the passage with candles. Our ceremony took place outdoors, in a park where there were upper and lower armadas and a staircase running between. The psychic effect was eerie and otherworldly. We lowered ourselves into the dark well of the soul, into a hallowed place, not knowing what we might find. It was vitally important that each participant bind his or her own wrists, wrapping the raffia around. No one else had placed us in this situation. No one else could comprehend the complications, hopes and dreads we sought to journey through.
This ritual began in the Southeast sector, signifying that we had pondered the problem, considered our options, and were now ready to actively seek a solution. The blessing incense was placed in the South, so once chains were cast aside, we could take part in an ancient lesson in letting go: Before you can release, you must first bless. Bitter are the lessons sometimes, but wisdom is a teacher and must be acknowledged. Into the void of the chains can come illumination, courage, optimism and openness to support. Hence the guidance of the runes, placed in the West. Finally, in the North, we were strengthened and embraced, honored for our choice to make the journey and reminded that in the hearts of the Lord and Lady, none of us walked alone.
If you emulate this ritual, resolutions will result, unexpected messages will be whispered on the wind. You will find that which bound you fast was an empty thing without power. Your answers may come in the flicker of a burnishing, blessing fire. You may see them in the eyes of a friend, who knows what you’ve been though and journeys with you. The journey and the bonds are uniquely your own. Break your chains and set your spirit free.
As for the results of our own ritual, the Scholar graduated and now has a job she loves. The Sage waited out another year before descending into the nether realm of the operating room. He is now healthy, whole and the love of my life. The Lady walked us, hand in hand, to coordinating Pagan Pride Day events, hosting at a myriad of circles and sowing the seeds of new life.
This is a self-releasing, very empowering group ritual that can best be done at waning Moon. You will need: a bundle of raffia and a bell in the east; a bowl with a mixture of fragrant herbs and dried petals to give to seekers in the south; a set of runes which may safely be submerged in spring water in the west; cakes and wine in the north; participants to man the elemental stations and offer elemental invocations; sacred drummers to maintain the heartbeat of the experience; a rattle to pass from hand to hand, in confirmation of blessings already on the way.
Begin the Ritual
People enter through the southern gate, passing by the fire (already lit by this time) and an abalone shell of smoldering sage. As they enter, they sing: “Passing through the fire, we reach the other side. Passing through the fire, Ancients be our guide.”
High priestess (HPS): “Sometimes, it is we who shackle ourselves. Through our fears real or imagined, our uncertainties and doubts take hold. Sometimes our bonds are forged of complacency, inertia or doubts that we are worthy of more. We forget that we are children of the Goddess and the God, and that their love surrounds us. We forget that the universe provides, and that the wise man or woman inside us knows only perfect timing, perfect love and perfect trust. We forget to relinquish what is old and no longer serves a purpose. We fail to reach for what we need, to heed the inner call, and be reborn.”
High priest (HP): “Tonight, at waning Moon, we shed our old skin and break the bonds that we ourselves have fashioned. We will begin by blessing and purifying this place, inviting our watchers, gods and guides to stand witness to our rite of transformation.”
HPS: “Drummers, now become the heartbeat of this place, and all creation. Echo through our blood and bones. Be the calling, that which spurs us on. Be the balance, that which connects us to all life. Be the voice of all unseen.”
Drummers take their places around the four stations. As the drummers decide one by one that their tie of binding and loosening has come, one of the people who has completed their journey, steps up to take the drummer’s place so that the beat is continuous.
Air: “In this windswept hallowed space, winged ones come and lend your grace. Bless with vision, heal our hearts; as some things end and some things start. Hail and welcome and blessed be!”
Fire: “Bright ones, burn away all mundane dross, old restrictions, shame or loss. Leave us gleaming, forged anew; strong and bold, strengthened by you. Hail and welcome and blessed be!”
Water: “Ocean’s womb, from whence we came, call to each of us by name. Reveal to us what needs to be; transformation and liberty. Hail and welcome and blessed be!”
Earth: “Mountains of the Mother’s breast, place of comfort, place of rest. In your refuge, let us stand; heart to heart and hand to hand. Hail and welcome and blessed be!”
“Oh, Great Mother, you are the answers sought and found in the darkest hour of night. You are wise woman, friend, eternal companion and guide. We call to you to counsel and to bless! We call to you as witness the breaking of our chains! We call to you to midwife this time of rebirth! O, Great One, we pray you, join us this night. Descend we pray you, into this thy priestess.”
Sung Goddess chant begins: “Ancient Mother, we hear you calling; Ancient Mother, we hear your song. Ancient Mother, we hear your laughter; Ancient Mother, we taste your tears.”
“Oh, Great Father, you are the true friend forever at our side. It is you who teach us which battles are just, when we must speak out for another, when we must reclaim ourselves. You are our teacher and brother and guide. Be the stout staff we lean on; be the unfailing heart, wise head and far-seeing eye. Oh, Great One, we pray you, join us on this night. Descend we pray you into this, thy priest.”
Sung God chant begins: “Ancient Father, we hear you calling; be our counsel, be our guide. Ancient Father, we feel you near us; God of courage, now abide.”
The Circle is Cast
HP and HPS bless the cakes and ale, which are later taken to the northern table.
People join hands one by one, saying, “Separate, but united in our hopes and in our fears, we stand as one people. The circle is cast!” HPS instructs all those present to envision a glowing dome or rainbow light overhead, below and surrounding the sphere in which all stand. A toning may be used to raise protective energy.
When the energy has been raised, HPS turns to the people and says, “Before you lays the journey. In the east, you may contemplate those bonds you have placed upon yourself. What constricts you? What impedes you? Look into the mirror, light incense to carry your prayers on the wind … then take up a length of raffia and wrap it about yourself. It is this and nothing more that holds you back from claiming your true destiny and fulfillment. When you are ready, ring the bell and journey on.”
HP: “Next, approach the southern fire. One who guards the holy hearth stands vigil there, ready to cut the needless cord that binds you to your former self. Cast off your old chains into the fire, gaze into its heart and be reborn. Into the hand that is empty, shall be given blessing…cast your offering to the flames and rejoice that by your choosing, you are free.”
HPS: “Then, approach the Well of Wyrd … in its watery depths, distant and unseen, are runes … a symbol to guide you on your way. Engrave them on your mind and your heart, then cast them to the waters once more.”
HP: “Finally, come full-circle to the healing of the north. Accept the love of the Old Ones, sustenance for the new life ahead, and a message of courage from the God, to speed you on your way.”
When all have completed the journey, together again we shall stand. As the rattle is passed from hand to hand, each may speak what he or she has found courage to claim. We shall bless and affirm, by repeating the blessing each one seeks … for example, “We send you abundance! We send you full health! We send you more pleasing work!”
Priest and priestess undergo the binding and loosening ritual last.
God and Goddess are thanked, elements are dismissed, but watchers are asked to remain until the last guest is safely home again.