Since I began practicing Wicca in 2005, something has felt wrong during mine and Spooky's rituals. We'd have the words. All the material components. Our hearts were in it, our minds focused. And yet, still, something felt wrong. And now I know, for sure, what. Wicca cannot be practiced in a crowded back room that is generally used for dollmaking. It must be practised beneath an open sky. This is to say, the Midsummer ritual last night was exquisite, one of the most remarkable hours of my life. And I know now that my suspicion that the missing element in our rituals was environmental was spot on*.
We left Providence about 4 pm, because we needed to swing by the Kingston Free Library to drop off 5 more boxes of books. We'd already donated 2, so that's a total of 7 we've given for their forthcoming book sale (by the way, no idea why I'm typing numbers as numerals instead of words today...they're just coming out that way). Maybe 200 books, all told. I should have parted with 3 times that number, but, you know, baby steps. After the library, we drove up to Spooky's parent's farm in Saunderstown, because her father has finally returned from his latest anthropological sojourn to some exotic clime or another (I forget just where, somewhere in South America). We must have gotten there about 5 or 5:30, and it was so much cooler in South County than in Providence, with the wonderful breeze. They showed us their new pitcher plant (sorry, don't recall the species), and we talked by the koi pond her mother, Carol, is working on. They're about to install a biofilter, to help keep the water a little cleaner. I think the pond has about 50 koi at this point. Her mother trades the babies for fish food. We played with Spider, talked about birds, and my bad eyes, black bear sightings in South County, and summer, and graduate students, and back doors. A taillight on Spooky's car was fixed by cannibalizing the old blue van. It was a good visit.
About 6:30 or so, we headed east to Beavertail, across the Jamestown Bridge to Conanicut Island, and then south to Beavertail. The sun was beginning to set, and the wetlands and thickets of beach roses and other assorted flora were teeming with wildlife. Deer, rabbits, egrets, robins everywhere, all manner of sea birds. We circled back behind the lighthouse, to a more secluded place we found in 2004 (about 1,200 feet northeast of the lighthouse). I'd packed about half our altar for the trip, trying to keep in mind the wind and that the ritual should not be overly complicated or ruined by things one cannot do while clinging to a rocky sea cliff in a strong wind. It was actually cold when we got out of the car, and I put on my sweater, my arm socks, and my cloak, and followed Spooky down the steep erosional ravine leading to the rocks (carefully skirting the ubiquitous poison ivy). There were very few people nearby, mostly fishermen, and the people who were there kindly left us alone. We must have gotten started about 7 pm, and the tide was coming in**, consuming the shore in great foaming mouthfuls. Spooky spotted crabs in a high tide pool. There were bits of dried seaweed scattered about. There were a few gulls, and cormorants just offshore (Phalacrocorax spp.). Spooky said, "They look like little Nessies." There were seabirds I did not recognize. The sky had gone a wonderful assortment of blues, greys, and pinks. To the south, the lighthouse flashed at its regular intervals. I cast the circle, started a small fire in our cauldron, and we set to work. Well, work's the wrong word, I think. It was too delightful to call work. Recall my definition of magick as the "willful invocation of awe." It was that. I adapted Starhawk's Litha ceremony, substituting some of my own phrasing, and tailoring it for only 2 people, instead of a full coven. A handful of salt to the North, a feather to the East, a garlic clove to the south, two fern fronds to the West. The wind and the sea were wild, and this was the wild magick I've been seeking for three years.
About halfway through, we paused to eat the bread we'd brought along and have some of the wine. We were joined by a young gull, who seemed hardly the least bit afraid of people. He landed inside our circle, and Spooky fed him. A Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), the largest species in the North Atlantic, with wingspans up to 65". This fellow was no more than three winters old. As the breakers crashed over the craggy black and grey rocks (Jamestown Formation, Middle Cambrian age) and rushed noisily into deep places between the rocks, the lone gull added a note of humour to the whole affair. Soon, though, a second, larger gull arrived and swooped over us a couple of times, then sat a short distance away, seeming to caw angrily at our visitor. The two finally left together, and we continued. I finished the ritual and opened the circle. It was getting dark by then, and we had to pick our way carefully along the cliffs back to the ravine. Within sight of the path leading back up the to car, we stopped, stealing a little more time with the sea. Spooky arranged stones in her impromptu mandalas, and I stood on a high promontory jutting out over the rough waters of Narragansett Bay. I closed my eyes and spread my arms, just listening — the birds, the wind, the sea, a bell buoy, a distant foghorn. There was a moment that seemed to stretch on forever. As Einstein said, "People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."*** I know there was time in that moment, but I also felt, with perfect clarity, its relativity to my perceptions of it. Beneath my feet, the metamorphosed sandstones and shales were still being laid deposited in trilobite-haunted seas, still being heated in the orogenies that formed Avalonia, crosscut with plutonic intrusions during the Ordovician and Devonian. Offshore, it might have been 500 AD, or 1649, or sometime in the 19th Century. I was unstuck. It was a million years from now, and storms and the tides had washed away those cliffs entirely. I opened my eyes to a distinct sense of vertigo, as I seemed to snap back into the matrix of the moment, and there was the sense that something I'd called up in the circle had trailed after us, lingering there with me on the cliff. But. It tattered and came apart in the salty wind, and I saw the designs Spooky had made on the rocks. She said we'd best be going before it got any darker, and I admitted, reluctantly, she was right. I didn't want to leave the sea and head back to the city. I wanted to sink back into that mental space I'd found, unfixed in time, that place where all the thousand petty concerns of my day-to-day life, all the noise that adds up to Me, was shown to be so perfectly insignificant before the business of this vasty universe.
I should cut this off now. sovay will be arriving on the 1:45 train from Boston, and I should really try to straighten up the mostly unpacked house just a little more. There are a few photographs from yesterday evening (behind the cut):
The koi pond.
Spooky's parent's house.
Two of the many bunnies we spotted at Beavertail. I think this is the shortest, widest jpg I have ever posted. Damned uncooperative bunnies!
View south from the spot where I cast our circle.
View north, towards Lionshead, and you can make out the southern edges of Jamestown, still in sunshine.
Looking east, out across Narragansett Bay.
Just before we headed back to the car, looking south to the lighthouse. Blurry, too little light remaining, and Spooky was shivering.
All photographs Copyright © 2008 by Kathryn A. Pollnac
* No, this wasn't my first outdoor ritual — there was the skyclad one a couple of years back, for example, but it had been a while.
** High tide at Beavertail at 9:46 last night.
*** From a letter (March 1955) printed in the posthumously published Science and the Search for God Disturbing the Universe (1979).