I'd started the weekend on Thursday presenting on the notion of turning a myth into a ritual (though the topic has broadened beyond that as a result of research). To boil that workshop down to something really essential, it is this: anything can be a myth from which we can create ritual that has meaning and utility. I included lore, movies, TV, and even song lyrics in my examples of places we can draw ritual from (and how drawing from modern sources and retellings is nothing to be ashamed of). What I didn't really expect is that I would find myself in the middle of a perfect case study of doing just that later in the weekend.
On Friday night, while most folks were up at the bardic performance night, I was led into the darkness by dandelionlady (with my eyes closed) and left in the middle of the woods with the briefest of instructions: I was to go on a "bear hunt" and informed that I should "follow the shining lights, and you can't get lost." And with a slightly mischievous smile, she disappeared back into the darkness and left me all alone with a candle lantern and nothing else.
I spent a bit of time then discerning how to track the bears I was supposed to hunt. Fortunately, the way was, indeed, not difficult. I could see the first light from where I was left, and made my way to the first spot, where I caught my first bear. I followed the lights from place to place, catching the bears I was set to hunt and meditating a bit on the gifts that each one offered.
I remember very distinctly at one point standing in the middle of the woods at one waypoint and seeking the next one in the darkness. I thought about all the theory I know revolving around rituals and rites of passage and I said to myself, "Wow, this is powerful from both a personal perspective and an academic one." It's a thought I have never had in ritual before, even though I am always analyzing ritual and its performance (including my own). I think the key differences were a certain level of trust (perhaps "faith" is a better word?) in the ritual planners that is hard to come by sometimes for me, along with not having to plan anything except grabbing a set of offerings and being allowed to just "go with the flow" and have it all planned out for me.
The last light was held by a different kind of small bear (Kathleen's daughter, dressed in an amazingly cute bear cloak), who asked me if I was ready to continue, if I wanted to. I did, and I was led down to a fire where she and dandelionlady's daughters (also in amazingly cute bear cloaks) proceeded to honor the Spirits, challenge me with questions, and provide me with omens and gifts. . . all while singing nursery rhymes and children's songs that had been re-formatted to fit the Core Order of Ritual (think "Pop Goes the Well Gate" and you have it).
It was impressive and silly, frightening and comfortable, physically challenging and yet simple to do. It was deeply meaningful and incredibly hilarious. It informed me about the ability of kids of all ages to engage in ritual in significant ways. It also introduced me to the Hugs of Life, and one of dandelionlady's daughters decided to take the idea of "teaching him to be a daddy" introduced that night to amusing lengths. (This ended up with me under a pile of children at lunch the next day: nothing like starting the kinetic programming early, eh?)
In the end, one bear I had been sent to hunt was a bit elusive, and got away. During a conversation with one of the girls after the ritual, I found out that this was the largest bear of all (she also said that that particular bear was just like her mom). I informed her that it was okay, and that sometimes you don't need to catch the bear; instead, the process of chasing the bear is what is really important, and if all you do is get to chase, it can still be quite fulfilling.
The rite was a mythic dramatization of the book "We're Going on a Bear Hunt," and relied on that book as the myth I was set to reenact in the ritual. It described some of the perils and frustrations of parenthood, and imparted upon me a bit of wisdom I hope I remember at the end of the day.
There was a lot of love that went into that ritual, both in planning and execution. It was clear from the very start, and it was really amazing to get to share it with those two people, as well. Their daughters did an amazing job (they were better in ritual than some adults I know, honestly), and having them there to challenge me a bit was a pretty excellent bit of inspiration, as it helped me work through the process quite well. Plus, when people ask why I wasn't at the Bardic that night, I have a great response: "Kathleen and Mel kidnapped me into the woods and made me a father."
I am deeply thankful to my fellow Priests (and their daughters) for putting this together for me.