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Standing with Our Backs to the World

A few years back, some local witches held a ritual at Mounds Park in St. Paul.

Mounds Park is one of the most sacred (and beautiful) places in our area, where 2000-year old burial mounds line the bluff that is the highest point in Ramsey County, overlooking the Mississippi River Valley.

Although these folks pride themselves on being ritually innovative, this particular rite was Standard Wiccan Issue, right out of the books. So there we were, in the most sacred spot for miles around, casting a circle around ourselves to “create sacred space.”

If it weren't so mindless, it would be offensive.

The rite made no reference to the mounds themselves, to those who built them, or to those who lay in them. We never called upon the mighty River that looped and snaked below us, which 10,000 years ago created the very landscape upon which we stood. As we worked our magic, the Sun set in full summer splendor, unacknowledged.

We might as well have been in someone's living room, standing with our backs to the world.

One of the joys of being in Mounds Park is that one often sees eagles there. On this particular night, one lone eagle wheeled and banked above the bluff as people gathered. Several of the organizers pointed this out to me, as if it somehow constituted an approbation of what they were doing. Since it was we ourselves who were in the eagles' place, I found this perspective disingenuous at best.

As we cast our circle that night, the eagle ceased its wheeling, passed directly across the circle, and flew away.

Make of it what you will.

 

 

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

Comments

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Sunday, 27 April 2014

    Are we part of nature? Should our rituals celebrate that? Then we need to know where we are and with whom we share the sacred place. Could not agree more.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 27 April 2014

    In this highly industrialized world of ours, in which it's easy to forget that we ourselves are animals and belong to the environment just like all the other animals, it seems only right that our religion(s) should remind us, and that our rituals should renew the relationship.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Monday, 28 April 2014

    I can understand your concern. I've been to rituals that were "creative" but made no mention of the time, place, or Sabbat they supposedly celebrated. The criticism of casting a circle though, appears to show a lack of understanding of the purpose and function of a Wiccan circle. One very important purpose is to be a boundary and protection against unwanted spiritual beings. A burial mound may be "the most sacred spot," but by its nature it may harbor a variety of unwanted spiritual beings. A protective circle would, perhaps, be more necissary there than elsewhere.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 29 April 2014

    Oh, I'm well aware of the risted circle's power to ward, Greybeard; it's part of Old Craft lore, too. But I would say that the People of the Mounds are not just any dead; they are the ancestors-in-the-land. An Old Craft approach here would be to make offerings to them and, by virtue of such, to ask their aid.

    The lives of the ancestors were filled with holy places, temples, and shrines, and these were an important part of their relationship with the Land. Casting circles is a fine technology for when one has no access to the holy places--it's certainly more portable--but it seems to me that when circles come to replace our holy places, we've lost the fullness of pagan tradition.

  • Lee Holland
    Lee Holland Monday, 28 April 2014

    I am surprised that you were allowed to do a ritual there. At many of the Native American sites remaining in Tennessee and Georgia the state and federal park system is very sensitive to the religious nature of these areas. No one except for members of state or federally recognized tribes are allowed to hold religious ceremonies in the park boundries. I think this is a good policy and hope that the keepers of Mound Park no longer allows random groups to hold rituals there.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 29 April 2014

    Mounds Park is a city park, so anyone with a permit can hold an assembly there, religious or non-religious.

    The issue you raise here, Lee, is certainly one that deserves careful and nuanced thought. Clearly the First Nations have elder right in the Land. But are we not as pagans also People of the Land? A place of power is a place of power, where we speak to the Land and the Land speaks to us. The Grand Canyon is held sacred by all the local First Nations peoples: should non-First Nations peoples be categorically banned from holding ritual there?

    Or (to take one I've been wrestling with for years) Uluru/"Ayers Rock" in Australia, in at least some Aboriginal traditions, is a men's shrine, and forbidden to women. Can a pagan woman respectful of First Nations tradition in good conscience go there or not? How far do rights and respect extend?

    Big questions, for sure, to which I certainly don't have the answers. But we sure do need to be thinking about these issues. There's so much to be learned from them.

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