This past Monday we finally managed to get the family out in to the woods to celebrate the autumnal equinox — Alban Elued in the Druid Revival tradition. Two weeks previous, at the actual equinox, my wife was quite sick with a cold. One week ago it was raining cats and dogs. This weekend was perfect.
On the advice of Druid Priestess Ellen Evert Hopman, whom I’ve mentioned before, we went to the Quabbin Reservoir, a huge lake that provides Boston with fresh water. It is surrounded by thick woods entirely given over to biking, fishing, and hiking.
Our family is new to Druidry, so we don’t have much in the way of ritual accoutrements. We gathered up some necklaces that were meaningful to us, found a beautiful handmade mug to be the “horn of plenty”, water in a jar, and a pillow feather to represent air. Once in the woods, we found a rock to represent the earth and a brilliant red fallen leaf for fire.
We walked maybe 50 yards into the woods along a dirt road and then left the path, proceeding directly through a patch of knee-high undergrowth into the trees. We reached a cluster of large rocks which we thought at first would work as a grove, but we soon saw some abandoned iron piping and an old bottle, which would not serve the mood properly. (We couldn’t move the iron pipes, but we did take the bottle out with us.) A little further in, the ground dropped sharply, and we found ourselves in a grove of ash trees. The ashes were hugging the slope, with a footstool-sized rock conveniently placed in the midst of it. This rock we chose as our altar.
I describe the ritual a little bit in an earlier post. We began by opening the grove and purifying it. Then we meditated (very briefly, because of our young children) on the place of the of the autumnal equinox in the wheel of the year. At last we invited the spirits of the trees to enter the grove with us. We paused for a moment, and listened to the forest. My eldest daughter, who is almost eight, reported to us later that at that moment she felt the ash tree behind her move into the grove.
We thanked the trees and the spirits of nature for their gifts. We raised the horn of plenty and drank, thanking the trees at each sip. We placed a clutch of grapes as an offering upon the altar. Then, just as we closed the ceremony, there was a sound like wind (though none of us felt a breath of it — the whole day was completely becalmed) and the ashes around us showered us with golden leaves.
“The trees are saying you’re welcome,” said my wife. At that moment, we all knew it was true.
When we were all finished, we went a little further downhill, away from the altar, and had a picnic lunch. The children explored and played in the forest. Our eldest daughter was probably the most deeply affected by the ceremony; she felt the presence of the trees very strongly, and she was very moved by the trees’ tangible response to a heartfelt thanks.
Then we packed up and went home. But that wasn’t the end of it.
It is our custom at dinnertime for all of us to tell our favorite parts of the day — even our youngest daughter, who is two. Her English is a long way from that of an Oxford don, but she can make herself understood. She told us that her favorite part of the day had been when she played with the trees and the trees said “gaudeamus” to her.
We were floored. “Gaudeamus” is part of the name of a song of celebration, “Gaudeamus Hodie“, which our family picked up at our Waldorf school. It is a short, sweet little song, and the words consist entirely of “Gaudeamus hodie” repeated a number of times. Apparently, our two year old heard the trees singing this to her.
The phrase “Gaudeamus hodie” means “let us celebrate today”; so the choice of song was very appropriate, though I doubt that my daughter knew that (she doesn’t know what “Gaudeamus hodie” means, and even if she did, she doesn’t know non-concrete words like “celebrate” — she still has trouble with concepts like “today”. When we ask her what her favorite part of the day was, she frequently mentions her birthday party, which happened back in August.)
None of the rest of us heard the trees singing. But my eldest daughter suggested that the little one had heard them because, as the youngest, she was the one most like a fairy.
I have never seen fairies, and I’ve never heard the trees or the fairies singing, but I know they are alive in my house, and we are blessed.