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During the waning half of the year, we encounter the energy of sacrifice, of descent into the Underworld. The three harvests, the Grain Harvest of Lughnasadh, the Harvest of Fruits at Mabon and the Harvest of Meat at Samhain, represent the dying cycle of the year, the turning of the Wheel to more barren times. Life at one time was far more precarious than it is now; our ancestors relied on the harvests to see them through the icy parts of the year. Our forebears were never sure whether the world would come through the hard times or not each season; weather being unpredictable; life never being stable. If there was not enough grain, fruit, meat..........they would starve.
On a more psychological view, we see this time of the year into which we are progressing as a time of mourning, of loss, of austerity. In our religions and our belief-system as Pagans and Witches, we liken it to the dying of the God-the harvest of the grain harvests his body so that we might eat. The harvest of fruits is the shedding of his blood so that we might drink. The harvest of the meat is the sacrifice of life that leads to life. And we carry this into our own internal selves, at this time we reenact the symbolism of rebirth, of reincarnation. We shed that which is unnecessary and turn the Wheel of our souls so that we might progress and evolve on a spiritual level. We let go of the old, sacrifice old patterns and habits, and welcome to the void those things which will replace them.
So now, during the waning half of the year, we seek to go on Underworld Journeys. Even as the God descends into the Underworld where he will be rule until he is reborn to the Mother at Yule, we undergo transformation in our own lives. This ritual is rather lengthy and is more than appropriate for Lughnasadh, Samhain, or other Esbats during the waning half of the year.
As always, I remind you, this ritual is copyrighted. You may print it off to perform it, but you may not publish it on any web site or in any magazine. Thank you, Yasmine Galenorn.
Descent To The Underworld A
The Priestess (or Priest)
The Handmaid (or Servant)
Note: the Priestess, Drummer, Handmaid and Bard should practice their parts together once or twice to get a feel for the timing and pace.
The ritual space should be prepared, there should be little light in the area. Participants should bring with them to the ritual a blindfold & should be warned in advance that if they are uncomfortable with being blindfolded that perhaps this ritual isn't for them. The ritual space should be set up as thus: big enough for everyone to sit in a circle, with pillows on the floor for comfort and light blankets if the temperature is cool, this is an intense ritual and the need for warmth is important. There should be a dish with as many silver dollars in it as there are ritual participants. Make sure you have enough.
There should be, in the North quadrant, a tent/passage made out of a dark blanket spread across the backs of six chairs arranged like this:
> > > > > >
2nd Ritual Circle Here
> > > > Chair 1 > > > >Chair 2
> > > > Chair 3 > > > >Chair 4
> > > > Chair 5> > > >Chair 6
> > > > > Main Ritual Circle Here
The tunnel should be a good six feet long at least, would be better if it could be nine feet. The blanket forming the passage should not dip down far enough to obstruct someone crawling through, but neither should it give an airy feeling. Next to the tunnel near the first Circle should be a vase filled with enough roses so each participant can have one. There should be another ritual space off to the side prepared in advance, both Circles should be smudged and cast before any of the participants arrives. None of the participants save for the Drummer, Priestess, Handmaid and Bard should see the arrangement of the Circles or chairs. Everyone should meet in a different room (or if performed outdoors, different area). Before the ritual begins, the Priestess will go over the Chant with the participants to make sure they know it.
Beginning of Ritual: (Everyone gathers in a lighted room). The Priestess, with her athame, stands in the center of the group. The Bard stands ready with a smudge stick and the Drummer beats out a soft, but steady rhythm
Priestess: Welcome. Tonight, we gather to journey into the Underworld and back. You come in search of yourself, in search of your inner guidance. To travel through the shadows requires courage and trust. One cannot see on a dark moonless path, but one knows the path is there. (One by one, she approaches each person and points the dagger at their heart.) Are you prepared to make the journey? (As each person says "yes", she says) Then willingly blindfold yourself that you may go into the Shadows unfettered by conscious vision.
As each is blindfolded, the Handmaid leads them into a line in front of the Bard, who smudges them with the sage. The Drummer is still beating out the rhythm. Then, the Handmaid places the hands of each person on the shoulders of the person in front of them. If there is too much of a height discrepancy then place the hands on the waist
Priestess: As so our ancestors went on vision quests and journeys of rebirth, so now we lead you into the labyrinth
She places the hands of the front participant on the shoulders of the bard and then leads the bard, who walks slowly enough so that the participants don't stumble, into the Circle. The Drummer and Handmaid swing in behind. The Priestess and Bard should lead the group in a spiral pattern, so that as they enter the Circle, they make several swings around it before ending up in place. Once they are in place, the Drummer removes himself to stand near the tent/passageway and he stops drumming. The Priestess and Bard help people to sit down and make themselves comfortable. The Handmaid presses a silver dollar into each person's hand with an admonition to keep hold of it until it is asked for
Priestess: Welcome to the labyrinth of change, of transmutation. To guide you in your journey, you will go in search of Charon, the Boat Man. (The Priestess steps back, she will keep an eye on the participants, if someone seems unduly distressed or uncomfortable, she will very quietly see if they need to be taken out of circle or if their blanket needs adjusting, etc
Bard: Take three deep breaths and relax. Follow my voice. (pause) You find yourself on the top of a hill under the waning moon. A barren tree stands stark, a silhouette against the pale light shining down from the Moon Mother. Stars glitter in the obsidian sky and a chill tang tells you autumn is already upon you. (pause)
You have come here to seek inner guidance, to seek wisdom and transformation. It is the time of the year for sacrifice, for cutting away old habits and dependencies, for letting go of that which is outdated in your life. Take a moment to look up at the thin silver crescent that hangs over the world. (pause)
As you watch the sky, one meteor streaks through the heavens and down to kiss the horizon. Follow the trail it makes, it points down the hill, towards the North, and you know you must follow the sign. Slowly make your way down the rocky path. The night is dark and you may stumble on the trail, but you know you must keep going. (pause)
Trees reach out with barren branches as you wind down the trail, and the ground is covered with leaves which have fallen and now litter the path. You slip on the decaying mulch and go sprawling to the ground. You feel your knee scraped, but you know you must continue and pick yourself up. (pause)
As you reach the bottom of the hill, you hear a rushing sound from somewhere ahead and you push through the trail laden with sodden brambles and ferns that are brown and dormant. Within moments, you come to an opening in the autumn forest and find yourself on the banks of a dark, raging river. A slender boat waits at the shore, and a figure cloaked in a hooded robe stands next to it. You know, without being told, that this is Charon, the Boat Man, and that you are facing the River Styx. (pause)
Charon approaches you and says, "To journey over the river Styx and return, you must pay the price. That price shall be the sacrifice of something you are ready to release from your life, something you are willing to relinquish. Think well on this, for you will be asked what your sacrifice is to be. (pause)
Priestess: (stands next to the Bard) Now, you are to make the journey into the Underworld, and from there, you will return, renewed and freed from that which you seek to sacrifice. You will pay the Boat Man for your safe passage with your coin, even as you pay the price for transformation with your sacrifice. Join me in song
The Bard takes his place, as Charon, next to the opening to the tent/passageway. The Drummer starts a steady beat. The Priestess begins the chant. All participants join in
As the chant continues to build, the Priestess takes her place on the other side of the chairs (nearest the second ritual area). The chant peaks and the Handmaid begins to lead each person (one at a time, sans blanket and pillow) over to the Bard where the following is enacted:
Bard: I am Charon, the Boat Man. Are you ready to pay the price for safe passage and safe return over the river Styx?
Participant: Yes, I am.
Bard: Give me your coin and tell me your sacrifice.
Participant: (hands coin to Bard, then tells sacrifice).
Bard: Then journey over the river, through the passage into the Underworld
(the Bard assists Participant to their knees and they crawl through the tunnel to the waiting Priestess where she leads them into the second ritual area. A single black or dark purple pillar candle lights the area. She tells them to keep silent in their thoughts and focus on their journey here to the Underworld. When all ritual participants are in the second Circle, the Priestess takes the center. Bard stays at his place as Charon, but the Drummer and Handmaid follow the Priestess into the second ritual Circle).
Priestess: You have come to the Underworld through sacrifice. Now as we dance the spiral labyrinth, we dance the dance of life, death and rebirth. As we dance, think about what you wish to transform in your life through your sacrifice. Focus not on what you have given up, but what you are inviting into your life. You have relinquished and created a void, so that new events, people and habits can enter your world. As we dance, focus on cleansing that space so that only positive energy may fill it.
(Drummer picks up the beat as the Priestess helps them join hands. She takes the hand at one end of the line and leads a spiral dance. Priestess should pay attention to the energy and so must the drummer so that it peaks and is let free).
Priestess: You have danced the spiral of death and rebirth. Through sacrifice, you have come to the center of the Underworld. Now it is time to return to the world of the living, for you have much life to experience. Go with the knowledge in your heart that you can safely journey into the shadows and return, as long as you listen to inner guidance.
(Priestess returns to her place by the tent/passage opening and the Drummer returns to his original place, still drumming a steady beat. The Handmaid brings the participants one by one to the Priestess who assists them into the passage after whispering):
Priestess: Return now to the land of the living, renewed, protected and refreshed.
(As the participant comes through the tunnel, the Bard helps them to their feet and removes their blindfold, saying):
Bard: You are unbound, free, your vision is clear now that you have come through the night. Take your place in circle, and take this rose as a token of your journey. (Gives participant a rose).
(When the last participant is through, the Priestess guides the Handmaid through, and then the Drummer, who carries his drum with him. They each get the same greeting and a rose as the other participants. The Priestess comes through last. The Bard says):
Bard: Lady, Priestess of this Journey, you are most blessed, you who have descended into the Underworld to guide others through their fears and limitations. By the name of the Gods, I bless thee and give thee a token of love. (gives her a rose)
Priestess: (says to Bard) Lord, you who represented Charon in this Journey, you are most blessed, you who have handed others into the Underworld that they might face their fears and limitations. By the name of the Gods, I bless thee and give thee a token of love. (gives him a rose)
Priestess: (enters Circle) You have journeyed far tonight, and now it is time to return to your daily lives. Carry with you that which you have experienced here. The Mysteries of the Shadow Lands are there to teach and guide us. Blessings upon all of you, and may your spirits soar. Blessed Be!!!
All: Blessed Be!!!
(Handmaid leads participants out of Circle, then returns to help the Bard, Drummer and Priestess devoke elements and the Lord and Lady, and sweep and smudge the area clear. It is a good idea to smudge all four Ritualists to remove any lingering energies from the Underworld work. After the ritual, the group should have a merry potluck and it's a good idea to have lots of light, a bit of stimulating music and to bring the mood up to a good pace).