Many people of Earth celebrate the passing of the seasons with festivals. We at CIRCLE mark these days with community gatherings where everyone is welcome to join in the fun. We drum, dance and sing, tell stories, and have a ceremony to honor the sacredness of Life at that specific point in Earth’s cycle. Bring a dish to pass on weekends (4-7pm) or a snack on week nights (7-9pm) as the celebration is not complete without eating and talking with your friends. Here is a brief explanation of the purpose of each festival as celebrated by ancient Earth peoples and by CIRCLE.
All Hallows Eve – October 31 (Samhain) Honoring Ancestors
As the bounty of the harvest is gathered it is essential to give thanks to all that have walked this Earth before us. All of our Ancestors have given their life energy toward the continuing of Life. The Earth has given Her life energy into the foods we harvested to sustain our lives. This is a good time to recognize our Ancestors and the traditions from which we come. The veil between the dimensions is thin and when we pay attention we may become aware of all loving assistance available to us. We light candles for the Ancestors and dance the Spiral Dance. We enter into the darkest time of the year where we prepare for the stillness of winter.
Winter Solstice – December 20-22 (Yule) Return of the Sun
On the shortest day of the year it is time to celebrate the return of the Sun. Ancient people had no certainty that the days would not continue to get shorter and shorter, darker and darker. We give thanks to the Sun on this day – that it has warmed us, kept our path lit, and nourished the plants that feed us. In some Native American cultures all the fires in the village would be extinguished and only an ember of the central sacred fire would be used to rekindle all the hearths. The Sun is considered in many traditions to represent the male aspect of divinity, and this time of year has been associated with the birth of a divine King long before the rise of Christianity. We gather to acknowledge moving into the darkest places within ourselves to find the seeds of light for the new cycle. Stories are told to call the Sun back and prayer ties are renewed for the North.
Candelmas – February 2 (Imbolc) Celebration of Light
As the wheel of the year turns toward Spring it is the time to nurture our inner child. This is the time associated with new beginnings. It is when we plant the seeds of our hopes and dreams for the coming year. The Goddess Brigid is the patron of poetry and healing. This is a good time to journal about your dreams and visions for the coming season. We light candles to connect with the growing light within us and honor the Earth Mother who walks across the land waking all the critters deep in their burrows and the dreams within our heart caves. Our visions birthed at the Solstice are rising upwards with the sap. It’s time to initiate our reborn selves into the community.
Vernal Equinox – March 20-22 (Ostara) Awakening to Spring
This is the time to come out of hibernation and celebrate your new life. Spring, or vernal equinox, is the day of equal amounts of light and dark and it marks the beginning of increasing light. Energy is building as the days become warmer with the promise of new growth. Sleeping Beauty is released by the kiss of the Sun into a time of creative passion. Together we create a pageant to awaken spring and all our favorite things about this time of rebirth. We dance the dance of balance of all the opposites within and around us and make prayer ties for the East.
May Day – May 1 (Beltane) Fertility of the Earth
The Festival of Fertility and Celebration of Life! The Earth is now ripe and fertile and ready to be plowed and planted. Ancient people saw all the similarities between the Earth and Sun, nature and themselves. As they plowed and planted the Earth they saw God and Goddess expressing their love for each other resulting in the Earth’s bounty. The Festival of Fertility encourages all to honor the sacredness of Life so that both crops and children would be plentiful in the coming cycle. We weave ribbons on the Maypole to symbolize the union of Goddess and God, Earth and Sun.
Summer Solstice – June 20-22 Sun Dance
Summer solstice marks the longest day of the year and the time when the Sun is at its strongest. This day is celebrated with a fire ceremony where we have an opportunity to burn away old patterns and release those heavy emotions that prevent us from moving forward. The Earth’s bounty is increasing and we need to empty ourselves in order to be filled with new life energy. We dance around the Sacred Fire for transformation and renew prayer ties for the South. We have grown and explored, and now need to direct our lives.
Lammas – August 2 Harvest of the Grains
Lammas means Feast of Bread or Festival of the Grain and Corn Harvest. We come together to celebrate that which is growing both within and outside. Gratitude for the harvest and all that Earth provides us as well as sharing our journey stories marks the occasion. It is time to acknowledge our bounty and celebrate as we start to reap the benefits of our labors and our commitments in our gardens and lives.
Autumnal Equinox – September 20-22 Harvest Dance
Fall, or Autumnal Equinox, is a day of balance between light and dark, with the darkness gathering strength. We dance the dance of balance and tell stories of this cycle. We begin to quiet and look inward to see what is ripe and ready to harvest and what needs to be released. We make prayer ties to honor the West and our return to the Dreaming Cave within us.
Ceremony is a very powerful way for people to reconnect with the original sacred life energy of Creation, Earth, and Self. It allows us to move with the energy of the River of Life, gathering to ourselves what we need and giving back to the Earth Mother and all Her children. In ceremony we gather the energy that is generated by our singing, drumming, dancing, and praying into a unified Whole which reaches beyond our gathering to those in need in our community and world. When we gather for an evening together to celebrate the cycles of Earth and our lives, there is purposeful intention behind all our activities. The whole evening is a ceremony and each activity during the evening is a ceremony with specific intent.
Indigenous people all over the world knew the importance of ceremony and made ceremony an integral part of their lives. They greeted the rising sun with prayer or song. They asked the Creator to guide them safely through the day. They gave thanks for every gift they received throughout the day that sustained their lives. Today in CIRCLE we are re-visioning the ceremonies that connect us to Earth’s cycles and to each other.
Smudging uses the smoke from burning herbs to cleanse the energy field of a person, place, or object. Smoke is considered to be an etheric substance that is capable of penetrating the realms of creation from dense to more subtle. This ancient tradition is found today in the Eastern and Judeo-Christian religions in the form of burning incense. There are several herbs that have been used for smudging ceremonies in North American traditions. Sage represents the South. It is used to drive out negativity. Cedar represents the West and is a cleanser, often used where there has been sickness. Sweet Grass, representing the North, is used to bring in positive energy. It is seen as the hair of the Earth Mother and is braided before it is gathered. Tobacco represents the East and has male energy. It either draws negative energy out of OR brings positive energy into the user, depending on the user’s intention. (Tobacco is also used as a way to express gratitude just as cornmeal represents nurturing.) Pine, representing the Northwest, and Juniper, representing the Southeast, both bring in positive energy.
Some cultures burn combinations of herbs while others use them separately. Sometimes people experiment with the energetic qualities of different herbs. Lavender, for example, is often burned for its sweet and antiseptic qualities. There are no rules, simply focus on your positive intentions for cleansing or healing while honoring the plant and its contribution to the Universe.
The following is a typical smudging ceremony that is used at the beginning of CIRCLE ceremonies:
Once the herbs are lit, blow out the flame and bring the smoke to yourself. The order is less important than your intention. Bring the smoke to your heart, over you head, arms (shoulders to hands), abdomen, and legs (hips to feet), and back. Some like to smudge the bottoms of their feet. It feels a little like washing yourself with the smoke. You will want to bring extra smoke to any problem area. Remember that the responsibility for the cleansing of your energy field and body rests with you, not the herbs. The herbs offer their medicine to you, but you must allow them to have an effect on your being. If you have a sensitivity to smoke let the person smudging know and use your intention as a way to participate in the cleansing ritual.
Smudging is a great way to clear out a room and mellow folks out after an argument. You can use it to cleanse an entire house. Always address the corners and closets and work towards an open window or door. In CIRCLE ceremonies, smudging is used to release your worries and cares, allowing you to be fully present for ceremony, and to create sacred time and space for the ceremony to take place.
The Ceremonial Drum
The drum is symbolic of the Earth Mother. It is round, reminding us of the sacred circle of life. Her roundness invites us to sit and dance in a circle around her. The drum is hollow but at the same time full of energy. It is full of potential music and song waiting to be expressed. The drum is often seen as feminine with sacred heartfelt emotions needing to be expressed, sacred voices needing to be heard, and sacred womb of creativity empty but at the same time full.
Everything in the Universe, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest star, has rhythmic vibration. When we play the drum we flow from one rhythm to another, until we flow into a Oneness of feeling and purpose. Once we have achieved Onenes, harmony and balance are restored within ourselves, between us, and with all our relations and the Universe.
We begin each evening with the heartbeat rhythm. This calls us to quiet our busy conscious mind and to turn our attention inward. As we focus on the rhythm of our heartbeat we attune to the heartbeat of our Mother, the Earth, and our hearts begin to beat as One. Spiraling into the Earth with the first dances of the evening enables us to discover the treasures we have hidden deep within our sacred being and remember unity. When it is time to share our thoughts and feelings, we find ourselves expressing personal truths as we bring them to a more conscious level of awareness. The drum assists us in finding and expressing our Higher Selves.
The mother drum which holds the center of our circle is She Calls. She Calls is made of buffalo hide and her deep voice calls us to remember who we are. With her strong vibration she calls up the energy of Earth and draws down the energy from Sky into our sacred space and then sends our prayers out into the Universe.
Calling the Four Directions
All over the Earth, people who lived in rhythm and harmony with Earth understood the wheel of the four directions, often called the Medicine Wheel. While each group of people may have assigned somewhat different qualities to each direction, all qualities and all directions where always found within the wheel. In CIRCLE ceremonies we invoke the qualities of the four directions to assist us with the ceremony as well as our lives. We often address these qualities as spirits, powers, grandmothers and grandfathers. The qualities that we associate with each direction are drawn from many traditions and are as follows:
East – Fire, rising sun, Spring, vision, spirit, new beginnings, birth, yellow, Eagle, Hawk
South – Water, mid-day sun, Summer, trust, emotions, flowering, childhood, red, Coyote, Turtle, Mouse
West – Earth, setting sun, Fall, dreaming, physical, completions, adulthood, black, Bear, Raven, Crow
North – Air, midnight, Winter, wisdom, mind, death, ancestors, white, White Buffalo, Snowy Owl, Dragon
The other three directions that we sometimes work with are below (Earth), above (Sky), and center (Creator). It is assumed that the wheel represents both the whole universe as well as the whole of each one of us.
In each of the four directions are altars around the mother drum in the center of the circle. The altars have on them symbols of those directions and a candle is usually lit on each altar as that direction is invoked at the beginning of the ceremony. In addition, each altar represents a different part of our community. The East altar is the men’s altar while the West altar is the women’s altar. The South altar is the children’s altar and the North altar is the Elder’s altar. The altars, then, balance the opposites contained within our community and ourselves. The Men’s Circle maintains the East altar, the Women’s Circle maintains the West altar, the Maidens, Young Braves, and Teens maintain the South altar and the Grandmother Lodge maintains the North altar.
Songs and Dances
The songs we sing in CIRCLE ceremonies help to remind us of our connection with each other and with the whole circle of life around us. We raise our voices together to create a vibration of peace, love, and unity. A CIRCLE Song Book that has the words to many of the songs we sing can be found in the Yurt. The circle dances that we do also bring us into harmony with each other as we move our bodies together around the circle. Whenever we move in synchrony with each other we create the vibration of harmony which the drum picks up and send out into the world. Sometimes we dance together with specific intentions, such as healing or peace. Each dance is explained before we begin for those who are new to CIRCLE.
We tell stories in our ceremonies that teach us more about how to be fully human. Stories have been used to share wisdom since the beginning of human life. They teach the children and remind the adults of important things they may have forgotten in the rush of their lives. Stories can be personal experience or fictional, but they always seem to help us remember who we are. We welcome any stories that anyone wishes to share in our ceremonies.
The Talking Stick
The use of the talking stick allows everyone to be heard. The stick is passed around the circle and anyone who wishes to share may do so. The person holding the stick has the floor and everyone else listens without interrupting. When the person holding the stick has finished speaking, they say, “Ho!” Anyone who agrees with what has been said can also say, “Ho,” in response. If you receive the stick and do not wish to speak you can pass it to the next person. Sometimes the talking stick is passed around the circle for sharing on a specific subject and sometimes it is just an open forum. It is a good idea to say either your first name or spirit name when you receive the stick, since new people are often present.
Making prayer ties is a tradition from the native people of North America and it is used to focus intention in prayer. In CIRCLE ceremonies we make prayer ties as a group on the Solstices and Equinoxes. A prayer tie is a small square of cloth in which tobacco is placed with a prayer. The corners are folded up and it is tied with a cord or yarn. On the Winter Solstice we make prayer ties for the seeds of the new cycle that are lying dormant within us, using white cloth and yarn. When we each have made a prayer tie, we tie them all together in a circle and hang them in the North of the Yurt. The prayer ties from the previous year are taken down and burned. On the Spring Equinox we make prayer ties for what is sprouting in our lives on yellow cloth, hanging them in the East of the Yurt. On the Summer Solstice we create prayer ties for what is blossoming in our lives on red cloth and hang them in the South of the Yurt. On the Fall Equinox we use black cloth for prayers about what we are harvesting and hang them in the West of the Yurt.
Each ceremony ends with a closing circle where we all join hands to allow the energy we have created to circulate around the circle. We sing closing songs and each speak a word into the center of the circle that is appropriate for that ceremony. At the end we raise our joined hands up to send the loving and harmonious energy we have created out into the universe wherever it is needed.