A Ritual for Childhood.
In September 2010, when my son was 7 months old, we held a celebration in the woods. We created a ceremony, a new ritual that meant something real to us. It felt like a holy day.
My desire to create a new ritual began when we drove out of London to attend a baptism. A clear day at the end of summer, a small village church and pretty white dresses. Words were read, candles lit, a little water thrown around, but I never felt even a hint of meaning. Well, I kind of got the feeling that this was all a ritual of conformity, but I don’t think that was the meaning intended. Anyway, I “borrowed” the order of service and decided we could try for something a little more.
Our version took place on a Sunday afternoon in early September 2010. The weather was perfect. It rained a little in the morning, overcast and a chilly, but, just before we started, the forest filled with golden light and warmth. Around 30 people gathered under the trees in a forest for a celebration of childhood. (That was what had bugged me about the baptism, there was very little that celebrated the child for being a child.) Woody was dressed as some kind of golden gnome — fur jacket and a hat Loolie had finished sewing in the car. I wore my cyber-priest shirt, made for me before I left South Africa, and never quite used in full ceremonial capacity. Loolie’s red hair shone against a white coat. We started an hour late — when the sun was ready.
I don’t really know how long it lasted. Woody sat up front grinning and making appropriate noises. We celebrated life and death, child and adult, order and disorder. (Any good rite needs paradox). Alice opened things with a song, words from India echoing unaccompanied through the trees. Woody’s godmother and devilfather spoke , I held things together with words and made up ritual. Somewhere around the middle I attempted to get people to meditate. Being still and experiencing a world without words (meditating) is something a baby does well, and adults must work hard to achieve. After the silence we spoke of death.
We lit some candles, and gave Woody his name. “Woodrow” means “passage in the woods”, and it holds an echo of Loolie’s Dad’s name “Glen”. Glen died two years before, and it would have been is birthday around the time of our feast. The candles represented the passing of the flame, the flow of life through the generations. Tears rose up in me as I realised just how much being a parent has made me respect my parents and grandparents. Family is real when you make your own.
Then we all laughed at Woody, Alice and Lottie sang a closing song and we ended with a bit of discordian apple throwing. With the ceremony done, the fire was lit and the feast began. A whole dear had given us it’s life, and it was duly gobbled. Most guests left before the sauna was populated with naked people. The sauna gang made it back to base by nightfall.
I got bitten by an ant in my belly button. I am sure there is some symbolism there.
Now, 7 years later, it’s time for a new ritual, for the beginning of a new stage.
Thanks to Immo Klink and Paul Miller for the photos.