Ceremony: The Inner Language of Four Quarters
by Kailin Miller
“Come and stand with us beneath the moon
In the Circle on the hill.
Become the babe passed through the Stone
And let your family welcome you home.”
“At the Center of Four Quarters,”
by Kailin Stonesinger, Steve Costanzo,and Derek Johnson
What do our ceremonies tell us? What do they say about who we are, what we believe, what we hope for ourselves and for our children? How do we shape them, and how do they, in turn, shape our hearts and minds?
We come and stand together between earth and heaven, beneath the moon and shining stars; with the whisper of oak leaves on the wind, again and again, month after month. We come together to be together, to be community, to see one another and to socialize, to break bread and share news. And if that were all we sought, we needn’t drive so far - for some of us many hours each way - or bother spending hours and days and weeks preparing these things we call ceremonies, these dances with myth and with life.
We are an Interfaith, EarthReligious Sanctuary, and so we share those elements of ceremony that many of the world’s elder traditions have passed down to us. We value the traditions of many nations and people, and sing and celebrate the contributions of our ancestors. We stand together in Circle, gathered around a fire or an altar. We call to the directions of the Four Quarters, and address ourselves to the Elements, those essential building blocks of ritual. We celebrate and honor the Earth and make Her the center of the religious traditions we share.
Our ceremonies also show us the specificity of our Tribe. We do not meet in hotels; or in a rotating series of living rooms. We have no High Priestess and Priest. At Four Quarters, we stand together in the Stone Circle, we pass babies through a hole in a slab of sandstone, we sing the song we call simply “The Invocation,” and the procession of ceremonies passes from hand to hand, never held by just one person or just one couple. Ceremony shapes our expectations for the seasons, our experiences of times of transition, the way we rear our children, and the way we come to know the touch of the Divine in our lives.
Whether in rain or in sun, the Maypole rises and the ribbons are wound, a reminder of our connection to earth and sky, to past and future, and how we came to be. We honor the balance of the equinoxes, the extremes of the solstices, the shifting balances of sun and moon. Whether the weather is warm or cold, Samhain returns, and we remember those who have lived before us, our ancestors of blood and of spirit. Though the seasons change without our attention, ceremonial attention helps us allow ourselves to be mindfully shaped by our relationship to seasons, to climate, to Earth Herself.
All the moments of great change in our lives are significant: birth, initiation, union, parenting and other commitment, and finally death and mourning. Each of these is marked and deepened by ceremony for the ones who individually live those transitions, and for the community which is changed by their passages. We do not live alone. We are not alone, and so we celebrate together the changes in our lives, the struggles and the joys; “all are gathered in the Circle / Where the air is sanctified.”
When the Mother Stone came to stand in the hilltop grove that is and is growing into the Stone Circle, parents felt the pull of ceremony, and passed their children through the Hole in the Stone. For years now, we have honored the instinct of those Mothers and Fathers, and have welcomed the children of the Tribe, passed them through the Mother Stone, called out their names, and celebrated them and their families. Ceremony, beginning in a simple gesture of love, continues over years and with hundreds of us, gathered each year at the Stone Circle’s East Gate.
In times intended, and times unexpected, it is not only love for one another, or delight in family and Tribe that we discover as we walk the familiar and always-new paths of ceremony. It is also intimations of the Sacred, glimpses of the Divine we find in our circling round the fire, in our Aspecting and Drawing Down – in our allowing the Divine to come and share of our humanity most intimately, bodying forth words and messages of wisdom that come both from within and beyond us. We hear the Sacred Whispers, too, in less intentional moments, in the glint of firelight in someone’s eyes, in a word shared in passing. The rhythms become familiar-the invocations and the supplications, the squared circle and the clan gathered round an altar, the patterns and shapes of liturgy- but the places they can take us may be wholly unfamiliar, altogether new, challenging, comforting... or terrifying.
Perhaps most important of all, effective ceremony allows us to change: to grow in wisdom, to grow closer to the Divine and to the Earth
Perhaps most important of all, effective ceremony allows us to change: to grow in wisdom, to grow closer to the Divine and to the Earth; of Whom we are a part and Who is our only home. It offers us ethics, cosmology, theology, and a place to encounter our innermost selves in the cradle of community. It is a door onto new ways of knowing and ultimately new ways of living. By expressing our belief in the connectedness of all things, it reminds us that the reality of our interconnectedness is inescapable, and further, it challenges us to live in accordance with that knowledge. By defining the Sacred where and when we are, it reminds us that all places and times are holy, that there is nothing outside the Household of the Divine. By walking, dancing, speaking in circles, we remind ourselves that all things move in cycles, come into being, have their time of life, die, and are made new again, part of the ceaseless creativity of the Universe.
Our liturgies tell us who we are and what we believe. We are people of the Earth, committed to Her health and honor. We are people of this moment, aware of the preciousness of this place and time. We are people interdependent with one another, with those in the communities in which we live, with all the various systems, human, plant, animal, mineral, and chemical, that sustain us in being. We are people who believe that each of us has something to share, and that no one stands ahead of another, so we “pass the wand” and the procession of ceremonies is carried out, not only by a select few, but by all those willing to accept the challenge and responsibility of “Service to the Circle.” Those who believe in themselves enough to share their thoughts and creative expression, and who believe in the community enough to care – any of these may stand in the Center and help us to worship. We are creative people, joyful people, sorrowful people, worshipful people, and we know that each of us is both unique and part of a much larger, inexpressibly complex Whole.
All these ways of being and believing are expressed through our shared ceremonial life. They are there in our silences and our stillness, in our dancing and our singing, in our call and our response, in the patterns we make over and over again- like the moon, changing, and yet always following the earth and sun.