As practitioners of Old Craft, traditions are incredibly important, the foundations prepared by our ancestors provide a structure and framework for the practises of each and every generation thereafter. When we make our first tentative steps on the path, the practises of the past are often the first things we cling to for support, we follow published rituals by rote and seldom stray from the tried and tested methods of our forebears, this is natural and what better way to connect with our heritage? Over the years we gradually evolve in our understanding, whilst we still rely on the well-trodden paths of yester year to navigate through the surrounding thicket of information, we develop a desire to stray a little, to take a few detours and wander into areas of the unfamiliar wilderness. This is an important step in the development of the individual, but also the future of the craft, sometimes we find things on our excursions we can bring back with us, sometimes we find nothing, but the trip is never pointless nor wasted. As a stream gradually erodes the rock below, it cuts into its surroundings and occasionally when conditions are just so, new courses and tributaries break from the main, yet all eventually join with the vast oceans and all bring fresh water and nutrients. It’s vital for the survival of the craft that we also occasionally break new ground and dip our toes in unfamiliar waters.
At the summer solstice, the fiery sun enters the watery sign of Cancer. A few years ago I was ‘inspired’ to mark this occasion in a way I had never done so previously. Where this ‘idea’ came from…who knows? It’s perhaps a small example of how the new can enrich the old and the familiar.
Usually I begin by creating a small raft of wood from whatever is available and feels appropriate, this year I happened to have a more pertinent vessel…a hollow crab shell, the symbol of Cancer, my sun sign. Whatever is used, the main thing is to make sure it can float whilst bearing a few grams of weight. Upon or in the vessel I place a little bread which as well as being part of the offering, also acts like floral foam into which I insert a small candle and surround with fresh flowers, foliage, berries from the garden, perhaps a silver coin or two, just whatever feels appropriate and meaningful. I often include a small paper petition, the focus is upon the creation of this little boat of offerings, it should take some time and be created whilst in a state of mindful awareness of the powers, the river, the life blood of the land, the gradual decline of the light into the grey waters of the west…it’s a meditation. On the banks of the River Medway, somewhere quiet where the water gently flows I call to the spirit of the River, I light the candle on the little raft and set the whole thing gently upon the sacred waters. I watch as it flows down river…fire enters water, water flowing and returning to the endless oceans, the burning sun beginning his descent into the western seas, the metaphors here are many and each year it feels different, each year the spirits respond differently. This year the little offering floated a little way before a strong wind upset its calm course enough for the river to claim her gift, I watched as the greeny golden waters engulfed the flame, the peaceful waters were momentarily disturbed, a coot squawked. The river which has sustained and nourished the land and her inhabitants for centuries, was once always honoured around this time of year with hundreds of boats adorned in bright colours regaling the banks, and so it is again…but in a very different way! The solstice also happens to be the day before my birthday…perhaps that’s why it feels appropriate for me to light a candle and make a wish…another tradition we are all so familiar with just done in a slightly different way.
Tradition is just like the river….constant yet ever changing, currents flowing always in one direction yet always from the same source, and returning to the same destination. Tradition is an important means to connect with those who were, repetition breeds power, we feel it in our bones and in our blood. With every stang that’s raised and every mill that’s trod we honour the past and are grateful for its endless source of wisdom and IT WORKS. But let us also be open to the light which shines from the future…the knowledge of those who are yet to be and the part we play in their past in the here and now, that for me is equally as important…how can I enrich what I have inherited? How can I keep the Craft current alive and moving, just like the river, so it remains fresh, vital and relevant? We should of course avoid change for change’s sake, and resist overcomplicating and hence diluting the fundamental simplicity and beauty of the Craft. Yet just because something is considered ‘traditional’ doesn’t have to mean old…my little solstice river ritual is traditional in my practise…I do it every year, maybe one or two people who read this will adopt this for themselves and thus a little spark ignites a tiny flame. ‘Traditional’ should never be considered synonymous with ‘valid’, after all every tradition, every practise or technique was created somewhere and was the result of someone’s inspiration, we are all as much a part of the source as we are the destination. One thing the sacred waters have taught me is that, in truth, there is no begining or end, no separate source or destination, no past or present…time, tradition…its all here, right now.