This entry chronicles my first ADF ritual, only it wasn't actually the first. I attended Imbolc 2008 at CedarLight Grove in Baltimore, but then I got sidetracked and didn't keep up with my study or go back. Until now.
CedarLight drew a large group for the Autumn equinox, Mabon. They held the rite on Saturday, Sept. 24, starting at 6:30, about a half-hour before full dark. The grove's Senior Druid Crystal G led the ritual, assisted by several other members.
The ritual took place outdoors, and the grove is based in a small house in the middle of a residential neighborhood, so there were some occasional distractions -- barking dogs, voices in neighboring yards or the street -- but nothing that disrupted the flow of events. There was a bonfire, a well permanently installed in the ground, and a living ash tree, forming a triangle with the altar space inside the triangle. The deities invoked for this rite were from the Gaulish pantheon: Teutates, Nementona and Epona as the gatekeeper. I've been studying some on the Irish and Welsh deities, but the Gaulish pantheon is mostly unknown to me.
The ritual began with a responsive reading, followed by an opening prayer and honoring of the Earth, a statement of purpose and the formal establishing of the recreation of the cosmos. A chant for the group ended that opening section. Then a member stood to recite a bit of the lore of the season and another placed an offering well away from the group for the outsiders.
My companion and I noticed that mosquito activity went down remarkably after the outsiders were placated. The rest of the ritual unfolded according to the ADF core order of ritual, and everything went smoothly.
The theme of the ritual was thanksgiving -- for the bounty of the second harvest and, by extension, for jobs, homes and other blessings. A good number of people offered words of gratitude and offerings in appreciation.
That did bring up the one point of confusion for me as a newcomer. I had brought an offering of milk for Epona, and precisely when to offer it was unclear. People stepped up to the altar to place offerings during the invocation of Teutates, and then people came with individual offerings one at a time for the aforementioned offerings of praises. I put the milk there during the invocation, as that's what I saw others doing, and then I wasn't sure that had been the right time. But it was a simple matter of watching and learning -- I'll know better next time how to plan for offerings.
The woman who read the oracle was using her own system, with coins depicting kinds of horses (including unicorns.) The message she relayed to us was that this is a time to let go of things, to heal, and specifically to let go of ongoing conflicts with family members.
As this was the first ADF ritual I have attended in quite a long time, it was almost like the very first. What impressed me the most about it was the structure and flow of the order. When you read the Core Order on the page, it's hard to envision it in reality. When you experience it, it becomes clear that it forms the structure of a serious religious service that is part of a living tradition. I do think I'm fortunate to have an active and apparently thriving grove nearby though, as I'm not sure I would have had that kind of experience had I tried to do it alone or with my partner , especially lacking any experience in doing so.