Oh What a Tangled Web

Fairly productive weekend. I had two major projects to focus on and I made good progress on both.

The first (and I won’t get around to the second in this posting, so that will have to wait) is that I’m in charge of the rituals for the Billy Club’s upcoming May Day gathering. At most gatherings this is a matter of planning, preparing, and leading the opening and closing rituals that will get us into and bring us out of our time together. Something I like a lot about the Billy Club is that the ritual and other coordinators for each gathering have a lot of free rein to do things to their own liking, so that you get a lot of different people’s takes on it. Sometimes the rituals are short and simple, sometimes they are more elaborate; sometimes they are familiar, sometimes they are the result of somebody trying out something new or tying things into a particular theme that will run through the gathering.

(Some of the Gnostic Christians ran their congregations in a similar way, with the various roles in the service changing from week to week or even being decided by lot. Anybody might be called on to choose the scriptural passage to focus on or speak about what it means to him or her. I don’t know quite how to express why I feel so called to this sort of thing, but I’ve always thought that that was a seriously wonderful way to worship.)

Of course, even if you’re new to a job at a gathering, there are traditions to lean on. The rituals have some standard parts, some standard elements, and you can’t go too wrong if you stick with them. But you can also put those aside if you’re moved to try something different. The ritual coordinator generally has full freedom to arrange things to his liking, to use the traditional elements or create something unique to the occasion.

But at most gatherings, the ritual coordinator just has to worry about the opening ritual on the first night of the gathering and the closing ritual on the last night. At most gatherings, which is to say any gathering but the May Day gathering, the rituals do not involve getting a 25-foot pole to the gathering site, let alone attaching ribbons to it and sticking it firmly into the ground.

Making the maypole happen is a big fat logistical challenge on top of the rest of it. Again, there are traditions: Billys who have done it in the past pass on advice to those about to do it for the first time. I’m not completely new to it myself, as I was one of the overall gathering coordinators for last year’s May Day gathering, so I had lots of conversations with the maypole coordinator about what was going on, and I still have my notes from those meetings. (Yet more evidence that you should never delete your notes from past projects. You never know.)

Note, though, that I said last year’s “maypole coordinator” and not “ritual coordinator”. Last year we had both, a maypole coordinator in charge of the physical logistics of the maypole and a ritual coordinator in charge of planning the rituals. Last year I saw what a big job setting up the maypole was, and — having as I said a lot of free rein to do as I thought best — I decreed that the job of ritual coordinator would for that gathering be divided in two.

I sort of wish I had myself as general coordinator this year so I could do that again. When I said yes to the job this year, I was thinking I’d be able to break off parts of this and delegate them to people and recreate something of the organizational structure we had last year. That hasn’t happened as much as I’d like. On the other hand, I’m relying a lot on just repeating anything from last year that I thought worked, so there’s not as much fresh rethinking of things to be done as we did last year. We spent a lot of time last year thinking about the symbolism of the maypole and how it applied to our lives and our community, and finding ways to embody that in the rituals and in the weaving itself. I’m like, hey, we found the answers to our questions last year, and I’m happy with those answers, I don’t feel any need to look for new and different answers this year. Someone else who doesn’t like my answers can do the maypole next year and find different answers if he wants to.

The tree is arranged for, the color scheme has been settled (last year’s was all shades of blue and green, symbolizing the weaving together of heaven and earth or something like that; this year’s will be a bit wilder, using both pale and saturated versions of four colors), the ribbons have been ordered, and everything is moving forward. As a result I haven’t thought too much yet about what the actual content and order of the opening and closing rituals will be, but I’m planning to stick with tradition and not do too much original thought, so that should work out okay.

So over the weekend I went through all my notes up to this point, and made some checklists, and went shopping and bought some steel wire (for creating the ring around the tree to which the ribbons will be tied), some new pliers and a new wire cutter (inexpensive but not those bottom-of-the-line ones that look like they’ll bust under any real strain — this was an indulgence to some extent as I already had serviceable pliers, but my wire cutter is real old and gunky and anyway there’s nothing like a few bright new tools that feel good in the hand to make a project appear more achievable), and some cheap work gloves for the volunteers I am hoping to round up at the gathering to help me put it all together and get the maypole into the ground.

I think the physical stuff is now mostly taken care of and I can turn my attention now to the details of the rituals.

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