GoG's Summer Solstice Storytelling Safari Ritual 2004

as told by Hillary Gross

*** Friday night, Deb and I began our ritual. We'd been preparing for a long time, and I dare say the ritual started the night before we gave it, when we sat down to make the medicine bag prize and prepare all the offerings. I thought maybe we'd be full of giddy Coyote/Crow energy or chugging tequila and partying or beating drums, but instead we were two tired chickadees trying to get our act together. Deb sewed and assembled the medicine bag -shinies (Sacajewia dollar, Coyote medallion), Crow medicine, Coyote tail fur, Crow beads, and Crow bones and Coyote claw on the outside- while I figured out how to get the Coyote scalp/mask on my head and prepared the vessels for the offerings. I couldn't get the mask right - the idea felt right (tying it on my head), but the execution felt wrong. We were both tired and tumbled into bed unshadowed (as far as I know).

I slept all right. Max, Deb's cat/familiar, kept me company. In the morning, I was cranky and still too much in my body. I showered and got ready. Deb braided my hair, and that's when I finally started to feel something. Like we were going into battle.

"Let the woo begin"

We were going to drink kava tea, but we were running late, so Josh prepared some shaman smoke for us. I'd never had it before. At first, it was an awful lot like magical pot - very much in magical space to the point of not being too connected to the mundane world. By the time we got to Ed and Norma's, it had dropped to a regular feeling of ungroundedness that had followed me all week.

The drive to New Brunswick was...interesting. I was in the back seat, and they'd put on some magical music, and it was all I could hear, "dancing in the fire..." And Coyote came to me, which relieved me because he'd been conspicioulsy absent until then. I'd wondered if he was mad about the chat Frigga and I had had, but he seemed nonplussed, as I was *his* and she knew it. And then we...communed...for a while. I last opened my eyes before Millstone and next thing I knew, we were in Somerset.

There was a small flutter of activity at Ed and Norma's, as we were on time, which threw them off. It also surprised me, as we'd gotten out of bed nearly an hour late. We prepared the house, but really, there wasn't tootoo much left to do.

Then the guests started arriving. (We had 27 for the ritual, 32 total. Carol and Jenniforensic watched the house and took care of the food.) I was pretty well myself for a while, but then I felt the puppy creeping into me. I was bouncing around, nearly coming out of my skin. The pre-rit seemed to go smoothly enough, and I was glad I wasn't in charge.

Then we got to Change.

I figured out - of course - the scalp/mask goes on the black leather fedora, not the green one, not on my head. My tail looked fabulously organic. Crow took a long time to preen, as usual. DebCrow and I messed up right away because we had to get out of the house. We'd told them there would be a clear opening in the house, but we forgot, so we made our way out and got smudged. It took Josh a while to gather the congregation out the door and get them smudged (Carol and Nora were on smudge duty), for which he apologized for and explained how everyone thought it would be inside the house. He was very tactful. I was a little worried that this wasn't a good beginning, but it all went well enough.

Josh blew the clear opening on his flute. Deb honored the gods and the earth mother with a meditation. We felt the ground and our roots in it. She offered sacred tobacco to Mother Earth. Then I got to lead everyone in the directions. Ed had drawn a fabulous compass on the driveway to help me, but I still needed my notes, as everything kept falling out of my head. I gave local landmarks for all the directions, followed by an Indian tribe out in that direction and what they did. I may have insulted white people as a whole and definintely insulted a Californian, but I tried to make nice and I hope they took it all in good fun. I didn't feel a lynch mob forming, anyway.

Misha did a great well invocation, saying how all civilizations and groups were centered around the well. Then we gave it a Swedish Fish of Knowledge, which I think it liked.

Pat led us out into the sun for the fire invokation. The sun came out from behind the clouds after we remembered to actually give it its offering of cinnamon incense.

Then Grinning Wolf, who was wearing a tree t-shirt, gave us a lovely invokation of the tree, speaking also of the world tree.

We had a long walk ahead of us, down Somerset Street, and to the gates of the Old Queens campus. We had a chant to keep us focused, and it sort of worked, but I think the words and syllables got changed. DebCrow and I kept trying to sing along and then broke down giggling, as it was sort of hopeless to keep track. But it did keep the focus.

Then on the grand wrought iron gates of Old Queens. Chris and Ed served as gatekeepers while Josh invited Thunderbird, the one who punched the way between worlds for us. The gates did indeed open, and then Old Queens was full of magical shimmery gate-y goodness (but no faeries because of the iron in the gates). Thunderbird was offered more tobacco (Josh said it's all he'll accept).

On to Benchhenge for the Outsider invocation. Monica extended a chipper invitation to the Outsiders, and I felt the group trying to follow her as she skipped away to place the offering, a copy of S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders" inscribed: "If you've found this book, it's for you. Good luck from The Outsiders. Summer Solstice 2004, Grove of the Other Gods."

Next was our invitation to our muse, Grandmother Spider. There's a wonderfully ooky spidery tree in the midst of the campus. Maggie wound thread around the group while telling the story of how Grandmother Spider was the only one clever and small enough to steal fire and put it into the sun for everyone to use. She also offered a sun pinata to our grove, which we later enjoyed. It was full of omenny goodness, and chocolate. And Laffy Taffy.

We went to a war memorial (I forget which one, the one by the Freedom Tree) to do ancestors. A very brave first-timer, Louis, invited all the ancestors of everybody, and he offered the Star Anise we'd brought. Our party was starting to get populated!

On to the Indian Well, a small well lurking behind the Geology Museum. For the animals and nature spirits and especially New Brunswick and bunnies, Patty told a story of rescuing some birds who'd flown down her chimney. We offered them posh bubbly water, which they seemed to like. Then we called out to a menagerie and New Brunswick herself to walk with us.

Our final kindred invokation took place by more gates, ones facing Hamilton Street, which somehow had champagne glasses embroidered into the ironwork. Betty led the invitation to our gods and goddesses, and we offered the four elements (feather, incense, shell, and stone).

After a (thankfully) uneventful pagan street crossing, we processed into Vorhees Mall to invite our guests of honor. DebCrow told her story under a tree. It was a really neat story about how Crow used to be white but gave up his feathers to find out why we're all here from Thunderbird, and then Gaia rewarded him by making him her Secret-Keeper. (We're all here to live and learn, apparently.)

Next, Coyote and I gleefully led our party to the deserted benches in front of Scott Hall. He sat on the stone wall above one of the benches and talked about his purpose, to teach by example and to show that it's ok to make mistakes. He told a story (with visual aids) of when he wanted to fly like the crows, but he wasn't very good at it, so they plucked out his feathers and dropped him to the ground. He shouldn't've presumed to be like the crows, but vanity got the best of him. However, when he fell, his tail lit on fire and he got covered in dirt, so now he's the color of the desert. This shows that even though he made a mistake, he's better off, because a grey coyote is perfect for the desert, while his old color (blue) was not so perfect at all.

Guests and kindreds called, we went off to Whispering Willy to hear the story-telling contest, the winner of which would receive the Coyote-Crow medicine bag. There were many stories, but here are a few: Norma told of a true tall tale of a tree almost toppling her friends. Tracy told of tricking tigers in India.

Grinning Wolf told of the Solstice. Laure told of the Mead of Poetry and Odin's tricksy deeds. Monica told of cow-tipping in Ohio. Jeff told of aSufi master who did something obtuse. Vigile told of Loki giving birth to Odin's 8-legged horse.

But the best stories (in Coyote and Crow's opinions) were:
*Nora telling of how Coyote and Crow first tricked Thunderbird to make rain in the desert, and then tricked Condor to make the rain stop and put Thunderbird to sleep, thus making Condor all bald and ugly and croaky.
*Ed telling the true tale of a New Brunswick fire and brimstone preacher who sent his brother to be educated at the Princeton Theological Seminary, only to have his brother slip into the debouch ways of the town. Preacher brother than preached the little brother to death. However, at his funeral, little brother rose and told of the heavenly visions he had experienced, thus contradicting preacher brother's assertations of hell and brimstone that surely awaited his sinning brother.

The contest was so close that Coyote and Crow had to flip two coins two times to figure out a winner, but finally Ed won because his story was true and about New Brunswick and tricksy and they'd never heard it before. And they'd only made one medicine bag.

The day was growing long, but there was still more praise to be given, offerings to the city and to patrons and to spirits.

As a group offering, we were all asked to twirl madly and fall down laughing, as New Brunswick does so miss her drunken students. For an omen, Lauren, Ed, Daphne, and Marc were asked to perform cloudomancy. However, the sky was beautiful and clear, so they were to take omens from other parts of nature. They took a long time and were subjected to much heckling, and in the end they decided that all their omens together meant Chaos, which was appropriate enough for the day. Norma relieved her pent-up aggressiveness as Senior Druid by spritzing everyone in the eyes with the Waters of Life, and Rook distributed Swedish Fish of Knowledge to all attendant.

At the crossroads to the side of Scott Hall, Deb thanked everybody, and Josh asked Thunderbird to close the gates.

Then we tramped back up to Ed and Norma's house and devoured all the food on the table in about five seconds.

Later, we bashed Pat and Maggie's sunyata and ate of the chocolate omens inside. We also raffled off a donation by Chuck, a beautiful framed photo of Seaside Heights pier, which went to Louis.

And- we collected 84 cans and boxes of food for New Brunswick's Food Bank.

All in all, I'm really happy and proud with how it all turned out. It was a bit long and a bit scattered, but that's the nature of walking rituals. But I think, most importantly, it was *good*.--


(EditorŐs Note: In the local paper on the very day of the ritual there was an article on how coyotes have been migrating eastward into New Jersey, and there were now an estimated 1,500 coyotes in the state eating yummy sheep. We took this as an omen that Coyote wanted to be recognized in his new digs. Go to:

Coyote Newspaper Story Omen!