The Bear Hunt

As most of you are certain to know, I have a couple of kids. How can you miss that fact, I bring them to ritual all the time, daughter likes to take roles in the rituals, etc. In fact, pretty much since the first ritual I showed up at, Imbolc 2011, Robin has been talking to me about bringing the kids up to an ADF Festival called “Harvest Nights.” This festival is organized by the Charter Oaks Grove in Massachusetts and they specifically encourage people to bring kids. SO, we went this year; it was over the past weekend. This is sort of my report about that event.

Why did I choose this year?

I actually purchased registration last year, but was unable to arrange transportation, especially with all the extracurricular activities in my life. So missed that one. So this year’s story starts in August. One night, I’m up late reading the internet and come across the story a Wiccan had posted. She had designed a ritual for her five year old boy to celebrate his rite of passage from being a baby to being a boy. I thought “that is a very beautiful idea, my son is turning five soon, and I’d love to do something like that for him!” The next night, I come across a story from Rev. Dangler, in which he was led on a Bear Hunt ritual by a couple of children at one of the ADF festivals this summer. I think it was to help prepare him for the upcoming birth of his twins, or something.

The pieces of the puzzle clicked.

My son will have a five year old ritual which is a bear hunt. Now, where to do it? Oh yes, Harvest Nights!!

So a flurry of emails to many different people was sent out. Ideas were gathered and then I did something unusual for me, I stopped worrying about it. I put it in the background and just let the Kindred work. It would be hard to be able to explain the preparation period and the planning period except in this manner. Each week, as we got closer and closer to the festival, something or someone would appear and say “here this is for the bear hunt.” And it was the most awesome thing ever.

The Ritual Plan

I intended to perform this on Saturday night of the festival. I had written the plan out to use my Welsh deities. Daughter was going to practice opening the gates and serve as Mistress of the Hunt. This role during the Central work was to hide the teddy bears marked with glow sticks in the woods. Son and I were going to sharpen our knives (pray) around the fire while this was happening, then we would set off into the dark, alone, together searching for the bears. There were to be nine bears, we’d stop and have a little lesson about each of the virtues, blah blah blah. If there were any other kids at the camp, if their parents didn’t mind, they could help hide the bears too. Then afterwards we’d all gather around the fire and have a cup of hot cocoa. Nice plan right?

How it really was.

First of all, my kids were not the only kids at camp. There were two others, A girl, about Daughter’s age, who had been part of Dangler’s Bear Hunt, and a boy, also five. Immediately, I realized that when the Mistress of the Hunt called out “Who has just turned five?” there would be two boys saying “Me!” So plan needed to change. Both the girls became Bears and hide them in the woods (with a grown up helping them.) Both boys, with a parent, were the Hunters. I was grateful for a having a couple years of ritual planning in the grove under my belt to be able to set up the framework to flexible and inclusive of anyone who wished to participate.

Second of all, there was a big ritual already on the schedule for Saturday night, so we quickly rescheduled the ritual for Friday night and timed it to coincide with the penumbral lunar eclipse, which we could not see in this hemisphere. There was also a string of lights on the ground which looked like a path of stars and most of the bears were hidden not too far away from that, so not very dark out.

The hunt itself was playful and noisy and exciting. Once the girls were done hiding bears, they tauntingly helped the boys find the difficult ones. Everyone had a wonderful time searching for bears and no one seemed to mind at all that we had no time for lessons on virtues or values or stuffy old philosophies that only seem to interests us grey beards. Everyone involved was quite certain that it was a wonderful ritual.

Post-Ritual Notes:

Looking back, now that I am once again immersed in NYC life, I can take away some important lessons from this. First of all, as I said to Robin afterwards, designing a ritual for children taught me more about the Core Order of Ritual than any other single thing I’ve done in ADF. This is because, I had to find the essential bit of each part and scrape away all the flossy bits and make it bite sized for childhood fun. Secondly, it turns out that this was the children’s ritual. There were several rituals over the weekend, but this was the one with a central working designed specifically for children. If we are to go again next year, then I would like to have a children’s ritual added to the schedule that Friday night. The idea is to design a new ritual which can be performed by the children of the camp. This will also serve to introduce, reinforce and help ADF grow over the coming ages. Plus, it is super fun to have ritual with them!

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