Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

23
The Earth Is Sacred: Ecological Concerns in American Wicca

Helen A. Berger

Dusk was about to settle in Philadelphia as a group of twelve people gathered at the home of the high priest of MoonTide coven to celebrate the Wiccan sabbat of Yule--the winter solstice. 1 As participants entered the house, they placed the brightly wrapped gifts they had brought under the unadorned evergreen tree that stood in the corner of the living room. They handed the food they had prepared for the feast following the ritual to anyone willing to take it and then ran upstairs to put their coats on the hosts' bed. The last people to arrive were the high priestess, her husband, and her adult son.

The high priest strung the tree with lights and placed a pentagram--a five-sided star--on top of it. Some of the participants decorated the tree, while others prepared for the ritual by moving furniture out of the living room so that it could be made into a sacred space. A small round table covered with a green silken cloth was placed in the center of the room as an altar. Candles, matches, incense, images of the goddess, and symbols of the four elements--earth, air, fire, and water--that had been brought by the high priestess were placed on the altar. The room was illuminated by candles.

As the ritual was about to begin, eight members of the coven changed into red robes. One member--a woman--was robed in white. Non-Wiccan guests remained in their street clothes, although everyone removed their shoes to signify that they would be standing on sacred ground. The group, with the exception of the one woman dressed in white, gathered in the living room and sat quietly with their eyes closed as the high priest led a guided meditation about the meaning of the winter season--to people, animals, plants, and the earth. The participants were asked by the high priest to find the darkness that is winter inside themselves, to see it as a place of comfort, rest, and renewal.

He noted that this time of year had brought uncertainty to our ancestors, who lived without electricity or heat. He suggested that they might have asked: Do we have enough food stored to survive the winter? Will the sun return as it has in other

-213-

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