robed in ritual

Release Notes for Snow Circle

last updated: 21.x.2004
page status: update work in progress

This is a heavily revised version of the ‘release notes’ that I posted with the original version of Snow Circle. Release notes for a ritual? Well, as I’ve said, this was written for someone else to use (although I did it first to check it and have repeated it twice more). And we were discussing it remotely at times, so the release notes were written the same way one would for software. We even invited bug reports.

I started by pointing out that 2002 was a busy year. At times frustrating, sometimes physically frightening, but always busy. I started with one of those imperative things that things that turn into a pilgrimage turn into a pilgrimage. Some time later I bit off rather more than I could chew with a feasibility study (the nineteen mile, two day novena) for the stuff that finally came to fruition here. I was trying to devise a counterpoint to Fiat Monas but at the time I didn't know why. Later a friend asked for something similar for a specific purpose.

I set out as a minimum spec that it should be simpler than Fiat, less dark and, given my experience with the feasibility study, the words should fail safe. The final catalyst was experience on a foreign trip, and the first draft was written on my Palm on a train running through the Tirol. If you skipped that link, then what I'd encountered was one of many outdoor "Stations of the Cross", which was the final spur to completing the work.

You'll see that the imagery owes a lot to Holda/Holle/Perchta, but also to the Winter Rose and Our Lady of the Snows, who is in fact a summer image. The imagery started out as haphazard as the Fiat, but partway through, after email discussions with friends, I decided to regularise it in terms of a quatrain and three triads. That concentrated the mind wonderfully and the words started to drop out. I worked up the nine quatrains first. I found that with ending and air taken together the arch/tower imagery pointed me at the dark side of the Mabinogion. If that had carried through into the rest, I'd have started to be really worried about what the feasibility study had done to me, or about my psyche in general, but fortunately that didn't happen.

Now I needed the nine locations. That was a bit of a dilemma. I’d fallen foul of the locations on the feasibility study, by not surveying them on the ground (there was imagery at some of them that blew the whole thing apart). But, for maximum impact, I wanted to walk the complete thing for the first time in a ritual context. The solution was to work on it in sections, with a co-worker cross-checking parts of it, sometimes together and sometimes alone. This sounds like overkill but all we were doing was checking each location without walking the whole thing at any time before the ritual itself. Paranoia perhaps, but the previous event had taught me that what you don’t know can most certainly hurt you; badly.

I needed a route that was circular, accessible by public transport and relatively easy-going (although it has to be some physical effort, of course, or it won’t work properly. Accessibility by public transport limited the area and pretty much by definition means that part of the route will be low-key urban. I’m not going to post the positions of the various places - it’s better if you find your own route, but I started with ‘ending’ and ‘beginning’ and found a neat matching pair within twenty miles of home. I originally had a problem placing ‘water’ but found two obvious water locations. The specific choice for ‘air’ was rejected by mo co-worker but I quite by accident I found another place nearby that I simply didn’t know existed, although I thought I knew the area quite well. The remaining sites took a little longer, but eventually we had a matched set.

Now it was back to the words. Given the symbolism of the various physical locations and the ‘task’ of transporting water, a few tweaks were needed in order to make sure everything was just right, and then we were good to go, as the Americans say. I walked it first, at night. The urban areas were not intrusive and the rural parts were not too hard going. I wrote up the ‘right hand side’ words and published them. It’s at this point that the ‘cultural determination’ comes into play, since the left-hand words start to determine the shape of the overall experience. As well as linking the text to the landscape, the words start to define a shared space. There's a story about the same thing in my Flowing Well sequence (warning, extreme adult content) that you can check out here, or simply move on to the words for Snow Circle.

My next project, as I’ve said elsewhere, is a five-point, ‘mystery’ meditation. There are actually five ‘valid’ points in the feasibility study, that is, only four of the points had inappropriate symbolism. However, I think I’ll find something shorter and closer to home: making a two-day nineteen-mile trip out of a five-point meditation really does seem like overkill.

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