As was the well established custom, children had gathered in a semicircle around Gramp’s rocking chair for story time. The fire was burning and crackling, playing shadow puppets on the wall of the humble little cabin by the lake. The nightly ritual of Gramps sitting in his rocking chair with One Eye, the ancient cat curled on his lap purring loudly was comforting.
The children knew Gramp’s nightly ritual off by heart. They watched intently, anticipating each step. He would reach for his meerschaum pipe. Worn soft, shiny and smooth from a lifetime of caressing it lay resting on its stand on the little table by the rocking chair. He would look at it and gently stroke it. Next came the cleaning ritual. It was never hurried. Once complete, the smell of fresh pipe tobacco filled the air as Gramps, having finished cleaning the pipe, slowly filled it. The children knew exactly what he would do.
Pipe in hand, Gramps looked at each child in turn, nodding and smiling. An air of excitement filled the cosy cottage. They remembered how he had talked to them about this nightly ritual. With bated breath they watched him fill the pipe, silently repeating his words first the finger of a child, then a woman, then a man… They also knew he never, ever smoked the pipe. The ritual was the important thing.
Tonight, he said, we are going to do something very different. We’re going outside. For a very special reason. I’ve lit a fire in the pit to keep us warm. But you better put on your coats, hats and mittens. It’s cold outside now that the sun has gone down.
The children buzzed with excitement. Story time with Gramps was always so interesting. Tonight, it seemed, it would be even more interesting than usual. Never before had they gone outside.
Come on One Eye, said Gramps. No need to be so grumpy. You’re coming out too! Slowly stretching his long body, One Eye turned her head to look at Gramps. She was not happy but did as she was told. The children followed and seated themselves on the stones that had been set around the fire pit for this very purpose, leaving the biggest one for Gramps. It looked ancient, with a curve just the right size and shape to accommodate his body comfortably. There was even a spot for One Eye to curl up on.
Gramps threw some more slow burning logs onto the fire before seating himself. They crackled and popped, sending showers of sparks up into the night sky adding to the magic of the starlit sky. The sweet smell of burning aromatic woods filled the air wrapping around them like a soothing familiar old cloak.
Doesn’t that smell wonderful! It’s cedarwood and frankincense resin. And a special mix of herbs I made up earlier in the day. Do you remember when I talked to you about rituals?
The children nodded.
Well, tonight, we are celebrating the rituals of a very special full moon. Over the years I’ve made up my own. In my travels all over the world in many, many different countries, I learned a lot of things. One of the things I learned is that every culture in the world, doesn’t matter what country I was in, had a whole lot of celebrations and rituals. Some of them were very funny. Well, I thought so anyway. Some were very special. Some were very sacred. To all of them, the full moon was important. Tonight’s full moon is really special.
It is called a super blue blood moon. Here’s why – super because the moon is the closest it ever gets to the world. Blue because it is the second full moon in this month. And blood because it is also a full moon eclipse. Now what that means is that the moon is sandwiched between the sun and the earth just right. The shadow of the world moves across the moon slowly blanking it out and then sliding over it so the moon can be seen again. Just like if you put your hand across the light from a lamp and slowly cover it so that no light shows and then keep moving it across to show the light again.
This triple whammy of a moon hardly ever happens. The last time it did was about 150 years ago! You might be wondering what I have in mind for you tonight. The full moon eclipse is going to start soon. It will last about 40 minutes from beginning to end. We’ll sit here and watch it. It is magical. Never in your life will you see it just like this again.
Our rituals tonight have already started. The first is fire. Now I did all the work for that because you have yet to learn how to do that safely. But did you know that fire is cleansing? That means it burns stuff up. Changes it into smoke. So let’s say that you were angry about something that happened to you. Or feeling hurt. Or upset. One way of getting rid of that is to close your eyes, imagine that you are holding that nasty feeling in your hands, and then throw it in the fire to burn it away. The magic that happens with the fire is that it doesn’t just go poof! and get rid of it. It changes it into smoke! And the smoke is the clean bit that is left. It curls up and drifts up into the sky. And you can smell the beautiful scents of the wood and herbs that have done the cleaning. So that cleans you up inside. They say this kind of cleaning of your insides – your heart and your mind – is really good to do when the moon is full. And of course tonight it is more than just full!
The cedarwood comes from a beautiful, majestic tree. King Solomon used it a very, very long time ago to build a temple. That’s a holy place people go into to worship their God. Cedarwood is also called the Tree of Life. It is used in rituals and sacred places to cleanse, heal and protect. So it is very fitting that we are burning it here tonight.
Frankincense is another sacred tree. It grows in the deserts. Some of the most highly prized frankincense comes from a place called Somalia. People collect the resin and make oil out of it too. You might remember from the stories about the birth of Jesus that the Wise Men took him a gift of frankincense. Back then it was used as medicine too. Especially by mums and babies. It was so special people even used it instead of money. In rituals it too is used to purify the sacred places of worship and to heal.
I’m going to give you a few minutes of quiet time now. If you want, you can have a go at throwing something hurtful from inside of you into the fire. I’m going to do that for sure.
A hush fell over the circle as Gramps and the children took some me-time to do what felt right for them.
After a while (but not too long) Gramps stood up and added some more wood to the fire. This way, he also brought the children’s attention back for more storying. Well, Gramps said smiling, that was good! I needed a bit of a clean out.
The children giggled and squirmed. To them it seemed that there could not possibly be anything mean or angry inside Gramps!
Some people have what are called drumming circles at full moon. They light a fire, often at a beach. Someone, or lots of someones, play drums. Did you know that American Indians have a long tradition of using drums in ceremonies, rituals, vision quests and healing. Many other cultures do too. Not just drums either. Australian aboriginals use didgeridoos and clapping sticks. Tonight, we’re going to have a bit of fun and hold our own drumming circle. In that big wooden box over there you will find all kinds clapping, rattling and drumming instruments. Go and choose one.
This is my drum. Gramps held up a large, flat, round drum that had been hidden behind his stone seat. It’s sides were covered in a colourful array of signs and symbols. The drum sticks had a cluster of feathers and beads at one end. This is a medicine drum. I was deeply honoured to have an ancient Shaman of the Mountain Men, the Nooksack, gift it to me. It is one of my greatest treasures. The tale of the Medicine Drum is for another night. Tonight we drum and dance to the full moon as she is embraced by the Father Sun and the Mother Moon.
Gramps and the children drummed and danced around the fire. High up in the sky the moon darkened slice by slice. And returned to its glorious fullness just as the fire had reduced to softly glowing embers.
© Raili Tanska
Steps for Peace