Last weekend, we went to the blessing of the nearby Indian Cultural Center by a Brahmin priest. The ritual lasted several hours, accompanied ceaselessly by the pundit's clear-voiced chanting in Sanskrit. Each movement, each word was keyed to the offerings: leaves, flowers, coconuts, the flare of ghee in the central fire, the sacred grass under the mat. The eldest man and his wife assisted, sprinkling offerings on the holy flame.
It was a beautiful ceremony to watch, and we shared the blessings of aarti and drank of the earthy sacred water. Apples were our prasad, fresh off local trees.
The pandit was my age or a little older, perhaps, having learned Sanskrit and the rituals since childhood. From memory alone, he can perform and recite long ceremonies for multiple occasions: house-blessings, weddings, deaths. A Hindu friend told us of an event, years ago: Hundreds of Brahmin priests reciting ancient prayers for rain, to bring on the monsoon and end the drought. And so they did.
And, as a Druid, I think: This is what we have lost.
The priest or priestess is essentially a servant of the community, both mundane and divine. S/he keeps the ancient traditions alive, the path that connects one directly to the ancestors. In the dance of hands, words and offerings lies the thread of time, memory, place.
It's not our fault we have lost this. Traditions are living things: birthing, living and dying along with their people. We have lost what the ancient Druids did, their sacred words and actions; they had lost the sacred traditions of those who dwelt in the land before, the Megalith builders, and on and on through the first emergence of hominids with a sacred sense. Time is a waltz between memory and forgetting.
Two thousand years from now, perhaps, we'll have Pagan priest/esses performing prodigious rituals from memory. Or perhaps we've changed too much for that?
So much of modern spirituality is focused on the individual and the individual's needs: We do a ritual asking for abundance, or spiritual enlightenment, or some amorphous version of personal development. Gods and spirits are archetypes, or spiritual tools; not entities to be loved, honored, even feared — babove all, known, recognized as something beyond the individual self.
We've turned faith into consumerism, self into spirit, selfishness into enlightenment.
It's not enough to love yourself: you need to love your neighbors, too — all of them. You need to love the world and its denizens, seen and unseen. The Gods and spirits, if you believe in them — and especially if you ask boons of them. You make offerings not because your friends or neighbors or Gods need stuff, but because that's how we, as fleshly creatures, show love, care, respect. The blessings are shared among one's community, one's neighbors, not kept in a miser's vault. It's a spiritualization of our identity as social creatures — as indeed we are, political rhetoric aside.
Even if you've lost the words, make an offering — and share the prasad with your neighbor. Pay it forward, that memory of sacredness.