The Phoenix Rite: Destruction and Rejuvenation
Written by: Michelle Belanger
In the summer of 2002, I was going through some traumatic stuff. Some of this had to do with issues in my present, but the issues in the present were inextricably linked to issues from my past. After struggling to let go of things, I designed what I called the Phoenix Rite to formally release the burdens of my past and set my feet toward the future. When we performed the rite as a House, several other members decided to use the ritual to let go of their own burdensome issues. The rite, when enacted, was very powerful and very liberating. I've expanded the ritual and better defined the action and roles and share it with you here. Some may recognize a prototype of the Avatar called Fenecai in the Otherkin rituals. In the original Phoenix Rite this role was fulfilled by Jason B. Crutchfield, Warrior Caste Elder. This is a two-part ritual, led by two different people in two very different capacities. First, there is the main ritualist who leads first portion of the rite. Then there is someone who has been designated the Destroyer. This person will set up a secondary ritual space somewhat away from the first rite. The secondary ritual space must be out of doors and preferably in an area where a little mess and a little noise will be acceptable.
The first ritual space is set up with a small table in the center. On this table is a large vessel -- a big ceramic bowl will do. This area is prepared with incense, cleansed, and set up like any traditional ritual space.
The secondary space is the realm of Destruction. It represents the Forge of the Lord of Destruction. This space will include a large mallet or hammer, a slab of stone or section of concrete, an open fire or lit grill, and one or more buckets of water (safety goggles and work gloves, as well as a broom and dustpan, are good ideas also).
The person who oversees this space will become the personification of Destruction/Renewal. As the first half of the ritual takes place, the person designated as the Destroyer prepares him- or herself to take up that office -- clearing the space, summoning the necessary energies, stoking the fire, and attending to any costuming or special appearance-related things that seem appropriate.
For the first part of the ritual, those who are participating need to bring at least one item that represents some aspect of themselves or their past that they wish to let go. The point of the ritual is to destroy those things that have become stagnant and that are holding peoples’ progress back so that through the destruction, renewal can take place.
Each person files into the circle, holding his or her object(s) and reflecting on all those object(s) mean to them. The ritual stands at center, near the bowl.
I stand here at the juncture of the past and the future, caught in myself, unable to move on. Loneliness entraps me. Depression weighs upon me. All the nightmares of my past still haunt me, obscuring what is worthwhile now.
I bear the marks of suffering upon my body and upon my soul. I have been marked by peoples’ expectations of me. I have been marked by my expectations of myself. I have been hobbled by being put in boxes, by being labeled, by being told, “You cannot.” Helplessness entraps me, and my pain has brought me to a halt. Everything in my life is standing still. And yet these bonds that have been forged around me can be sundered, if I so choose.
Life is pain. Growth is pain. Letting go is pain -- and yet joy comes after.
As I shatter the bonds that fetter me, I am afraid. But it is only because I have forgotten how to walk without those bonds. In this moment now, I release that fear. I take back my life, as I should have done before. I will forge my own future from the bonds of my past.
The ritualist places the item representative of his or her past issue in the ceramic bowl. A short explanantion of what it symbolizes follows.
I take my despair and I release it. I give it as the phoenix to the flame. I have no reason to carry these old tears with me. They only anchor me to my pain.
My past is behind me. I burn it away -- and there is pain. The pain can either destroy me or set me free. I choose freedom. I choose life!
One by one, the people around the circle come forward. They are encouraged to speak aloud what it is they are letting go. They reflect upon all that this item means to them, all the ways this issue has hurt them and impeded their growth throughout the years. Summoning all the related emotion, they charge the item with as much of this as possible before setting it in the bowl. When they place the item in the bowl, they echo the Ritualist's declaration of freedom.
I choose freedom! I choose life!
Everyone places their item in the bowl. All return to their places in the circle and take a few moments of silence to reflect on what is being let go.
The Ritualist takes the bowl and displays it to everyone in the circle.
These are the things that have hurt us and made us weak. They are bonds that we built around ourselves, or bonds that we allowed life to build upon us. They have hurt us. They have held us back. They have stopped our growth. Now it is time to shatter them and to forge a new life in the flames. Together, let us go forth to the heart of the forge and release these things. We will see this pain destroyed and rebuild ourselves from the ashes.
The Ritualist takes the bowl with all the items and leads the entire group in procession to the realm of the Destroyer.
I am the Destroyer -- the Lord of the Forge that Remakes and Renews! No one can enter my realm and leave unchanged. Who are you and why do you come here?
We are prisoners of our pain and of our pasts. We have brought these things for you to destroy so we may learn to live again.
I sense much emotion here. You are all tied to these things very deeply. Are you certain you can bear the fires that will render them to ash?
We would pass through the flames ourselves if that would set us free. Lord of the Forge, who destroys and renews, take these things and shatter them. We will bear the pain. Sunder our bonds and set us free!
Sunder our bonds and set us free!
The Destroyer takes the bowl then destroys the items one by one. As complete a destruction as possible to rendered to each thing using the hammer, then it is committed to the flames. Everyone stands around and watches the things burn, reflecting on what they are letting go and feeling the flame consume those past burdens, issues, and tears. When everything is consumed, the Destroyer puts out the flames and places some of the ash in the original bowl. This is handed back to the ritualist. The ritualist takes these ashes and -- making sure they’re cool -- traces a line down the middle of his or her face, running from the hairline, down the nose, over the lips, and down to the chin. The ritualist then turns and traces lines on the faces of everyone who participated in the rite with the exception of the Destroyer who, at that point, will probably be sweaty and sooty enough. Everyone stands together in a group, heads bowed, reflecting on the rite.
The ashes of what once was, are fertile. The flame can rejuvenate and renew. I let go of my old self to become something greater. And in this fire I am reborn.
The rest of the ashes are scattered. The ritualist takes the first handful, followed by everyone else in the group.
In this fire, I am reborn.
The participants have the option of performing a spiral dance or similar function at this point to celebrate their new-found freedom. Laughter, singing, and celebratory noise is encouraged.
The ritual space is taken down. Clean up occurs thereafter.