GUEST RITUAL: Annual Lascaux Cave Rediscovery Celebration

This ritual was proposed by Michael Halloran of the Atheopagan Facebook group and perfected through input of other members of the group.



Perform this ritual every September 12 to commemorate the accidental finding of this French cave in 1940.

Objective:

Celebrate the rediscovery of this impressive prehistoric cathedral as a community. Since most people can’t visit caves like this, and it’s often actively discouraged in order to preserve the works of art, this is a way to learn a little history, connect with the past, and have some fun as a community or family. You could use this as a lead up to your autumnal equinox celebration, since it takes place on September 12. It’s also an excellent opportunity to teach children about conservation, biodiversity, and geology. 

Themes: 

Creativity, education, joy, history, nature, ecosystems, the story of humanity

Number of people needed: Better with a lot of people, but at least 3. This is a playful activity and may be better to carry out with older children due to the created cave’s darkness.

Ingredients (every item you need to complete the ritual)
  • A large room
  • Very large sheets of paper, preferably brown
  • Tape or tacks
  • Tinsel or other materials you can hang from the ceiling to give the impression of stalactites 
  • Paint (perhaps blacklight reactive)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Old newspapers or drop cloth 
  • Drums, bells, whistles, and other percussion instruments
  • Flashlights (maybe with a black light bulb) and candles
  • An arbor or gateway of some kind to create the sense of a cave mouth
  • Mats, cushions, or chairs
  • Projector, speakers, computer
  • Food to eat afterward, maybe with a prehistoric theme

A word of advice: I recommend you do not attempt this ritual at an actual cave. Human activity in caves can have a detrimental impact on the internal ecosystem. Plus, caves have also been overexploited in general and can be dangerous if you’re unfamiliar with the terrain. If you really would like to do something at a cave, speak with a local expert to ensure your intended actions remain benign.

The ritual:

Before you start:

Choose a spacious room in which to hold the ritual. Close the curtains (Preferably do it at night so that you can ensure total darkness in the room. Put the large sheets on the walls, and place the newspapers or drop cloth beneath to catch the paint. You might want to consider crumpling the wall sheets to give them a texture too. Hang the stalactite stand-ins from the ceiling. Place a few candles strategically around the room, so when lit, they will create a nice ambiance, but still maintain a low-light feeling overall. 

Arrange the chairs, cushions, or mats in a circle with an instrument for every participant. Place the cave-entry arbor at the doorway. 

Optional: If you want to be extravagant, maybe place some kind of tunnel from a staging area to the cave room entrance. This adds the effect of moving between ritual spaces. 

The work of the ritual:

I’ve written this as a ritual with one leader, but you can hand off the various roles to different people. 

Part 1 – Prep: In a different, well-lit room, have all the participants gather around to listen to an explanation of what is going to happen: We’re gathered here to celebrate the rediscovery of the cave art at Lascaux. We’ll discuss the discovery, the significance, and we’ll then move to our own cave to paint it, play music, and then eat!

Part 2 – At this point, you can either tell the story of the discovery or share an informational video using a projector and computer.

Part 3 – Then, show this virtual tour of the cave. Maybe choose an appropriate piece of music to play while you watch, perhaps even ambient cave sounds.

ALTERNATIVELY: Instead of doing parts 1-3—and if you have the time, and people have the interest—you could watch the movie The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which is a detailed look at the art.

Maybe talk about some of the animals that were shown in the cave, and which ones still exist in the wild, and talk about the efforts that exist to preserve biodiversity, so we don’t lose megafauna. What does everyone think were some of the reasons for people making these paintings? 

Part 4 – Next, it’s time to enter the cave you’ve created. Make sure it’s dark, and have everyone get into a line, ready to enter. Escort them one by one into the dark room and have them sit down at their assigned spots. Then sit down yourself and say: Welcome to our cave. It’s cool and dark, and the world outside is far away. We will sit here in the darkness for a few minutes as we get used to the cave and start to feel at home. 

Part 5 – At this point, you can play some ambient music to synthesize the soundscape of a cave. Let everyone sit in silence for a few minutes.

Part 6 – Without warning, turn on your flashlight, ghost-storytelling style, illuminating your face, and start reciting the poem Hands, by Robinson Jeffers:

Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men’s
palms, no more,
No other picture. There’s no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these
careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: ‘Look: we also were human; we had hands,
not paws. All hail
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season,
her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human.’

Hands, by Robinson Jeffers

Then, slowly walk around lighting the candles to create the low-light atmosphere (use the flashlight to guide your way)

Part 7 – There are many cave stories from cultures worldwide. Consider sharing one from your culture. Any cave story that will create a mood of mystery and wonder. Maybe even a scientific narrative of how caves come to be formed.

Perhaps discuss the conservation issues surrounding cave-dwelling animals, such as White-Nose Syndrome in bats. You could also talk about how cave art is being actively threatened right now, such as the recent destruction in Australia, and how this impacts communities of traditional owners. You could even have other people tell stories, or invite an expert to talk and discuss ways to be part of the movement to protect caves.

Part 8 – Explain: Now, we are going to paint our cave. You can do handprints, or animals, or anything. Maybe consider the kind of message you’d like to share with everyone here, or with yourself. 

Part 9 – You can hand out flashlights if the candlelight is not enough. Now allow people to go around and paint on the walls of the cave using their hands or paintbrushes. Perhaps have a basin of soapy water ready if people want to wash up after painting.

Part 10 – Once they’re done, each person now guides everyone else through the images they’ve created. Optional: if you’ve opted for fluorescent paint, use a black light to illuminate the art.

Part 11 – Now have everyone sit down again and grab their instruments: Now, let’s bring some life into the cave. Let’s bring the animals to life and make the handprints clap!

Have everyone play the instruments, starting slowly, and gradually building up. Have people call out the animal sounds. Become the animals through your sounds. Become the handprints through claps. Have everyone stand up and start stomping around the room playing the instruments, getting faster and faster. And then, when it’s reached a frenzy, call out “stop!” and have all sit down. 

Part 12 – Thank everyone for coming, and then have your feast! So, either do that in the cave or have people leave the cave and eat in another room. The meal is a time for people to share their experiences and give some feedback on the whole ritual.

But before you leave the cave, slowly go around and blow out the candles, and then lead everyone out one by one, maintaining the facade of a real cave experience. Make sure to keep the wall art for next year so people can add to it or alter it. This is great for children too, as they can see their hands getting bigger.

Optional extra activities

My intention for this ritual is to provide an emotional and educational experience. However, if you’d like to add a spiritual/religious transformational aspect, consider adding these additional activities.

Bring a load and leave it behind:

If there’s something you want to get rid of emotionally or psychologically, use the journey to the cave as an opportunity to unburden yourself. Before you enter, acknowledge the burden, and through the actions of the cave ritual, allow yourself to be released from it and leave the cave lightened. Consider painting the burden onto the cave wall as an abstract image, so it remains locked on the paper, trapped in the cave.

Charity event:

With caves worldwide facing so many existential threats, use this opportunity to fundraise for cave conservation. Have participants donate to organizations like the National Speleological Society or Bat Conservation International.

Time capsule activity:

Have all participants bring something with them of meaning into the cave and place it in a container that you return to every year you carry out the ritual. Take out previous “offerings” and discuss their meaning, tell stories, and add to the capsule.


For another take on using cave-painting imagery, see Rites of Passage #2: Into Adulthood

An Underworld Focus

At this time of year, I pay a lot of attention to one part of my Focus*.

As altar-y spaces go, it is unquestionably the “witchiest” part of mine: bones, skulls, fossils of extinct species, a mummified bat, images of prehistoric cave paintings, megalithic spiral carvings and departed loved ones, a dried pomegranate. It is where I keep the black jar of rose water with which I have anointed several dead people, and the tiny jar of cedar oil, veteran of so many Hallows rituals, whose scent reminds me of the inside of a coffin.

It is The Underworld.

My Focus is built in a bookcase, with one shelf removed to make a double-height space. This area is The World, filled with all the symbols and reminders of what delights and moves me about life on Earth.

But on the shelf below The World is The Underworld, the place of grief, and memory, and ancestry.

This space is important to me because life is not all joy. It is loss and fear and the inevitable fact of mortality as well. Memory of what has forever gone away. And this, too, must be remembered and honored and reckoned with. And so I curate and care for this grim part of my Focus, and urge you, too, to create one on such themes, at least at this time of year: the time of Hallows.

Making an Underworld Focus is simple in concept but may be emotionally challenging. Gathering the images of your Honored Dead can be an experience of great sadness…or it can be one of fond remembrance. It depends on you.

Do you, like so many Pagans, have skulls or bones or Halloween decorations that set the proper mood? Gather those. Put down a black cloth as a base upon which to create your Focus. Arrange the objects and the pictures of your Honored Dead. Include a candle so you can “activate” your Focus when it is complete, and so it will be illuminated at night when you light it. You may want a small dish or incense burner so you can burn some incense there: perhaps the evocative, mood-altering resin incenses such as dragon’s blood or frankincense.

I keep some ritual tools in my Underworld, as well: a clamp and surgical scissors that were found in my mother’s apartment when she died (she was an RN), and a sprig of yew I gather in a cemetery each Halloween, dry for a year on the Focus, and then use to light the Hallows fire the following year.

You may wish to place an empty plate and/or drinking vessel on your Focus: symbol of the “empty place setting” that is often set for those who have died at Hallows feasts. You can make offerings on this plate: pomegranates are popular, or perhaps a red rose (fresh or dried).

When I light the candle on my Underworld Focus each night, I say the words, “The Honored Dead” (just as I say “The Sacred Earth” when I light the candle on The World Focus). This reminds me that I am of a lineage of organisms far beyond my mere nearby genetic neighbors and extending back billions of years. My Honored Dead are not only relatives and departed friends: they are ammonites and trilobites and bacteria.

Here, at this time of year when Pagans of all stripes contemplate mortality and ancestry, an Underworld Focus is a way to begin a practice of coming to grips with the fact that we will die, that all that arise from the Earth are subsumed within its Sacred fabric again, to be reconstituted as new life.


*An Atheopagan term for an altar, used as an alternative so as not to imply worship or sacrifice.

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A Deeper Look into Atheopagan Moon Observances

Not long ago, I posted about a wonderful idea that arose during the weekly Saturday Atheopagan Zoom mixer: to corollate the 13 Moon cycles of the year with the 13 Atheopagan Principles.

This enables us to have “themes” for each Moon cycle of the year, and to more deeply contemplate each of the Principles as its cycle rolls around.

So I floated the idea before, but no details about how each of these Moons might be celebrated. Here is a more fleshed-out presentation of these Moon themes and what we might incorporate into our celebrations of them.

Note that because the Moon cycles do not mesh regularly with the solar calendar, these Moon observances will move around the year, falling on different dates and even different months than they did in a previous year.

Atheopagan Full Moons 2020-21

Moon NameObservances and Themes
SKEPTIC’S MOONDecember 29, 2020
A celebration of critical thinking and science! Honor scientific heroes, discoveries and advances, and give thanks for the benefits they bring to your life. If you have binoculars or a telescope, take a look at the Moon and observe its detail–that’s a real ball of rock, 200,000 miles away, exerting gravitational effects on us that Life depends on!
REVERENCE MOONJanuary 28, 2021
A Moon for celebrating the Sacred Earth and Cosmos. Reflect on the extraordinary beauty and intricacy of the Universe and of Life on Earth. Perhaps a moonlight hike? Or reading (or writing) some reverent poetry?
GRATITUDE MOONFebruary 27, 2021
What reasons do you have to feel grateful? Write them down! Name your many blessings, and give thanks. Raise a toast to them, and the good fortune that has given them to you.
HUMBLE MOONMarch 28, 2021
We are small and temporary creatures. What do you need to get moving on, before you run out of time? Is there some way your ego has been getting in your way–or the way of others? Reflect on these questions this month.
LAUGHTER MOONApril 27, 2021
It helps to have a little perspective! Life is many things, but one of them is absurd! Perhaps it’s time to watch a comedy and just give yourself over to laughter for awhile.
RITUAL MOONMay 26, 2021
This Moon cycle is about our praxis: the things we do that make us Atheopagans. So get out in the moonlight and do a ritual: lay out a Focus, “charge” moonwater, read some Tarot, create a new tool, etc.
INCLUSIVENESS MOONJune 24, 2021
What kinds of people in your community do you not have much connection with? Maybe you can support a minority-owned business this month, or make an effort to connect with people who are different than you.
LEGACY MOONJuly 24, 2021
When you are gone, what will you leave behind for future generations? If you don’t think you will have much of a legacy, consider what you can do to pay forward the gifts and blessings you have enjoyed in your life, even if it’s just kindness to children.
RESPONSIBLE MOONAugust 22, 2021
What can you do to help others? Is it time for a round of charitable giving, or volunteering? Maybe you can do some kind of community-focused project as your “ritual” for this month.
Remainder of 2020
PLEASURE MOONSept. 2, 2020
Time for a little hedonism! What gives you real, bodily pleasure? Maybe this full Moon is a good night for a delicious feast, or some sex, or a hot bath, or all three!
CURIOSITY MOONOct. 1, 2020
Is there a topic you have always wanted to learn more about? How about a culture you want more deeply to understand, or an artist whose work you would like to explore? It’s a world rich with knowledge and creative works–hit the books or Interwebs and learn something new!
INTEGRITY MOONOct 31, 2020 (Blue Moon, Halloween)
Time for a frank assessment: do you owe someone an apology? Or a debt? Is it time to “come clean” about something, or stand up for what is right? This Moon cycle is about keeping your internal “chart of accounts” in the black. Do what you must to know you are acting with good character.
KINDNESS MOONNov. 30, 2020
Time to spread a little love around! Who do you know who could use a boost, a kind word, a compassionate gesture? Who have you had conflict with who you can try to view with a compassionate lens? This Moon cycle, redouble your efforts to be a kind and compassionate person.

All dates shown are GMT. Dates may change by one day depending on time zone.