The Mythology of the Flagbearers

“Proudly lift your Standards High, 
Let them know we are coming and why!” 

In many traditions around the world every family, clan, tribe and nation would create its own standard, or flag which bore the motto and symbol of the group. These were displayed on long poles, or staffs and carried by a company of Flagbearers. 

The identifying colors and motto of the people meant a great deal to all. The flags or standards were a statement of what the arriving company would promise, no matter what, and that those following the flagbearers would live up to that motto—for life. This is how we gain the understanding of the phrases “lift your standards” and “maintaining high standards”, meaning Keep Your Motto, which in Latin means “word”, be measured by that word and the deeds which follow. And, do not fail to carry through with that promise. 

Following this honorable tradition, during Vinotok at various ceremonies we encourage all who wish to step forward and “plight their troth” or make their promise during the Harvest Festivities to live in compassionate reciprocity with the Earth and to join in the ceremony of Marrying the Land and Committing to Each Other. 

The Flagbearers also personally decorate their staffs with special totems, greens and wood rounds branded with the Runes we draw and follow for guidance. Throughout the village you will see staffs leaning outside of pubs, homes and restaurants. You will also see them above the heads of the Vinotok throngs, and will soon be able to recognize the unique staffs of individual Vinotok Players and Archetypes—such as the Green Man, Harvest Mother, Godmother and Sorceress. And in our street theatre and Great Grump Procession through the town the Flagbearers have an important role in defining sacred space for the Vinotok Passion Players, Mummers and folk dancing in the street. 

By Marcie Telander, Vinotok Godmother and Founder

Flagbearer Activity: Create a Staff

Finding Your Staff: Spend a quiet afternoon in the forest. You may wish to take some extra water with you to make an offering to the branch which gives itself to you, and which will become your staff.

As you walk through the woods, be on the watch for driftwood or deadfall—not a living tree—which is at least 4 feet long. You may want to have a staff that is a foot or so taller than you. Test and see what best suits your interests, balance and needs. When the branch finds you, hold it up, wrap your hands around it as you will, when you carry it as a walking staff. Make sure there are no sharp protruding points or jagged broken twigs.

If you have found driftwood, already peeled and smooth, this is perfect.

If you discover wood with the bark still on it you may want to peel it by hand, using a draw knife, or wood-carving knife. If you choose to leave some bark on the staff, wrap some soft leather bound by a thin leather cord around the part of the staff where you will most often hold it.

Charging Your Staff: For Vinotok Festivarians and Celebration Artists it can be very meaningful to Charge or Dedicate our staff in a special way. You may also wish to offer this simple dedication by bathing your staff in a stream or river, sprinkling it with Earth, raising it to receive the wind, then lightly running it through a safe campfire to be galvanized and purified by the flames. With each element you may say this Charge: “By Water I charge you! By Earth I charge you! By Air I charge you! By Fire I charge you! With Gratitude for this sacred Staff it is done in the flow of Life. It is so!”

Decorating Your Staff: If you choose to decorate for Vinotok and other seasonal celebrations and ceremonies, begin to adorn your staff with anything that pleases you and has special meaning. Many of us use strips of natural cloth, totems and beads, Rune Carvings and branded rounds, fur, feathers, horsehair, etc. which we continually add to over time. Each of these has some special personal meaning, reminding us of the Staff of Life, and our dedication to Staffing our community with our service, support and sustainable practices.

Now proudly carry your Staff, feel its balancing support and authority.

Carry your staff raised high in our Vinotok celebrations. Place it outside your front door so that all will know that you and your high standards are here!

Flagbearer Activity: Four Elements Meditation Activity

Sit on the ground cross-legged if you can, or any position that is comfortable. Sit with your back straight, as if a tree, rooting both into the ground with your hips yet reaching into the sky with your head.

First, focus on the air by paying attention to your inhale and exhale. With each inhale, sense how the oxygen you breathe has been exhaled by the trees, bushes, grasses and other plants of your home. With each exhale, sense how the carbon dioxide you expel is absorbed by the plant life all around the world. Feel how the air inside you is the same as the air surrounding you. Breathe the universe in and out over and over again. Contemplate how each breath connects you with all creatures.

Slowly shift your focus to contemplating the earth. As you sit, feel the hardness and solidity of the earth beneath you, the density of rock. The earth element pours through us, via the food we eat, transformed into muscles and tissues, replacing all the cells in our body every seven years. Feel the earth elements in the hardness and solidity of your body—your bones, nails and teeth. See if you can sense we are not just on the earth, but a part of the earth that walks, moves, breathes. The earth element in you is part of every living thing, from the granite bedrock to the dense bark of a tropical hardwood tree to the rich humus that supports so much plant life.

Slowly shift your focus to the element of water. Allow your eyes and ears to take in any body of water around you, be it a pond, stream, lake or a bottle of water. Explore the notion that the water you see is the same ingredient that resides within every cell of your body. Contemplate the watery nature of your body—blood, mucus, tears and sweat. Sense the fluids inside of you cleansing and moisturizing every cell, vein and artery. Look at the body of water before you and consider the ways you are part of the vast hydrological cycle—water enters your body, rinses it clean, and exits your body to rejoin the flow through the seas and mountains and sky. The water within has been through endless cycles, has passed through people living centuries ago, has been swallowed by whales in Antarctic waters, has laid in deep alpine lakes, been frozen icebergs in Greenland, and fed unnumerable trees.

Slowly turn your attention to the final element: fire. If it is a sunny day, sit in full exposure to the sun’s warm rays, our source of this element that connects us with the fire of the big bang. Feel the sun’s radiant heat on your skin, penetrating deep into you. Sense how the sun’s energy is sustaining your very life, providing the warmth deep in your belly. We need to regenerate fire constantly through exposure to warmth or via energy from food. The sun provides this element universally: we share this energy with all warm-blooded creatures, and with reptiles who use the life-giving rays to warm themselves in the middle of the day. Feel the sun’s energy giving warmth to the air, and life to the plants we metabolize.

To end this meditation, let your awareness expand to include all of your experience, and see if you can perceive each arising phenomenon through the lens of the four elements. By deepening our awareness of each of the four elements, we can begin to better see the universal nature of our individual mind-body experience.

Adapted from Awake in the Wild by Mark Coleman