Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
Watching The Flow
Thanks to all of you who checked in with me during and after the hurricane that in our house came to be called Sandy Claws as a tip of the hat to Nightmare Before Christmas. No damage of any consequence came to our home or our shop, just a bit of cleanup to do. We are grateful.
This is part two of a two part post on getting the most out of the experience of ritual. I’ll continue thoughts from last week, bring in a few more notions, and I’ll make some observations about the special circumstances involved in participating in rituals that are not part of your path. If you have not read the first part of this blog, please do.
Let’s assume that you have made the choice to commit to being in a ritual. What do you need to do to actually follow through on this choice? First, find a proper balance for your truths and focuses. Ask yourself what is consequential and what is petty? For example if you find that you are grousing internally about a chant or invocation being used in a ritual that you don’t like or have grown weary of from overuse, it detracts from your presence and commitment to the ritual in a way that is petty. It would be consequential if in some way the chant or invocation was dangerous or counterproductive. If that is the case, then other approaches and responses may be needed that fall outside the bounds of this post. For the sake of argument, this post excludes bad rituals which we'll explore at some later date. This is the moment when all your daily practice and inner preparatory work comes fully into play. That work will have given you what you need to focus on what matters and to shed distractions. Aside from spectatoring and distancing, irritation and distraction are the two major ways that you lower the quality of your presence and participation in ritual. When we hone our will and clarify our emotions by keeping our balance of truths and focuses in a ritual, we grow and develop. Also ask yourself what your role is in the ritual and whether you are attending to your duties. Even if you have no stated role, all present have the duty to uphold the work.
It is also vital to make peace with your perceptions of yourself and others. I am not going to ask you to avoid being judgmental. Frankly, I think we get in more trouble when we try to banish “judgment” or sugar coat it by calling it discernment or some other word. Be aware of your judgments, your assessments, and put them into a positive frame that allows them to be constructive. From my perspective, ritual is often intended to either generate a transformation or to maintain an existing favorable state. Change requires a willingness to move through discomfort and the maintenance of an existing positive state often requires a sense of worthiness and gratitude. When you're looking at yourself or others in a ritual, ask yourself how your perceptions and judgments help or hinder you in either making a change or holding on to the good that you have.
When you're attending a ritual that comes from another path or tradition, then there is a need to be even more present and aware. Whenever possible, try to do a little bit of research before attending a ritual that is outside of your normal pattern. A number of years ago, I attended a public ritual put on by a House from a fairly orthodox African Diaspora line at a pagan gathering. Several well intended people wanted to show that they were open and welcoming of this path within the context of this gathering.They were showing their openness and welcome by going up to the lead priestess and giving her a big hug and complimenting her on what she was wearing. Quietly, I went up to them and pulled them aside and asked them to please pass the word that they should not hug the priestess yet. She had just finished a fairly lengthy purification process and would have to begin again. In that particular House once you had purified and prepared for the ceremony, you were not to be touched by non-initiates. The priestess was very gracious since she knew no harm or disrespect was intended and all was well in the end. It is an example about the need for both knowledge and sensitivity when we're trying to build bridges between systems and communities. By the way this is not necessarily true for other African Diaspora rituals or Houses. Always check and see what is expected of you at any ritual.
When you are in someone else’s ritual, you are in a place that is important and sacred to them. The rules of hospitality apply just as surely as if you are visiting them in their home. There are some differences between open rituals and rituals that require a private invitation, but in either case you are a guest. As you are experiencing the ritual, be mindful of when and if you are comparing it to the details of what you would normally do. This is often how trouble begins. Challenge yourself to look past differences in style and taste, and even doctrine, instead look for the substance and the intention of the ritual. Refrain from coming to conclusions about what the ritual meant for you until it is finished. Even better, sit with it for a few days and then review the ritual.
If you find you cannot be present in a good way, there is often the option to leave. It is a good idea to check in with the organizers of a ritual and ask what the proper protocol or procedure might be if you had to leave during the ritual. Different paths and traditions treat this matter differently. If you’re a ritual facilitator, please give some thought to this option when you have guests at your rituals. I was once the primary facilitator for a large public ritual and it began to rain. It was not raining much but it was enough to get my attention. It was very early in the ritual so I stated that if there were any that needed to leave the ritual because they would be distracted by the rain, or had children that they did not want to get wet, or for whatever other reason thought they could not participate fully, that it was better that they should leave. I repeated again that it would be better for only those to remain who would be able to focus on the ritual at hand. A small number of people did leave and those that remained truly wanted to be there and were reminded to be mindful. The ritual went well and if anything the choice to stay in the rain deepened people’s connection to the experience.
If you are an old hand at ritual work, like I am, then there is the problem of keeping your experience of ritual fresh. I've observed that it is common to have plateaus and patches of time where I feel less intensity in rituals. I have found it useful to look to the newbies, the new hands, and to renew my sense of wonder by watching it light up their faces. By the way, this also helps to put the irritations that they can provoke into a better context as well. I also remind myself that everything in me waxes and wanes. I just need to be patient for the next tide of wonder and magick to wash over me. But… if I am not prepared and waiting at the dock, my ship will never come in or go out.
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