Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Ritual from the Inside Out

There I am, at the ritual planning meeting. The priestess-in-charge stands up, welcomes everyone, and thanks us all for coming.

Then she asks the question that should never be the first question asked at a ritual planning meeting.

Priestess: So how do we cast the circle?

(Why not? Because ritual isn't planned the same way that it's performed, from beginning to end. Good ritual grows from the inside out. Much better first questions to ask at a ritual planning meeting would be: What is this ritual about? What is the purpose of this ritual?)

In good, egalitarian Midwestern fashion, we proceed around the circle (deosil, of course).

First Person: In my tradition, we cast the circle with a wand.

Second Person: Well, in my tradition, we cast the circle with an athame.

Posch: (Pause.) Um, well, I don't usually cast circles.

There's a moment of silence. Then we continue around the circle until everyone has spoken.

Priestess: OK, so how do we call the quarters?

First Person: In my tradition, we call Air in the East.

Second Person: Well, in my tradition, we call Fire in the East.

Posch: (Looks at feet.) Um, well, I don't usually call quarters. And I don't work with the four elements.

An even longer pause than before. You don't need to be psychic to hear what's going on in people's heads. Here's this guy that's supposed to be a hot-shot ritualist and a respected community elder, and instead he's just being an obstructionist asshole.

We go around the circle again, and the planning continues.

I heed the silent admonishment. I pull in my horns and let them plan the ritual they want to plan.

Really, Posch, there's a time and a place, and this isn't either.






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Saturday, 26 April 2014

    I don't usually cast the circle or call the quarters either--though I once did.

    I felt vindicated when I learned from Ronald Hutton that so much of ceremonial "tradition" comes from the Masons and their sort, not from the rituals of the people.

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Saturday, 26 April 2014

    "Deosil, of course."

    I participated in a non-Wiccanate ritual at which there many Wiccanate attendees, and at which some dancing occurred. At some points, the dancing circled counter-clockwise, and afterwards more than one attendee expressed concern about the consequences.

    Thank you for pointing out that ritual aspects which many of us perceive as standard (and I was one of "us" for years and years) simply aren't, and that's okay.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 27 April 2014

    Wicca being the gold standard for Successful Modern Pagan Religions, I guess it's not surprising that a lot of us non-Wiccans suffer from Wicca Envy, even as we define ourselves against it. ;)

    The Standard Wiccan Circle is certainly a format that can create powerful ritual experience; I'll testify to this personally. It seems problematic to me only when we permit it to gain dogma status, when we come to think of it as the single definitive paradigm for modern pagan ritual.

    Personally, I regard it as a challenge. Can we discover ritual forms that are as effective and engaging (if not more so) than the "standard" ones?

    Like they say, there's no rest for the Wise.

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