Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Ritual

(This entry is about ritual, and references a few. There are no names involved, but if you feel like I'm a big jerk after reading this, know that's not my intention. I know my expectations are high, perhaps unreasonably so, and I do appreciate the efforts of anyone who leads public ritual. It's not easy, and I thank you for doing it.)

This Saturday Ari and I will be attending two Beltane rituals. On Sunday we might go to one or two more. So far, there's been a lot of opportunity for ritual in the Bay Area. I'm excited about a Beltane weekend with rituals in the woods and along the ocean shore. I'm also thrilled that it's supposed to be sunny and bright, and warm. Those are things that didn't usually happen in Michigan.

Despite all of my excitement, I'm a little worried. I am a ritual snob, and so far our ritual experiences in California have been anti-climactic. Now we've only been to "open circles" and I know full well the perils and problems of performing ritual in that vein. There are always lots of concerns, and a tendency to never go "full throttle," to much unknown energy in the circle for that kind of thing. I get that, I don't expect to have some amazing transformative experience at such gatherings, but I expect something.

The first ritual we went to featured some very nice people, and while we were politely ignored by some of the folks there, most everyone was welcoming. The ritual its self was mostly seated and didn't really involve anyone outside of the High Priest and High Priestess running the ritual. Despite twenty minutes calling the quarters and casting the circle, the whole thing was done in less than thirty minutes.

Our second ritual experience was on the beach under a beautiful swollen full moon. Again, people were very nice to us, but the ritual was over in about the same time as the first and there was very little interaction between the High Priest and everyone else in the circle. On the plus side, I loved the energy that was created, and the setting alone was magickal. I'm going to steal one of the songs we used in the ritual. So there were things I liked about it, but it was also "slight."

I don't know if "slight" is the right word, but it seems to fit my purposes. "Slight Ritual" is quick ritual that doesn't involve everyone. It's sort of like peaking up under the skirt of The Goddess, instead of standing before Her reveling in all of Her glory. It's ritual that leaves you wanting more, kind of like going out to eat and only having the appetizer and never getting your meal. It's the kind of ritual that makes me look at Ari when we are done and say "When we get home I want you to read The Charge of the Goddess for me."

I'm sure I've performed "slight" ritual on a number of occasions. There are moments when the creative juices are just not flowing, or the energy in the room is so strange that I feel the need to cut things short. None of us are perfect, and we all have bad days. I know that some of the rituals I've done at festivals have been far to short. We can aim for perfection, but we all usually fall short of the mark.

Perhaps my concern over "slight" rituals stems from the fact that I haven't done very many in the past couple of years. Lansing Michigan is certainly not the Pagan Capitol of the country, but we were blessed with some amazing writers of ritual: Mel, Teresa, Jerry, Eddie, Sarah Kate, Christopher, Ari, and probably myself. (Names are incomplete out of respect, don't know who wants name checked in my blog you know.) I'm sure I'm forgetting a few there too. We were lucky, much larger communities aren't usually that fortunate.

In my mind great rituals requires six things:
1. Welcoming atmosphere
2. Calling the Quarters/Casting the Circle (setting up the ritual)
3. Invoking the Goddess and God (even my Horned God rituals have a spot for Her.)
4. Something interactive that involves everyone
5. Cakes and Ale
6. Clean Up/Thank you's

I realize that not all of these are easy steps. Creating an atmosphere free of cliques and an environment that goes out of its way to include everyone is near impossible. This could be the hardest part of any public ritual. I like to think I tried to make everyone feel welcome during my days of leading open ritual, but I'm not sure I always succeeded. I do remember approaching people I didn't know several times, but did I do it every time? I'm not sure and it's doubtful. Probably too busy flirting with girls and drinking cider, but I do know that if I saw a wallflower on the outside looking in I tried to talk with him/her.

So far in California I've been lucky enough to know someone at every ritual we've attended. Usually I know someone "going in," but beyond that I've had several people recognize me at things. That is a nice feeling, and it's a huge help when trying to put roots down in a new community. I can't imagine what it's like when you don't know anyone at all.

Casting circles and calling the quarters is pretty easy, and is something most people get right at ritual. Sure, there are always people who walk widdershins around the circle causing my eyes to bug out, but that's a small thing. About the only time I've seen a quarter calling get truly messed up is when it was happening and I wasn't aware of it happening. People do things in different ways, a heads up on how the ritual is going to unfold before hand can be a good thing. (Of course, the expectation is sometimes "everyone knows how it's going to unfold, except for you Midwesterners.)

Invoking the gods should never be problematic, but Ari and I have had so many positive experiences with this aspect of ritual over the years that it can be problematic. I need more than just "Goddess of Spring join us tonight." I need "Once in a month and better it be when the moon is full . . . . . . And ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in My praise . . ." You know the rest. I wouldn't say ritual is incomplete without those words, but it comes close.

There was a Midsummer several (several) years ago when Ari and I felt like outsiders in our own community. It was nobody's fault really, we just all had different little groups and whatever, shit happens. The ritual that night, at one of my favorite ritual spots ever, was just a little off. It didn't work for whatever reason, and felt incomplete. If I remember correctly there was no "deity" really in it. So when we were done I grabbed a blanket, my Ari, and our BoS's and headed off away from everyone else. We decided that skyclad on Midsummer was the way to go and I had Ari read the Charge of the Goddess for me. When she was done I read the Charge of the God. We then made love under the moon, ritual complete.

I have such a strong relationship with deity, and such a huge need for liturgy, that anything less than the most absolute heartfelt Call to the Goddess along with the words of Valiente tends to leave me feeling incomplete. When invoking deity I expect to feel Goddess and God in the circle with me. These are high expectations, and perhaps more of an indictment on me than anyone else. For if I can't "find her within, I will never find her without," still I have this need for it during ritual.

Many circles tend to ignore The God completely, or pay Him just the tiniest amount of lip service. For a full fledged Panhead and member of the Horned God Army this is always a problem. A ritual without a complete dose of Vitamin P* nearly leaves me sick. Do I have an insane connection to The God? Hell yes. Can I draw Him down at a near moment's notice? Does His energy sometime consume my being? Can I lead ritual and fill a room full of Pan or Dionysian Energy? Hell yes to all of those things.

Now I don't expect others to have this sort of connection, and that's fine. But what I would like is the chance to feel Him in the circle. It's not good enough to allow just one horn into the circle, I need both. Something equal in appreciation to The Goddess is always welcome. Is it hard for me to pull myself back in ritual sometimes and stop myself from saying "I am he who abides in the deepest darkerst woods. It is my place to be with the creatures of the forest running in the cloak of blackest night. With bow strung across my back I make my home with the Earth. I am the defender of the sacredness of nature. I am the Great God." He's like an inch that has to be scratched, and absolute essential part of ritual for me.

Besides creating a welcoming environment, putting together something that everyone can be involved with in ritual is a challenging task. In a large public circle that challenge grows even bigger. The easy solution is usually just to chant or give people something, and those are fine things, but I tend to want a little something more. In a perfect world what goes on in the middle of circle will make me laugh (spring/summer/harvest) or perhaps make me introspective (late fall/winter). What it should do is change my consciousness in some way.

Knowing that I'm making magick changes my consciousness. It's one thing to be given something, it's another to put my heart and energy into it, and be encouraged to do so. I want to look upon deity at ritual, experience something outside of my usual day to day routine. I want to feel love, I want to feel that I can accomplish anything and that the world is mine for the taking. That's what great ritual does, and when we are done we might even all be a little bit tired. Witchcraft is work, I want do work in circle.

Cakes and Ale is like calling the quarters, very rarely does this get messed up. It's a time for fellowship, good humor, and creating community. It should be more than just mindless cup and cookie passing, it should be a moment of thanks to the Gods for all they have given us. (And even in the midst of this country's current circumstances there is a lot to be thankful: food, drink, music, a warm summer's day, the smile and wink of a lover, the list goes on and on.)

I'm going to approach this weekend with an open mind and an open heart. I do realize that anyone who leads ritual generally is doing their best, and that I do have crazy high expectations. But also, ritual is what you make of it. We do have the power to transform our circumstances, and yes, sometimes you can hear me whispering "Pan, Pan, Pan" under my breath at ritual, having my moment with Him. Sure I'd love to share that moment and really get involved with it, but I do try and be polite.

Viva la ritual.

*That's "Vitamin Pan" of course, a phrase coined by British occultist and New Agey Christian Dion Fortune.


  1. Yikes! Way to psych out the Beltane crews, buddy.
    Just kidding. I know of what you speak, and I totally agree. Most of my "Huh? Whatever" rituals have happened at Pantheacon, and I have shared many a chuckle afterwards at Cafe Ho-Hum.
    So happy you two are cruising all the way down to Santa Cruz. We'll try to do our best to please you snobby Midwesterners. ;-)

  2. Santa Cruz has a great rep as a pagan community. I hope it works out great there. Frankly, I will take the ho-hum rituals every time over the dirty energy rituals I have experienced from time to time.

  3. Thanks for putting me on the list, J-man. Some of my favorite rituals were ones you wrote, you know. I learned how to write a ritual watching you do it. So props to you for being a great teacher.