Friday, July 29, 2011

Rituals: Celebratory or Reflective

For or better or for worse I've cultivated a reputation on the Pagan lecture circuit as a guy who likes to party and whose rituals are generally alcohol soaked. After a Convocation ritual this year I googled myself and found this note: "Saturday evening, despite a few trepidations after the Lansing folks told me about Jason Mankey’s ritual techniques (many involving alcohol).*" Yeah I put on Morrison Rituals, and we drink and praise Jim, but other than that my rituals don't involved much more than a few sips of wine, beer**, or cider (sometimes I might have a bit more than a sip during cakes and ale, but it's not mandatory that everyone join me, in fact, don't, that's more for me).

I certainly see alcohol as a sacrament, no two ways about that. Alcohol is one of the building blocks of our civilization, it's also the only culturally acceptable mood transforming drug we have left in our society (with the possible exception of caffeine, but I need that just to get to even). I worship gods that like the vine: Pan, Dionysus, Aphrodite, hell even Jesus had an affinity for the grape. Alcohol is definitely a part of the religious landscape, especially in the Western World.

I will admit that many of the public rituals I do at festivals are well, festive. Even ones with nothing more than a "ritual sip" like the Pan Ritual I did a few years ago are rather boisterous, to the extent where one might think there's a lot of alcohol there even where there isn't. When I try to do a more tame ritual, like this year's "Traditional Greek Ritual" I find myself ramping the energy level up a bit just due to the expectations. When fifty people tell me they are looking forward to my ritual and you can see that glint of Morrison/Pan expectation in their eye you have to switch things around. So yeah, Jason and party rituals do have a connection, but "party," "ritual," and "Pagan" belong together.

Picture yourself 2400 years ago in Ancient Greece preparing for the Rural Dionysia. The Rural Dionysia was a celebration and it was a religious event! You've got parades going on, with giant phalluses in them, and later dancing and singing contests; all in honor of the great Dionysus. Those were civic and religious celebrations and I'm betting the wine flowed freely. I like going to ritual where there's an expectation that I'm going to have a good time, that I'm going to have fun. We compartmentalize our lives a great deal in the modern world. Religion goes in this box and is only pulled out at certain times. Our social lives exist in another box, our party box is under the bed etc. I prefer to throw all of my stuff into one giant drawer and to make as many events as possible a religious experience. I want to wake up excited that I'm going to partake in a devotion to Pan or Dionysus or Aphrodite or Ariadne (or Ari-grins)!

One of the things that I always felt was lacking in Christianity was celebration. Singing dirge like hymns or bad contemporary pop on a football sunday is not my idea of a good time. Add to that a sermon which is probably scolding me for something and you've really got a downer of a morning. Where's the joy? Where's the breaking of bread and drinking of wine with friends and loved ones? Sorry, a congregation hall filled with 400 of my best acquaintances just doesn't do it for me.

My God once said to me "Merriment and mirth to me are great honor for the joy of the folk is my reward." What's wrong with celebrating joy? What's wrong with having fun in a spiritual context, whether its having a few ciders, indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, or watching Oliver Stone's "The Doors?" I'm not saying that every party you have needs to be a ritual, but at certain times ritual should contain genuine heartfelt laughter. My Lady once told her children "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." I live that, and I love that, and I think it's one of the reasons my religion is superior to others.***

Ritual should of course be serious at times. I can't imagine a frivolous Samhain celebration, it's a meditation on death and rebirth after all, and there are times when ritual requires restraint. I'm not so far down the path of hedonism that I've forgotten that. I've written several extremely serious rituals over the years. The best thing I've ever written was a Beltane ritual composed after the death of my Grandmother. Instead of being the more airy, light Beltane most of us are used to, it was an outlet to deal with great sorrow while finding myself in a world of rebirth. Not all moments are going to be cider-soaked, and not all moments should be devoid of that soaking either.

In my mind group rituals tends to be (and sometimes these two things can be combined):

*A pure celebration of a season, event, deity, or transition.
*A reflection on a particular season, event, deity, or transition.

When I'm at a festival with 100 of my closest friends it's easiest to make public ritual about celebration. Often times we are celebrating a god, but in some ways I think we are just celebrating being "there." Festival is "a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time." It's exhilarating in some ways to be out of mundania. It's certainly possible to do more serious ritual at a festival, but it's a bigger challenge, and most of the festival isn't in the proper head space for it anyways (at least the people I hang around). My favorite festival presenters usually have a drink in their hands by 10:00 pm.

While something like Samhain can be construed as a harvest celebration, most rituals in honor of it aren't constructed that way. They tend to be reflections or acknowledgments of how the Wheel of the Year has transitioned to a quieter, more reflective time, and how that time is an opportunity to remember those we've lost. It's a necessary ritual, a yearly soul cleansing in some respects, but it's not a celebration in most instances.

Even as a Panhead I take the time to reflect on Him. It's not all just about the wineskin or the lechery, he's a god after all, he does have things to teach me, but celebration is a part of His worship. So celebratory worship is a part of me, and a part of what I do. I'm certainly capable of presenting uber-serious ritual, but only when the time and place call for it.

*The actual note was pretty positive, and can be found by clicking here.

**Or I did drink beer. Pretty sure I'm allergic to it these days. I can have two beers and feel horrible for 24 hours. I can drink eight ciders in the same amount of time and feel like a million bucks in the morning.

***Key words there "I think." Obviously I think it's superior, or I wouldn't do it.

1 comment:

  1. While I think that appropriate imbibing can be sacred, we also live in a culture of recovery. In many a circle I've seen accomadations for those who cannot drink. I think that is great. Where , I think we lose track is totally forgoing the assistance to ectasy, is by bringing everyone to that same level.
    I read somethitg interesting in a book about Hindu worship. the right hand path is the path of asceticism, while the left hand path is the path of ecstacy. One is not better or more correct than the other. the right hand path is stable and will take many lifetimes to acheive, while the left hand path is more direct and acheivable but also has its drawbacks.