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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in ritual

[Note: This is a revised version of an earlier essay that appeared on the Humanistic Paganism blog.]

"... creative imagination is the only primordial phenomenon accessible to us, the real Ground of the psyche."

-- Jung, letter to Kurt Plachte, Jan. 10, 1929

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Oh What A Beautiful Solstice

"Oh What a Beautiful Solstice, Oh What a Beautiful Day…"

These are the strains I remember waking to coming from an enthusiastic fellow Pagan Spirit Gathering camper some years back, on the day of the summer solstice. It stuck with me, and I have very fond memories of the experience. The gathering has gotten quite large and sadly, I have not been able to return– but the spirit of PSG stays with me. Drawing on some of that energy and a few of my own Litha gatherings since, here is my idea of the perfect Midsummer camping trip, on a much smaller scale.

I find that state parks have a lot to offer in the way of ample space, good upkeep and natural beauty. I cannot sing the praises enough of my own Wisconsin State Park System! Of course, if you know someone with access to private grounds, by all means, take advantage of that first. But when reserving at a public place, always be sure to request a woodsy, secluded spot, preferably on an end of the campground. You don't want to be sandwiched between others and most park administrative staff that you talk to can tell you of just such a site at their facility. If you find a park with a lake, there are usually the added benefits of a boat or canoe rental opportunity, swimming, and the soothing sounds of the water at night when you are drifting off to sleep.

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  • Editor B
    Editor B says #
    We have our reservations at a state park, and I had some rough idea of how we should celebrate, but you've helped to crystallize t
  • Colleen DuVall
    Colleen DuVall says #
    Glad to hear it!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Invoking Deities with Tarot

One of the most powerful aspects of ritual work is invocation. To invoke an element, a spirit or a deity is to bring their energy to your circle, and to bring their healing magickal power to yourself.

Many Pagans use statues, images and altar tools to help with the process of invocation. To have the image of a deity on your altar not only honors the deity, it assists in invoking the energy of that deity.

 We choose specific deities to invoke for specific reasons. Some of us invoke specific deities on certain holidays.  It is also helpful to invoke a deity based on your specific need. A mother Goddess like Quan Yin might be helpful if you are doing fertility magick, for instance. A God associated with animals, like Cernuous, might be helpful in the healing of a pet. A Goddess of prosperity like Lakshmi might help with financial issues.

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Reflections on "The Union of Earth and Sky"

In the process of designing and teaching a course called Ritual Theory & Liturgical Design at Starr King School for the Ministry (UU), I was digging through some of my old materials and found this reflection from 1999.  I'd been thinking about some of the things I learned from this particular ritual, "The Union of Earth and Sky: A Ceremony for Thor and Freyr," created by Sparky T. Rabbit.  I was really glad to have found this because it's much fresher than anything I could write from this distance in time.

* * * * *

We five in red and gold proceeded through the encampment to a drumbeat.  Activity ceased and all became hushed at our approach.  Step by step, we walked up to the site of the sacred circle.  We turned deosil just inside of the Guardian of the North, and dropped out under a tree, facing inward, behind Cloud, our Eastern Guardian.  As we turned toward the center, we saw following us the Man in the Moon and the Night-Time Stars, who proceeded to the West to stand behind that Guardian.  Behind them mighty Thor and his petite, black-gowned rune-bearer, followed by beautiful Freyr, his rune-bearer sister to Thor’s.

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Many Pagans use ritual and magic with a therapeutic focus.  I've found this to be more prevalent in some traditions than in others, and more common among bootstrap and eclectic traditions.  Those kinds of traditions tend to be more fluid and less conventional in the kinds of ritual they perform, which perhaps accounts for their tendency to be more daring in the kinds of work they do.  The use of ritual for or as therapy is especially common in the tradition from which I arose.

I heartily endorse creative ritual in fostering health and healing.  Ritual performance can enhance therapeutic efforts.  Therapy can be reinforced by the use of ritual supportive of its goals.

Calling upon the help of a deity or deities, of power animals and birds, of ancestors; using cleansing scents, healing herbs, the powers of stones and other natural objects -- all can have therapeutic benefits.  Acting out or engaging in dialogue -- with self, with disease or injury, with another human in ritual, with spirit -- can also be therapeutic. 

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Macha -- a good reminder, but I'd love to see more depth based on your long experience. How about a more detailed piece, like the

Friday evening I drove to Point Reyes Station to hear David Abram give a talk.  Ever since I had read his first book, The Spell of the Sensuous,  Abram has been on my shortest list of authors to read, reread, and recommend to anyone I meet. Including you, dear reader. (But unless you are a serious student of philosophy, skip chapter 2.) It was particularly fitting that I could hear him just a few days before Earth Day.

As a graduate student, Abram hoped his skills as a sleight of hand magician, and consequent heightened appreciation for how perception worked, would give him special entry into the worlds of traditional shamans.  He traveled to Indonesia and Nepal to do his research, and found they were indeed interested. He also, as he put it, got in way “over my head.”

His second book, Becoming Animal,  delves more deeply into the implications raised by his first, but for Earth day in some ways Spell of the Sensuous is the most important.  (See here for my review of Becoming Animal.  )

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Here in my part of the South, public rituals are few and far between, so I'm happy to participate in any of them. Regardless of what one might think about the effectiveness of an open public ritual, there is something to be said for the energy of being in a large circle of people who believe in the Goddess and the sacredness of the Earth. It is fortifying, especially when it so often seems like we Pagans are lone islands in a sea of Christianity.
However, public rituals can be challenging. You are working with, potentially, a lot of people of different experience levels and beliefs. As a priest or priestess, your challenge is to get all these people’s energy and focus together in a harmonious way. It takes equal parts stagecraft and intuition to pull it off successfully.
In my belief system, worship (including ritual) is participatory; standing around listening to one person call the quarters, invoke the God and Goddess, lead the Work, and dismiss the circle feels no different from attending a play. If I didn't participate in anything, I leave feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. As Amber K states in her invaluable book, "Covencraft," ritual "should be creative, transformative, awakening, and energizing."
It takes the work of several people to pull off properly. This is not usually a problem in my private circles, where everyone has enough knowledge and experience to jump in and lead any part of a ritual. But public rituals, as I said, include people who may have no idea what any of this is about. So my advice is to include as many experienced priests and priestesses in both the planning and the execution, so “newbies” can see the collective nature of our worship (plus it’s less work for one person).
First, however, the intention for the ritual must be clear. It seems as if this should go without saying, but many of the public rituals I’ve participated in did not have an explicit purpose. It is impossible to bring everyone’s focus together if no-one knows what they are supposed to be focusing on. Are you blessing and dedicating a sacred space? Celebrating a rite of passage? Honoring the cycles of the earth? Be clear in your intention, and state that intention at the beginning of the ritual.
Like any group effort, a ritual needs a leader, or at least a manager. That is the role of the High Priest or Priestess. Like a stage director, s/he holds and focuses the group’s attention and energy. S/he explains (briefly) each part of the ritual for the benefit of any newbies. S/he determines, using intuition, when the group is ready to move from one section to the next, neither rushing nor holding back the group’s energy.
Having someone else call the quarters isn’t a necessity, but I think it adds to the energy of the circle and gives more people the chance to participate. If possible, try to get volunteers ahead of time, and if they are experienced enough to invoke without a script, so much the better. Whoever calls the quarters and/or casts the circle, they must have enough knowledge and experience to create a strong boundary; public spaces are by definition more open and unprotected than private ones.
This brings me to guardians. If your ritual is held in a public space, it can be hard to ensure the physical boundaries of the circle are respected. People wander in late. Curious onlookers want to poke their noses in. The guardian or guardians stand outside the circle to protect its boundary, politely but firmly turning those away who would disrupt it. These can be the same people who called the quarters, or not. Because their attention is focused on the exterior of the circle, they can’t really participate in the ritual beyond this role.
So you’ve cast the circle and it’s time for everyone to drum and chant to raise energy (remember to state for what purpose this energy is being raised!). This part, in my experience, is usually the most awkward and least successful part of public rituals. However, I don’t think it’s hopeless, as long as someone exercises practical leadership.
First, let’s talk about drumming. For a drum circle to coalesce, there must be a steady, simple bass line that everyone can follow or link to. Other, more talented drummers can improvise around it, but most people just want to follow the leader. The Priestess (or whoever will lead the drumming part) needs to have the deepest, loudest drum, and must commit to playing a simple, steady rhythm. Complicated solos will confuse the less rhythmically inclined (and are more appropriate for higher-toned drums anyway). The Priestess/drum leader can then gradually build the rhythm faster and faster, building energy in a natural, cohesive way.
Chanting is another ritual component that challenges both organizers and participants. Most circles don’t have hymnals (or “hernals”). For public rituals, my advice is to pick one or two very simple chants, such as “Earth my body, water my blood/Air my breath and fire my spirit” or “She changes everything She touches and/Everything She touches, changes…” Chants or songs with multiple verses leave too many people feeling lost and unsure, which is the exact thing you do not want in ritual. In addition, it can be helpful if you have a few “plants” in the circle, people who know the chant and are willing to sing it loudly and confidently. This helps shyer participants muster up the courage to join in.
Last, obviously, don’t forget to ground and center! Large group energy is by its nature bigger and harder to handle. Don’t let anyone go home scattered or spacey.
A rehearsal or practice run before the actual ritual can be invaluable for ironing out any kinks. It’s best if you can do it in the actual space where the ritual will be held, so you can see where people will be, how loud to speak, how fast or slow the flow of people might get, etc.
The goals of public ritual are twofold: first, the stated intention of the ritual itself, and second, to bring people together for a meaningful, positive experience. I think with these simple techniques, both goals can be achieved.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Here's another hint for large open rituals: Never have 300 pagans do an interwoven serpentine in the dark unless you are prepared
  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    Greybeard: that's so true! Proper lighting is essential...as is scouting the area first to make sure there aren't any "ankle-turne
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Good article DR. Too often I have attended public rituals that lost focus and became more ordeal than sacred. What works in a ci

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

I recently saw a unique production of Shakespeare's %The Tempest%. While I was entranced by the amazing performances that fused dance, martial arts, and other kinds of movement to convey the characters' meaning entirely without words, at the end I was frustrated by the way magic - which had been such a pivotal feature throughout - was not just neglected, but deliberately rejected. Since this is a comedy, it ends with a wedding, but more importantly, with the restoration of all the characters to their rightful place in life: the dispossessed aristocrats take up their honors, while the servants who have been playing around are put back to work. At that point, the magician can abandon his book, and with it, his power. But every instinct in my Witch's soul rose up in rebellion, insisting that the role of magic was not to maintain the status quo.

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Healing with the Eight of Swords

Here's some tarot magick to relieve anxiety, worry and self-sabotage. All you need is the Eight of Swords from a Waite-Smith or Waite-Smith clone tarot deck.

In the Waite-Smith Eight of Swords we see a woman who is blindfolded and bound. She is in a cage of swords.

The suit of Swords is related to the element of Air. In the language of tarot we can see each sword as a thought, an idea, a word. And so we see the woman's cage is made up of her own thoughts and her own ideas.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Last year, there was a tumultuous discussion over Brendan Myers' article on the Wild Hunt.  A comment by Sannion hit me like a load of bricks:

My rituals are done to please the gods. Therefore, if you do not acknowledge the existence of those gods then there is absolutely no reason to be in attendance at the rites because — and I know this will come as a shock to some — true worship isn’t about us and what we get out of the experience however much one may, indeed, get out of it.  (emphasis Sannion's)

You can feel the power of that statement.  I completely disagree with it, but I respect it.  Why?  Because it displays integrity.  Sannion lays out his beliefs in a way that is totally unambiguous: the gods are real, and ritual is for them.

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  • Editor B
    Editor B says #
    Very thought-provoking. I hope this article garners some comments because I would be interested in hearing reactions. All I can sa
  • B. T. Newberg
    B. T. Newberg says #
    Thanks, B. Yes, ritual is all over secular life as well. It may often get called "ceremony" but it's there in spades.
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    This is a really good. I think the idea that worshiping the gods serves the culture as well as the individual practitioners is ve

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

There is lots of talk in modern Paganism about 'holding space'. It's an idea I rather love - the focused intention and purpose of a (usually ritual) act. But how often do we consciously realize the holding of space in the everyday as well? How far do we become beholden to it as we take it for granted?

b2ap3_thumbnail_kingsmen-aerial-240x180.jpg

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  • Janneke Brouwers
    Janneke Brouwers says #
    "If you take out the oven, the bed, the bath... surely space just IS, until our intention gives it purpose." There is a great conc

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Tarot Magick for Brigid's Day

At this turn of the Wheel of the Year many people celebrate Imbolc, or Brigid. This holiday is in anticipation of the coming spring.

Brigid, as the Goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry, challenges us to use creativity to inspire our healing, and to use our need to heal to inspire our creativity.

This is a piece of meditative magick. You will use the tarot images to help you focus your mind and ask Brigid herself for guidance. Your answers will come through your intuition and your connection with Brigid. You will feel your answers in your heart, in your mind, and in your dreams and visions.

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An Imbolc Gathering

Imbolc is an introspective time of year. Many "I" words come to mind for me: introverted, inside, inquire. If you do not already opt for a solitary ritual on Brighid's special day and would like to mix things up a bit, I would keep the numbers small. An intimate gathering with a few close pals is in order.

 

If you don't have access to a fireplace to build a cozy one in your home, I am a big fan of lighting many white candles in the main area that you will be entertaining. Line a mantlepiece with several small votives and use a larger candle for the table centerpiece. Keep the lights low and make use of your dimmer switches in other rooms.

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Tarot Magick for the New Year

There are many tarot spreads and techniques that we use to make predictions for the coming year. We can also use tarot magick to create the coming year.

You can incorporate this tarot magick technique into any kind of ritual, or simply perform it as a magickal working on its own.

While those who follow the Wheel of the Year celebrate October 31st as the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new, many of us also celebrate the calendar New Year as well. This magickal working is appropriate for either New Year celebration, or both.

First, remove the Hermit and the Sun from your deck. These cards have a specific place in the ritual. In this magickal working the Hermit and the Sun represent the old year and the new year, respectively.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Christiana-Gaudet_HRacepent_12B_raw.jpgThe four tarot Aces are potent magickal tools. In some tarot decks, their images are similar to the traditional altar tools used in many Pagan traditions. This is no accident. The four Aces are the Four Tools of Magick, and you can use them as such.

In divination, each tarot Ace can represent a new beginning. The Ace is the essence of its element as well as the beginning of a journey inspired by its element.

Here are three exciting ways to use the Aces to in your magickal life.

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A few days ago, I was contacted through Facebook about the proper steps within Hellenistic ritual. I promised to write a post about it and here we are.

I have mentioned before that there are five steps to proper, Hellenistic, ritual: procession, purification, prayers and hymns, sacrifice/offerings, prayers of supplication and thanks, usually followed by a feast and/or theater and sporting events. Today, I want to delve into this deeper, in order to gain a greater understanding of where this formula came from.

There were many religious festivals in ancient Hellas. Some were attended my men only, some by women only, some by men and women, some by adults only, slaves were sometimes allowed to participate, etc. It depended upon the Theos in question who could participate. Roles in the festival were usually determined by your position in Hellenic society. The elite were given high honors during most festivals, citizens were always in the front of the line, slaves took what they could get, and the list goes on.
 

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  • THE BLYSSFUL WITCH
    THE BLYSSFUL WITCH says #
    This is wonderful...a beautiful description of the festival. Thank you.
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    Thank you for reading

This is going to be a fairly short and sweet post. I’ve been getting the same question via email again and again –and it’s a good question, don’t’ get me wrong---so I figure I should probably answer it. Lately everyone is asking me what to do with offerings be it to the ancestors, the Gods, or the house spirits once you’ve put them out.  

It really is a good question the answer to which I tend to take for granted as a given. It’s not though and since most of us don’t grow up (yet) in families that make regular offerings, there’s no reason that we should automatically know what to do with them. There’s so much about religious traditions and culture that we learn by observation, experience, and osmosis as we grow after all, and we’re not yet at that point as a community. I think in time we will be, but for now, thank the Gods for books, blogs, and teachers!

That being said, here’s what I was taught about disposing of offerings.  Ideally, one can do any of the following:

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  • Anomalous Thracian
    Anomalous Thracian says #
    Very good topic, Galina. I like how you point out the practicality of these practices -- that is essential. "Tradition serves life

 

This weekend was an interesting working weekend for me. My colleague U. came down and we both presented at a local interfaith seminary. I taught on polytheism, ancestor work, and indigeny in the morning, and he gave an afternoon full of deep meditation and trance work focusing on honoring the earth and connecting with animal and elemental spirits. We come from two different traditions: mine Norse and his Dagara and seeing us working together and reinforcing each other's teaching was, I think, very enlightening for the students.  It really highlighted certain commonalities found across the board in indigenous traditions (like honoring the ancestors). The students themselves were amazing: they were engaged, enthusiastic and very brave given how ready they were to join in the work we were doing never having met either one of us before. I was honored and humbled to be amongst them. Obviously though, since I’m writing this article, something went awry during the course of the day and as my title suggests, that something had to do with ritual protocol. Actually, I think it had to do with common respect or lack thereof, but I'll get to that in a bit.

 

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  • Tim Schneider
    Tim Schneider says #
    An interruption is rude regardless of source, especially with a sign posted. There are some rituals which should not, for sake of
  • Sophie Gale
    Sophie Gale says #
    The first of November I had the privilege of hearing Rev. Dirk Ficca, former director of the World Parliament of Religions speak a
  • Galina Krasskova
    Galina Krasskova says #
    Those are beautiful principles and if that was what actually happened in interfaith communities, I'd be exhilarated. it's not thou

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
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.

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  • Gwendolyn Reece
    Gwendolyn Reece says #
    I have been thinking about these past two posts a lot. Thank you for the contemplative fodder, Ivo! Working on the theory that al

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Your Presence Is Requested

Sorry for the delay in posting my blog, but it has been a whirlwind week including finalizing arrangements with the host hotel for the Between The Worlds Conference, preparations for three major rituals, work on an initiation, family matters, and many other things.

 

This is part one of a two-part blog about how to get the most out of ritual and ceremony. The focus will not be on the writing nor the enacting of ritual but rather on the internal work required to make it more fulfilling and more authentic. One of the outcomes of being more fully present and engaged when you're in ritual is that you will accomplish more for yourself and you will be providing service to others.

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