Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

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Processions & Processionals in Pagan Ritual

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I have always loved processions and parades.  I enjoy watching the splendor of Roman Catholic dignitaries and lay groups entering the Sistine Chapel for Christmas midnight mass.  I equally enjoy witnessing San Francisco’s Pride Parade in June, Philadelphia’s Mummers’ Parade on New Year’s Day; Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans, and St. Paddy’s Day parades in New York City.  (With the exception of the Pride Parade, that’s one per month from December through March.  New York high society used to have an annual Easter Parade to show off their Spring and Summer finery.  Bridal processions, funeral processions with mourners and sometimes riderless horses – I love them all.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Firemen-procession.jpgWhen I was a child, our mother entered my little sister and me in the Baby Parade on the boardwalk in Ocean City.  That one I hated, but not because I hate parades; rather, because I resented being gussied up to wheel my baby sister down the boardwalk, as though she were some dignitary and I her handmaiden.

So I wonder at the absence of processions preceding Pagan rituals and celebrations.  Yes, the Berkeley Pagan Festival organizes a pre-gathering parade through the streets of Berkeley, but that’s not quite the same as a procession signaling the presence of a special ceremony. 

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My friend Steven Posch, a ritualist whose work I admire greatly, has convinced me of the value of processions in Pagan practice.  After many conversations with him and another brilliant ritualist, Sparky T. Rabbit, I worked towards opening Reclaiming’s annual Spiral Dance Samhain ritual by way of a procession of all “rehearsed participants.”[1]  This was circa 1989 and forward.  Generally I was unsuccessful.[2]

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However, it wasn’t until 1999 that I experienced the fuller meaning and value of staging a procession as a call to ritual.  Last month I posted here about a ritual entitled “The Union of Earth and Sky: A Ceremony for Thor and Freyr.”  I said, “We five in red and gold proceeded through the encampment to a drumbeat.  Activity ceased and all became hushed at our approach.”  To say “activity ceased” is to understate the phenomenon.  The “we five in red and gold” were myself in the center carrying a gold Sun icon, flanked by KJ on my right, with her young toddler Sonia in a pack on her back, and Melanie on my left, carrying baby Archer, who was wearing a red crocheted baby hat and suckling at her breast. 

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We three led the procession.  We were followed by the Man in the Moon, carrying a silver Moon icon, and the six Nighttime Stars, each carrying a napkin-covered loaf.  Behind them walked Thor, accompanied by a woman in black holding a banner bearing his rune, and Freyr with his rune-bearer; the two Men in Black; four Quarter Guardians, drummers, and musicians, with everyone else in the campground bringing up the rear.

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Because we were in front, we couldn’t see what was happening behind us until we reached the hill site of the rite and circled round.  As soon as the procession began, I saw a mother shush her little boy with the words, “Look!  Here comes Mother Sun.”  More and more I noticed people at various campsites putting away what they were doing and preparing to join along, until by the time we reached the circle site, everyone in the campground had joined.

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In 2000, I convinced the then-Marin ritual planning cell to open our ritual honoring Brigit with a procession[3] of all rehearsed participants following the priestess who was carrying the Bridey dolly.[4], [5].  When we are working in a sacred circle, I like to feel a palpable circle building around me; encircling the space and those within by a procession enhances that process.  RPs dropped into different positions throughout the circle, depending upon what role they’d be performing.

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Beginning with a procession immediately signals people that something special, something out of the ordinary, is about to take place.  Whether it precedes a festive event like Pride or Fat Tuesday, or a ceremony at Samhaintide or Imbolc, something special is being celebrated at its conclusion.  So when you see a procession forming, feel welcome to join in.  And when you want to call your tribe together, form a procession. 

 


[1]             “Rehearsed participants,” or “RPs,” is the term I use for priestesses, priests, musicians, singers, and others who have specific roles in the ritual being performed.  Hopefully they will have rehearsed, although in recent years that seems to seldom be the case.

[2]             In recent years the Spiral Dance has opened with the chorus and musicians processing not encircling the space being sanctified for ritual work, but rather into the center of what could be perceived as a circus ring (circus being the Romanization of the Greek kirkos from the Homeric Greek krikos, meaning “circle” or “ring”).  When I've tried to make a case for opening with a procession, the response I've received was, "It takes too long."  

[3]             One reason we did this was because we were allowing a TV reporter and her crew to video some of the ritual for a story she was doing.  Generally I think witchen rituals come off looking pretty silly on file, and we wanted to provide something video-worthy without forfeiting the sacred nature of the rite.  There’s much more to this story, of course, fodder for another blog perhaps.

[4]             Here’s a description of this ritual done the following year by the same group.

[5]             A Bridey dolly is an image made of straw and/or sticks, greenery and flowers, dressed in white lace and carried on a pole like a standard.

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com

Comments

  • Chas  S. Clifton
    Chas S. Clifton Wednesday, 31 July 2013

    Agreed! Without (preferably torchlit) processions, you don't have a real religion.:)

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