Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
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.
The preparatory work actually begins days, weeks, months, and actually years before you're even stepping into a ritual. I'll repeat something that has been said by many others, it is valuable to do something every day. Whether you want to call this daily practice or meditation or devotion matters not. It may be that your life and your temperament make it difficult to do something every day but having that as an intention has an impact in and of itself. Even three or four times a week of genuine effort is enough. One of the things that this daily work does is it helps to place your aspirations and your goals in context. Much of what can arise from being in rituals with other people is determined by what you set as your aspirations, your goals, your meta-intents, and your subtext for participation. These are separate and distinct from the goals and intentions of a specific ritual though hopefully they are engaged with your purposes as well. You need to know who you are, what you're working for, and what your actions are actually manifesting. I won't suggest to you what your daily practice should be as that will vary according to your path and your affiliations. I will speak from within the context and aegis of my Tradition and how I work. If you look to the essence of what I say you should be able to adjust my recommendations to more closely match the way that you work.
So the time has come again for you to participate in a ritual, a sacred rite, what do you do then? Here, as we approach the crossing of the threshold from daily life to sacred space a different sort of preparation occurs. Even if you hold as a doctrine the idea that the whole Earth and every moment is sacred, your awareness of the sacred does vary in intensity and clarity. For that reason alone, an act of volition and purification before entering into a ritual is important. In many systems, including the one I practice, there is purification before entering into sacred space using the Four Elements. Often there is a pathworking or a meditation or some exercise that opens and connects our energy more fully to the universe around us. I've often joked in classes that the saltwater and incense at the gate may leave your aura squeaky clean or it may leave streaks. Part of what is happening in purification is the letting go of the encumbrances and baggage of the day and a setting aside of long-standing issues that do not apply to the task at hand. Purification is neither perfect nor an absolution, but it is a start.
From my perspective ritual purification is more about purification in the sense of becoming more purely yourself, whatever that may be in the moment. We say that we enter the circle in “perfect love and perfect trust”. It is more fruitful to understand this as a statement about yourself. You enter the ritual with love awakened within yourself and with trust that you will endeavor to behave out of your higher will and higher heart. Crossing the threshold into the sacred space of a ritual is about heightened awareness and a promise to strive to be whatever you hold as your ideal.
It is important to honor limitations as we enter into sacred space as well. Grounding and centering is an important part of this transition. Here are two quotes from my book Casting Sacred Space on this topic.
“As with all things physical, the body has limits, and a range of conditions within which the body can function with health and efficiency. If these parameters are exceeded, temporary or permanent damage may result. The same is true for our subtle (nonphysical energy) bodies, although their parameters are different. Grounding doesn't expand these parameters, but it does bring into play the safety net of the Earth's capacity to absorb energy that is excess or of an improper frequency. Psychologically and spiritually, grounding is also an admission that you do have limits, and are open to receive assistance.”
“Centering is finding balance, and true identity within yourself while being open to the flow of energy. Centering involves bringing different parts of the psyche into focus and conjunction with each other. When you are centered you are more likely to make better choices for yourself, and with others, because you will be cooperating with the various parts of yourself rather than contending against them. When your sense of your will, and intent is clear, your actions will be truer to your karma, dharma, and your life goals. The part of you that thinks with words, that is reading this article, is an equal partner with those parts of you that think in images, dreams, and music. Centering establishes a meeting place for your Lower Self, your Middle Self, your Higher Self, your Shadows, and all the Selves that comprise your whole. Centering means seeking the core of true authenticity, and security that nurtures us.”
It may seem that I’m belaboring something that is well known, but sadly the old adage is true and familiarity can breed contempt or at the very least forgetfulness. Whether you call it grounding and centering, dropping and opening, or any of a variety of other names, this step in the process does make a difference in the quality of the ritual experience. If the system or the Tradition you work with them does not seem to have an explicit equivalent of grounding and centering, it may be the same things are accomplished through different methods. If after examination you find there is nothing that actually is addressing this step in the transition to sacred space, then you may want to see if there's something that you could create or add is harmonious with what you do.
The next suggestion applies while you are stepping into sacred space and as an ongoing effort throughout the entire ritual experience. It is important to commit to the experience. To the degree that you are a spectator you are not in the ritual. To the degree that you are creating a psychological or emotional distance between yourself and the actions of the ritual you are not present. And even if you're perfectly well behaved and polite within a ritual, your internal presence or lack thereof has an impact on whether or not those present get as much as they can out of the ritual. I believe attention to how we express our presence when we are in ritual space is a sacred service and a sacred duty. When done well, what we bring to a ritual makes it possible for the participants to experience as much as they can. As one of my teachers has put it “to receive as much blessing as they are capable of receiving at that time”. I will explore this and much more in detail in my next post.
Part two of this blog will be posted on Wednesday returning to my normal schedule. In addition to continuing some of the lines of thought presented here, I’ll also be exploring what happens when we are attending rituals that are outside of our normal pattern of tradition.
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