The beauty of nature can be found in the most unusual places and teach us the most unexpected lessons. A few days ago I was returning to work from a lunch (half) hour spent going through the neighborhood thrift store. I pulled into traffic and then had to wait at a long light. While sitting there, I looked up and saw an amazing and unexpected sight.
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
There's been a lot of talk since PantheaCon in the blogsphere recently about Wiccanate privilege. I was not at PantheaCon, but to the best of my ability to determine, it is a general sense of being marginalized in the Pagan community that exists among a variety of Pagans who do not follow a path that resembles (at least superficially) Wicca. They feel that most "Pagan" rituals and gatherings are Wiccan-normative, and they would prefer that this assumption is not made in pan-Pagan ritual, conversations and gatherings. There have been some excellent articles on the topic; here's one at the Wild Hunt; here's one at Finnchuill's Mast; here's one by T. Thorn Coyle in regards to a controversial "Wiccanate" prayer she gave at the gathering; here's one at Of Thespiae (a Hellenic Reconstructionist blog); here's a couple by fellow PaganSquare writers Stifyn Emrys and Taylor Ellwood; here's a couple by fellow Patheos writers Yvonne Aburrow, Niki Whiting, Julian Betkowski, John Halstead and Jason Mankey at Raise the Horns; and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, writer of "Queer I Stand" at Patheos, has commented about it extensively around the internet though I couldn't find a specific blog post on the topic in my search (though e was at the conference). If you read all of these, you'll probably get a good handle on the many different sides of the issue and what various people's take on it is: and if you read the comments, it will be more informative still. If you haven't done so yet, do it; then come back here in an hour or three if you still want to hear my opinion. Don't worry, I'll wait . . .
Here's my thoughts as someone who identifies as a Wiccan: I think that those who are advocating for this are right! I think that most people, within and without the Pagan community, do assume that "Wiccanate" paths are the norm. And I do think we need to be more inclusive and accommodating in our language and form. No question about it! Our community is still small enough that I don't think we can afford to alienate each other. Let's try to get along in a climate of mutual respect....
The time of Lughnasadh, or Lammas, is nigh. The basic Wiccan definition tells us that this is the celebration of the first harvest, so that the Solar God (Lugh, in this instance), Who has been waning since Litha, is now sacrificed as embodiment of the grain we humans depend upon. The theme is, as all harvest festivals, gratitude for the bounty of Mother Earth and Father Sun.
Because my path is Earth-centered, I believe it is less important to hold to the "traditional" meaning of the sabbats than it is to attune to the energy of the place where you actually live, where (hopefully) your own food is grown. The seasons of Ireland are a far cry from the seasons of the Ozark Mountains. Here, gardens and farms are in the fullness of activity and production (Goddess willing). We have been harvesting many crops for weeks now - including the native Three Sisters: corn, beans and summer squash. August, while indeed a time to harvest, is also a time for planting the fall short-season crops. Therefore, my "locavore" version of Lughnasadh recognizes that this is also a time for renewal: strengthened by the warm soil and full bounty, we can plant new seeds in our lives and communities....
More drama has surfaced within wider Pagan community within recent weeks, particularly within the blogosphere between “polytheists” and “humanists”. I put those terms in quotes to blanket a lot of people under them, and because after all I’ve read regarding either camp, I’m not sure I understand what those terms really mean anymore.
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.
February 14 is drawing nigh and you have a hot date planned. You would like to turn up the heat on the the after-party. Whatever is a romantic Wiccan who wishes to skip the commercialism but honor the day to do you ask? Have no fear, because I have some notions of my own.
First, whether you are going out or strictly staying in for the eve, wear something that makes you feel sexy. Not just what you think your hot date will drool over, but something you can feel both confident and move comfortably in. Nothing kills the mood like self-consciousness. Scent is important. I am a big fan of essential oils because they aren't over-powering and add just the right hint of seduction. Mix your own come-hither blend ahead of time, or if you appreciate musky tones, you cannot beat a pure blend of amber and myrrh. Kuumba Made® is a good natural option....
I came to Hellenismos from a Wiccan Rede-filled path. I sent years not asking anything from the Gods for myself. The closest I ever got was asking to grand me the strength to aid someone else. I realized even back then that the Rede was limiting the magick I practiced, so I stopped practicing it all together. I never subscribed to the 'love and light' mentality. When I transitioned to Hellenismos, letting go of the Rede was like a weight had been lifted. Suddenly, I had the freedom to ask for things I needed badly in my life, without feeling guilty. I didn't expect the Theoi to grand any of my pleas, but They did, in most cases.
One of the Delphic Maxims is to 'pray for happiness' (Ευτυχιαν ευχου). It's one of the maxims that were so opposite to the practice I left behind, it felt positively alien. You can imagine how my first sacrifices went. To give you a hint, it went a bit like this:
"Blessed Goddess Hestia, Goddess of home and hearth, accept these offerings of incense sweet and barley white. If my offerings please you, and you erm... you... wouldn't mind spending a little time on my family, please keep us safe and erm... we could really use an opportunity for work and money because things get tight and well... okay, I'm rambling, I'm sorry. Please, don't be offended. I'm sorry, I'll go away now."
I got better at it; pretty fast, actually.
I go on about kharis a lot on this blog, and rightly so. Kharis, the reciprocity between us and the Theoi, is one of the cornerstones of Hellenismos. In fact, I think it may be the goal of Hellenismos as a whole. If not, why bother? And I don't mean any disrespect by that, not to Hellenics, and most definitely not to the Theoi. But isn't it true that we sacrifice and are pious because we need something of the Theoi? Part of it comes from the goodness of our hearts, but mostly, we would like some divine aid when we really need it. At the least, we practice so the Theoi won't smite us.
The ancient Hellenics prayed to the Theoi for everything. They prayed for health when someone got sick, they prayed for wealth or food when they were poor, they prayed for protection when they were in trouble, they prayed for courage and honor in battle, and they prayed for guidance in times of turmoil. In short, they prayed for happiness. Small statues were found in shrines with inscriptions of wishes, very often for fertility and/or protection, especially for Goddesses who had those domains in Their portfolio.
This maxim is a stark reminder of the ancient value of kharis, and it proved very liberating to me. How do you feel about this maxim? Does it go against what you've been taught or does it match what you've been practicing?