J again, from my diary of last September. Once again, pardon the quirky capitalization.
is ritual ridiculous? are Pagans overall?
i’m inspired by Dianne Sylvan’s well-worded blog. and the complete falling out with a friend who insisted Pagans should follow the “norm,” sans men in skirts and heavy jewelry, long velvet capes and incense. sans Gods and magic and other such ridiculous things. in the end, our differences on this point permanently (and heatedly) ended our friendship.
i’ve gone to many the rotten ritual through my 22 years of publicly professed Paganism. ye Gods, Fires Rising was (almost) everything wrong with a Pagan festival — no public sexual innuendo, which would have made the horror complete. i spent one Beltane night in a horse stall in the attempt to evade amorous stalkers. i’ve walked out of rituals (and entire events) in Reclaiming that ended up being political propaganda with a thin veneer of myth.
i’ve dealt with reincarnated aliens, flakes, assholes, players, stuck-up drama-mongers and everything else the fringes of humanity could throw at me. i’ve left entire ritual communities — some with silence, some with acrimony.
and you know, i wouldn’t have it any other way. i love this community. i have a heartfelt sense that these are my people, tacky medieval garments and all.
of course, i’m an odd bird in that i am religiously Pagan rather than socially Pagan. let’s face it: many of the folks who go to public rituals aren’t mystics or spiritually-driven. generally, they share a basic commonality of belief (the sacrality of the earth and the body, a nonjudgmental attitude about sex and “otherness,” or at the most basic, a love for fairies, cats and the idea of multiple deities/a female divine). a lot of people go to circle for social reasons — the same force that drives Christians to their local church, jello mold in hand. it’s not the theology or even the ritual.
but i’m not like that. in my mind, i’m constantly spouting prayers and blessings to the Gods and spirits, even if i don’t do formal rituals. i try to squeeze those in when i can. are my offerings of herbs and mead ridiculous? probably, in a practical sense. Gods and spirits don’t need these things. but the attitude of giving back, of gratitude, is central. so is a certain openness, a mindfulness, a willingness to engage in Beauty wherever it is. and Beauty, with a capital B, is the divine incarnate.
there is a song by Moonrise called “Wartime Lullaby” that brings me to tears when i hear it. it’s simple, and describes the blessings of the land, sea and sky. “blessed be our lives and blessed be our deaths.” you could imagine it sung by a mother hiding in a bomb-out landscape, looking out at a star shining above the carnage — because there is beauty everywhere, even on the battlefield.
i love a religion that spawns such consciousness. i love the kind of people that could make such a song.
ritual appeals to me in its natural symbolism: the scent of sage, the light of flame, the clash of the bell branch. i am a singer first and foremost, and song (via chanting as well as the playing on instruments) is one of the most profound ways i connect with the divine. and so, the rituals i run are filled with song.
i aim for ecstasy: that which takes you outside yourself, your small perspective, and joins you with the large, complex Mystery that is all words joined together, what Donald Engstrom calls the Multiverse.
perhaps i see in even the most misguided of my brethren the thirst for that ecstasy, whether they acknowledge it or no. it doesn’t mean i enjoy the drama or even their ritual. ritual becomes silly, in my mind, when it’s less about connection with the Gods and the community and solely about shoring up the ego. that’s when it fails. but even the failed attempt to engage with the Mystery is beautiful to me. it is an attempt, at the very least, to engage in something larger.
this may seem odd for a Keltrian Druid to say, but heart is everything. i don’t subscribe to the ADF saw that ritual excellence sans heart is what counts.
rituals don’t work for everyone, and neither do spiritual paths. i don’t describe myself as a Wiccan because the ceremonial magic circle with its accoutrements and gender-paired dual divinities don’t sing to me personally. i know how to work magic, but that’s tangential to my path and rarely done; i’m annoyed by faith-paths that seem all about asking, whether it’s asking the Goddess for a new lover or Jesus for a new car.
but not all Paganism is like that. granted, i am admittedly a diehard polytheist. i truly believe in Gods and spirits; i have absolutely no identity as an atheist (although i absolutely understand why people do!) i seek meaning beyond the rational, because strict rationality offers no meaning. it’s the analytical mindset that breaks everything down until there’s nothing but empty space.
ritual, to me, is about fostering relationship (with the Gods, beloved dead and nature spirits) and aligning oneself with the larger universe in its patterns. it can give you the strength you need to go on, the insight you need to make meaning of your life. it’s a structured relationship with the sacred — valuable in the rush of modern life, where there’s no time or place for anything other than feeding the machine.
as my senior Druid says: your time and effort are the sacrifice. and they are. ritual (ideally) shows that time and effort.
well, enough rambling for now. just some thoughts i’m working through, and not a well-thought-out response to Sylvan’s thought-provoking blog.