My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Monday, 22 December 2014

Last Night I Led My First Group Ritual


Last night, I and a group of close Pagan friends celebrated Solstice together. It is not the first time I've been in a group ritual, or involved in the planning of one, but it is the first time the entire ritual was my responsibility.  

A big responsibility. 

I take my faith quite seriously, I take the Divine seriously, and I feel like that leading a ritual involves some big things to be responsible for - I am responsible for being suitably respectful to the Divine, for leading a spiritually fulfilling ritual, for making sure there's no fire hazards and basic and simple risk assessment. 

The last is the most practical and the most easy; place pointy things on the altar where people aren't liable to accidentally cut themselves, check for allergies to incense, make sure the ritual space is free of trip hazards, and remind those participating who have long hair that I once set part of my then-long hair on fire accidentally because it caught in the flame of a candle, and make sure said candles and incense aren't liable to incinerate either my flat or my friends! I personally have co-ordination, proprioception and spacial awareness difficulties for neurological reasons, so I have to be extremely careful around fire and sharp implements. 

The first two were a bit more difficult, and required a lot more thought and research. I didn't really want to do a ritual that was from a book (although I have quite the library of Pagan texts) or copy someone else's ritual. I wanted our ritual to be personal to us, but I also wanted it to be respectful and successful as a spiritual experience and a seasonal marker. I watched a lot of videos of rituals on YouTube, and thought about each one very carefully, analysing what worked and what did not, and realised that a lot of rituals seem a bit like amateur dramatics done by the less talented, and started feeling like a clergy role in any religion requires certain talents and learnt skills, and that perhaps even for an adhoc role leading an informal event, I am not the best person for this. The established religions have centuries of ritual tradition, set liturgy and thorough training for their clergy - Pagans don't; we mostly have a few decades of tradition-building, a bit longer for groups derived from Druid-revival groups from the 18th and 19thC, and also those from the older Occult orders, but dedicated Pagan seminaries are small and rare, and people who become Pagan clergy from a more 'home-grown' background very common. There's a distinct dearth of legally recognised Pagan clergy, too, but that is another issue for another day. 

My background before Paganism is a mixture of Anglican and Catholic Christianity, and that sets a very high benchmark in terms of ritual expectation! As a Pagan, most of the rituals I have attended have either been as part of a teenage coven that was more of a learning experience than a ritual group, and at public rituals hosted by experienced leaders of working groups, and mostly Druids, whom I respect greatly, but are not the same on the path ( not the same 'denomination' to non-Pagans) as mine. 

The structure for Neo-Pagan ritual often has its roots in Gardenerian tradition and early-to-mid twentieth century Wicca. It's the ritual structure I am comfortable and familiar with, so it is the ritual structure I chose to follow. Filling in that structure with my own words, altering it to fit the season and the group and our resources was my challenge. I also wanted the ritual to have a natural sense of both structure and flow, and to be a conduit for personal spiritual experience, rather than an artistic performance of Pagan symbolism. 

I did not want the medium through which we performed ritual to get in the way of the sacredness that is ritual, I did not want the focus to be on my in the role of 'acting High Priestess' or  the poetry (or lack thereof) of the words I spoke or the clumsiness of my movements around the ritual space, or on people needing to remember their lines, I wanted the focus to be on immanent Divine, on the personal connection to the solar cycles, on the personal connection to the shifting seasons, on the metaphors and parallels we can draw between seasonal change and personal change, and on a connective and spiritual ritual. I did not want the invocation of the elements to just be detached nature poetry; I wanted people to think about the elements as present around them, in them, and invoked less as a summoning, but more as an acknowledgement of their power and presence, the same for the invocations of the Divine.

I also had a lot of time pressures, and I ended up rushing the scripting, which meant that while I wrote a lot of it myself, in the end I had to do what I really did not want to do, and in places use the words someone else's ritual. I used the least I could, but read out from one of Scott Cunningham's Yule ritual - excerpts from the Yule ritual in 'Wicca For The Solitary Practitioner' - for a few sections.

I think the most successful part was when we were free to meditate quietly on what the Solstice meant to each of us, and we all got to contribute our views. I think it being a small group helped those who are a bit more quiet and more reticent to speak up to participate. It also gave me time to stop focusing on whether I was doing a good job of leading the ritual, and connect myself. I don't know how well the ritual worked for the others who participated yet, as I haven't really done a full after-ritual debriefing, but feedback so far seems positive.

Ritual leadership is difficult, and takes works and practice, and I didn't expect a perfect ritual for my first one. I tried my best, and in future I know to be more organised and to script the ritual fully days in advance, not write a rough outline and then fill it in earlier that day, and I am considering doing things like getting a little book stand so I can both keep an eye on whatever ritual text I am working from, whether from my own Book of Shadows, my own script or from someone else's, and hold the Ritual Tools to perform actions. I am also thinking that memorising certain sections, like the circle casting chant, would be a good idea, and help keep the focus on the Divine rather than on enacting the ritual. I need to work on being confident when leading ritual, and letting things flow through me, rather than feeling like I have to be a source. 

8 comments:

  1. It sounds like you gave it a lot of thought, I have never been to a ritual so this insight is very interesting  

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    1. Thankyou :) I'll catch you on FB and give you more details to the actual ritual script, etc. A lot of it was written specifically, and I don't feel it honours the moment to then share the details on the internet publicly.

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  2. The fact that you give the ritual so much thought and preparation speaks highly of your competence as do the contributions you make to this blog. I'm sure you did fine.

    I also know that when I used to attend rituals, their power was only revealed to me during the days that followed. Sometimes they were most powerful indeed!

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    1. I came to Paganism after some intense spiritual experiences, and I know what it /can/ feel like, but I have to remember that I'm just a priestess, people have to make their own connections, and it's not my job to stir people's souls, I am just a conduit, my job is to /not get in the way/.

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  3. Congratulations! I'm glad to hear that it went well; I like how you played to your strengths and analysed what worked well for you. I do feel, from my very limited experience, that a lot of Wiccan practice out there feel a little like amateur dramatics too; it's always good to open up to different means of practicing.

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    1. I am very worried that I will perform the motions, but still be only performing, not actually doing something spiritually effective, and I don't know how to better at not doing that :/

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