Monday, 10 August 2009

The Whats and Whys of Ritual

I have a had a little moan about public ritual and what I see in the modern pagan community as a lack of thinking behind ritual, or at least a lack of examination of the purpose of ritual. As I see it ritual is carried out too often with little thought as to its purpose or its component actions. Any old generic pagan ritual will have a standard format:

Cast a Circle: usually based upon the Wiccan format but with changes to suit the people such as who is called at each quarter. The reason often given is that it is to 'protect' those inside. The reason Wiccans cast a circle is twofold: to keep in what is raised (note how this is the exact opposite of the reason often given) and also to centre and focus those taking part in preparation for what is to come. This latter reason is hardly met with public ritual, there will be fidgeting, talking, children wandering about and a general lack of focus.

Ritual theatre: sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn't. The point being is is often amateurish to the point of absurdity and is so overtaken with being 'fun' that the whole point is missed. Ritual theatre should be conveying something of importance or significant to those attending. It isn't supposed to be pantomime. Within Wicca the main piece of ritual theatre used is to expose initiates to the mysteries and as such is a solemn event carried out in a setting pregnant with significance. Watching or even participating offers something new each time.

Cakes and Ale/bread and Wine: often this is done with the standard Wiccan 'as the athame is to the male...' wording but again the point is missed and the purpose of doing this is lost on those taking part. Ask anyone attending why they are doing this and it will be an answer of 'shared food and drink' or 'communion'... not the reasons this small ritual is performed in the Wiccan setting (and which is by the way in my opinion one of the two main reason Wiccans perform rituals).

Drawing down the Moon: this is actually the one thing common in Wiccan ritual which DOESNT happen in standard public ritual and which is the single most important part I think. So, next time you are in a public ritual held by someone claiming to be Wiccan ask them to draw down the moon, ask them to do their duty as a priest/ess.

All of this begs the question of why many modern pagans are aping Wiccan ritual with little to no understanding the whys and wherefores of it?

Surely the best thing to do is to formulate their own rituals loaded with meaning and purpose and suited to them and their path. And for those brave souls who wish to perform public ritual; ask yourself what it is you want to convey or share with those attending.

To bring this back to a Brythonic context, I guess I am still in the process of asking myself what should be part of a ritual carried out by one of the Aelweddau who form part of Brython. I think I would like to see it go something like this for starters:

*All those attending gather together in a circle around a fire or table or whatever is suitable
*The host makes some sort of customary gesture of welcoming
*The host pours some drink into a drinking cup/bowl/horn and passes it around the gathering, during which time the host talks about the place in which they are gathered.
*The host breaks bread/cake etc and offers it around the circle, as it is passed he offers some of it with some of the drink to the gods, to the spirits of that place and to the ancestors.

Perhaps this would suit for when people gather together for a day or weekend visit as the 'opening ritual' as it were and from there do whatever it is they wish whether chatting, wandering about the place etc. During meal times some sort of formal way of offering the first portion to the gods could be carried out by the host before anyone else eats.

I think I would prefer it if ritual in chunks were woven into the everyday in small ways rather than being inserted in as one lump. To this end, perhaps in our hypothetical weekend gathering of groups we have woven a little bit in here and there at specific times when appropriate rather than forcing it in because it is felt it should happen.

I am beginning to find myself wondering if ritual devoted to the gods should include ritual possession as a means of direct communication between the group and the gods. I think I will have to come back to the deity focussed side of things another time.


arth frown said...

"I am beginning to find myself wondering if ritual devoted to the gods should include ritual possession as a means of direct communication between the group and the gods."

It's doable, but not sure if I would like to be possessed. I would say trust would be a important factor in this. As we are full of ego's within paganism.

Lee said...

trust is key in this. it is something (probably) common in many world traditions and in Wicca and is perhaps one of the key points of the ritual. it isnt something to jump into and is something that really needs discussion. not only that it needs experienced people to take part. anyway... i think it is worthy of discussion in the broader context of ritual and its purpose within a brythonic context. anyhow, im sure this will crop up elsewhere soon enough :)

Potia said...

Weaving simple ritual into everyday life is something I like the idea of myself and indeed have done so to some extent in the past. For me it usually involves song of some kind :)

Ritual possession is something I have done once before when I felt very stongly that I needed to and I put a great deal of personl preparation into it. I agree it's not something to jump into and would require trust and preparation. Not something to do lightly but worth considering.