I went to the local prison to help conduct a ritual on Ostara (Alban Eilir in Druidry – the light of Spring) for the prisoner Wiccan Group. When I arrived there was a lot of tension in the room. Vibrations of competition and contention bouncing around, everyone guarded with spiky edges. There was no sense of centeredness or sanctity in the room.
One new person was in attendance and he was very impatient for things to get started. It was his first introduction to paganism and he wasn’t impressed with the group. His aggravation with the process was showing through and with a voice bordering on anger, threatened to leave.
So it came to me, in my role as a priest, to pull this together and shift the energies. I reminded the group that while I may be facilitating, this isn’t “my” ritual but rather “our” ritual. And it was our collective intention that would determine the outcome.
We started simply, going through the process of talking about the ritual. I asked people to consider what is going on in Nature at this time and what is the focus of this rite? A young man who had given a teaching on the elements a few weeks before, led a guided meditation to root into the Earth. Next I talked about rooting in our ancestors, reaching to feel the connection to our bloodline, the endless connection of souls that have moved through time from the very beginning of humanity, successfully procreating and passing on their knowledge, the end result being us. I spoke of how we root in the Earth to ground us in place and how we connect with our ancestors to root us in time, in the very moment. I spoke of how the ancestors are behind us and inside of us urging us forward saying to us, “Live with courage, this is your time”. We acknowledged the elements and called the four directions. I reminded each person that when we call to a direction we are reaching for a relationship, “who here in the North can we make relationship with?”, how we honor Nature that is everywhere, endless souls in all directions and all of it sacred. We acknowledged the altar, the beauty of it, how it was crafted by us to remind us to stop the endless chatter of the mundane and consider what is important to us, what is sacred? And then someone cast a circle, and I reminded them that a circle is an extension of the altar, a sacred space big enough for us to stand in. Step by step we went through the motions of crafted sacred space.
Going through this process, we began the gradual shift of our mindset, from the mundane, from contention and conflict, to listening to the world around us, to reaching for that soul deep connection to all that is sacred to us, to reach for a pagan place, one that is filled with spirit and sanctity. Going through the steps, taking each one carefully without hurry, and most importantly, doing this as a group, we all arrived together in a ritual state of mind – awake, ready, present, listening. We each found the connections needed to find the courage to open up, to share our honesty.
From this place, the point of the ritual was exercised – the planting of seeds for the year. Each of us spoke of what we were planting, what we fully intended on growing this year. And each person’s statement of intent was witnessed by the group, by the spirits of place and by the gods. Each person meditated on a sigil to remind them of the seeds they were committed to bringing to fruition. Each step along the way, I wove words to remind us that each person is a soul, beautiful and sacred, that we are a tribe, a circle of brothers and we are not alone, that all around us is a world filled with spirit and it was up to us to recognize it, honor it, craft relationship with it so that the awen flows.
Once we had all spoken, we shared the traditional cakes and wine (cookies and water in this case). I asked that each of us eat break the cookies into parts so that we all shared of each other’s intent. I also took the remaining pieces, the crumbs, and put them in my pocket, promising to really plant these seeds in the Earth. Indeed they are in my garden at home, feeding the soil and the souls being nurtured in it.
And then we closed the rite, giving thanks to the Earth, the ancestors, the elements, the spirits of place and all the souls in each direction that witnessed our words and held the space for us to do our work.
As we all chatted after, laughing and making plans for the next gathering, it was remarkable how the attitudes had changed. The impatient new guy who arrived aggravated and skeptical left with an energy in his step that told me, he had found home. He tasted of the beauty of a pagan life. He spoke to me briefly before he left and there was a smile in his eyes. Each person left filled with ideas and energy (Awen!).
I share this story, not to boast of my skills as a priest (being a priest isn’t a skill but rather a potential), but to point out the power of simple ritual to craft change.
It seems those of us who have been on this journey for many years get so jaded about public group ritual. We often feel they just don’t go deep enough. I think part of that is our own desire to dive in deeper, to reach beyond the edges of what our souls have known. As we gain experience in paganism, we are willing to risk more, to be more vulnerable, to let go of the known, of certainty and dare massive change, to confront patterns in our lives that hold us back from total immersion into the river of awen that comes from touching the gods. But that is our own work to do. The tribe, the grove, the group isn’t the place for that breaking part. Having tasted these deeper desires, we think there isn’t much use in public and group ritual. But I think we underestimate just what we experience in these shared settings.
The next time you do a group rite, pay attention to your mindset and the energy of the group prior to starting. Check in with it at the end of the ritual. Shifting from simple distraction and low-level stress of daily life to one of joy, centeredness and sharing, is not to be underestimated. While we take each step on the path by our own volition, there is strength in seeing we are not alone on the journey. We confirm a shared view of the world. There is true power in that. It is deeper than we imagine.