When I started out as a pagan I didn’t do ritual in any group or formal sense. Getting onto the druid path, I discovered not only a local grove and their open rituals, but also the gatherings at Avebury and Stonehenge. An eclectic group started up in my area too, and for some festivals I was out ritualling a lot, for some years.
This last year I’ve not being doing ritual, but here I am, poised to jump back in, and wondering about the whole business.
I love the social aspect of gathering for ritual – not just in a gossipy sense, but the sharing of inspiration and energy. Having the 8 standard festivals to work with makes it easy to grab people for that. However, it ties ritual to a solar narrative in the wheel of the year, and makes it harder to do rituals that aren’t focused on that turning of the agricultural seasons. I do see the point of engaging people with the natural world, but I also think that ‘nature’ is more subtle and complex than this rather simplified story of the rise and fall of the sun allows for. Even the farming it’s supposed to relate to is more complicated.
I live very close to the practical realities of changing seasons – boat life makes nature and the sun (or its absence) very immediate. There is no ignoring what’s going on ‘out there’. I know from working with big groups that for urban folk whose living and employment situations alienate them from the natural world, the wheel of the year aids reconnection. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but it feels like a place to begin, for me, not an end point.
When I’ve been involved in running open ritual, providing that point of connection with nature through the year seemed like an important part of the job. Simply holding ritual was about service to community. But I’m looking at a very different sort of group now, with people in it who are far more connected, who maybe need the shared inspiration angle of ritual, but not the ‘getting outside’ bit.
I’m sure our ancient ancestors would have celebrated the end of harvest, the coming of spring, and done something in the dark days to cheer themselves up. But when you are living day to day with the subtle shifts in season and sun, those big focal points seem less important, I find. I don’t need reminding where we are, I know it in my bones.
I’m thinking about ritual to take me further, to help me connect with the things that aren’t immediately present in my daily life. Which means identifying what those are for a start, and seeing how they correspond, if at all, with what anyone else wants. I’m in the curious, liminal headspace of knowing I’m looking for something and not yet knowing what it is.
As a consequence I’m going back to the absolute fundamentals in some ways, asking, what is ritual for? Who does it serve? What do I want to get out of it? What does ritual mean? How do I want to do it. (More of this pondering to follow, no doubt!)
I feel like I’m going through a big upheaval phase, questioning everything, paring everything back, looking for the essence, the significance. All the things I have ever taken as normal or fixed seem open to negotiation, and that’s an exciting place to be. I always did like the inbetween places.