In theory, you can do a ritual anywhere. In practice some locations are deeply impractical while others might lead to arrest. Some places, in their beauty, invite spiritual responses. Others, particularly those degraded by human activity, encourage us to look away and move on.
Many Pagans are attracted to ancient sites. There is something resonant about going to the places of our ancestors, even though we don’t really know much about what they did there. For me, that as readily includes churches and cathedrals, but I know that wouldn’t speak to all Pagans. The thing about ancient sites, is that they also attract tourists. My first Avebury ritual was a bit of a system-shock on that score. Up until then, I’d been used to private, secretive rituals. Suddenly, we were a tourist attraction. It made me uncomfortable and self-conscious, and it was some years before I became in any way easy about using that space.
For me, acoustics are a big part of the ritual location. I like to be able to hear everyone in circle, and I favour rituals with a strong bardic element. Acoustics out of doors are tricky things, but more sheltered spots with less sound from other sources are a good place to start. Windswept hilltops are all very good for romance and drama, but totally useless for singing. I’ll go into potential ritual spaces and sing to them. This is the easiest way to find out how sound behaves in the space. It’s also a way of engaging with the space and getting a sense of whether ritual would work there. I also learn quickly if I feel comfortable – if singing in a location is a source of self-consciousness and ill-ease, then rituals are not going to work.
I like to know the history of a place I’m working in. That might not be ancient history, but everywhere has a past. One of my favourite locations for years was a former landfill site, grassed over in the centre of a wood. The history of interaction between people and land was complex there in so many ways – a mix of ancient woodland and inappropriate conifer planting, and the landfill. It was, nonetheless, a friendly, easy place to work. In more anonymous patches of woodland, the age of the trees and the nature of the undergrowth has given me a sense of what may have been there before.
There are ancient sites I have visited and simply found too intimidating. I don’t know what the history was, but I had no sense of being welcome. I have learned along the way that I like the presence of trees. Partly for the companionship and presence, partly for the shelter, trees make for better ritual spaces. I’ve shouted myself hoarse across the windswept open spaces of Avebury, but I’ve never had that problem in a wood. My absolute preference is for beech trees, but I also feel comfortable in spaces where oak and apple feature significantly. I can’t imagine doing a ritual in a conifer wood, unless someone else asked me to.
I’ve done rituals underground, in a car park, in a museum, on hilltops, in gardens… there is no one right answer here, only what suits the people and place. Different spaces suit different people. You can add accessibility to the list of factors there – how do you get to the area of the site, how do you get to the exact point for doing ritual. Some people are a good deal more mobile than others, some need resources to hand. Big, open spaces with no nearby toilets are a real difficulty for many women.
The important thing is to figure out what your practical needs are, and what works for you, and which spaces will be accepting of what you intend. There is no one right place to do rituals, there is no tidy answer, only the quest for personal connection and for places where communities can engage with each other, and with the land.
December 2nd, 2013 at 11:56 am
I love sharing ritual space with trees, too. There are a few places in the New Forest, near where my parents live, where I quite often go and do ritual. These are quite deep into the wood, and a challenge for me to get to as a result, but it’s just me and the trees (if and) when I do make it all the way there. And what an experience when I do.
December 2nd, 2013 at 4:59 pm
I am a private person so my preference has always been the solitude and security if my own living room with the outer world locked away and turned off so I’m not distracted.
December 2nd, 2013 at 7:08 pm
I don’t do much group ritual but my places for private ritual tend to shift. I have a couple of favourite places at a local (pretty much unrecognised) sacred site in the woodland particularly beneath a yew. The mound above quite often gives a haughty ‘piss off’ (on one occasion in a huge pack of red ants!) if you try to do anything other than connect on top… Then there’s beside the river Ribble, in my local valley at the edge of a brook, old footpaths and hedgerows. There’s also wasteland around a derelict mill I visit. And I like the occasional excursion to the rain drenched fells that surround my valley.
December 4th, 2013 at 7:27 am
The sound, caves where there are paintings were chosen for their resonance, there is also some indication that an important aspect of the Hebridean round houses was their sound qualities. I treasure the memory of you singing on top of Selsley long barrow.
December 4th, 2013 at 9:25 am
thank you! I’m fascinated by sound spaces. Hetty Peggler’s Tump needs a much lower voice than mine, did manage to get Bish to hum in there a bit, but not enough… I love the way the big stones at Stonehenge reflect sound, too. The ancients knew so much that we have lost, in this regard.
December 7th, 2013 at 5:54 am
As a non-Druid, non-religious person, I have to say that I find your posts about Druidy fascinating. Usually talk of religion turns me off because it is done in a judgmental way (the negative type of judgement, not the positive type that you discussed not long ago). But you explain everything so calmly, in easily digestible pieces, that I am able to respect your beliefs instead of being upset by them. So bravo for that. Thought you might appreciate a non-Druid perspective.
December 7th, 2013 at 3:13 pm
I do ver much appreciate that, thank you! It’s certainly the effect I aim for, good to know I’m moving in the right direction.
May 10th, 2014 at 12:00 am
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