One of the big influences for me in terms of how I do ritual, came from my experience of sinagarounds in folk clubs. Normally, someone runs a singaround, choosing who will go next and, if they know who does what, trying to get a balance between songs, tunes, stories and poetry. Of course people sometimes do other than is usually their habit, so it’s an inexact science!
When someone runs a singaround in this way, they are central to the proceedings and their personality tends to dominate. There is very clearly one person in charge, and though many other people will be active participants, there’s a definite power balance.
What changed everything for me, was that I had a baby. I was still organising and promoting the folk club, but I needed an option on racing out the room if the small one became uncooperative. I needed to dismantle my own authority and replace it with something egalitarian, that would work perfectly well if I found myself absent for ten minutes now and then. So we sat in a circle, and just went round.
A number of things happened. Firstly, knowing when it is going to be you takes the pressure off the rest of the time. That tends to make things more relaxed. Knowing it’s going to be you next has musicians reaching for instruments, and people grabbing whatever else they needed in the gap or two that would come before their turn. Consequently it was a lot slicker and we wasted far less time with people dithering over where their guitar was, and what to sing. That was a quality improver.
There were knock on effects. In a normal singaround, it’s only the organiser who tends to comment on material and compliment performers. When the singing is just going around, it results in anyone who feels moved to speak commenting on songs. Again, there’s a distribution of power here, and it works well. I found that if I needed to hop out for a while, the whole thing just kept going. All I really had to do was start the evening off, call half time, start the second half and wrap up the end. If we had a little time to spare but couldn’t go all the way round, even that could be democratised by inviting people to request performances of specific songs – tending to result in the best performers getting some extra time.
Many of the same things apply to ritual circles. No matter what the purpose of the circle, it will be more robust if everyone involved feels some ownership, and therefore some responsibility for making it go. Distributed ownership seems more innately Pagan to me than more domineering forms of leadership, as well.