Other people’s rituals

Ritual is a shared, community activity, but often it’s also very personal. Other people’s rituals, even when technically in the same tradition, can therefore feel a bit strange. Quirks of ordering, precise language use and the like are either familiar and comfortable, or they aren’t. For example Druid Camp uses ‘know that you are honoured here’ where many would use ‘hail and welcome’ and because I deliberately use neither, I can be easily thrown by both.

There are many good things about leaving behind our own ways of ritual and pottering along to see how it works for others now and then. It’s a chance to connect, to learn and to see our own ritual habits from a different perspective. This is all good, so long as we respect the right of our host to undertake ritual in the way that they see fit. That in turn can make for some interesting balances between meaningful participation, honouring the methods of the host and being comfortable with what you do and say.

Striking that balance can be challenging enough with people doing their Druidry a bit differently. It’s harder again when you go into a different Pagan group and do not know the forms exactly, but this is nothing compared to going outside of Paganism altogether, and that’s something we often have to do. The dominant religion for celebrating rites of passage remains the Christian Church, in all its vast and disorientating diversity. The odds are that people who matter to you will want Christian rites of passage and will want you to be there.

I don’t like pretending to go through the forms of a religion I do not honour – that seems innately disrespectful. Failing to participate in any way that is disruptive, would be an unkindness and an insult to the people who have invited me. I try to find my balances around quiet presence and witnessing and very understated non-participation. It helps that I am entirely out as a Pagan, so no one who matters to me has unrealistic expectations about what I can be called upon to do.

With most rites of passage, it is enough to go along, witness and be happy for the people involved. Afterwards, there will probably be something involving cake and a chance to do something more personal. The exception is funerals. All of my immediate ancestors thus far have had Christian burials, or Christian crematorium services. These I find tremendously difficult. A funeral is an important moment in the grief process, and the time of collectively undertaking to say goodbye to the departed. Shared tears and mutual support and, for the Christians, reassurance about the eternal love of God, the eternal life in Jesus Christ, Heaven, forgiveness for sins and the such. All concepts rooted utterly in Christian faith, and likely to be meaningful to Christians. Where the departed, and most of the bereaved are Christian, there is no doubt about it – this is the right thing to do.

Where the dead one was Christian, I can hardly saunter off and have a little Pagan moment for them at my leisure – that would not be respectful and it wouldn’t feel right. What it leaves me with are some practical challenges about how to work through grief in the context of what is, for me, the wrong religion. How to handle a painful service when the words make no emotional sense to me? I haven’t really got an answer for this. In many ways the time that feels resonant for me is what comes after the service, when there is often a sharing of food and stories; that innately human response to loss and pain. It doesn’t really matter then who believes what, we just share what we have.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Other people’s rituals

  • catchersrule

    *sigh* You remind me of the few times I’ve been to Wiccan or Generic Pagan rituals. They always felt odd to me, because oh yeah, talking to the Gods and/or Spirits is so personal a thing. But, on the other hand, the energy of being with others is amazing, and to me it’s worth the slight discomfort of hearing someone else call the corners in a different way than I’d do it. Still… Druids, Wiccans, Pagans in general seem to tend to veer towards solitary practice, and I think that’s kind of sad since we can all give different energies to one another, and I agree with you that can be a very good thing! Every so often I wish there were something like a temple I could go to and practice regularly with others – sorry, but for me the Unitarian Church just doesn’t cut it, even though they supposedly accept all religions. I unfortunately had a bad experience in one, and never forgot that:(

    Sadness aside, though, I’m glad you got to a good place regarding Christian vs. Druidic religion. It seems that was needed.

    My blessings to you.

  • lornasmithers

    I also find Christianity very difficult to engage with, particularly when the people having their children baptised, getting married, or the people who have died don’t actually hold Christian beliefs… I wonder about the journey of those souls… through the religious frameworks that order depictions of this world and into the Otherworld. I wonder how many people think seriously about these things.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’m not at all sure about those either. When those celebrating are committed beleivers, it’s a good deal easier to see how to honour that, quietly. What to do with token Christianity? Wear a nice hat… I have no idea.

  • angharadlois

    I have been thinking about this a fair bit since you wrote it. The lack of a shared religious context (or, in many cases, any religious context at all – which often then defaults to Christianity) does seem to leave a hole which is simply glossed over by our mainstream culture.

    The church services I have been to in the past few years, for weddings, funerals and fundraising talks, have oddly enough given a liberating sense of closure – my own spiritual path is now so established outside Christianity that I find it easier to take part as a guest from outside the tradition, much as I would with Islam or Buddhism. Token Christianity is a bit more uncomfortable, but often the people going through these motions are just looking for some last vestige of a rite of passage that makes sense. Wearing a nice hat is probably a good way to honour that; it is the done thing, after all! For some people, “the done thing” is all they have left by way of meaningful rituals.

    As for having a quiet pagan moment for the deceased… it does raise some tricky ethical questions, particularly if that person was vocal in their criticism of non-Christian paths. I know I don’t always want to be “blessed” or “held in prayers” by some of the more enthusiastic Christians I know! But that depends very much on personal relationship and mutual understanding. And besides, even if the deceased would disapprove of being remembered in a pagan ritual, there is no reason not to find other ways to seek solace for your grief within your own tradition. Easy enough to say that now, in hindsight…

  • joannavanderhoeven

    I liken all religions to language – they are a means of expressing our human souls, like dance in a way. Druidry for me is a language, and not everyone will understand it. Where a religion is so different from ours, I don’t have to walk away in frustration – I can either attempt to learn it, or say a prayer in my own language. I do not think that this is disrespectful in the least. It shows caring and compassion, a basic human reciprocity of wanting to help and to be helped. I remember a beautiful episode of Northern Exposure, where Joel was asked to lead a Jewish funerary ceremony for his uncle. There were no other Jews in the area, but what he realised in the end was that the town where he lived, Cicely, was his community, and it didn’t matter what faith people belonged to, as long as the shared intention was honourable. He began saying his prayers in Hebrew, but before asked each person in the church there with him to say a prayer in their fashion for someone that they love – Native American, Unitarian, Catholic – whatever. It was a scene that I’ll never forget. the only clip I could find was in Spanish or Italian – how apt! You still get the message that the writers were trying to share, and I just love it. http://youtu.be/ATXGTqtKSrE

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s a lovely line of thought – everyone bringing their own approach, and I do like the idea of relating religion to language. No two words have the exact same meanings and all languages have things they do not express well compared to other languages,but all are driven by the same fundamental human needs and the person who puts in the work can gain fluency in more than one…

  • locksley2010

    Nice one, Joanna!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: