Holding spaces, sacred and otherwise

In formal ritual, we’re automatically conscious of the making and holding of sacred space. We think we craft a deliberate space, with intent, and we usually work together as a circle to make that happen. However, in every aspect of our lives we are holding space for people in less conscious ways.

What we’re able to do can be shaped by what the people around us hold space for. At the most basic level, things like whether we are allowed to help, allowed to speak, allowed to act, informs who we can be in a situation. In highly constructed environments – schools, workplaces, more organised social groupings – the boundaries around who can do what can be tightly held.

Where we have consensus about the holding of space, we get a culture. Most of us are significantly shaped by what our cultures consider acceptable. How we dress, speak and move, what we aspire to be and feel the need to own and how we spend much of our time is culturally informed. That culture is made up of each one of us helping hold the space in a certain way. Encouraging some things, discouraging others, making some actions easy and others impossible. Most of the time, most of us do that entirely without thought.

We can hold space for each other in very deliberate ways, if we are conscious of what we are doing. How conscious are our ritual circles? Are we defaulting to what we think religion looks like, or are we inventing a space that does just what we need it to do? In ritual circle we give each other permission to talk to the land and sky in a way that would be unthinkable in other contexts. Some ritual circles give everyone permission to speak, and some do not. Some ritual spaces invite raw emotional expressions and others encourage us to be dignified and stick with the script.

It is worth trying to take a mental step back from what we do, to consider the spaces we hold for each other. What do we permit in others, what are we quietly refusing? How are we constructing the spaces we share with other people? What kind of culture are we contributing to?

I’ve been struck of late, just how powerful it is to be in spaces where I feel acceptable and also by what happens when I in turn offer messages of welcome and encouragement to people who are around me. Groups where exchanges of praise and encouragement are normal are very supportive spaces to be in. Places where we watch each other mistrustfully and jump on the smallest mistakes are nerve wracking and exhausting. It’s odd how many spaces are quick to jump on small errors and entirely tolerant of the bullying behaviour of those who do the jumping. I see that online, especially. All too often, ‘correcting’ trivial mistakes and reasonable differences is treated as more important than being respectful or compassionate. Who do we become, when we step into circles such as these?

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

6 responses to “Holding spaces, sacred and otherwise

  • greycatsidhe

    This is a great post. I’ve been working hard to keep my little Druid group to be a safe space. We have a certain way of doing things since we are part of the ADF tradition, but while some may see that as constricting, there is actually a lot of room for creativity! One of our members lead the Summer Solstice in a style that is very different from my own, but it was a wonderful rite! Everyone enjoyed it. We both have our own styles, and we’ve made it a safe place to explore that! I also think we do a great job of creating a balance between “scripted” times – when only certain people do the talking and everyone else contemplates – and times when everyone has an opportunity to talk. The balance is important, in my opinion, because people have different needs.

  • Yvonne Ryves

    I think it’s so important to be able to be in spaces which are both safe for us and nurture us and also to remember how that feels when we hold space for others be it our family, friends, students or those we work with in other ways. I think sometimes it is so easy to get so caught up in the importance of what we need to do we forget to allow this to happen for both ourselves and others. Great reminder here so thanks.

  • lornasmithers

    I think it’s interesting to apply the concept of holding space to all spaces, ‘ritual’ or not. For, in a way, the gathering of a poetry or history society is in its own way a kind of rite and many of these people pursue their interests religiously… so perhaps treating every communal gathering and space as sacred is a way forward?

  • Sylvia Pearson

    Thankyou for putting this into words, it made my whole being tingle. I have been reading Ritual power healing and community by Malidoma Some, and yes as Lorna says it is something to be aware of in any group you are with, bringing to consciousness again.

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