For some time now, I’ve not being doing ritual. I had a few years when, living on a narrowboat I was so very close to the natural world, and so very far from other Druids that seasonal ritual made little sense. In recent years living in Stroud, there have been various forays into the possibility of seasonal ritual, but nothing has formalised. I find that I enjoy having the eight rounds of community gathering in a year.
There are things I definitely like about ritual – community, sharing bard stuff, getting outside together, and any gestures towards making beauty in some way. I hate scripts, and I’m not very easy with standard ritual language any more. It’s too formal, it feels weird. I’m wary of any kind of ritual structure that puts some people in charge in priestly roles and has others cast as onlookers. I want proper anarchy in my circles – no titles.
Once again I find myself asking how to make ritual work for me. Last year we tried holding bardic sessions at the full moon, but by October it was far too cold to be standing around at night. Given the people I hang out with, food and bardic contributions are a certainty. I’m intending to experiment a bit with talking sticks (well, a talking spoon is more likely…)
The very word ‘ritual’ suggests repetition, but repetition is problematic. It can create a firm underpinning, but it can equally dull people into careless lethargic states. It can help people connect, but you can end up connecting with the abstract ideas of the ritual and not with the experience of being alive and in a place on a day. High ritual language can empower, but it can also exclude. It can inspire, but it can oppress. There are no neat answers to this.
I’ve yet to find what I want from rituals. Even so, I can’t quite let go of the idea of them, I keep coming back to seasonal celebration and trying to figure out how I want it to be.
We’re sat in circle. We could equally be stood, and for the purposes of ‘we’ I could mean any gathering of modern Druids. We each come to this circle carrying our lifetime’s worth of experience. Everything we have thought and done, cared about, studied, sweated over. We have all lived. Some of us have lived longer than others, some have studied more than others. Some have deep wisdom, and some would hesitate to claim it.
In this circle, I can look round at the other Druids. I may or may not know them well, but I know they each bring unique qualities, strengths and insights. One of us may be leading, perhaps holding the space, or crafting it as we go. We give that person chance to share their skills, to guide the rest of us. In time, someone else will take charge and lead in a different way – not in conflict or competition, but because it’s a good idea. It’s tiring to lead all the time, it’s good to be able to kick back and just participate, and it’s good to share out the responsibilities. Our circles are that much stronger when we’re all holding them and contributing to them.
Sat in a circle of Druids, I am easily impressed by all that these others brings to the space. Easily awed by the sheer fact of their presence. Not because I am always the smallest, most ignorant, least skilled and least wise Druid in the space – although sometimes, no doubt I am.
This is an important part of what community means to me – an equality of responsibility, a shared ownership and an equal footing. Leadership as a temporary act of service. Respect as a key ingredient. No one jostling for position or asserting authority, no one acting as though they’re the Big Important Druid and everyone else had better take them seriously. Room to laugh at each other and with each other in recognition of our human foibles. Room to be wrong, or to change our minds, or to not have known something. Room enough not to have a big spiritual experience every time. The circle itself is an expression of that equality, no one place being more marked out for superiority than any other.