“It was okay,” said the question-answerer. “I would have preferred the tempo of the guardians to have slowed down maybe a beat and a half….and the chanting was…” The talker then went on to pick at a few other details while their companion replied, “Oh? Oh. Oh….”
My ears sizzled like the grilled cheese I burned while typing this. Being offended comes in layers. Spiritual leaders (hopefully) eventually learn to peel them away so they don’t start rocking in the corner with a fist in a mouth.
Layer 1.) How dare ANYONE criticize my gorgeous ritual! It was totally Divinely inspired, if you didn’t notice. And gorgeously crafted with style, effect, and MAGICK, MOTHERFUCKER!
Release Layer 1: Go back to sleep, Ego….it’s not about me….I don’t do this for compliments.
Layer 2.) How dare ANYONE trivialize the ritual into beats and points when my Coven spent their whole Saturday and the month before this preparing it as a gift to the community…hauling their asses to Brooklyn from Jersey, Connecticut, and Westchester to do it, no less! What is this, a restaurant? Who are we, your waitstaff? WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
Release Layer 2: You’re not the mama-bear…the Coven is capable of defending themselves and frankly, you just moved Layer 1 to Layer 2 as it sounds far more noble to the rest of the world. Seriously, Ego. Go back to sleep and stop bothering me while I’m on the can.
Layer 3.) There are people here who have had some intense experiences this afternoon. I saw it in their faces, I heard it in their words. Maybe you didn’t find the Divine, but they did. Can you give them some space to sit with that? Do you have to push them into an Amazon.com review before they even get out the door?
Layer 3 didn’t move. I found the root of the problem, only lightly dusted with the soil of ego–but not choked by it.
It felt like going to see theatre with the college boyfriend who trashed every actor he ever saw..or the other college boyfriend who thought theatre was a dumb major, anyway. Or the post-college boyfriend who laughed when I cried at the symphony. Or the chatty tourists smacking gum or clicking away at their phones, right in view of El Anatsui’s incredible tapestries, barely bothering to look up or respect that people in the museum were spiritually humbled by their beauty. Or the companions who smiled sweetly at my discovery of Witchcraft and Tarot, but never shied from jokes about wolf-moon t-shirts and Faruza Balk. This is going to sound dramatic, but these times chipped at my heart a bit. They were experiences that moved my soul with a gentle hand, and ouch. A few pointed opinions or vocal disinterest may not be any more pointed for hurt than a gentle scratch with a fingernail–but do it to freshly sunburned skin and DAMN. That shit hurts.
I wanted to run out of the bathroom and shout, “DON’T SCRATCH THE SUNBURNED!!!” but that would take a lot of follow-up explanation and just come off as annoying. I let it go to clean up hummus containers and chip bags.
It’s probably a First-World Pagan Problem infesting NYC that there are so many awesome rituals to attend that people can afford to be picky about what they do. This weekend alone, I think there are four Lughnasadh rites happening within twenty minutes of one another–not even counting the things going on during the week. We are not lacking for community, skilled leadership, or Magick. The problem is that with so many choices, people start critiquing rituals like they would art or movies. Post-ritual fellowship can easily descend in to the wine-sipping, cheese-snacking critique one would see at galleries. The talk becomes about talking about the ritual, rather than what people experienced, saw, discovered. People have begun attending rituals for the sole purpose of critiquing rituals.
“Oh, just shut it out…” Is the go-to advice column–in the United States, anyway. Stay true to your own opinions and shut out those you don’t like! That’s well and good at a political debate over turkey at Grandma’s house, but the purpose of ritual is to open-up. We need to become vulnerable in order to receive the work of Spirit. Like art, going in with your heart locked and mind doing all the experiencing, is a huge waste of a admission ticket.
About a year ago, I attended an initiation for a young man into a Tradition that was not mine, but I was invited to witness. I didn’t understand all of what was happening, except that whatever it was meant a great deal to the young man. He wept. He wailed. He was reborn and came out of his blindfolded ordeal like a newborn fawn into the sun. But when I left the ritual, one of the companions I’d come with had dissected the ritual into all its bits and pieces before we’d even gotten to the subway…something about the use of ritual space not being in proper accordance with some sort of symbolism associated with the Kabbalah or another sort of astrological correspondent I had never even heard of. Most of all, my companion was irritated that the ritual leaders had not built a ritual that was “inclusive enough of the experiences of the attendees.”
I was very uncomfortable. First of all, the ritual hadn’t been about the attendees but about the young man receiving initiation. Why in the world would anyone complain about it not being inclusive of the people whom it was never about in the first place? Second of all, who cared about the use of space and the blah-blah-mumbo-heebie symbols of whatever-the-fuck? The initiate had just gone through what had probably been one of the most grueling, terrifying experiences of his short life and here we were, barely a block away, and discussing the mechanics of the ritual? It felt like Olivia Newton John and Friends bickering about the way the lugnuts had been installed on John Travolta’s tires instead of celebrating the way he creamed that other guy off the road at the end of Grease.
But it was more than that. Unlike an art show, a movie, or even a play, once we’d left the ritual space, we hadn’t quite left the ritual. Sure, the Circle may have been closed, but we’d given and received Magickal energy from a whole host of people for well over two hours. Rituals are living, breathing things. They pick up what you put into them, days after the Quarters are released. You may think you’re in a “safe zone” by discussing how you “really felt” when you head out of the room, but energetically, it’s no different than if you turned to your neighbor during the energy raising and said, “AGAIN with ‘Hoof and Horn’? Is anyone original these days?”
Psychically, the Universe was being told that the mechanical details of the ritual were more important that the movement of Spirit, itself. Not a good precedent to set for working with Spirit in the future.
First of all, how are you to know whether you’re not trampling all over a profound moment? Oftentimes, spiritual revelations come under the guise of blank faces.
Second….the ritual isn’t over just because the High Priest/ess said so. The work performed and energy raised will continue to spin and spawn over the coming days and weeks. After all that hard work, are you going to focus on tiny bits of rust on the instrument strings? Or will you sit with how the music made you feel? Can you allow others to have the space to feel that moment, too?
Most importantly…Spirit will take its cues from us and frankly, It doesn’t seem to like wasting its time. If we, as supposed Spirit workers are more obsessed with picking apart inconsequential details of the ritual, it seems likely that Spirit would lose interest and possibly stop showing up. Why should It have to compete for our attention with our perfectionist tendencies? Or worse, It might just feel like blowing apart our rituals all together. Why wouldn’t it?
Okay–moral of the story. Learn from rituals, but don’t nit-pick them. Trust me, my Coven of media specialists, writers, musicians, and copy-editors is wont to pull our shit apart and play the “pick out the not-perfect” bits. But we’ve finally learned that rituals should not be discussed for at least a few weeks after something is done. We file away moment of imperfections, suggestions for improvements, other ways to get to be even better at rituals into our mental rolodexes and take them back out when the time to plan our next ritual arises. We give respect to the experiences of those in the space, and the Spirit for attending. All other quirks can be worked out at another time.
I can’t lie…I’ve been to some rituals that made me cringe.
But I have to respect the fact that other people might be affected negatively by my piss-poor perfectionist attitude. I have to respect the fact that the energy of the ritual is still going after the fact. I can learn from the mistakes of others–and the mistakes I myself make–but if it’s a serious mistake that I will want to avoid next time, I’ll remember it.
This weekend, at your Lughnasadh or Imbolc
Turn off your analytical brains for a time. Give yourself space to be present with the ritual. Sure, you’ll probably see ways something can be done better or differently and chances are, you’re right. But save those comments for your next ritual planning session a few weeks or months down the road.
And speaking from the underground art world.…art critics often end up hating art and book critics often end up burning paperbacks (figuratively). Is that what you want to do with your spiritual practice as well?
Something to think about at this next turn of the Wheel.
Have a blessed Sabbat, everyone!