Nine Things I Think

Nine Things I Think is an irregular feature whenever I have a list of things I want to talk about that aren’t long enough for their own individual posts.  There’s no theme, just nine things I want to bring to your attention.  Feel free to expand on any of these topics in the comments section.

This isn’t entirely a Pantheacon post, but I’ve still got a few odds and ends better suited for this format than for their own posts, so here goes.

1) Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy (as opposed to young and grumpy), but I don’t get the ribbon collecting thing at Pantheacon.  They do add color and variety to the convention badges, and I picked up ribbons for the things I went to (most of them, anyway) as mementos.  But I passed some con-goers with ribbon chains so long they looked like a UU minister’s stole – they must have spent more time collecting ribbons than going to events.  I had enough trouble walking outside or washing my hands without soaking the ribbons and I only had eight – I can’t imagine wrangling a string of ribbons down to my knees.  I heard the phrase “ribbon slut” used more than once…

2) Confession time for those of you who weren’t at the House of Danu ritual on Sunday night:  I choked on the Druid’s Prayer.  It’s bad enough for a Druid to forget the Druid’s Prayer, but I’ve been saying that prayer EVERY DAY for the past three years, and most days for several years before that.

There’s a lesson in here for me – and maybe for others as well.  I’ve said that prayer so many times it rolls off my tongue without thinking about it – it’s as much a meditation as it is a prayer.  But for this ritual, we wanted to do the prayer as a call and response.  So instead of one line flowing right after another, it was say the line, wait for the response, say the line, wait for the response.

The flow was broken.  I had to think about what came next.  And I choked.  I went back to the beginning, closed my eyes and started over.  This time I repeated the line along with the responders and the flow resumed.

I now understand I should have practiced the prayer as a call and response.  If I done that even a handful of times in the days leading up to the ritual it would have gone off smoothly.  But I thought I knew it, so I spend all my time working on my other part – which went off fine, since I practiced it.

3) I’m a ritual geek and I enjoyed observing and participating with some first-class ritualists at Pantheacon.  Some read from scripts and some memorized their lines.  There is something powerful about a speech – whether a few lines of a quarter call or a lengthy recitation or a call to action – delivered without a script.  But unless you’re doing a ritual you’ve done many times – or unless you’ve got professional grade acting skills – very few people can do a ritual from memory and do it well.

I’ve always said it’s better to read well than to memorize poorly.  Now I’ll say it’s better to read well than to memorize adequately.

Lest you think I’m making excuses for the choke job described above, I’m not.  If that ritual had scripts, I would have said “I say that prayer every day – I don’t need a script” and then done exactly the same thing.

I think some people’s aversion to scripts is that they’re understandably turned off by shuffling note cards or turning pages in a stapled script, or by ritualists who aren’t familiar with their own rituals even with a script.  But reading from a nice ritual book looks good, and it makes for a much smoother delivery.

4) I was in three rituals that had the participants chanting or toning while the ritual leader recited prayers or invocations over them.  I’ve never seen that before – or if I have I’ve forgotten it – it was powerful.  In the best of them, the chant was simple and repetitive, allowing for a slight shift in consciousness.  This made the words of the leader even stronger, which helped facilitate the invocation.  I will definitely be incorporating this into future rituals.

Remember:  keep the chant simple, and the leader has to have a voice strong enough to be heard over the chanting.

5) Coru Cathubodua member Amelia Hogan gave me one of her new CDs:  Transplants – From the Old World to the New.  It’s a collection of 14 songs of Ireland (“Fiddler of Dooney” “Wild Mountain Thyme”) and of the Irish in America (“No Irish Need Apply” “Lakes of Pontchartrain”).  On her website, Amelia says

This is an Irish-American story, and it’s all of ours. Who would speak their story now that they’re gone? It’s ours to tell so that no one forgets what they our ancestors worked so hard to afford us. Thank you to every one of my family for these gifts of songs, tales, hopes, and possibilities. I couldn’t have done this without such a grand legacy.

Amelia has a beautiful voice and the accompaniment is clean and simple.  If you like traditional Irish music, you’ll probably like this.  Here’s a very good video for “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore.”

6) I’ve added two new links to the blog roll on the right.  Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous is the home of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, who first suggested the term “devotional polytheist” to me and who may be the most prolific blogger in all of Pagandom.  Lupus and I have corresponded before – sometimes contentiously but always courteously – and we met for the first time at Pantheacon.

Thracian Exodus is the home of Anomalous Thracian, who describes himself as “a polytheist spirit-worker, shaman, and Temple priest.”  We had a wonderful time talking at Pantheacon and sharing experiences of the Gods and spirits.  His writings are pretty much stream of consciousness filtered through whiskey – if you object to strong language or strong opinions you may want to skip this one.  But you’ll be missing some excellent writing.

7) Game of Thrones returns for its fourth season on HBO on April 6.  When season three ended last Summer, the Red Wedding had just concluded, leaving the Starks in shambles.  The Mother of Dragons was still building her army, and some really strange things were happening beyond the Wall.

Despite George R.R. Martin’s deserved reputation as a murderous storyteller, the three characters I called out at the beginning of season two because of their resilience are still alive:  Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark.  Here’s hoping they stay that way.

What do we say to the God of Death?  Not today.

I haven’t read the books so I don’t know how the story will progress.  They look fascinating, but I just don’t have time for that much fiction.  But this is one of the few TV shows I make time to watch – I just wish we got more than ten episodes a year.

8) I’ll be speaking at Denton UU on Sunday, March 9 at 9:30 and 11:30 AM.  This will be a revision of “The Art of Wild Wisdom” that I presented at Pathways UU last November.  I’m going to do some editing on the sermon, and I’ve got a new Story For All Ages:  “How Cú Chulainn Got His Name.”  If you’re in the North Texas area, come out and say hello.

9) Remember that Facebook is throttling all posts and only showing about 5% of posts from pages.  A simple way to make sure you get all the posts from Under the Ancient Oaks (and the other blogs on Patheos) is to subscribe by e-mail.  Simply enter your address in the box on the right of the screen.  You’ll get e-mail notifications when new posts go up, and you won’t be signing up for a boatload of spam.

That’s what I’m thinking – what about you?

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • JasonMankey

    I went to see George R. R. Martin when “A Dance With Dragons” was released a couple of years ago. The one thing I took away from that appearance was his comment that his partner would never let him kill-off Arya.

    I’m completely with you on the reading rituals out of a book. I’ve been preaching that for a few years now. Shame you couldn’t make the 1899 Ritual, I think you would have enjoyed it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Then may the Gods bless his partner!

      I would loved to have been there for the 1899 Ritual, but it was the same time as the House of Danu ritual. Always a conflict…

  • Parsley

    That ribbon thing happens at UU General Assembly, too. I’ve never been to Pantheacon, but I go to GA almost every year, and I don’t really get the ribbon thing either.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I went to one GA (Fort Worth in 2005) and I seem to recall ribbons, now that you mention it.

      • Shauna Aura Knight

        I don’t get the ribbons thing either :)

  • Shauna Aura Knight

    The toning/chanting/cantillation combination is one that I’ve found particularly useful as a ritual technique. Speaking strictly as ritual technology (ie, not going into theology or tradition) it works incredibly well as a trance technique to get people into the right headspace for whatever spiritual work they are seeking to do.

    Actually–I started using the technique in part because I can’t memorize for crap. I can really only memorize particular words if I am singing them. Even if it’s just a 2-note cantillation (sung liturgy) I can memorize that if it’s short. But, me singing when everyone’s just watching is kind of boring, particularly with a longer liturgy. Geting everyone singing a single tone or a harmonic, and the sound becomes far more interesting.

    I had the great fortune to have mentors who taught me how to do completely extemporaneous ritual. There’s a plan, an outline. Each piece has an intention. But what words are used are completely left up to the facilitator.

    However, the more that I travel to conferences like Pantheacon, the more I end up taking supporting roles in other people’s rituals, and often those rituals are scripted. And I’m really not very good with scripted ritual.

    I admit, I personally have a tremendous bias against scripted ritual. Largely because my intent in a ritual is almost always to take people deeper down, and that becomes many factors more difficult with a script in hand.

    The exception is when I’ve seen people with actual performance training who have not only memorized the script, but they are embodying it. Like what you wrote above, the words are a prayer that they are familiar with, it’s a liturgy engraved into their bones. I’ve seen very, very few Pagans able to do this. When they do, it’s fantastic. And I bet that even though you choked, because of the power of connection you have to that particular prayer, you were still able to bring the magic and power of it.

    Another exception on scripts is for rituals where there isn’t really a need to take people very deep, what I might call a “surface level” ritual. There isn’t really a great term for it. Some weddings, or ordinations, that are more of a public presentation; I can’t think of any other great examples.

    Over the years I have found that a lot of the power I’m able to evoke in a ritual space comes not from the specific words that I say, but from the connection I’m able to bridge energetically. Eye contact is one of the most powerful techniques out there for ritual facilitators, but it’s hard to do with a script. Well–hard to do for many people anyways, as culturally we’re taught to avoid eye contact. Learning to meet people’s eyes took me years of work on its own, lol.

    Thanks for posting this! :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      You’re right about the need for eye contact. If there’s a segment that needs to be particularly strong (like the altar calls I’m fond of giving) I’ll memorize it.

      But I HAVE to either read or memorize – even after all these years of rituals, story telling, and Sunday services, I’m still not comfortable speaking extemporaneously. Even if I know what I want to say, I’ll end up going “um, er, uh” and ruining the whole thing.

      I think it was Clint Eastwood who said “a man’s got to know his limitations”. That’s one of mine.

      • Shauna Aura Knight

        I hear you. Actually, I really dread it when people want me to support a scripted ritual, because I’m really terrible at it. When I do them, I’m convinced people are going to think, “Why does she teach ritual, she’s awful at it.” lol. It is absolutely crucial to learn what we’re good at and not.

        I’m interested in what other folks were using the chanting/singing over method. Thorn’s ritual sort of did that.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

          PSVL’s Beard Blessing Ritual (which was far more serious and reverent than it sounds) had the participants toning while invocations were read. And at one point in the Great Queens ritual, the participants were chanting while one (or more? don’t remember for sure) of the Coru priests were reciting an invocation.

          • Shauna Aura Knight

            Thanks for sharing. I will definitely check out the Coru work next year, I didn’t even really know who/what that was this past year. Which–I suppose that’s one of the cool parts about Pantheacon is finding out all the cool stuff I should have gone to last year, but that I can hopefully get to next year :D

  • Natalie Reed

    Re the HoD ritual – sometimes it is nice to know that even the best of us can be imperfect in ritual, thanks for that.
    As for the Coru Cathubodua, clearly I must make a point of visiting with these folks next time, as I have heard such wonderful things in the various PCon reports.
    I have recently found the blog of Anomalous Thracian and am enjoying that quite a bit as well. He scares me a little, but I kind of like it.
    As for Games of Thrones – I agree on all three characters. I stopped reading after book two because I wanted to enjoy the show without knowing what would happen – nice to know Arya is safe (thanks Jason!), but Tyrion – what of Tyrion? I can’t imagine he survives the whole tale, but I certainly hope to be mesmerized by his witty banter and his loyal heart until the very end.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Thanks for the kind words.

      As for the Anomalous Thracian, he comes across a lot less scary in person. But he’s just as thought-provoking.


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