In my last post, I talked about creating Pagan-based or Pagan-inspired services for Sunday morning UU worship. This time, I want to talk about my process for creating rituals for Pagan groups within a UU context. Of course, this is a primary activity of many CUUPS groups, so many of you reading will have your own thoughts about this process, and your own experiences to share. I invite you to add your own tips to the comments. Here are my thoughts.
One of the things I find most challenging in preparing ritual for UU Pagans is the wide variety of Paganisms that UUs bring to these rituals. In the rituals in UU contexts that I’ve either led or attended, participants have included devotees of a wide variety of pantheons and specific deities, people with a strong grounding in Wicca, Heathenism, Asatru, and other specific traditions, and people with no prior experience of any kind of Paganism. Like UU contexts more broadly, participants in UU Pagan space have a variety of beliefs about the existence and nature of deity, energy, magic, and other related concepts. So, how does one approach ritual creation in such a diverse community?
For me, answering that question is very similar to answering the questions about how to create worship for the even more diverse Sunday morning UU congregation. At least the people at the Pagan gathering have chosen to be in ritual space that is specifically marked as Pagan! On Sunday morning, there is even more variety.
In my life as a UU and a UU minister, I have encountered and practiced two basic orientations to the task of creating worship in diverse community. The first is to find the points of common ground and work there. In UUism, I assume a general agreement with and relationship to the UU Principles, and to the mission and covenant of the specific congregation I’m working with. For Pagan rituals, I generally assume an orientation to experience as primary over a more intellectual engagement. So, my rituals will include some kind of guided meditation and/or chanting, singing, and dancing to bring us to that experiential place.
The approach of staying in the areas of common ground is natural to me as someone who grew up in Unitarian Universalism. It is a very common approach to UU life. And compared to other ways we could engage, it is relatively safe. It doesn’t tend to elicit a lot of opposition or push back. On the other hand, it is also safe in the sense that often it means that not much is happening. People might leave feeling good, and the Sunday morning liturgy or the ritual format usually gives people something even if I stick completely to common ground. However, that something can be very limited. The drawback to this approach is that it is the least common denominator approach, and I am thereby not offering myself or my congregation the true depths of any particular perspective or tradition.
So, the other approach is to get more specific and approach those depths. This approach means using specific God/dess language, offering specific rituals, using imagery and traditions that come from a particular community of story and practice. On one level, this is much more dangerous. People are much more likely to be upset by imagery that is specific – and not theirs. This also requires creating a respectful context, which is particularly necessary and difficult if I am using specifics that are outside of my own personal perspective and practice.On the other hand, all that energy of danger indicates that it is much more likely that something significant is happening when we do this. This approach has a much higher chance of bringing participants to real depths and effecting real transformation. Ideally, in UU space, when we get specific like this, we will offer and experience a variety of specificities. Inviting people from a variety of perspectives and practices into shared leadership is one way to do this. Another is to have the few particular leaders work very hard to become knowledgeable about a variety of practices and communities.
I want to tell the story of the particular moment when my creation of rituals for use in my congregation’s Pagan group switched from one of these approaches to the other. Previous to this moment, I had been using the first approach, careful to not say anything too particular or specific, and shunning energy or magic working all together as too controversial for UU Pagan space. The rituals I was creating were working to a point, but not as well as I wanted. I was working in one congregation with the Pagan group, and then I left the ministry of that congregation in the course of my personal and professional life. So, for a while I was not leading public Pagan ritual. I was just doing my own rituals for myself.
Meanwhile, I was taking classes with the Temple of Witchcraft, and at some point I had to choose a year-long project. I decided to create a series of rituals designed to address global warming and climate change. These rituals were created with the Temple’s approach to ritual as the primary model, and all of them included some magical working. (I will talk more about this project in another post.)
As time went on, it became clear that there was a desire in my new congregation for Pagan rituals, and so I agreed to begin offering them. It seemed natural to use the rituals I was creating for my class. When I was preparing for the first ritual in the new congregation, I got out the script I had written for the class, and I realized just how different it was from what I had been doing in my previous congregation. Using specific God/dess language, including energy work and magic, as well as the tools I had used previously. I realized just how much I had been holding back, and how much deeper the experience might be for participants if I let myself be a little more grounded in my own practice and tradition.
I still made some edits to the ritual, but much less that I might have. I have now offered 6 of these rituals in my congregation, and mostly they are going really well. Over time, I hope to incorporate specificities other than my own, but this seemed like a good place to start.
This is my general approach, and some of the ways I have approached this task. What do you have to add?