(In the summer of 2011 I decided that I wanted to do a workshop on Drawing Down the Moon, tracing the history of the rite and providing a little bit of practical “how to” advice. That desire turned into an incredibly long (and mostly interesting I hope) lecture that I presented several times in 2012. I’ve recently decided to turn my spoken word lecture into a series of articles for Raise the Horns. I’m trying to keep each post rather self-contained, but you can read Part One by clicking here, with future installments on the way.)
During Wiccan-style ritual Pagans interact with deity in several different ways. The simplest of those interactions is calling to deity. A call to deity is exactly what it sounds like, deity is invited into the circle to witness and perhaps guard the ritual. I usually think of this as deity standing on the edge of my circle, mostly observing the proceedings. When someone simply “calls” deity, deity usually doesn’t become an extremely active part of the rite.
I experience this type of interaction with deity a lot at large public rituals, and it’s usually completely intentional. Drawing down a god or goddess in front of 100 strangers isn’t for everybody, and probably not advisable when you find yourself doing ritual in a public place. Calling deity honors the gods, but limits interaction with them, and again, that’s not always bad. If you are doing a Beltane ritual in a public park you probably don’t want Pan influencing your guests too much.
That brings us to the second level of interaction with deity, when energy specific to a certain deity is brought into the circle. I remember the first time I truly understood what this meant. I was asked to do a Pan Ritual for a large Pagan gathering, but was told to keep the ritual to a PG-13 level. Pan and PG-13 don’t really go hand in hand, so I knew that drawing down the god wasn’t on my list of options, but I still wanted people to “feel” the god in some way. What I ended up doing that evening was whipping up some Pan energy.
Energy specific to a deity can be a consciousness shifter. Let’s say you call a Mother goddess to ritual, everyone in the circle might feel a warm, embracing type of love or contentment. When I called Pan for my PG-13 ritual I could feel him in the circle with us, but he wasn’t possessing anyone, but his mere presence was influencing everyone in the circle. That influence was not so overwhelming that people were discarding clothes left and right or engaging in sexual acts, but you could feel that everyone at the ritual was beginning to feel a bit amorous, and confident about themselves. It was a good feeling to leave a ritual with, and the next day people told me what kind of high-jinks they got into (without inviting me) later that night. Pan was a very unsubtle influence that evening, but we all remained in control of our actions. Unlike a more powerful drawing down experience, I wasn’t instantly erect or grunting. Before the public ritual I did my own private ritual to/with Pan, trying to explain the parameters. “I want you here, I think these people need you here, but we have to do it in a way that will allow us both to be invited back,” he completely understood.
While I like to categorize the three types of experience we might have with deity while in circle, each type of experience has multiple levels. When you simply call deity there’s no guarantee that it won’t makes its presence known. You might find yourself or your circle subtly influenced by it. A ritual full of Dionysian energy might lead to someone actually drawing down the god, or coming extremely close to it. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a full scale drawing down and a room simply full of an energy unique to a certain goddess (or god).
The difference between being in a room full of Pan energy and actually drawing down Pan is that when you draw down deity, you surrender yourself to it. Deity sees the world with your eyes, speaks with your tongue, and experiences with your body. Drawing down is a willful surrendering of consciousness in order to become one with deity so that others around you may experience that deity. Not only does drawing down give people a chance to interact with deity, it also gives them a chance to feel deity. When my High Priestess calls down a goddess, I feel that goddess in the circle. Not only do I feel her when she touches me, I feel the power and the energy radiating from her. It’s category two on steroids.
Drawing down can be an experience that lasts for an extended length of time, or a rather short one. When my wife does it there’s usually a moment in there when I know my wife’s gone and that The Goddess is the one looking back at me. Sometimes that lasts only for a few moments, and then I look into my wife’s eyes and simply see a mortal, and yet I still feel the Goddess near me in the circle. In my own personal experience I’ve felt The God come creeping back into my psyche after feeling like he had already left. These things can be difficult to quantify, meaning when one ends and another begins is usually a judgement call.
In some ways drawing down the moon really comes down to belief. I’ve been in circles before where I felt as if I had a very genuine experience with deity, while those around me were less convinced. When I was researching this topic last fall I found a website where it was suggested that individuals “test” their High Priest or Priestess when they were drawing down. The writer was encouraging people to be skeptical, and to question deity when it makes its presence known. Suggestions included having a few pre-determined group questions ready to ask deity, with specific answers in mind, and then quizzing deity about its self. He also suggested having everyone “rate” the drawing down experience when it concluded. I can’t really imagine doing any of those things, and most of the High Priestesses I’ve worked with over the years would either glare at me for suggesting them, or send me home without my cakes and ale.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be skeptical from time to time, but the idea of drawing down the moon is so grandiose that I’m not sure the normal rules of reality apply. If you are a true polytheist it’s possible that the knowledge of the gods is far from absolute, meaning the questions you had ready were going to be answered incorrectly whether or not Apollo actually showed up. Any experience or knowledge we have about the gods is generally filtered through our own experiences too, a deity is going to have experiences stretching back for millennia. There’s also the very real possibility that there are several different and competing versions of the same god, your Pan may not exactly be my Pan if that makes sense.
I’m not sure you can truly “grade” a drawing down experience anyways. Yes, I’ve been in some circles where it felt as if my High Priestess (or Priest) was “faking” the experience. I’ve never believed that such deception was deliberate, more like they were playing a trick on themselves to give the coven the experience they felt was required that evening. Of course some of the experiences I didn’t particularly get were raved about by others. Like any experience with the gods, drawing down the moon really comes down to faith and belief. Either you believe that deity can shift our conscious mind or you don’t. If your not open to that possibility it’s unlikely you’ll ever experience it.