I don’t get a lot of ecstatic ritual in my life. Most of the ritual in my life has to do with the kids’ night time routine. If I get ritual it’s usually solitary, staying up past my bedtime, carefully preparing before and cleaning up after. Getting to sink into a ritual is a rare treat for me. Good ritual fills my “cup” – a cup that is often dry for much of the year. This is one of the reasons that going to Pantheacon (and other gatherings) are so important and enjoyable for me.
This didn’t use to be the case. My first experiences of ritual were both over- and underwhelming. I was well out of my comfort zone. What was with the muttering and crying and shaking? Gods were present? Really? I felt locked out of what everyone else seemed to be experiencing. Not just locked out, but actively repelled.
Over time I gained more ease with ritual. My comfort level increased. I found that there were better and worse ritualists. I learned to trust my own experience and not rely on the experiences of others. My own spiritual hygiene is better now, and I know when and how to open up or close down as needed.
At Pantheacon this year I realized just how far I’ve come. I attended four rituals: The Coru Cathudodua‘s Morrígan possession, the Order of the Black Madonna’s service, the Kali Puja, and I participated in Ekklesia Antinoou‘s Lupercalia ritual as a Luperca.
The Coru puts on a hell of a ritual, full of intensity and calls for action. This time, as soon as the circle was cast I felt the spirits press in close. It was a crowded room! One of the gods I am in relationship with showed up, standing to my left, nudging me to pay attention. I felt myself slip sideways in between the worlds. While I didn’t feel particularly charged up by this experience afterward, the very fact that I slipped into liminal space and so easily, was notable for me.
The Black Madonna service was a quieter, more meditative affair. An altar, beautifully dressed with icons and images of all kinds of the Black Madonna, a particular expression of the Virgin Mary, was the centerpiece of the room. Three Sisters in the Order, faces veiled in black, stood watch. A singer gently sang a shortened version of Schubert’s Ave Maria on repeat. We were invited to approach the Sisters for blessing and release. One stood for Grief, another for Healing, and a third for Secrets. I didn’t think I needed any of the three, but I stood in line for a blessing from Grief. I am still missing my beloved teacher and I continue to let go of other tiny losses as well. People around me were visibly moved. Tears flowed freely. After the frenetic pace of PCon, I appreciated the peaceful, quiet reflection.
But then – what was happening to my eyes? Why were they leaking?! I found myself crying before the Sister of Grief. Tears I hadn’t known I needed to shed poured forth. The Sister, channeling the Blessed Mother, said to me, “Find my face.” She told me she had tools, including a hammer. I had never thought of Mary as having tools, much less a hammer. But in no uncertain terms I am to find her face.
Ekklesia Antinuoo’s Lupercalia ritual was a delightfully odd experience. I was participating in it, though I knew almost nothing of their customs. So many prayers! Some of them long and slightly tedious, some of them incredibly beautiful. While most groups call in their spirits and/or gods, the Ekklesia offer prayers for just about everybody. The care for others in various communities, across space and time, was moving and speaks highly of the Ekklesia.
What surprised me most was that after all the prayers (aaaaallllll the prayers) the mood shifted and the rest of the ritual was one of joy and silliness! Standing with three others, I was half naked, with my baby strapped on to my chest. We were wiped with wine and flicked with milk and made to do a “stately walk,” which to my mind was less stately and more saucy! Laughter existed simultaneously with reverence. It was perhaps the oddest ritual I’ve been to, and yet a complex and beautiful one all the same!
Lastly, I attended the always beautiful Kali Puja put on by Sharanya. This is the single only “can’t miss” item at every PCon for me. This year was not as emotionally moving for me as year’s past, but wisdom and joy were present for me nonetheless. Unexpectedly, I saw skulls everywhere: in fabric patterns on the floor, in shawls and blouses, hovering over people’s faces. “Courage” was the word I heard. When Kali suggests it’s time for courage, I know to breathe deeply and hold on tight – the ride is sure to be wild!
What I noticed after I’d had time to process all of these experiences, is just how much I have changed over the years. No longer am I approaching ritual out of the emptiness of my heart. No longer am I waiting to be impressed, by ritualists or spectacular experiences. I am not swayed by what is happening to others around. Instead, I show up as I am. My guard is down and I am able to engage with what is present. Sometimes there’s nothing present! Other times the presence/s defy my articulation. But, finally, I am able to have the experiences I’ve always longed for.
Each of the rituals I attended blessed me in some way. My cup is full for now.