As a baby Pagan, I was taught to always dismiss what you call and to take down your circles after the ritual is over. When I began working with the ADF Core Order of Ritual, I learned that you open the gates between the worlds at the beginning of ritual and you close the gates at the end.
There are many reasons for doing this. Since few of us have permanent ritual spaces, ritually opening and closing substitutes for processing into and out of a temple or sacred grove. It lets us know we’re beginning something special, and then that we’re returning to the ordinary world. It opens portals so we can experience the Otherworld, and then it closes those portals so that beings and energies that belong on the other side stay on the other side.
What happens if you don’t close the gates and portals between the worlds? In Neopagan Rites, Isaac Bonewits said this was a bad thing but not a permanent thing:
Having been the first to be formally invited to the ritual, the gatekeeper is the last to be thanked. The Gates Between the Worlds that he/she opened need to be closed. Granted, they will eventually close on their own, after a few hours or days, but in the meantime the lives of the participants may be visited by a wide variety of energies from the Other Side, not all of them pleasant. So it’s a good idea to formally ask the gatekeeper to close them as he/she leaves.
A lot has changed since I was a baby Pagan. Beings and energies that belong on the other side are finding their way to this side on a regular basis. I’ve been noticing this for some time, but I experienced it in a rather dramatic fashion last June. In November I wrote that the Veil Between the Worlds is shredded.
Regular Patheos Pagan commenter Woods Wizard suggested that open gates and portals may be causing our high strangeness:
I am beginning to think that Isaac Bonewits was wrong – that portals do not close up all by themselves – that some of them at least, stay open. Over the past three years, I have discovered and closed two portals. I had another incident where a group opened the Veil at a Samhain ritual and just left it open after they finished.
Maybe unskilled people are part of the problem.
I see no reason to challenge the first-hand experiences of others, particularly the experiences of people who’ve shown themselves to be intelligent and responsible. I have no problem believing Woods Wizard found and closed two portals (over the years I’ve found several and closed one), and I’ve been to too many rituals where someone opened a gate between the worlds and then neglected to close it.
Could this be causing a few of our incidents? Sure. Might it have been the source of my green glowing bird? Possibly. But I have a hard time seeing unskilled and irresponsible Pagans as the root cause of this much weirdness, this much chaos, a Veil that’s Samhain-thin year round, and multiple Wild Hunts riding near-constantly for the first time in memory.
Phaedra Bonewits is Isaac’s widow and a first-class magician in her own right. I asked her opinion on this question.
I agree with Isaac. Having viewed what has been perhaps more than my share of bad ritual over the years, I would have thought that if something bad would have happened from all those wonky portals, it would have manifested far worse than it has by now.
It also assumes that more people than I suspect can are going around opening gates and portals. Bad ritual is not often effective ritual.
With a bit of training, just about anyone can cast a circle and put a barrier around themselves. Whether that circle is truly between the worlds is another matter entirely – that takes skill and practice. I’ve been in rituals where the leader announced “we are between the worlds, beyond the bounds of time” and the circle was still 100% in the ordinary world. Opening a portal takes even more skill and practice. There’s a reason why ADF’s Core Order of Ritual asks a Gatekeeper deity to help with opening the gates – it’s a lot easier for Them.
I’ve been in rituals where someone found a tear in the Veil and was able to open it just enough to see Otherworldly light seeping in. But that’s not the same thing as opening a portal the size of a castle gate where a whole army can march through.
Besides that, my experience tells me Isaac was right. Most gates and portals will eventually close on their own, particularly those that were opened just for a ritual. There have been a few times when I would realize “we didn’t close everything up last night.” When I went back the next day, things were pretty much back to normal. The techniques and the skill level needed to open a portal that will stay open indefinitely are different from those needed to open one for a one-hour ritual.
The bottom line is that I don’t think unskilled people can cause this problem accidentally, and there aren’t enough people with the skills but without the ethics to cause it on purpose.
And not everything that crosses the Veil needs a human-opened portal. The Gods certainly don’t. Neither do some spirits of less-than-divine power.
Last year I participated in a ritual that required opening a specific portal in a specific location for a specific reason. The details of this ritual are oath-bound, which especially includes the reason it was done. My job was to open a portal, monitor and hold it for the duration of the ritual, then close it once the ritual was done.
That’s what I did. But during the ritual, I was explicitly told “Druid, this portal is here for your benefit, not ours” – and I knew those words were true. I created a convenient meeting point, but the beings we were dealing with can come into our world on their own… if not at will, then easily enough that finding an inadvertently open gate is no big deal.
In our exchange, Phaedra said:
Human brains like to believe that if we can understand something, we can control it. So if we “understand” that it’s all the gates and portals that are causing this, a) we have something at which to point a finger, and b) we have a problem that could conceivably be fixed. Oh, also c) we can say other people are causing the problems because we wiser folk would never do a dumb thing like leave open a gate or portal.
Those of us who are paying attention have no trouble seeing that the Otherworld is bleeding through into this world. For those with certain skills and gifts, the problem is not seeing it. But figuring out why it’s happening is hard, and figuring out what we can do about it is harder still.
And there may be nothing we can do about it, other than figure out how to live with the new reality.
So, leaving a gate or portal open is a bad thing (mainly, it’s a sloppy thing) and we shouldn’t do it. When we do, bad things can happen. But not on the scale of badness that we’re experiencing right now – not by a long shot.
I thank Woods Wizard for raising this issue. He’s far from the first person to suggest that human magical activity is behind this shift, but he’s the first one who got me to write about it in depth. Now that we’ve eliminated one possible cause, we can move on to exploring other causes.
And to figuring out how to deal with the shift.