Ritual: Perfection, We All Strive For It, But Should We?

Ritual: Perfection, We All Strive For It, But Should We? September 16, 2020

Mabon celebration at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, September 2019. CREDIT: ANN TRIP

I went to my congregation’s virtual service as I do every Sunday morning. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, NJ usually holds seamless services; we have great ministers, an attentive staff and an awesome tech team. I am not just saying that because I am on it. We have been running virtual services for six months now, so we have it all pretty down pat. Well, so we thought, until this week. We accidentally ran last week’s service. No one is perfect. This mishap though reminds me of all the rituals I have been to and have performed that were well, less than perfect.

Our Ostara celebration was a bit comical; a parent and child joined us for the first time. The child kept running in and out of the circle. The child did not know better, the parent wanted to participate and quietly asked him to sit but the behavior continued. I did not stop him, after all isn’t that was spring is about – new life and energy.

Last Mabon’s ritual was rather interesting. I spent the month before hand planning this elaborate ritual with one of my CUUPS members. A bushel of apples to use as part of the ceremony and for a craft. I emailed the ritual outline to our group a week in advance, before I left for my vacation. I asked a member to bring acorns and an altar cloth. The tree in her yard produces the largest most beautiful acorns. Always a nice touch for Mabon. My only job was to bring the music, stones to represent the quarters, and a knife to cut the apple, not my athame of course. Since I was on vacation and arriving home the day of the rite, I wanted almost nothing to do.

The night before the ritual, that member providing those decorations decided the ritual set up was not to what she was accustomed to and pulled out. I sent out a notification to the group but I had to scramble with only a few hours to get some fall decorations and find acorns in my yard. Not terrible but I forgot the knife to cut the apple in half to show the five-pointed star in the center. A member jumped out of circle before I said a word and hustled for a knife. OK, that rite was not awful.

Then there was Imbolc, when the congregation’s fire alarm went off and we had to leave during the ceremony. Fire alarms? We didn’t even burn the sage yet. If that wasn’t bad enough it happened a second time, in which we decided to continue our rite, knowing for certain it was a false alarm.

Samhain celebration at the UU Congregation at Montclair, November 2019. CREDIT: ANN TRIP

I think last Samhain takes the cake.  It was already a rough night for me, my last day at my full time job that I loved. I probably should have asked someone else to do the rite but I thought I could handle it. First, we were unprepared for a large gathering and had to keep grabbing chairs for latecomers. Then we heard a couple fighting through an open window. Our minister who joined us that evening thankfully stepped out to fix the window. Then I set my outline on fire, not once but twice. I also fumbled on some of the lines.

We continued through all of those mishaps and chuckled during most of them. This is important.

I attended a few rituals by this one group where the high priestess wanted everything perfect. Parts handed out to only her group members, which is fine but sometimes participation from guests makes them feel included. Any time a member blundered something, whether it was a saying, a gesture, or any minuscule thing she would give a look to them as if they committed a crime. Once we even had to start over. It was not a joyful event; it made the newbies, including me, afraid to move.

I think this is why even after training in my grove for years I feared running a rite in my own CUUPS chapter UUCM Sacred Wheel. To be so rigid and high-strung it takes away from the ceremony. As my elder always says, “Our deities do not expect us to be perfect, they are not, but they do expect our best effort.”

No matter how hard you plan, go over the ritual outline with the group and work out all the kinks, something will go wrong, it is how you respond to those mishaps. These things happen; there are usually lessons in them if you look for them.

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