This past weekend I was chatting with some friends about various Pagan things while waiting for my local open circle’s Imbolc ritual to start. Talk eventually turned to my coven and a local High Priest I consider a friend and mentor turned to me and said “I heard you don’t let anyone sit down at your rituals.” I was kind of taken aback by the question. I don’t make anyone do anything, but I certainly have preferences and my preference is generally to stand.
I think one of the reasons my friend asked is that he has mobility issues and is interested in our upcoming “open house” next month. Certainly I understand such things, I have serious knee issues and have trouble kneeling and sitting on my knees, so I’m completely sympathetic. Before I answered my friend I did laugh a little bit. I have a coven sister with a bad back, she often sits during ritual and we keep a couple of seats in our Temple Room to make sure everyone is comfortable. But in a bigger sense, I completely admit to preferring that people stand during ritual.
Some of that is probably the result of my early Pagan environment. In my baby-witchling days group rituals were either outdoors in parks (and as college brats we didn’t have lawn chairs) or in big, old, Midwestern houses with lots of people. We didn’t have room to sit, and besides no one wanted to sit on my basement floor back then (and sometimes on my carpeted living room floor too). I do remember a few exceptions here and there but generally we were almost always standing.
My local eclectic group (where I was with my friend on Saturday) nearly always sits down during ritual. When we set up our ritual space at the local UU Church we’re always forming a circle with the chairs because sitting is the group’s default (with the exception of the ritual leaders of course). When I purposefully didn’t set up a ring of chairs for our Samhain ritual this past October people started building their own. Due to the amount of people we were expecting there wasn’t enough room for a circle of chairs, besides, since it was my ritual (in that I was leading it) I thought that sitting or standing should be my choice. Certainly we wanted anyone to sit who needed to, but for everyone else we were hoping they’d happily stand. There was a lot of groaning when I asked them not set up the chairs and it surprised me.
Certainly there times when sitting during ritual is simply the right thing to do, regardless of circle size. If ritual involves an art project or we’re filling a mojo bag, certainly I would expect for everyone to sit down. Sometimes sitting (or laying down) during a guided meditation is the proper course of action. I like standing, but there are times for sitting down that are rather obvious.
In a bigger sense I like to stand during ritual because I think it better honors the powers and deities I call during ritual. Perhaps the Watchtowers and the gods don’t care whether I stand or not, but it feels appropriate to me. At my local eclectic circle I started standing during the calls to the quarters and soon most everyone else started following suit. It’s nice to see, but what really surprises me is how quickly everyone sits down when deity is being called to. If we’re going to stand up for the “Watchtowers of the West” it makes even more sense (to me at least) to stand for the goddess Pomona (or whoever else).
There’s another reason I like to stand and that’s because ritual makes me want to move. The best ritual is participatory and I feel more involved when I’m standing. When powers are being called to I’m calling to those powers too! When people are moving energy around I’m moving energy around as well. Even bad ritual gets me revved up and excited. I want to stand up and move at least a little bit, sitting feels like a punishment.
When I sit and “watch” a ritual I feel as if I might as well be at a theatre. In such instances I’m simply an audience instead of a participant. I don’t want to be an audience, if I’m going to do that I might as well head back to the Methodist Church. The great thing about Witch Ritual is just how involved it is, that’s what makes it different (and in my mind superior to) other forms of worship*.
There’s another thing to consider here too, I think people are more involved when they are standing up. It’s harder to tune out of a ritual while standing. Maybe this only applies to me, but I know that when I’m sitting down and watching a ritual I’m far more likely to drift away into my own thoughts. There’s a physicality to standing up that keeps me a bit more engaged.
No judgements here, people are free to stand or sit as they choose. Certainly I’d never make anyone stand up during ritual, and as I said at the beginning I have sympathy and understanding for those who can’t. Individuals and groups have to do what works best for them, but for me, what works best is standing on my own two feet.
*Calm down, I’m a Witch of course I think what I do is superior to other things or I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m sure you’re pretty excited about your own practice, and if not, you might to want re-evaluate.