When Ritual Goes Wrong

When Ritual Goes Wrong June 28, 2011

Recently I had the misfortune to attend a ritual that was a disaster. It was such a mess that I felt myself becoming physically ill…speaking to another attendee later I discovered that I was not the only person this happened to. Normally, I would chalk this up to a bad experience and just resolve never to attend another ritual led by that individual. But the individual teaches paganism and ritual to a host of impressionable folks who will 1.) think this is what ritual is supposed to be and 2.) get themselves into big cosmic crap if they someday do a ritual like this and an actual Deity decides to really show up.
So here’s a real simple list of things to do and not do in Ritual space…

Leading ritual is not an easy thing and it is a very specific gift. But even if you aren’t a gifted or charismatic ritual leader, you can be prepared. You can know what you want to do before the ritual begins, especially if you are doing a big group ritual. Once inside ritual space, you should have a clue and not randomly start chatting with others present about what might or might not be a fun thing to do next. Have some respect for the Holy Powers, the others present and take at least 10 minutes to plan ahead. If you are too lazy or inept to do this, please refrain from leading any rituals.

If you are going to be calling on the elemental powers, the ancestors and the Gods, it is just basic courtesy to have some sort of offering for Them. To call on them and expect Them to show up and gift you with blessings without any reciprocity is absurd. The collective Holy Powers are not a universal gumball machine dispensing wishes with no expectation of connection, respect or effort. Here I will openly admit to a strong bias against rituals whose sole purpose is to “take the energy raised and everybody use it for whatever you want!”. This taps into the worst habits of self-absorption and self-indulgence. Especially when you didn’t even bother to bring the Powers you call on for this boon even a token gift. Ritual needs to be about more than just the humans involved. One of the reasons our planet is in its current predicament is that humans have forgotten how to walk in balance with their Dead, the Land Spirits and the Gods. More human hubris is the last thing we need, and in this time of crisis asking for personal favors should be balanced out by asking for something that can benefit the planet.

If you are leading a ritual, please stay focused and do not get sidetracked into random digressions and 5 minute side conversations about how you want to go to Ireland or England or stories about the previous trip you planned and how it fell through *WHILE YOU ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF RITUAL*. If you cannot focus long enough and have the self-discipline to be respectful (or at least pretend to be respectful) to the Powers you are calling on, do not lead a ritual. If you actually believe in the Powers you are calling on, you should be well aware of the need to treat Them with respect. If you do NOT believe in Them, then leave Them alone. It is a stain on your wyrd to treat the Holy Powers disrespectfully. And to teach (by example) others to cavalierly call on Them is a desecration.

Finally, if you are going to take on the role of a teacher or authority or expert in the community, then you become responsible for any mistakes or disrespectful habits you pass along to your students. There are serious consequences wyrd-wise for imparting crappy training to folks who may have no clue that there is something deeply amiss.

Ritual can be so powerful…and I have been blessed to regularly be in ritual space with a ritual leader who is prepared, deeply respectful and powerfully connected. So when I see crap going on I know it for what it is and shield like mad and move on. Most people aren’t as lucky and are too inexperienced or have never been around the real deal to know they have stumbled into a hot mess. After this particular ritual, there were folks (including the leader) talking about how great it went. I have to wonder if they really think so or if it is like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” where people who are less experienced are afraid to call someone with more experience and community clout on their crap? Do they think the reason they feel no energy or connection going on is because they are too new to sense it instead of the obvious: there was no energy or connection. If you are new, trust your instincts. I don’t care if the ritual leader is calling him or herself the Grand Poobah of Paganism and has a moonstone the size of a hubcap on her head. Can they back up their talk and deliver? Are they prepared? Are they focused and respectful? Is it always about gimme gimme gimme and benefiting the humans present or is there real reverence and connection to the ancestors, the elemental powers and the Gods? If alarm bells come up, listen. And run…


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