“It’s like you become someone else when you’re leading a ritual.” One of the few compliments my ex-husband ever said to my face, after I led about 100 people through a lighted labyrinth ritual in the middle of downtown Providence in the late 1990’s. Then again, I’m not sure if he meant it as a compliment, but it definitely struck a chord with me.
I am largely an introvert. I tend to be quiet – watching and listening instead of talking. I don’t do well with chit-chat, large groups, and social niceties that are meant to fill time – versus deeper exploration. Yet I am able to engage a different part of my brain when it comes to teaching and performing – regardless of whether we’re talking dance, art, or witchcraft.
How do I switch from being holed up in my studio writing or arting to talking to or performing for large groups of people? The best way I can describe it as it’s like a magnet turns on. I go from feeling unable to engage to being on point and flowing out.
For leading ritual back in the early days, it was a matter of, “well someone has to do it, why not me? I’m already organizing people.”
The other day, my friend Michael and I were talking about our relationships with Catholicism – and how we had a mutual hang-up with the rule that women could not be priests. I think that was the sharpest disconnect for my 6 year old brain, and I said so. Michael noted, “because you wanted to be a priest, you knew that then at that age. And you are.”
I have to agree with him on all counts. Clergy intrigued me at a young age, but while I liked the nuns I knew and admire the work they do, that path felt lacking to me, for me. No, it was the public and private ritual interaction performed by priests that drew me, mixed with scholarly pursuits.
So leading ritual and a congregation felt natural to me, it didn’t seem like a stretch. It seemed natural. I started learning dance to bring another element to ritual.
And that same mysterious magnet engaged when I performed dance, but it would take many years for me to recognize that subtle connection between the priest/ess and the dancer aspects of me- and to make it as strong. It was naturally there, but the difference was that it quickly got covered up with a bunch of gunk from the politics and drama of dance.
With ritual, I just did what I felt and KNEW I was supposed to do. I didn’t worry about what other people thought because I trusted myself.
I started that way with dance, but suddenly there were a lot more factors involved: the focus on my physical body, the technique of movement, the appropriateness of a fusion, a chorus of opinions (informed and otherwise), and other people’s expectations and limitations. It wasn’t stagefright – I can’t say I’ve really ever had that. It was more like a chain around my dance mentally and spiritually. The further I got, the heavier and louder the headmonkeys. And you know what? The last thing movement needs is headmonkeys. It took nearly a decade to realize that, and start evicting them.
But now? Now when I dance, the priest/ess, the dancer, and the Witch are all one and the same. I’m not saying every dance performance I do is sacred or ritual dance, but when that magnet turns on, the energy shift is powerful and trans-formative. I become conduit and conductor. The music flows through me, I feel the energy in the room, and transfer/transform it for the people who are there. It’s not about a pretty costume or complex movements or years of experience – it’s solely that moment in time where everyone is linked. It’s not about me, it’s not about them, it’s about US.
So I think that perhaps when I am dancing or leading ritual, or some combination there of, it’s not that I become someone else. I am not exactly pulling someone or something into me and letting them take the reins. Rather, curtains are pulled aside, debris is washed away, veils are lifted – the inner sanctum becomes visible.
Which means perhaps: when I dance/ritual/witch/priest/ess – I am more ME than I am at any other time.