Atheopagan Ritual: Deep Play

This is the third in a series of articles about creating Atheopagan rituals. They expand on the Atheopagan Ritual Primer, to which they will be added after the whole series has been published online.

The ritual structure outlined in the Primer is: Arrival, Qualities, (Intention), Deep Play, Gratitude and Benediction. This article focuses on the third phase: Deep Play.

Deep Play is the hardest phase to write about, because it can be nearly anything. It can be free-form dancing with spontaneously offered chant, song, spoken word, and music, or line or spiral dancing; it can be laying of hands on an ailing celebrant; it can be shared harmonic improvisational singing; it can be weaving together or braiding of strands of yarn representing Qualities to be integrated while singing a chant; it can be the passing of a mirror from hand to hand as each celebrant contemplates his reflection to the sound of a heartbeat drum; it may be drumming and singing while each celebrant in turn makes an offering or performs an action.

In short, it can be anything that enacts symbolic and/or literal implementation of the transformative work of the ritual.

Typically, that activity will:

  1. Stimulate, whether metabolically or contemplatively. Pulsing drumming, soaring harmonies, or calming/entrancing sounds like singing bells, tinkling chimes, or a quiet flute can set the emotional tone for celebrants while they are conducting the ritual’s Deep Work activity.
  2. Communicate Meaning, in the sense that what is done in Deep Play is freighted with metaphorical or symbol meaning beyond simple carrying out of an action.
  3. Preserve the Ritual State. It is critically important that whatever activities take place in the circle during Deep Play must be tailored to aid celebrants in maintaining their Ritual State—their condition of open, empowered Presence. Even in lighthearted ritual, there is an underlying seriousness to the work that must be honored. So while stimulation is key, too much stimulation or the wrong emotional tone can “break the spell”. Imagine the Ritual State, the “energy” of a ritual as a soap bubble which must be kept aloft without breaking.

Some Deep Play is designed to increase in energy and build to a climax; some to remain at a “steady boil” rather than to climb. Some may even rise and then fall, to the point that at its end, there is only a whisper of activity, and then silence. All are effective ways to work with the emotional feeling of Deep Play, and may be selected for usage when appropriate.

The potential palette of activities and emotional flavors of Deep Play is nearly infinite. This phase of ritual is where much of the opportunity for creativity and imagination in ritual design is found.

When Deep Play is completed—when all participants have completed its activity, the energy has climbed to a climax and/or dwindled to a murmur—it is time to begin the dénouement of the ritual: Gratitude and Benediction.

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