The Secrets, Pt. II: Ritual and Observance

I’ve been thinking more about the idea behind this post.

Had a good comment exchange with Yvonne Aburrow about the concept of a day when we can share our deepest and most shameful secrets. She agrees that it could be really beneficial for many; an opportunity for the kind of “absolution” that Catholics, for example, seem to get out of confession.

Now, I think of guilt as the most useless of emotions except possibly envy. It doesn’t make us better people; it just gnaws at us long after we have learned the lesson of whatever we did to disappoint ourselves. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, but we grow up steeped in the Overculture, with its jive about “sin” and judgment, and it’s hard to avoid getting some of that gunk on us, especially if we were raised in a religion that specializes in it.

I like the idea of “secrets day” a lot, but I’m concerned that if those shameful secrets fell into malicious hands, people could be hurt. So the challenge becomes: how do you do this without people being exposed to harm, yet also gain the benefit of compassionate personal listening?

The thought that comes to mind is, do it in batches. If there are 12 participants, each contributing a secret, but nobody knows which is whose, the anonymity is preserved while the secrets get aired and a compassionate absolution may be ritually conferred. You would have to make sure that there are enough participants that it’s truly unclear whose secret is whose. If you wish, you can even add a couple of “false secrets” to the mix to ensure that no one is quite sure whether the secret is real or invented, adding even greater anonymity.

This sounds like a fitting occasion for a cauldron ritual. These are a Pagan staple and can be a little hackneyed, so let’s describe an appropriate one.

The Arrival and Qualities phases of the ritual are conducted as usual, with particular care to invoke compassion, forgiveness and understanding during the Qualities phase. In the Working, or Deep Play, place a cauldron (or, lacking one, a large bowl) in the center of the circle. Each participant is given a 4″ square of paper (all should be the same color) upon which to write their secret: something they have done or about themselves which they find embarrassing or shameful. The paper is then folded in quarters and placed into the cauldron or bowl (which may contain one or more false secrets as well).

The cauldron is stirred with a stick, wand or long spoon to mix up the secrets and ensure that no one can tell whose is whose.

A recitation of “double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble” is strictly optional.

Next, one by one, each participant draws a secret from the cauldron and reads it aloud. There is no way to know whose secret it is–it may even be their own, or a false one. Other participants may express sympathy, compassion and kind thoughts to the reader, as if it were their own. In this way, the person whose secret it really was will hear these messages of kindness, without having to divulge that the secret was theirs.

Following each secret and its responses, the circle chants:

We see you, we absolve you, your secret is forgiven.

When all the secrets have been read, they are all returned to the cauldron, and then set alight. Wetting with some isopropyl alcohol will make for a festive, leaping but brief fire that will thoroughly consume the secrets, but be sure if you do this that you have a fire extinguisher handy and that the bowl, if using one, is Pyrex. While the flames are burning, the circle chants:

We are free, we are clean,
W
e confront the future whole
We have learned, we have changed
We are growing wiser

Then comes time for the Gratitude phase of the ritual. Each participant can speak to how they feel now that their shameful secret has been forgiven.

The ritual leader closes the circle with the Benediction:

We are all perfectly imperfect. We are all learning on this journey. We have all found ourselves in situations where we don’t know what to do. We are human. We are doing better. We are clean now, and free. Let us go forward, and live!

Following the ritual, the ashes may be buried or scattered over water.

As to a time of year, I’m thinking this would be a good ritual to do around the February Sabbath, which I celebrate as Riverain, the Sabbath of Water, because it is the height of the rainy season in the Mediterranean climate where I live. Not only is it “cleansing”, but at that time of year I think about the secrets under the ground, the tiny sprouting seeds, and the old bones and compost that surrounds them. A good time to be rid of poisons that fester underground, to transform them into new life.

6 thoughts on “The Secrets, Pt. II: Ritual and Observance

  1. Thank you for broaching this very important subject.
    Your idea for a ritual is attractive, but I would caution people not to expect too much from it until it’s been field tested, and possibly tweaked. Things often emerge in practice that one does not anticipate in theory. And it can probably be improved by having a set structure for the group to affirm its acceptance of the person confessing, flaws and all. I’m sure we have had chants for that somewhere along the line.

    I don’t know if there is an adequate substitute for having a close knit group of spiritual kin whom one can trust to be fully supportive and infallibly discreet.

    Since I’m solitary these days, I have my own method for facing my regrets. It’s one of the most important things I do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This feels good as an idea, Mark, but needs tweaking. Problem is that in some cases the reader might very well recognize the handwriting.

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    • I suppose that could be possible. So the solution is to make the group even larger to reduce the probability of that happening. I don’t see any practical way to reduce the risk to zero.

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      • Along those lines though I see the possibility of real ethical and legal liabilities beyond simple embarrassment.

        What do you do if someone’s confession is that they “date” 15-year olds or fled the scene of a fatal DUI or just flat out murdered someone?

        Information can be a dangerous as well as valuable commodity.

        Like

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