Children in Circle

Recently, there has been some discussion in the Pagan blogosphere about children in ritual circle: whether and when they belong there, what the considerations are.

Those of us with experience circling in Pagan ritual know that this can be an issue. A crying baby, an ebullient toddler, a sullen, checked-out teenager who just stands there and refuses to participate…these are all distractions that can make it hard for a ritual to bring participants into the Ritual State* (also known as Presence, Trance, or Flow).

I’ll be the first to admit: I’ve been in rituals that were pretty much ruined for me by kids. I’ve also been in rituals where the presence of children has been a delight, an adorable reminder that our religion is a multi-generational thing; that, though most of today’s Pagans are converts in adulthood, this will not be true in future decades.

My feelings about disruptive children in circle have varied widely. Sometimes I’ve felt stabs of impatience. Sometimes I’ve felt a sinking disappointment that a moment which could have been fervent and meaningful has been scrambled by childish cries or banter.

And then, as I said, there have been the waves of fond warmth.

When I feel kindness and indulgence and familial about children’s inappropriate behavior in circle, it is because I feel connected with them in community. Because I understand that they are just doing what they have to do at their stage of development, and I feel caring for them.

And that’s why we must continue—most of the time, anyway—to indulge children in our circles. Even if it sometimes diminishes our own experience. Because a central aspect of why we circle is to build connection with one another: to create, deepen and grow community.

Recently, I’ve begun work on organizing Moon Meet, the first Pagan gathering specifically for nontheist Pagans and those who are interested in what we do. I’m excited about it, and for exactly the same reason I don’t get upset at children doing what children do when I’m in circle: because it will build community. And that’s a big chunk of what religion generally—and our religion specifically—is about.

Yes, there are times when its inappropriate to have minors at a ritual. When that’s the case, don’t have them there. In some cases, it may be optimal to have separate activities for children. But when celebrating most reasons for rituals, I say let ’em stay if they want to. Parents, carry out your responsibility to shepherd them, but don’t feel shame when they act like the children they are. Goes with the territory.

We should let our kids turn the wheel of the year with us. Let them be a part of naming ceremonies and weddings and memorials with us.

Who knows? Perhaps many or most of them won’t want to be Pagans when they’re old enough to choose.

But in my experience, most of them will. And the community will grow, and healthy values will spread. The world will be a better place.

And by the time they’re grown, they’ll be terrific ritualists.

It’s not about us. It’s about something larger.

It’s about the future.

 

 

*For more about the Ritual State, see the Atheopagan Ritual Primer.

Between Worlds

It’s a thing many Pagans say: “We are between the worlds”. It signifies that within the contained context of ceremonial ritual, we are apart from the mundane—that we are somehow outside of the natural world, and suspended in a space wherein all is possible. Where magic can happen.

It isn’t something I say. I know that whether or not I have drawn the circle or otherwise created the felt sense of a container of sacred ritual space, I am still in the natural world, which is the only world there is. Many things are possible there, but not all. We are constrained by physics, by the nature of sacred Reality. What is found there is safety to experiment—to play—and to connect with one another and the greater whole of the Universe in manners which may be surprising, powerful, transformative, and profound.

Still, the key to ritual freedom, to making the magic of ritual, is suspension of disbelief and release of the stiffness of the internal critic’s voice, of embarrassment and shame. Just as we must do this to play let’s-pretend, to enjoy a book or a movie, so must we surrender our critical minds to the moment in order to submerge ourselves in ritual.

So, rather, I might say, We are here, free beings in sacred space, where so much is possible. Where we may be ourselves, naked hearts before the glory of the Sacred World. Joy is found here, and change, and release, and power. Welcome.

But I digress.

Because we all live in many worlds, don’t we? Not literally, but poetically: the world of home, the world of work, the world of family, the worlds of differing circles of friends. All are facets of the great glittering gem of the one world, but they can feel as different as Earth and the Moon.

Since Pantheacon, I have indeed been between worlds. Part of me, caught in the warm liquid swirls of community and exploration and pleasure that are the Con for me, and the rest plunged back suddenly into daily routines and workaday meetings, tasks, and deadlines. It has been a deeply challenging transition this year, and I didn’t give myself enough time for readjustment. I’m pining, a bit. And disenchanted with my ordinary life, lacking as it is all the newness and near-constant stimulation of the conference.

So what is a man to do, under such circumstances? How does an Atheopagan reintegrate into ordinary experience following a peak experience?

Well, I start by taking care of myself. I have begun my Spring Fast again, eschewing alcohol until the vernal equinox. This weekend, I will tidy my home and catch up on household tasks that weigh upon me. I’m taking time to look at the sky, to watch the sunset and enjoy the shining stars. And, sheerly for self-preservation, I have been trying only to track the barest sketchy outlines of the daily sewerage emitting from Washington, D.C.

Ritually, I light candles on my Focus and contemplate the relics of Pantheacon that rest there. I love and am loved, I think. I am respected and a leader. I am helping to build something meaningful. My community is strong.

Reflecting on the love in my life, on the remarkable, beautiful humans I have been blessed to count as friends and loved ones, I feel blessed. I feel empowered and strong.

At work, I have struggled to focus and be productive, but the sheer volume and urgency of the work drive performance whether I feel up to it or not. Once I have caught up on my sleep after this weekend, it will be better. And I have a friend at work whose interesting mind and respect for me have helped me to feel stronger in that arena than I might have otherwise. We had a visit this evening and it was a real shot in the arm.

But more than anything else, I have begun to plan, looking forward, to create some more of the kind of juicy joy that I had at Pantheacon in the coming months. Not at anywhere near that scale of event, of course, but on the scale I can manage. So I’m thinking about a little gathering for High Spring, and planning for Moon Meet in August.

The latter is really exciting: an Atheopagan festival, where our ways are the mainstream. Where atheists and agnostics and scientific pantheists and naturalistic and humanistic Pagans can explore together what it means to be ritual-enacting, Earth-revering cosmological naturalists, not in the margins around the godtalk of the theists, but as the norm. It’s going to be great!

So that’s how I do it: a little extra self-care to protect the tender parts that came to the surface during the Con, a continuation of my religious practice, and a look to the future when I can have some of that sweetness again.

In these hard times, all are needed. We need to keep coming together, to support one another as we can, even though great distances may separate—but not divide—us.

Take care, friends. Be good to one another, and yourselves, in all your various worlds.

Why Ritual?

For atheists new to the “pagan” part of Atheopaganism, the frequent question to crop up is: what’s up with these rituals? Why do you do those?

And to speak to the rational parts of their minds which are commonly what they most rely on, I answer that ritual enables us to enter the Ritual State (limbic/”trance” brain state, also known to artists as “flow”). It’s pleasurable. It adds depth and meaning to life.

But there is more than that. In marking the passage of the seasons, in conducting rituals to recognize, transform and heal our personal woundedness, we gain new hope and motivation towards our goals, and express deep intentions for the future. We connect with one another, building community.

We conduct rituals to mark special events in a person’s life, such as naming ceremonies, passage into becoming an adult, marriage, or death. These rituals are powerful reminders that our lives define an arc, with recognizable waystations, beginnings and ends. Indeed, we need more such rituals than we are generally offered: rites of passage into adulthood, for example, are sorely lacking in our mainstream culture.

But the core reason to do ritual is that it feels meaningful. Ritual practices help to sacralize the experience of living. And living in a re-sacralized world is a path to bringing respect into relationships which we have probably previously taken for granted, such as our relationship to Earth-given and labor-produced food, or the relationship between the plant kingdom and every breath we take.

We do ritual because humans are ritualizing organisms. We have been ritualizing the important moments and meanings of our lives since before we were fully human. Denying this, pretending that we have somehow transcended the manifold natures of our evolved brains to focus only on the “thinky” parts, is to deny the factual nature of the human experience.

We are still the creatures who painted the powerful and desirable/huntable creatures of their landscape upon cave walls, who left the prints of their hands in the caves to say, “I was here.”

And it is through ritual, even today, that we create memorable moments of power and meaning. That we connect with our deepest selves, and each other.

That’s why.

But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try. Give it several, because it may seem awkward at first.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Check out the Atheopagan Ritual Primer, and the posts here tagged Ritual Technologies and Techniques. And let me know how it goes–I may have suggestions or kudos or ideas for you!