Rituals Are Important. But They Aren’t Activism.

In times like these, those of us who are of sound mind and values know: we must do something.

In Atheopaganism, we believe in the power and necessity of human ritual. We understand the science about why rituals work, and why they are important to us. We celebrate the turning of the seasons and personal and familial milestones in life, and we conduct rituals to focus our attention, our intention, and our future activity in pursuit of our goals.

It’s important and meaningful stuff.

However, we also understand that ritual’s effect is the transformation of consciousness: more specifically, the transformation of the consciousnesses of the ritual’s participants. It is powerful and effective at that, but that is the limit of its effect.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of postings in Pagan groups on Facebook in which posters advocate for “spellwork”, “hexes”, “bindings” and other so-called “spiritual activism”, with the goal that these will influence the current state of public affairs, such as the many disastrous policies of the U.S. Trump administration.

Sorry, folks, but that’s not activism. It may make you feel as though you are doing something, but you’re not. And therein lies its danger.

Now, I think that rituals for activists are great. They can help to support, motivate, focus and encourage us as we work to create a better world. At this year’s Pantheacon, I was a presenter of “Arming the Warriors of the Earth: An Activist’s Ritual”, which was all about empowering those who commit themselves to public benefit advocacy.

But that doesn’t mean that holding a ritual is going to affect things all by itself.

Our values as Atheopagans advocate for a better, kinder, more ecologically responsible world. And for that world to come requires physical, material-world action…and not just symbolic, ritual action.

We must communicate with decision makers—often, politely, and with clarity about what we want. We must vote, and volunteer to organize voters. We must write letters to the editor, and talk with our friends. We must speak out against bigotry and injustice. We must run for office ourselves. We must support the organizations that are doing the heavy lifting in advocating for our values. We must march. We must spend our money where it does good, or at least less harm.

We must be voices for what we want to see in the world.

So certainly: light that candle and speak that invocation for peace and kindness. But then get on the phone and let your representatives know exactly what you expect from them. Write a letter. Join a phone bank. Volunteer for a weekend canvass.

And vote. Vote, vote, vote.

Do something real and tangible to advocate for a better world.

You’ll be surprised at how good it feels. And as millions upon millions act, how much change can be made.

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Requiem and Invocation

Friends and Allies, let us grieve.

Let us grieve that an era of progress and forward thinking appears to be drowning in a sea of ignorance, hatred and fear.

Let us grieve that reason has been swamped by credulity, and science by superstition and willful ignorance.

Let us grieve.

Let us tear the words from the walls of our bodies, howling: we have lost so much.

The children suffer. The good green Earth bleeds. The water is sullied, the creatures die, the air itself stifles the living of the world. The people are punished for being themselves.

Our leaders are dupes and psychopaths. They hate this good world as much as they must, at some deep place, hate themselves. And they seek to destroy what they hate.

Yes, let us grieve.

Let us wail our sorrow, and weep our tears for the children so cruelly treated, the creatures who are no more, the people who will be poisoned.

For our kindred who are without shelter, warmth, clothing, food. In this, so wealthy a place.

Light a candle tonight, and weep.

Weep now, because we cannot keep the awfulness of this bottled up inside us. We must vent it out. We must empty ourselves so we can go again to the palisade, so we can again clothe ourselves with what armor we have and struggle mightily against the coming of the wrongness, of the evil.

We are threatened with triple poisons.

With overwhelm, unto paralysis.

With shock, unto paralysis.

With outrage, unto paralysis.

Let us cast these poisons out. For we are mighty.

Friends and Allies, let us wash ourselves.

Let us bathe in the warm, soft waters of the world as it should be. Of freedom, and kindness, and caring for the magnificent living Earth.

Let us be clean.

Let us be clean.

Let the cooling balm of blessed water revive us, reinform us, restore us.

Let us grieve, and wash, and be reborn.

And let our power be a force in the world. Let our voices rise to the skies. Let our votes and our word of mouth and our phone calls and our letters and our lobbying visits and our canvassing visits speak truth and kindness into the world.

May we be heard.

May we be heard.

Friends and Allies, let us see ourselves.

Let us know and love each part of ourselves. May

We bear ourselves honorably

May we celebrate joyously. May we

Know pleasure and wisdom and love

And may the better world come.

(So be it, so be it)

So we say in reverent observation

Of the Holy Universe

It is done.

(It is done, it is done, it is done,

it is done)

Why I Don’t Write Ritual Scripts

I’m asked pretty frequently for sample Atheopagan group (as opposed to solitary) ritual scripts, and I never deliver them. Here’s why.

I don’t write ritual scripts. I have hardly ever been to a group ritual where leaders/facilitators “read their lines” (or had obviously memorized them) that didn’t feel like a waste of my time, and I don’t want my rituals to be like that. I want them to be engaged and juicy and alive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in ritual structure, and I don’t think rituals should just consist of people “winging it”. Preparation is necessary. Knowing the concepts and images that you want to communicate is important.

But reading from a script is really problematic. Lighting is always an issue, and having one hand tied up with holding the script limits the somatic freedom of the reader. Eye contact with participants becomes impossible, and that really lets the air out of the balloon of the group energy. And people don’t speak as they write; written lines can often sound stilted, or pompous, or excessively flowery.

Memorization, too, is not optimal. How many times have we listened to someone reciting something memorized, only to have them stop abruptly, unable to remember the next line? Suddenly the flow of the moment is broken and the illusion of spontaneous speech is destroyed. Even after they get going again, something has been lost. And the nervousness of performing in public makes that kind of interruption that much more likely.

An outline is enough, in my opinion. An outline that can be written on an index card. But for most of us, that outline will only work if we practice beforehand. 

Which, I know, is kind of a radical proposal for many Pagans.

Spontaneity is good. Extemporaneous speaking, if you’re good at it, comes from the heart and allows you to engage with participants while speaking. But if there are key images or concepts the ritual needs you to communicate in a given piece of speaking, stand in front of a mirror and practice your extemporizing. You’ll come up with turns of phrase that you’ll like, and you can use them in the actual ritual.

There are exceptions to the reading rule. Sometimes you want to introduce a short quote or a piece of poetry or prose into a ritual, and you can’t memorize it. Well, practice it first, at the very least, so your reading of it is fervent, heartfelt and from you, rather than from a piece of paper. And read it from a binder, a book or something better than a flimsy sheet of paper flopping around. Give it some dignity.

Ritual skills come to the fore when you’re freed from a script: not only speaking, but movementsinging, perhaps even rhythm. If you’re grounded and skilled, you can move and build the emotional energy and cohesion of a group without a memorized script.

Another reason I don’t write ritual scripts is that it’s easy to get carried away with them, writing long blocks of text that are hard to memorize and boring to watch someone read. Rituals work best when everyone is engaged, not just watching others do stuff. Many of us have issues with backs or feet or knees such that just standing and watching is actually painful. So short speeches are best.

I tend to use a very simple ritual structure: Arrival, Invoking Qualities and Intentions, Deep Play (“Working”), Gratitude, Benediction. These are all described in detail in the Atheopagan Ritual Primer and in the linked posts. I find that this structure works well to sink participants into the Ritual State of enhanced Presence, or “flow”. Typically, most of the “speechifying” is in the Arrival phase, when grounding and establishment of sacred space are the agenda.

You can fit that structure on an index card, with enough keyword reminders to keep you on track.

We do rituals to feel good, to heal ourselves, to focus our intentions and resolve, to transform that within us which is ripe for change. We don’t do them to stand around through lifeless speeches. So learn those ritual skills! Become a public speaker, a singer, a drummer, a dancer. Engage your body and your mind and bring them to the ritual circle with you as you lead all or part of a ritual. Your alive presence there will accomplish much more than any written speech, however beautiful.

So there it is: why I don’t write ritual scripts. I write outlines, but not scripts. But more than anything else, I prepare myself to be ready to deliver the messages with which I am charged by a given ritual. You have to be skilled to “just wing it” in ritual; if you’re not there yet, give yourself the best chance of success by preparing ahead of time.

Best of luck with your rituals, however simple or complex!