Generally speaking, I do not attend public rituals.
It started when I began attending rituals outside of my own little group, and had some really terrible experiences. In one ritual, the ritual leader was encouraging people to become warriors for mother earth and he proceeded to have each of the 100 attendees come up individually, take a hold of a machete, and stab viciously at the Earth. I was flabbergasted and more than slightly disturbed. I know what the ritual leader was trying to do (well, maybe, I think I do) but was horrified by how he chose to go about it.
In another, I was dragged across an unknown piece of property at night in 20 degree (F) weather for four hours. By the end of it, I didn’t know which way was up or had any sense of having accomplishing anything. My poor feet didn’t warm up until somewhere around noon the next day.
I had another friend who went to a public ritual recently and ended up laughing so hard at what was happening that she had to leave. She felt terrible about it, but even while telling us about her experience she couldn’t stop giggling as she described the ritual, which was pretty outlandish.
The last public ritual I went to was led by a Voodoo House here in New Orleans, and it was lead by a very established priestess. She also made it clear that it was going to be a codified ritual done by her House. The public was invited and included in the ritual, but the bulk of the ritual was done by the Mambo and Mamba of the House.
Now that was one of the most profound rituals that I have been a part of. But it was because the House did their ritual, the way they would have done it had no public been attending. And they knew how to do ritual!
If you think that you’ve had a bad ritual experience, you probably have. I’m sure it’s happened to most of you. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was when it was appropriate to remove myself from a ritual that was not right for me.
After being Eclectic for so long, one of the big things that convinced me that Wicca was right for me was the codification of the ritual itself. The ritual that I found in my Blue Star Circle had an amazing impact on my ritual experience. I had never before realized what was really supposed to happen in ritual. Having a codified ritual to do every time allows me to know several things.
A. I know what to do: I know where to stand, how to move, what actions to take at specific times, and what words to say. Because of all these things, I can actually focus on the ritual itself. You may think this is funny, but because I’ve got the these physical things down and don’t have to think about them, I can actually get my mind into a ritual mindset, ignore the details of the mundane world and focus on what I am doing spiritually and magically. I’m not standing there worrying about how I’ll respond if the priestess asks me to do something (yes, this has happened to me as a first time guest in a ritual). My mind can just be there, in the moment.
B. I know what to expect: I understand the mindset I need to bring, the deities that I will be working with, the names of the various entities that are called, and that I’ll be working within a Pantheon that I’m comfortable with. I heard a story once from a Priestess of Blue Star’s sister lineage who attended a ritual for feminine strength. They ended up calling Lilith, and the priestess painted everyone’s foreheads with menstrual blood (without explaining this ahead of time). I’m all for feminine strength, but Lilith is not a Goddess that I want to call on, and I certainly do not want some strange woman’s days old menstrual blood on my forehead!
C. I’m working with traditions that I’m comfortable with and that I understand. One of the things that I dislike about general, Eclectic ritual, is that I never know what traditions are going to pop up. I prefer to understand the background of the things I’m doing in ritual so that I know that I’m not upsetting anyone or anything. I also feel extremely uncomfortable when a ritual leader starts trying to call on every God/dess out there without thought to how those deities might get along with each other. I somehow doubt that the Egyptian Sekhmet really wants to have anything to do with the Welsh Henwen. In most public rituals I’ve attended where this has happened, I realize that the ritual leaders were trying to make sure everyone was represented. For me this doesn’t work and I stand through ritual waiting for lightning to strike (which my S. O. actually saw happen once). I like understanding the things I’m doing in ritual. Another friend was telling me that her group said “Thou art Goddess, May you never thirst”. “May you never thirst” comes from the Church of All Worlds. The Church of All Worlds is based on the Science Fiction novel Stranger in a Strange land, so “may you never thirst” is based on the fact that Mars has no water. Why would I care about Mars? I’m working here on Earth. And “Thou art Goddess”? You’re going to call Hekate into your ritual and try to tell her that you, puny mortal, are a Goddess? Really? I know this has become a common practice, but I do not like trying to convince the Goddess of the crossroads that I’m just like her. I’m not.
D. And most importantly, I know exactly what I’m walking into. A usual Blue Star ritual takes about an hour. Depending on the work we’re doing, it might be less or more, but I know that I’m not going to be standing there for an unreasonable amount of time. Anything more than an hour and a half and you probably aren’t paying attention anyway. You can only really focus for so long. And if a ritual leader can’t get the work done in an efficient amount of time, I don’t have much faith in the work they are doing. Yes…there are long and involved rituals out there, but…unless you’re working with an established group that knows exactly what they are doing and know how to work together after doing so for a long period of time, I don’t have much faith in the fact that whatever you’re trying to accomplish is going to get done. I know I could do a long ritual with my coven. I know them and trust them. I don’t think I should be doing rituals like that with strangers. Everyone says that you should enter a Circle with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, how can I do that with people I don’t know?
The goal of ritual is to put your conscious mind at rest and to bring your unconscious mind forward. This has never happened to me in a public ritual. Usually public rituals just make me cringe and feel uncomfortable. Religion is personal. While I like what most people are trying to do with public ritual, for me it’s just best to avoid them.
So it’s extremely ironic that I will be priestessing our community’s Oestara ritual this year (blame the S.O. on this one!). I will be doing a Blue Star ritual, not an Eclectic ritual. But I hope that I don’t forget my own experiences and that I can make it as worthwhile a ritual as the Voodoo ritual that I went to last year.