Why I Like Codified Ritual

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.

A Blue Star Altar

A Blue Star Altar

Give Freely What Was Freely Given

I was reading an article that’s being thrown all over Facebook as proof of how mainstream and accepted that Wicca/Witchcraft is these days. The article is “Spelling Lessons: Wiccan Studies Is on the Rise” from the Village Voice. It talks about the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies in New York and how it’s openly teaching the community about Paganism.

One of the main themes of the article is money; how the students of the Academy have been hit hard by the financial times, and about how the Academy has had to raise their tuition.

I have a lot of issues with this. This is supposed to be a Wiccan school. In every Wiccan tradition that I know of, one takes an oath at initiation not to charge students for being taught the craft.

No one that I’ve known personally who teaches Wicca charges for the learning process towards initiation. In all the learning circles I’ve been a part of, students have helped pay for supplies and chipped in money if needed to rent a space. But they have never paid the priest or priestess who is teaching them.

When I posed this question of paying to learn the Craft on another forum, I was blown away by all the responses I got that all agreed that one should have to pay to learn the craft. You pay for your education in an academic setting, don’t you? Why would learning Wicca be any different? You buy books, don’t you? Obviously people don’t appreciate something unless they have to pay for it.

Huh?

One woman said “We do realize that this is a profound taboo that we are violating, but it’s worked for us and we’re glad we did it, although we do understand and accept that most people in the Craft cannot and will not violate this taboo, and we don’t expect or want their choices and decisions to be the same as ours.” She also went on to explain why they had made the decision and explained that she asked for fifteen dollars a lesson. Fifteen dollars is not unreasonable and she was very upfront about why she was doing it. She also said that as soon as a student got past the dedicant stage (or the Wicca 101 stage), the fee was dropped. This I can respect.

Someone else said, “My current course I am doing via correspondence, and it is on the high end $50 per lesson, but it comes with over 25 pages of written text, and a long distance phone call. I really don’t think she is making much on me at all, and the little she might be im glad to give.[Sic]” While she may be glad to give this money, whoever this teacher is, is definitely making a lot of money off of her and whoever else is enrolled in these classes. This is an ethical issue to me. I have a great job and make a decent living, I don’t know that I could afford to pay fifty extra dollars a week to pay for learning about my spiritual path. And no one should have to.

I think Jason Mankey summed it up pretty well (and if you’re not familiar with Jason Mankey, check out his blog Panmankey) in his response: “When teaching a specific tradition, it’s much easier, ‘this is a part of our tradition, I’m not charging for it’. Honestly, the idea of anyone charging for information specific to a tradition is rather revolting, and in my mind it instantly screams ‘unlegit trad’. However, getting paid to teach ‘Newbie 101’ doesn’t bother me so much, and even with the great amount of books out there it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a teacher around to ask questions. The moment you bring that student into the circle though . . . then the questions start.”

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

This Academy is clearly making people pay for the privilege of being initiated. And it certainly doesn’t sound like they’re teaching responsibly either. The article states, “Wicca is an open religion that prides itself on acceptance, drawing inspiration from Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Native Americans—any and all spiritual practices may be included in Wiccan worship. Thus, religious tenets are widely interpreted, with each high priest and priestess changing spells to fit their needs”, which is patently untrue. Wicca is extremely codified, while different Wiccans may worship different Gods and Goddess, and traditions do handle those things differently, within the Wiccan traditions (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Georgian, Feri, Blue Star), ritual is very specific. The article continues to say, “Although Ravenhawk doesn’t say it outright, her students might also be leaving to get their educations elsewhere”.

And maybe that is also a part of this issue. I don’t see how you can really teach the Craft to more than a few people at a time. So much of it requires intense focus and hands-on learning. Most of the teachers I know refuse to take just anyone who wanders in off the street. Most students have to prove their willingness to learn, that they want to be there…and maybe paying for lessons is one way to do that. But I have a whole body twinge when I hear of someone charging students this way. Wicca 101 is one thing, you can get that from any Llewellyn book you care to pick up, from the internet or from other less than scholarly sources. Initiation though? That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms right there.

In Blue Star, drawing down is literally invoking a god or goddess into your body. Do you really want someone who doesn’t actually know what they’re doing trying that? When you’re initiated into a tradition, you’re usually working with powerful magic and with the Gods themselves. This is not Wicca 101. Everyone I know that’s tried this stuff before they were ready had terrible things happen to them…in one case a house burned down. The teachers I know work very closely and very personally with their students. It’s the only good way to teach this stuff. Most of the teachers I know also refuse to teach over the phone, realizing that there are some things that just have to be shown. Some schools are very responsible in what they teach…others, not so much. But when you have a school that has questionable teachings and they are charging large sums of money for the privilege of being initiated, and that is what the media is focusing on to bring a positive view of the Wiccan community, we have a problem. Is this really how we want our community represented? Even if it is with a positive attitude?

In addendum: To clarify the quote above, “My current course…i’m glad to give.” the author added: .”Let me clarify. It is $50 per lesson, not per week. 25+ pages per lesson for 12 lessons, 3 cds, and a OVERSEAS long distance phone call and postage from the UK………Just thought you might want to amend your blog so it is accurate. Sorry for not being more clear.”