Yup, channeling Drawing Down the Moon there.
Our grove is having an ongoing discussion about focus in ritual and the effect of silliness on workings, energy, and ritual results.
We have (almost) seven full members of the grove, and we’re all pretty friendly. We laugh a lot in ritual, get sidetracked over little jokes, and generally have a good time. It’s been brought to our attention that, at times, we dispel any energy we raise because we get drawn onto tangents. We are, in short, unfocused on the work at hand.
That’s one opinion, anyway. Others feel that our silliness is part of our charm: our rituals have a fun flavor because that’s just who we are. Yes, we’re doing serious work, but it’s okay to be a little silly about it. This is our only time together, eight days a year, and part of the magic is spending time together.
So where do I fall in this discussion?
I’m probably responsible for 30% of the goofing off in ritual. I acknowledge that, but I’m not okay with it. I’m also not okay with how unfocused I’ve been getting. It’s not excusable, to my mind, but it is indisputably my fault. As a senior grove member said, only the individual is responsible for his or her level of focus: no one can distract you but yourself.
That’s not the real trouble, though. I’ve started wondering about the level of performance and stunt I’m bringing to ritual.
I’m becoming infamous for doing off-the-wall things: I dressed as a maenad to invoke Bacchus and initiated my “converts” to his “mystery” by feeding them honey from a turkey baster painted to look like a phallus. I portrayed the Earth Mother, partially disrobed, and had people write on my body with markers. I was one of three to perform a masked Green Man dance to an XTC song. I crack jokes and am not afraid to get a little crazy.
I have no idea how any of this happened. I’m a shy person and I have terrible stage fright. On one level, I’m proud of my ritual-related theatrics because I’m doing my very best work for the Kindreds. Part of my sacrifice to them is stepping outside of my comfort zone.
How much is too much, though? I did the baster-phallus when calling Bacchus for bardic inspiration, and part of my plan was to laugh people out of their comfort zone. But our recent grove discussions, and my reading of Isaac Bonewits’s Neopagan Rites has me wondering if my stunts might be a little inappropriate.
How does humor fit into all this? Very carefully. I have seen humor used in ceremonies with positive results on several occasions, both as theatrical inserts in large-scale liturgies, and as quiet quips to bring back a congregation’s focus after a minor disruption of the mana flow. I’ve also seen it used, often deliberately, to drain the power from rituals that are getting to heavy for the jesters (sometimes the clergy themselves!) to handle. Humor is a two-edged blade that should be handled with the greatest of care, or left out entirely.
Furthermore, what if this performance is just for me, a selfish act meant to show just how devoted and creative I am? Is my performance pleasing to the deities, or is it only pleasing to me and my audience? Are our rituals just becoming theatrical productions, far disconnected from the purpose of the High Days?
There’s another upsetting aspect to it, and one I have to face as I advance in my studies: my performances must not just be powerful for me, they must also be powerful for my audience. Though we, as a grove, are arguably doing the rituals for ourselves and for the Kindreds, we’re also putting on public rituals. As such, we are priests and priestesses, liturgists, and congregation all at once, and we have a responsibility to raise energy for the workings. Are we shirking our responsibility by saying that we’re just doing this for us and that if it’s satisfying for us, it must be good work?
That’s a lot of big questions for one little blog post. As so many things do, though, the questions get back to the nature of sacrifice. I am giving to the deities my worship, my love, and my performance, in theory, but it does seem that we’re constantly trying to top ourselves with what we do in ritual. I’ve gotten so distracted with thinking, “What am I going to do for the grove?” that I don’t often think, “What am I going to do for the Kindreds?” And it shouldn’t be about us: it should be about those we’re honoring.
It may be time for me to get back to Druidism 101, to why we make sacrifice and what is sacrifice. And the only way to do that, I believe, is to do the work. Perhaps my discomfort with what I’ve been doing is some sort of sign that what I’m doing isn’t right. If I can’t trust my intuition to tell me about my relationship with the Kindreds, what can I trust?
What do you think, readers? What role should play have in ritual? How do you know if the work you’re doing is the right work? What makes effective sacrifice?