Rituals, gatherings. Its a part of being a Pagan. Its also a part of being a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a human being – its literally a part of life. Some rituals are simple. Chew your food twelve times before swallowing is a ritual that people make for their eating habits. Anyone around me at breakfast on the second day of camp can attest that I don’t always practice this ritual. Or it can be as simple as what a batter does between pitches in a baseball game. Sean Casey, a first baseman, was once described as a “human rain delay” since he always adjusted his batting gloves, stretched his lower back, and took two practice swings between every pitch. 😊 Rituals can be elaborate, such as a Catholic mass. Most likely rituals tend to fall somewhere between those two points. So does the symbolic nature or intent of a ritual, but the point is that we have these rituals in our lives.
Every Pagan/Druid camp I have been involved in has had three rituals (sometimes more) for their event. An opening ritual thanking the Gods and the participants for attending the event (most have been three days in length), a main ritual addressing the point on the Wheel of the Year, and a closing ritual thanking the participants and the Gods for being a part of the event. That’s a simplistic explanation, but you get the idea.
Everyone has a different approach to ritual – particularly group ritual. In the camps and events I have attended, its not uncommon to hear the phrase “robe up” before any ritual or initiation that was to take place. Essentially, it’s a clarion call to everyone to get ready for the ritual. Some take their participation extremely serious and have similar expectations of others. Tardiness, otherwise jokingly referred to as “Pagan Standard Time” is heavily frowned upon. Those attending wearing street clothing instead of some type of ritual garb are seen as “not being totally serious.” On the other side of the spectrum are those that miss the boat on these stringent non-vocal “rules.”
I’m in-between where the clothing/dress-up factor is concerned. I wear my cloak to rituals, but underneath, I tend to dress in my usual street clothes. Usually this is a Rush or Grateful Dead t-shirt combined with whatever jeans I happen to have on, and my tennis shoes or hiking boots (depending on how cold/wet it is outdoors). I’ll carry my staff with me. I’ll add a photo here for you to get the general idea. I wear the cloak because I like it. Its green because I like to blend into my surroundings in the forest – at least somewhat. Plus, wearing white isn’t exactly a great idea here in the deep south of America. Everything else that I wear is about comfort and utility…not looks, including the staff. My old, fat self sometimes needs something to help with standing for long periods of time. I’m a firm believer that people should dress in what is comfortable and suitable for themselves…even when it “clashes” with the “fashion” of the circle. In my thinking, the Gods could give two shits about how we dress, They accept us as we are. But that’s my two quid into the soup…
Anyone that has attended rituals with me and the shenanigators that I tend to be around with in camp…know about the little giggle sessions we tend to have much of the time. Its not disrespect for the ritual, its an affirmation that we are together, and living life. We are all quite capable of keeping ourselves composed at appropriate moments and during appropriate ritual points. We giggle and carry-on because we’re together, happy to be with one another again, and enjoying life. That is, after all, one of the unspoken functions of these gatherings, being together to enjoy life and one another.
Lastly is the dreaded Pagan Standard Time issue. I’ve watched the toe-tapping and frowning in my direction when I am late for some rituals and events. I’ve learned to flat out ignore it. I’ve also learned to flat out ignore the sullen commentary made when others are running on Pagan Standard Time. Nine times out of ten, its not their fault. Traffic in a large metro area can be difficult at any given moment or time, regardless of how “prepared” someone tried to be. I’ve always tried my best to set my life into a position of patience and understanding when “stuff happens.” Plus, I’m fairly certain that the Gods aren’t going to be upset if the ritual starts twenty minutes later or if Susie couldn’t make it on time to take her role in the ritual and had to be replaced at the last minute by Betty. Its taken a lot of my thirty-four years within Paganism to become more patient and understand…but I’ve managed it. Surely others could as well, but I can’t speak for them.
So, what’s a ritual for? What are these gatherings meant for us to do? Should we all be on our collective knees throughout the event so that we lie prostrate before our Gods? Humbling ourselves before the Beings that we give reverence to. Well, I work with two Trickster Gods who spent a lot of my earlier teachings getting me to understand the significance of having a spine and respect for myself – even when approaching Them or any other God. Certainly, the Gods deserve our respect, and even our awe. But my Gods didn’t want me crawling before Them. The same holds true for rituals and gatherings. There are times for somber, quiet, serene reflection. But we are together. We celebrate being here still – together. We will laugh, carry-on, hug, and act like incomparable children. We are celebrating Life, another turn of the Wheel. We will also spend time remembering those who couldn’t attend, and those who have passed beyond the veil since the last time we laid eyes on one another. We will also celebrate all the new people we will met, learning about them as they learn about us. Welcoming them into our family that exists physically for a few days, and much longer beyond.
I’ve never viewed Pagans as a dour people, constantly bending their knees to the Gods, never smiling, never cavorting in the celebration of daily existence. Honestly, if I wanted that – I would have stayed in the southern Baptist faith back when I was seventeen. Ritual is an observance of a point in time that has meaning in our lives. There are serious moments to be had, but I’ve always seen it as an extension of the gathering – not the source of it. How you dress – matters not one bit. What matters is what is in your heart and in your soul. If reverence and serene activity is what you equate to ritual – awesome. That works for you. That’s not where my mind takes me. Its not where my soul feels free to express itself. Every gathering I attend, every ritual I observe, every step of every day…I try my very best to find the joy in my life. That’s far easier among my Pagan family. I may practice my Druidry alone, but I don’t live my life in solitude.