It took me a while to realise that I’m not one for ceremony. On the whole.
I’m not talking about weddings, funerals, and naming days/baptisms. Whatever form these rites of passage type of events take, I’m most often a willing participant, and am the first one to turn to puddles of water at a wedding. Because truly – terminally romantic, (although you have to really know me well to know that about me).
No, what I’m talking about is things like women’s gatherings, circles, and rituals – usually of a pagan or “spiritual” nature.
I’ve participated in enough of them over the years, and tried out various women’s circles and gatherings throughout my region(s). I feel I’ve given them the fair benefit of my doubt, in order to come to the conclusion that they’re just not my cuppa.
But then, I do acknowledge that I’m a solitary hedge-y, witchy type. Maybe others of you who are similarly introverted may feel the same way.
And also, this is Australia, so a lot of this stuff which has been transplanted from other cultures, just doesn’t quite gel with my experience of place, either. Like Halloween on the 31st of October. *Sigh*.
So here’s a preliminary disclaimer: I know others who feel that ritual gatherings can provide them with a lot of riches. They can build community and connections with others, (particularly when they may be isolated). They can be a means of opening and sharing, marking the seasonal rhythms, and deriving spiritual sustenance from these events. I get it. Horses for courses luvs.
So this is just my experience, and I speak for none but myself. Well, obviously. But you know, needs to be said.
For me, these spiritual gatherings have often felt very controlled and contrived to the point where I just have rarely felt properly relaxed. And because there was always a timetable, an agenda to adhere to, (which can be necessary at times, I realise), I did feel that what needed to unfold often didn’t have a chance to properly breathe. I would sense impatience and irritation from the organisers when things didn’t go according to their schedules. And I can be sensitive to mood and energetics. Circle gatherings can heighten that sensitivity in empath types, because we pick up on all sorts of not-so-obvious emotions and undercurrents in the intimacy of circle. That can be stressful and uncomfortable. And energetically “noisy”.
Also, I suppose it largely depends on who is conducting these gatherings as well. I’ve been with some very controlling and judge-y people in the past where every bit of time had to be scheduled and “productive”. This can be quite oppressive.
Often, by the end of these rituals, rather than feeling nourished, uplifted and less burdened, I felt more as though I’d gotten a big chore out of the way. Others might have felt lighter, but I would come out feeling as though I was carrying a lot of muck that had unconsciously been off-loaded by others, (this was when I had poor boundaries). It didn’t feel nourishing, or spontaneous, or authentic.
And it didn’t feel as though all of us were on an equal footing together either, as a group. There was often a hierarchical vibe. As though those running the gatherings were setting themselves up as spiritually superior. Or claiming to be from a lineage, (egads! Enough of this chestnut already. A big turn-off for me). Or they felt they just knew more/better than others around them.
I’d bite my tongue, and be as receptive as possible. You know – whatever other people need to feel comfortable, or soothe their insecurities. But so often I’d feel that these self-appointed experts would be spouting simplistic, New Age rubbish. Or reciting paganism 101. Stuff I already knew, or had read in the same regurgitated books.
Also, group dynamics can be…interesting. There can often be someone in the group who dominates things too much, or one who uses the group as their personal counselling session. Another who is avidly trying to prise out your deepest “wounds”, confidences, and vulnerabilities, making one doubt whether what is said in circle, remains in circle.
I used to be left feeling at times that I had exposed too much of what was tender and raw, and real to me, to the wrong people.
For there are often light-eaters that are drawn to these things because these gatherings provide easy pickings for psychic vampires and parasites.
Be wary of those who always need drama, excitement, and secrets exposed. I prefer to embrace, and be embraced by those who desire to share warmth, humour, and ideas.
At the majority of these gatherings, there were usually people attending that one hardly knew from a bar of soap. Yet trust and intimacy takes time to build, (well, for me), however lovely and genuine people might be. So to be expected to just dive in the deep end with people you’re unsure of, always jangled with my intuition. It felt intrusive.
But most of all, these gatherings used to feel like a facsimile, a mimicry of something natural and authentic. Something that connects us more deeply to one another. These circles could feel artificial.
There seemed to be more energy and focus poured into the preparation, and the look of the thing; the preening and appearance, the arrangement of the altar, the setting of the stage, rather than the experience itself.
So these days I prefer an unmediated, being-out-in-nature, in the moment kind of thing. Where there is no separation between the being and enacting. Because the phrase “nature is my church” holds true. Oh, and libraries too ; )
And because when I’m alone in nature, there’s no one waving bloody feathers and incense in my face whilst reciting slightly cringe-y pomp. This probably sounds harsh, and I realise that for some this ceremonial approach is fulfilling, and does provide an opening – allowing them to access that liminal space between the worlds. But I’m not wiccan, and this is one of the reasons why: it’s too ceremonial, and ye olde folksy-wordy for me.
It’s also religion. And religion is a bit of an alien experience for me.
I wasn’t raised in any religious tradition, so formal rituals aren’t familiar and comforting to me. I believe it may be that simple, because I have no problem with others drawing meaning from religious practices.
My early childhood memories of communing with the spirit world were me squatting for hours in the strawberry patch at age 4, stroking furry caterpillars and singing to deceased bumble bees. And staring long and hard at the tired old green/wolf man who lived deep in the twisted thicket-ty branches of the box-thorn hedge, on the wild edge of the garden.
I’m happy to respect others doing their thing, and just let be. And in turn, I ask to be left to my slightly uncivilised heathenism, under a tree somewhere : ) Usually with my hair in jolly good need of a brush, and an animal by my side.
I’ll speak my strange faerie creed, not always in english, not always spoken. Sometimes sung under an old elm tree, by the dogwood, amongst the weeds. I might leave behind a small stone with thanks to the spirits of place, or a piece of fruit.
I’ll lean in and listen to rose, yarrow, and wormwood – wise teachers and friends. And in turn I’ll whisper all of the old secret things that we whisper when we know only the wind can hear us.
In that moment the tears will often come bubbling up from that ancient well-spring of Spirit, where there is no separation. No anxiety. Just a clarity of knowing and belonging. A kindness so wise and vast that I feel held more safely than I have ever been held by humankind.
With my similarly skittish sisters I will still gather. But it will be around a hearth, over email, or at a table with food and cauldrons of tea.
Or around a bonfire, under the light of the moon. No formalities – just laughter, and wine, and song. There will sometimes be tears and the sharing of confidences, the burning of fears and wishes in the flames, or singing. But only if the spirit moves.
More often than not there will be conviviality. For there are times when these meetings are about nothing other than bawdy laughter, or what we are growing – our children, our gardens. That can be going deep too. In a kinder, gentler, more subtle way.
No pressure. No imperatives.
Whatever arises can arise, and we see each other for who we are, and not what an imposed agenda, or our shadows prevent us from seeing.
Then we bid one another a gentle goodnight, and I happily return to my fae patch, and the overgrown, creaturely places. Where I’m most at home.