In one of my other aspects, I am a paragliding pilot. I dreamed of flying as a child and I have made that a reality. When I tell people that I am a paraglider, many tell me that I am crazy or say something like “isn’t that dangerous?”. Well, it isn’t without risk – it is flight – but I can tell them about the strength and stability of the wings, the training and practising, and the safety equipment.
Before launching, a pilot will carefully check their equipment and will make sure that the environmental conditions are suitable to their skill level. In Paganism, we should check the physical safety of our space and the health of the group we intend to work with. I liked this post about ritual safety for an efficient summary of some of the issues we should consider.
Of course, the inherent safety of paragliding equipment and the work involved in getting a license isn’t the whole point; human error is a huge part in flying accidents (and car accidents, boating accidents, scuba diving accidents…). Even someone with the best equipment and with the best skills can make mistakes, so we also learn to evaluate our own state of mind and to really think about whether or not we are in good condition to fly before launching. They like acronyms in flying, so we learn the I’M SAFE checklist.
If we are to do deep work – encountering deities, entering trance states – we should take our pre-ritual self-evaluation seriously. Too often, we’re running from work or errands to a ritual, grabbing a potluck contribution from a grocery store on the way, and we have little time to think about how we’re really doing. Ideally, we would all be in a state of GRACE before ritual starts:
Grounded: Release any excess energy and find balance and focus. Grounding is often part of our rituals, but if we don’t feel solid going in, we cannot get deep.
Relieved: Relieve yourself first; it is really hard to concentrate with a full bladder! Also, relieve yourself of as many of the pesky annoyances as possible: tie back your hair if it is going to irritate you, get the little bit of food out from between your teeth, and whatever other little things you need to do to fully concentrate.
Able: Make sure you are physically able to do the work at hand. Most often, at a minimum, you should be rested, nourished, and hydrated before starting a rite. If your work does call for something more physically intensive, such as a vigil or a fast, you should carefully consider your physical condition before beginning and during the process.
Clear: Be clear and certain in your purpose and clear of all mental distractions so you are fully present in the moment and in the work.
Emotionally Stable: Make sure you are emotionally able to do the work at hand. If you are stressed, depressed, anxious, or grieving, then you may not be able to give your best to an intense religious experience. You need to decide for yourself what you are able to do.
The paragliding comparison falls apart a bit here, as even a short and simple flight requires that the pilot be absolute in top condition. I like Gus diZerega’s hiking metaphor at the end of his article “Encountering Pagan Deities” and think it can be used here. If you are doing a light-hearted public seasonal celebration – the equivalent of an easy hike in a public park – you can get away with being a little less grounded, a little distracted, a little hungry, though your experience will probably be better if you are not. But if you are going to be seeking a deep, intense religious experience – a true mountain expedition – you should have done your research, completed a lot of training, and be in the best condition possible. Give your best to the work, and to your group, to get the best out.