“Can you just stop?” I want to say, “Stop with the giggling, with the chatting, with the side comments that have nothing to do with why we are here. Focus, damn it!”
Even the best ritual script doesn’t always survive contact with the ritual participants. I have had rituals flop due to a weak concept and lack of preparation, but the ones that bug me are the ones that fail, in my perception, due to the participants.
That isn’t fair, really; if the participants are distracted and unfocused, it could be that my ritual concept was a poor match for the group, or that I didn’t sufficiently prepare my group for the ritual, or that my overall leadership was lacking. But sometimes it seems like one person had a bad day, or consumed too much caffeine, or has low blood sugar, and they pull the focus of everyone.
I admire ritual leaders that can return focus without causing further disruption to the energy (as suddenly yelling “Can you just stop?” would tend to). I went to a lovely sung devotional ritual where a couple of people started talking about something unrelated to the ritual, and the priestess gently sang out into the centre of the circle something like “this is a sacred time for devotional speech only”. It shut down the distraction and returned everyone’s attention back to the ritual’s purpose, and because the priestess didn’t address anyone directly, she accomplished this without calling anyone out.
I am still trying to figure out how to intervene and bring a ritual back on track in a way that is comfortable and fits my ritual style. I’ve found a couple of things that are helpful for prevention, though. I need to know my ritual very well so I can lead it confidently and have the elements flow smoothly; pauses, hesitations, and errors leave time for attention to wander. Using the same ritual structure every time has helped with my smaller group, as the repetition from ritual to ritual gets everyone into the familiar mindset faster and more effectively. And making sure people have eaten is a good idea, so we usually do dinner first and dessert after for grounding.
Sometimes there’s nothing to be done. I write the best script I can, prepare myself and the group as well as possible, set the mood and try to keep the energy flowing smoothly, but maybe someone will be “off”, or maybe the cat will throw up in the circle, or maybe someone’s phone will start ringing… do what you can, then surrender to whatever happens. You can’t always fight it – and yelling “stop it!” in circle is probably not conducive to creating the right energy.