We're Made of Mud and Magic

Pagan rituals for groups


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Giving a way out

mythumbnailIt has come up in conversation a couple of times recently: How do you leave a ritual?
If you are a parent with a small child who needs you in the other room…
If you are a parent wearing an infant who wakes fussy mid-ritual…
If you suddenly feel ill…
If you have a physical or psychological condition that require you to leave…
If you are uncomfortable with something that is happening in the Circle…
There are a lot of reasons someone may want to leave the ritual space, but there are also reasons they may feel they have to stay anyway. For example, they may just not know what the procedure is for leaving and don’t want to risk doing the wrong thing, or they may not want to go against the perceived authority of the person leading the ritual, especially if that person is a community elder. They may not want to speak up or interrupt because they don’t want to draw extra attention to themselves or they fear they’ll be seen as a troublemaker. In the conversations I’ve had, a lot of Pagans I know have stayed in a ritual situation where they were uncomfortable due to, basically, indirect peer pressure.
In our covens, groves, and spiritual families, this is fairly easy to resolve by all agreeing to a standard procedure for how one exits a ritual before it is over. This might include an agreement on whether or not someone has to say something before exiting or can just leave, a procedure for cutting oneself out of the Circle or how to get the Circle caster to do so, and whether or not someone can return to the ritual and how to do so.
In a public ritual or a private one with guests, especially if it may be someone’s first group experience, adding an “out” to our pre-ritual spiel seems obvious, yet I don’t think I’ve ever heard it included. In fact, even just hours after having a conversation about this, I forgot to include it in my explanation before the Beltane ritual at the Gathering. I’m determined not to forget again, so here’s a draft of the speech I’m considering; I hope by writing it out, it’ll be easier to remember:
If you need to or want to leave the ritual at any time, for any reason, please know that you are free to do so. We are all our own Priests and Priestesses; you do not need permission to leave. Every Circle is different, but in this Circle, you can cut yourself in and out. Simply stand near the boundary and visualize an opening – making a cutting gesture may help with the visualization. After exiting, please visualize the opening closing again behind you. If you wish to return to the Circle, simply reverse the procedure.
Unfortunately, the people who may most need to give such a speech may never do so, but if most people who lead public rituals make a point of always giving an out to all participants, maybe the word will get around that you never have to stay. Let’s empower each other, protect each other, and, at the same time, make our rituals more friendly to parents, to new Pagans, and to those with other challenges that may limit their participation otherwise.

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