I don’t care what you believe so much as how you behave and what you do; my Paganism is one of orthopraxy. My rituals are not based on beliefs but on what works to create feelings of connection and meaningful spiritual experiences for participants. I consider rituals to be spiritual art. I’m mostly OK with how pretentious that sounds.
My spiritual family, the Silver Spiral Collective, is a happily motley crew of mixed Pagan beliefs and personal practices. Some of us have training in a variety of traditions and some are entirely self-trained. Our little Collective is almost 17 years old now, and some of had been practicing together for a couple of years before that. We’ve missed very few Sabbats in all those years, so we’ve probably done more than 125 rituals together as Silver Spiral*. We’ve got a huge archive of rituals in our memories (and, luckily, on our shared Google Drive).
We have talked belief before and found some common ground, but it is practice that brings us together. We want to practice better, connect more, and reach for deeper and more meaningful experiences together. To that end, we have always been a group that likes to play with the usual rules. We deconstruct, reconstruct, hack, and experiment, so some of those 125-ish rituals have been successful and some have been flops. But up until now, we have each been left to do our own analysis of what has worked and what wasn’t (I’ve done some of my analysis on this blog). In the spirit of open source religion, we got together to hack our religion.
Here’s how we did it: everyone chose a favourite ritual and answered a set of questions about it in advance:
1. Without looking at the full script, what do you remember most about the ritual? What stood out in terms of activities, senses, words, etc.?
2. Thinking of what stood out, how did it make you feel during the ritual? Why?
3. If you have the whole ritual script, were there things in there that you had forgotten about? How did they contribute to the ritual, or how did they interfere?
4. What made the ritual as a whole successful for you? Consider theme, environment/atmosphere, activities, pacing, leadership, etc. Also consider the influence of your preferences for certain times of year or holidays.
5. What other activities or rituals have felt similar to you (whether from Silver Spiral rituals or elsewhere)?
One afternoon, we gathered around a kitchen table with laptops and tablets and our answers on a shared Google doc. Technology is a wonderful thing – one member participated via Skype so she didn’t share her cold, and we could all assist with taking notes – but there is something magical about face-to-face (besides the snacks, though we do have truly great snacks). In less than 3 hours, we accomplished more than we could have in weeks of email discussion.
We had a plan and a process going into the discussion: a person would talk a bit about their chosen ritual and their answers to the questions, then we discussed it as a group. Our only stated rule was to focus on the positive: talk about what works for you rather than what doesn’t. Unspoken, but known from our past discussions, was to own your own opinions, to not assume agreement, to approach with curiosity, and to be kind and respectful.
Despite these understandings, there could have been hurt feelings and offended beliefs. Online and with strangers, this topic would have had a good chance of deteriorating into name calling, but our discussion was productive all the way through. A member pointed out that this might be partially because we came together as a group because we liked each other and then we built a practice around that, rather than being pushed together by shared beliefs. So it is right there in our origins: orthopraxy over orthodoxy and practice over faith.
That’s me in the circle
That’s me at the altar
Hacking my religion…
* Of the original eleven members, five are still fully participating members and one is an honorary member from her new home on the other side of the continent. We’ve also picked up some wonderful new members over our history.