A workshop facilitated by Melissa and Robyn at the Gathering for Life on Earth 2013. These are our original notes; not everything ended up being used at the workshop since group discussions took up much of the time.
Workshop Description: “Pagan Ritual Hack Space”: A hacker builds, rebuilds, modifies, and seeks to make things better or add more features. A hack space is for sharing and experimenting and collaborating. Bring your incomplete rituals, your vague ideas for rituals, your tricky ritual problems, and your clever solutions, and let’s work together!
A hacker is a person who enjoys exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness. It includes building, rebuilding, modifying, and creating anything, either to make it better or faster or to give it added features or to make it do something it was never intended to do. (Source: Wikipedia: Hacker (hobbyist))
Generally, hackerspaces are open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things. Since we’re working with ideas rather than physical objects, our hackerspace requirements are the materials of brainstorming and collaborative writing. (Source: Wikipedia: Hackerspace)
The idea of hacking rituals isn’t new or unique. It is related, for example, to the “open-source religion” movement. “Open source” can be defined as the idea that when you’re trying to design or improve something, a meritocracy of ideas will trump a hierarchical system, and the more contributors, the better the results. Open-source religion or open-source spirituality attempts to employ open-source methods in the creation of belief systems through a continuous process of refinement and dialogue among the believers themselves. They emphasize participation, self-determination, decentralization, and evolution. (Source: Open-source religion)
We’re going to talk about two kinds of ritual hacking: practical hacking to make rituals fit the practical needs of a group and political hacking to bring social justice themes to a ritual. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive concerns; you may need to make practical changes to a ritual in order to address a social justice concern.
Defining Ritual (Robyn)
It may be worth taking a moment to talk about our working definition of ritual. Of course we are all coming from diverse traditions with potentially different or even opposing practices attached. We want to be cognizant of this and emphasize that when we speak about ritual we speak about all manners of ritual for spiritual purposes. Of course brushing one’s teeth in the morning may be a ritual in the sense that it is a repetitive action that we do habitually, but not all of us go into that kind of activity with spiritual intent (if you do, fabulous). What we are therefore talking about here is the idea of ritual as a routine coupled with spiritual intent. This could be as simple as a blessing said before a meal or as elaborate as a public ritual in a very specific tradition – as long as there is a routine (e.g., when we get together to practice, the way we go about setting our space, the words we use) and spiritual intent (e.g., to connect with deities, to heal, to ask for guidance), then it is the kind of ritual we are talking about. Though the example we will use comes from the Wiccan tradition, it is only that – an example.
Creative Commons (Melissa)
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
Their free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved”.
Creative Commons licenses work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.
Our options for anyone wanting to use our ideas and work from today, especially if wanting to publish them to a website, email list, or blog:
Allow modifications: Yes, No, or Yes with Credit
Allow commercial uses: Yes or No
Jurisdiction: Canada or International
Name to credit?
Practical Hacking (Melissa)
Sometimes we need to modify our usual ritual structure to accommodate the needs of one or more members, to suit a less-than-ideal space, to take advantage of skills within your group, or to have the ritual run more smoothly when you have a larger group than usual or guests who aren’t as familiar with rituals.
Before changing something in a ritual, you may want to evaluate if doing it the usual way serves a religious or spiritual purpose. I ask myself: “What belief does this action serve?” If it serves a belief that’s important to my religious beliefs, I don’t change that part of the ritual. If the part of the ritual doesn’t serve a specific belief, serves a belief that I am willing to compromise, or, best yet, serves an idea that I don’t want to support, I am willing to hack that part of the ritual.
Some examples of practical ritual hacking I’ve done or seen:
With a group of more than 150 people, we did the drink blessing on a pitcher, than divided the blessed drink amongst multiple goblets that were passed. Though I thought this was an obvious thing to do, I had a very experienced community elder come up to me after and compliment me on the creative move.
Another group, also doing a large ritual, had the person calling the quarter standing at the opposite quarter, facing their quarter across the circle of people. I don’t know if this serves a spiritual purpose as well, but it is great for making sure the quarter call can be heard in a very large ritual.
Within our smaller group, one of the challenges we’ve faced is having a member who is immune-compromised, along with several members who have frequent exposure to germs (a nurse, a teacher, a couple of parents). In order to minimize the risk to our member who catches everything, we are changing how we share drink so we all use our own goblets. We’re still working on the logistic issues of passing a pitcher while holding a goblet, etc.
Hacking doesn’t have to be just about solving a problem, though. We can also hack rituals to take advantage of the skills of our group members. For example, a group that is heavy on talented singers may choose to use songs to do the circle casting, the quarter calls, the invocations, and more.
Questions related to practical hacking:
Have you ever had a challenging space as the only choice in which to hold your ritual? How did you adapt your ritual to suit the space? Did it work?
Have you ever changed a solitary ritual in to a group ritual, or vice versa? Or have you changed a small group ritual to a large one? What did you change? What else could you or should you have changed?
What skills in your group or community have you taken advantage of? What skills could you take advantage of?
Has any member of your group or community faced a physical or other limitation or challenge that affected how they could do rituals? What did you do to adapt?
What challenge is your group or community currently facing or anticipating facing soon that you haven’t solved yet?
Hacking for Social Justice (Robyn)
I’m sure many of us have been in a position where we start to reflect on why we are doing the things we are doing. Sometimes the answer is simple: we do this particular thing because it is tradition, and that answer may be satisfying enough to stop our query. However, sometimes it isn’t enough to simply chalk something up to tradition. So, we may turn to research and try to discover from where that tradition came, who started it and why. If we have a group to turn to, we may inquire with our elders or talk amongst our community and try and discover how people are interpreting this particular tradition. Again, our inquiry may lead us to some sense of satisfaction.
There are some people, however, that may have had experiences of a different kind. Some of us have been part of a ritual in which we began not only to question the way certain aspects were being carried out, but also to feel uncomfortable. It can happen that we feel a certain tradition or way of doing things is offensive or disconcerting, or even unsafe. In these scenarios, I would suggest that questions do indeed need to be asked, and sometimes the only thing that will bring us the satisfaction we are seeking is change, or a break from said tradition.
I have often had these moments of questioning during rituals and I like to think that this is because I think critically about the world around me and I try to live in a way in which my practices out in the world, spiritual or otherwise, coincide with my personal values, ethics and morals. This approach means that writing a ritual often takes an awful lot of thought and a painfully long time as I try to ensure that my writing promotes my primarily feminist values. I question the hetero-normative and patriarchal assumptions that underpin many forms of ritual across many traditions, and there are some practices that I just can’t feel good about allowing into my repertoire.
A great example of this was expressed through an on-line blog that Melissa sent my way. A woman was attending a Pagan Pride event in Denver wherein a circle was cast in the middle of a public park. This woman had been invited to circle, but there were many in the park that were not invited and she recognized as the ritual went on how the act of casting a circle had in fact created an exclusive space. If you were in the circle, you were ‘in’ and if you weren’t in the circle you were ‘out’. Though she had always considered the circle an inclusive space, she was now very uncomfortable standing in a space that had the by-product of ‘othering’ those outside of the space. This experience led her to question the appropriateness of casting a circle in a public space, and she looked to the online community for ideas on how to create a radically inclusive way of doing ritual in public.
(Source: I Felt Ashamed At Pagan Pride)
Melissa and I practice as part of a collective and we as a group are in the midst of questioning our traditions and rewriting them to fit our collective sense of what is good and just, as well as what is practical, within a ritual space.
Questions related to hacking for social justice:
What aspects of your traditions have you played with or modified for political or ethical reasons? How did others perceive those changes?
In a tradition that is based on very set ritual elements or wording, what may be the safest way to go about questioning or changing elements that are problematic?
Have you ever considered ritual as a political act? Is it? Should it be?
Hacking in Action:
We found public domain Beltane ritual online and pulled out a section for the group to discuss and hack collaboratively. We didn’t get to this part at all in the workshop, but here’s the ritual piece we’d chosen:
The Coven, except for the High Priestess and High Priest, arrange themselves around the perimeter of the circle, man and woman alternately as far as possible, facing the centre. The High Priestess and High Priest stand facing each other in the centre of the circle, she with her back to the altar, he with his back to the South.
The High Priest kneels before the High Priestess and gives her the Five Fold Kiss (both feet, both knees, womb, both breasts, and the lips, starting with the right of each pair). He says, as he does this:
Blessed be thy feet that have brought thee in these ways.
Blessed be thy knees, that shall kneel at the sacred altar.
Blessed be thy womb, without which we would not be.
Blessed be thy breasts, formed in beauty.
Blessed be thy lips, that shall utter the Sacred Names.
For the kiss on the lips, they embrace, length to length, with their feet touching each others. When he reaches the womb, she spreads her arms wide, and the same after the kiss on the lips. The High Priestess then lays herself down, face upwards, with her arms and legs outstretched to form the Pentagram.
The High Priest fetches the veil and spreads it over the High Priestess’s body, covering her from breasts to knees. He then kneels facing her, with his knees between her feet.
The High Priest calls a woman witch by name, to bring his athame from the altar. The woman does so and stands with the athame in her hands, about a yard to the West of the High Priestess’s hips and facing her.
The High Priest calls a male witch by name, to bring the chalice of wine from the altar. He does so and stands with the chalice in his hands, about a yard to the East of the High Priestess’s hips and facing her.
The High Priest delivers the invocation:
Assist me to erect the ancient altar, at which in days past all worshipped; the altar of all things. For in old time, Woman was the altar. Thus was the altar made and placed, and the sacred place was the point within the center of the Circle. As we have of old been taught that the point within the center is the origin of all things, therefore should we adore it; therefore whom we adore we also invoke.
O Circle of Stars, whereof our father is but the younger brother, marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space, before whom time is ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark, not unto thee may we attain unless thine image be love.
Therefore by seed and stem, root and bud, and leaf and flower and fruit do we invoke thee, O Queen of Space, O Jewel of Light, continuous one of the heavens; let it be ever thus.
That men speak not of thee as One, but as None; and let them not speak of thee at all, since thou art continuous. For thou art the point within the Circle, which we adore; the point of life, without which we would not be.
And in this way truly are erected the holy twin pillars; in beauty and strength were they erected to the wonder and glory of all men.
The High Priest removes the veil from the High Priestess’ body, and hands it to the woman witch, from whom he takes his athame. The High Priestess rises and kneels facing the High Priest, and takes the chalice from the man witch. (Note that both of these handings over are done without the customary ritual kiss.)
The High Priest continues the invocation:
Altar of mysteries manifold,
The sacred Circle’s secret point
Thus do I sign thee as of old,
With kisses of my lips anoint.
The High Priest kisses the High Priestess on the lips, and continues:
Open for me the secret way,
The pathway of intelligence,
Beyond the gates of night and day,
Beyond the bounds of time and sense.
Behold the mystery aright
The five true points of fellowship.
The High Priestess holds up the chalice, and the High Priest lowers the point of his athame into the wine. Both use both of their hands for this. The High Priest continues:
All life is your own,
All fruits of the Earth
Are fruits of your womb,
Your union, your dance.
Lady and Lord,
We thank you for blessings and abundance.
Join with us,
Feast with us,
Enjoy with us!
Draw the Invoking Pentacle of Earth in the air above the plate with the athame:
Here where Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip.
The High Priest hands his athame to the woman witch and then places both his hands round those of the High Priestess as she holds the chalice. He kisses her, and she sips the wine; she kisses him, and he sips the wine. Both of them keep their hands round the chalice while they do this.
The High Priest then takes the chalice from the High Priestess, and they both rise to their feet.
The High Priest hands the chalice to a woman witch with a kiss, and she sips. She gives it to a man with a kiss. The chalice is passed around the Coven, man to woman, with a kiss each time, until the entire Coven has sipped the wine. The chalice can be refilled and any one can drink from it without repeating the ritual once the chalice has gone around once.
The woman lays down her athame and passes the cakes to the man with a kiss, he passes them back with a kiss and they are passed around the Coven the same way the wine was. Be sure to save some of the wine and some cake for an offering to the Earth and the Little Folk. After the meeting, leave the offering outside of the house if working indoors, or behind in the woods or field, when you leave if you are working outdoors.
Pagan Ritual Hack Space by GFLOE Pagan Hack Space 2013 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.