Due to some mysterious symptoms and random pain, I went from a very active person to being mostly house-bound very quickly in 2017. In the search for answers, I’ve been shot with lasers, radiation, electricity, ultrasound, magnetic resonance, and xrays… I should be a superhero by now.
I’m very lucky that my job let me work from home during the worst of my pain, but I couldn’t hide my absence from the people in the office and had to be quite public about what was going on with my health. Being open about physical pain is still easier than talking about psychological pain or mental health concerns with all their stigmas, but it still made me feel vulnerable. Once I was able to return to the office, I took to smiling through everything again, though sometimes someone would catch me in a weak moment and their innocent inquiry of “how are you?”* would get them more information than they’d expected.
Doing ritual with other people can be very vulnerable. Good (effective and ethical) ritual doesn’t force intimacy, but opens the possibilities for participants to connect with each other, with their higher selves, with the powers of nature, and/or with deities**. But the road to get to that point is paved with vulnerability, often with potholes.
For the person who has written a ritual and is now leading it, there is the vulnerability of an artist presenting their work to the public, with the added pressure that the “audience” is participating in the art and if they don’t fully buy in and participate, the art could fail. The work could be gorgeous and powerful, but might not work because the group isn’t a good match for the theme, because people are distracted by problems in their lives, because the location wasn’t suitable***, or because of a hundred other reasons that maybe the leader could have predicted or maybe they couldn’t control. And all you can do as is plan as best you can, then take a deep breath and give your perfect little ritual**** over to the group.
There’s also vulnerability in being a participant in a ritual. Agreeing to step into sacred space ideally means opening yourself to the experience someone else has designed for you, and even in a long-running group*****, you can’t be sure of exactly what that will mean. In a public ritual or within a new group, this will be magnified. And if you are asked to call a quarter or otherwise embody a role, you are public speaking (a very common fear) and ideally you are putting energy into that role. Being willing to call a quarter or deity, means taking on a responsibility, and using someone else’s words and in public besides.
In my experience, the best rituals are ones where the person putting on the ritual has put heart and soul into their plan and maybe feels some fear in putting it out into the world****** and where the participants feel safe enough in the context of that ritual to say true things with conviction. Everyone involved has to agree to a certain amount of vulnerability for it to work.
Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased – and both require an open heart to share and to hear. I may have been pushed into vulnerability at work, but it has been a blessing. In talking about my health liminality, others have felt comfortable coming to me to sympathize because of their own health struggles. I had no idea how many people in my daily life were waiting for answers or had a diagnosed chronic condition to manage, but none of us are alone – none of us feel as alone – if we are willing to share.
Pagans are often proudly independent people. But creating healthy communities and strong Circles requires a certain amount of openness to each other, and we will have to find ways to be strong and vulnerable at the same time, at least when together. The magic lives in the vulnerability shared.
* “How are you?” is the Canadian “hello”. The expected answer is “I’m fine; how are you?”, even if the subsequent discussion reveals that neither of you are fine. I’ve been so indoctrinated that I think I could have a spike sticking out of my head and I’d still say “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”
*** I did a Maypole in a basement suite once… not necessarily the best plan.
**** Every ritual is perfect on paper… priestesses plan and the deities laugh, right?
***** The original Silver Spiral members have been working together for over 20 years now. Yikes!
****** Thinking of your rituals in particular Robyn!