Julia’s Guide to Pagan Ritual Manners
With the vast differences to be found in various Pagan "denominations,' it's not always easy to know what to do - and what not to do during any given ritual. Nine times out of ten, however, if you're new to the group, especially if you're new to Paganism in general, someone will make a point of thoroughly explaining the ritual beforehand and you may even be assigned a "mentor," someone you can sit next to and mimic (if necessary) during the actual rite.
There are, however, some basic courtesies that are common enough to be useful in just about any circle.
Unless okayed during the pre-circle talk-through (and it's considered good manners to ask if it isn't mentioned), do not leave the defined ritual space, i.e. a cast circle, without permission, and then only in an emergency. A sudden need to go to the bathroom is an emergency. Answering your cell phone - which you should have turned off and left in the other room anyway - is not an emergency unless a close family member is on the verge of death. And if someone that close to you is in that bad shape, you probably have somewhere better to be than in a roomful of relative strangers.
If you need to leave the ritual space, whisper this information to your "mentor" who is probably sitting next to you. He or she will know what to do, whether to ritually "let you out" themselves or get someone more in charge to do so.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, some groups believe that a ritually defined space helps channel and direct the flow of psychic energy raised during the rite. If you just get up and walk out, it's as if you just poked a hole in a kiddie pool full of water. The energy drains away. If you are in circle with a group like that and you "poke a hole" in their sacred space, don't expect to be invited back. Ever.
Other groups work on the theory that very small children and pets can pass through the barrier of the ritual space without disrupting the energy. If you're reading this, you're probably neither of those, so make sure you follow group protocol.
You are a guest. You are not the High Priest or High Priestess. This means that your job is to not do or say anything unless indicated that this is acceptable. One joke cracked at the wrong time is a) disrespectful, b) rude, and c) disruptive. If you cared enough about your own spiritual journey to attend this ritual in the first place, why ruin it for everyone else?
Part of the ritual very well may involve shared food, drink, peace pipe, etc. Of course, if you're recovering from a cold, take the polite way and don't contaminate everyone else. And whatever you do, don't refuse to partake outright without an explanation (and the explanation had better be a good one! See below), or your refusal will be seen as an insult.
Otherwise, if you can accept the offering as a whole, do so. It is a great honor to have been included in the shared offering. If you can accept the energy of the substance, but not the substance itself (alcohol, for instance), do so with respect. Salute or otherwise go through the motions. Discussing this with the ritual leader beforehand would be an even better idea.
If you can't accept either the energy of the offering or the actual food or drink, don't. Bow in respect, politely pass it on, and consider not circling with this particular group again.
In general, remember that you are, in fact, in a place of worship. A place of worship that holds deep meaning for someone. It probably looks, feels and sounds nothing like the church you grew up in, but it - and they - still merit your respect.
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