I’ve been giving a thought lately to ritual. There’s plenty of scripted ones out there, and books of blots, and our Lead Kindred Mama (I don’t know what her official title is) enjoys writing them.
What got me thinking this time was at first a blog post from Sannion’s “The House of Vines” blog. Sannion is a priest of Dionysus, and he promotes Northern Heim SoCal often. I don’t remember the entry; it was some months ago, but he put up a rather nice photo, probably from the early 90s at the latest, of a fuzzy bearded naked man lying on a bed in a very ordinary looking bedroom. Under the window behind him were some bookshelves with books and cassette tapes. Sannion observed that many pagans would have noticed the books before they noticed the man, and that was the problem with paganism today.
I had noticed the man all right, in an “ACK! I can’t read this blog at work!” sort of way. Nonetheless, he was a very appealing naked man. It took me a second, longer viewing to see the books. I like to read, but the point was taken.
This morning, I was reading a thread on an Asatru and Heathenry FaceBook group about over-ritualization. Some of the readers liked more scripted rituals, others liked more free-form rituals. Obviously there’s no right or wrong answer. Then one of the readers commented, “Trust the [name of religious group redacted] to take all the fun out of drinking.”
ZWOT! Images of the fuzzy naked man reappeared in my head, along with a lot of stuff I’ve been reading and hearing on podcasts about paganism as experiential. What that means is while yes, we need to read texts and understand texts and possibly even write about them, the true religious experience lies in our encounter with the gods.
This goes back to my previous blog post about the body as the site of religious experience. Odin gave us the runes for our use, and I’m sure he has a veritable Library of Congress up there in Valhalla, but reading about Odin isn’t where we encounter him. Like Dionysus, Odin is associated with drinking, ecstasy, being out-of-your-mind and leading the Wild Hunt. A good meeting with Odin can still be had here in San Diego, on a December night when the wind is blowing, it’s not-quite raining and the weather is still enough to chill you and make you glad to come indoors.
(Maybe too much of a good thing.)
More typical is what I wrote about when recounting our Winter Finding/Winter Nights ritual where we felt the presence of the landsnisse (aka vaettir) all around us, especially when Sven tossed them his apple core as he’d always been taught to do.
“Ceremony is there to make an event beautiful,” said my friend Don’s yogi, back in the day. Yes, as long as it adds to the experience. I recall being in Toronto’s Ratha-Yatra event with Don, walking with hundreds of changing Hare Krishnas and taking a turn pulling the cart that carried Lord Jaganatha and his friends. There was even an elephant, on loan from the Metro Toronto Zoo. We can’t usually go that far out for our rituals, but it’s something to aspire to! Even in an apartment we can have candles and movement, song and drumming. If you are outside, take all that and add communion with the land, the trees, and the animals. Kindred Mama always makes sure everyone has something to do in the ritual, and that’s important for the hands-on aspect.
I once saw a video on YouTube of some heathen in liturgical garb, standing behind an altar, reading ritual from a book. The ceremony even included him reciting the runes. I’m usually not one to say, “Dude, you’re doing it wrong,” but in this case…yeah. You are.