While I rarely ever post link roundups, there are a few posts floating around the blogosphere this week that I think are worthwhile shares (especially now that I’m making an effort to be quieter).
First, John Beckett wrote “What to Do When You Make a Mistake in Ritual.” It is a useful post because we often forget that the outline we have printed or pulled up on our phone or memorized will be enacted and embodied. This means that they will not be 100% perfect every time.
I would first like to draw out a specific section:
If a musician hits a wrong note in a concert, they don’t apologize, they don’t go back and play it again, and they certainly don’t stop the song. They just keep going like it was meant to be that way all along. […] Many times the best response to a mistake is to simply ignore it and keep going.John Beckett in the ritual mistakes blog post
In high school, I did four years of drama club and was responsible for memorizing a lot of lines. I had an “adult face” according to the Drama Club teacher, which meant that I was always playing the main character’s mom or a nun or something. We did some improv training and were drilled on how to be a supportive team when someone forgot a line. I also played the flute, took private flute lessons, and achieved a I rating in the district flute competition for performance once. This exposure to the arts through my high school (and my parents’ investments) taught me several valuable lessons about what to do in a hiccup moment.
Usually, one is looking for adaptation, not erasing the mistake itself. Time has danced forward, and the moment cannot be undone. I have memorized several Orphic hymns in translation, and occasionally, I twist around lines or sections of lines; the worst thing to do in that moment is to stop, and because of that drama club training, I know that I can re-string what was missing back into the composition.
Very rarely, like when I’m praying after sleeping poorly and am having trouble managing racing thoughts, I restart a prayer entirely, often by pausing and saying, “I will do this again from the beginning, apologies.” The only way to get better at pivoting like this is to drill it down and rehearse it until it becomes second nature. At minimum, training oneself to not mumble something like “oh no that was wrong um, what, agh, sorry sorry” will help dramatically.
Beckett’s post seemed to focus a lot more on someone acting alone as an officiant for a group, possibly because he mentioned a Solstice ritual that must have been conducted online, where a meeting facilitator is crucial. So … I’m going to offer a few comments about teamwork, which may have a more analog slant.
Having drama club experience from over 15 years ago is not a cure-all. What I tend to have more problems with, to be personal, is doing physical ritual with people I don’t know well because it’s harder to read strangers’ body language and physical/verbal tics. To add to that, we all often have slightly different ways of doing the same rituals. It can be hard when not everyone is on the same page about what has to happen and how, especially if everyone comes to the table with the misconception that these differences do not exist. For example, I tend to be a bit more structurally formal, but less content-formal, because I’m good at thinking on my feet and do best when given a bulleted list (to which I might add prayers so I don’t have to fiddle with books). When I was growing up in Wicca, for example, I never needed notes on how to call the Quarters. I almost always volunteered for East or West. Since everything started in the East, that Quarter set the tone for how the other elements would be invited. It was a shock to me when I went to college and the ritual scripts dictated how we did the calls. Flash forward a few decades to now and I could see a libation to a God going badly if those of us participating haven’t come to consensus over the particulars.
It’s also often when new people come in and try something alone in a new way that something big happens, like (to give a Wiccan example) a Sabbat celebration in my teens when a newly-degreed Dianic Wiccan priestess offered to give the ritual and forgot to thank the Quarters. One of the other adults whom I looked up to stayed behind and apologized to them. (It was a weird situation. I was in the “wow look at her fancy opinion of her degreed initiate learning from Chicago, does she really think we have a void of educational knowledge, this is kinda condescending especially since she forgets basic structural things?” camp [remember: I was a teenager] but things got better and she ended up doing a lot of good things for the community, like a newsletter. She switched to doing Esbats, which the community hadn’t done much of before, and they went well.)
This is the allure of a stable, team-oriented in-person group, something I have not found as an adult. Having a team lead instead of an individual can blunt some of these mistakes. (In Zoom, having the meeting facilitator with the outline be a different person from the officiants is also a good idea.) In college, as alluded to above, we had a standard ritual outline and we would go down the line assigning people to ritual tasks until we had a good idea of what would happen. Those rituals were excellent.
That said, it is my position that some things are crucial, like purity protocols and the rules surrounding death/miasma/uncleanliness and shrines — regardless of whether one is alone or practicing in a group.
Second, “Advice for Newcomers to Polytheism” by Lo is extremely useful for anyone new to polytheism. One of my favorite parts of the post is the bit about leaving some practices undocumented and how social media can be a detriment to practice.
What Lo wrote reminds me of something that Proclus said in his Parmenides commentary, which I have quoted here before, about correctly discerning how to share which pieces of information and with whom. It’s absolutely true; there are many things that are way, way too intimate for Twitter or TikTok or wherever everyone flocks on the Internet of tomorrow. Admittedly, it’s something I struggle with because I’m an extroverted thinker, and I sometimes feel like my insides are burning given how often I’m alone — social media and blog posts are just not appropriate for some things, and after years of watching doxxing and interpersonal fights in the online polytheist community, I’ve learned to be polite and that hugs often conceal knives. It’s far more effective and safe to establish rules and boundaries surrounding parasocial interactions.
I really liked this bit in particular:
Secondly, [oversharing] can damage the community when done on a large scale. As said above, when practitioners start focusing more on discourse, more on the dopamine hits from interacting with other humans rather than engaging in worship and right relationship, it damages our religions. It creates an unnecessarily turbulent sense of FOMO, it elevates the phenomenon of virtue signalling, it invites trolls and meddlers from outside that can result in undue anxiety and depression. And overall, it cheapens the experience for everyone to lay everything bare – to attempt to share every aspect of religious experience, you have to rely on words, which are often inadequate. Our gods, spirits, and traditions are so much more than a bulleted list of symbols and events in a dream, they cannot and should not be dumbed down for an audience!Lo, from the blog post mentioned above
There is a very delicate balance between sharing shrine photos and over-focusing on imagery to the detriment of worshipping the Gods.
A while ago, I tried to be helpful to people on popular Internet fora when they had questions about worshipping the Hellenic Gods. Many of them asked the same question over again about how to find a patron deity, as there is a common misconception that finding a patron deity is like locating one’s soulmate. Phosphorou has written an insightful post called “Patron Deities” that treats many of these things, and I recommend it.
This section is particularly useful:
If you have ever wondered who you should try to build a relationship with and ask for help in a specific area, what you are looking for is a patron. That god may only be with you for a short time, if they choose to respond and help you with your request. You might begin looking for a patron to render assistance and build a relationship so strong that it does not fade when your need fades. At that point, this god is no longer your patron, though some may consider them so from the perspective of that second definition that we talked about earlier.Phosphorou, from the blog post linked above
And this section made me chuckle just a tad:
The gods don’t generally appear to people and demand or request their worship out of the blue. If you are waiting for something like this to happen before you begin worshipping anyone, you are likely going to wait for a very long time.Phosphorou, from the blog post linked above
Phosphorou provides personal anecdotes that nicely illustrate the post’s main points. It’s a great piece to share with anyone who is newer to polytheism, even if le hasn’t voiced stress over finding the perfect patron God.
I agree with much of it. When I was deciding on who to worship closely in my teens, I literally took a mental inventory of my interests and life needs and matched it to several Gods, then started worshipping them. Being a devotee of Apollon evolved out of that gradually, but as a teenager, I was really more concerned with who would help me do poetry and storytelling well and awaken me to the secrets of Truth and Beauty, all the while being appropriate for a teenage girl to worship. (Maybe I could have also found a patron to pray to about my math homework and exams, but hey, 20/20 hindsight. 😂)
Anyway, that is it for now! This ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be, and I hope you all enjoy reading these three bloggers’ posts at the links.