So I went to an Ostara ritual..
And no, I am not converting.
A friend of mine invited me down for an Ostara ritual, and I’m not sure how I feel about it after the fact.
If you recall, I am a pretty thorough Solitary. So the fact that I would have feelings in this regard other than “Meh, whatever” is somewhat surprising to me. Let me be straight: I am not a Wiccan. I never have been. I had my 101 phase when I was 13, and all those books are packed up and have not seen the light of day since.
A friend of mine was running the ritual for her coven, and I agreed to attend simply figuring that I would be a participant in the corner and would be able to observe what would come from the proceedings. I figured it would be a good chance for me to see some old friends that I hadn’t seen in a few years, despite only being an hour or so ride away. She, and her coven, are Alexandrian in training and tradition. Not that it matters to me. I know nothing about Wicca other than the most superficial
Man, was I wrong. Not only was I sort of forced into the ritual by my friend, I was left with a bevy of emotions that has required me to unpack the experience. I was sort of drafted into partaking in the ritual, performing a fairly important opening function that I felt wholly uncomfortable doing. I attributed this, in part, to the sudden thrusting of myself into the spotlight. I can deal with people from a position of authority, but I am immensely shy at heart. It was disconcerting.
But there was something larger that was unsettling to me beyond that surprise participation. Something that was off-putting and in dire need of some working through.
It felt fake.
It felt inauthentic.
I felt silly.
I felt like these people were playing at it. It felt, to me, that they were convincing themselves of it.
But I could tell that people within the audience were getting something from the ritual itself. There was a fairly large attendance there, in that pub where my friend was performing a ritual. I don’t know. I’m sure that I, and a friend of mine, seemed fairly off-putting, standing behind the altar, behind my other friend, with our hands clasped while other people were speaking or swaying, or letting themselves feel.
To me, the ritual did not feel real. It felt ad hoc. It didn’t feel grounded in anything. It had no continuity of tradition. It didn’t speak to the part of me what rituals are supposed to speak to. It felt cumbersome and awkward, lacking a smooth flow. That could also be because a lot of the participants were there as part of a learning experience.
But still. The audience got something from it. They were receptive, after all. I do not know if it is something with me, with my expectations of ritual and community, or whatever. But I did have some of the following thoughts:
I don’t know whether or not I would have the same feelings if I were at another religious ceremony that I had nothing emotionally vested in. If I would feel the same way at a Hindu ceremony, for instance. Or Shinto. Or any other of the myriad other traditions out there that I’m not an inherent practitioner of.
I’m a Solitary. But I understand and desire tradition. I think that there is a necessary link that we have to maintain. This is one of the things that makes traditional religions so attractive to me, even though I also want nothing to do with them. I love the aesthetic of Orthodox and Catholic ritual (Protestants are kind of useless to me), even if I vehemently disagree with their message. I am so in love with the superficial aspects (architecture, planning, dress) of Shinto that, were I in the deepest desire to follow an existent, non-reconstructionist path, I would probably pursue some studies in that tradition.
I think I’ve focused on what the issue was, at least to me. It felt too artificial. It felt like people were trying to hard. Or not hard enough. I don’t know.
Paganism doesn’t have it’s own architecture. Pagan traditions do not have suitable places to congregate. We have modernist architecture. We meet at the back of bookstores, or in back fields we rent out for that purposes, or in the case of the ritual I attended in the upstairs gathering hall of a vineyard’s tap house. We have no public temples. We have a sense of enforced continuity, not a tangible, organic one. We have no ordained groups of clergy who make it a sole purpose to lead people spiritually. We have no traditions in that way. I applaud the people and groups who go out of their way to try to drive the notion of these sacred sites out of dreams and into some kind of tangible fact.
We flock to the ruins of people who are dead and gone a thousand or more years. People who we are not, and who we cannot be, no matter how much we try. We are different. Entirely different. We cling to memories of past glories, to the echoes of once-great dreams that have been eroded by time and the march of the Axial Age.
Maybe I’m being too unaware of things that are going on in the community. I say “The community” as if there is one. There really isn’t. It’s a large collaboration of various networks, all being able to communicate (and fight) with each other throughout the extent of the Internet. But maybe I’m not aware of a growth in centers of worship. I know that private parties build out to their communities, and groups and Pagan homesteaders are constructing on their own land. This is common for smaller groups of “alternative” religion (I hate that term), I feel. There’s a Buddhist temple right down the road that was constructed on someone’s farm (www.tendai.org). But even then.
Maybe it was the physical presence of the Ostara ritual, cloistered in a vineyard because of someone else’s good graces. But it didn’t feel like a tradition to me. While my friend holds whatever specific degree in her Alexandrian coven, it just…
I’m not sure.
I’m really not.
I know something needs to change, or else we’re going to remain a fringe group. That is going to irritate a lot of people, but it is what I believe. There is a vocal group within “Paganism” that would prefer it to remain small, almost a mystery tradition. That the codification of various hierarchies would encourage a Christian-like system. Can we dispense with the antagonism towards Christianity, please?
I think that the idea of a wide-spread religion is different for the different Paganisms. I think part of it is the fact that we do not have a “priestly class”. We do not have a division of community. We’re a jack-of-all-trades group of people, with some specialists in us. Sannion’s writing points to the issue of there being too many writers, and not enough of anything else, and I think there is so much merit in that statement. We do have a prolific group of writers as leaders. But they’re not just writers. They gallivant as writer-theologian-leader-astronaut-bearwrangler-spy-mystic-magician-businessperson-student-whatever.
You don’t have that problem in other religions. You haven’t had that problem in other religions.
As a group of communities, we have are either making, or trying to re-make our traditions. I think I long for a tradition that is wide-spread and not a pocket of practice here, or a pocket of practice there. One where I can walk into a temple or cult site and be able to just experience, without having to make an appointment. Without feeling like I’m intruding into the sacredness of others.
I want the ubiquity of the Christian experience, without dealing with all the bullshit of that faith, or its philosophy. Being able to go from New York to Los Angeles and walking into the same cultic temple and worship the same way, because I can. I want to eventually be able to walk into a modern cultic temple without it feeling like I’m walking into a repurposed store. I want to be able to experience an estate, with burial grounds, gardens, community programs and support, and a sense of peace and not some kind of transient experience where the atmosphere is poisoned of the uncertainty of the next schism or whether or not it will last.
Does anyone else feel like that? Or am I just being my typical ornery self?
These are the reasons why I didn’t feel comfortable, indeed, why I felt unsettled at the Ostara ritual. Because I didn’t belong there.
And I think that’s a very large part of modern Paganism. Because we really do not have anywhere yet to belong. We haven’t built the foundations yet for that sense of belonging. Our reconstructionist communities are floundering, trying to work out how to create a valid spiritualist path for a religion that was spread over entire peoples, and not small groups. Other groups are reliant on the generosity of others, a few funding the program and going out of their way to perform these financial acts. Even older groups are still at the mercy of decisions based on egos and few are resilient enough to withstand some kind of inner-turmoil. Fewer still have the financial capacity to build their own place of worship.
This post has grown from a simple talk on an Ostara ritual into a comment on the community with no clear way to add insight into it, or figure out how to change it.
All I know is that there needs to be more emphasis on the foundation of the community. And don’t even get me started on the people who want it and who want nothing to do with the hard work that gets crafted into it.
Thanks for reading.