The advantage of group rituals

Yet another post inspired by interesting search strings that show up in my stats. (Incidentally, I am greatly delighted by the interest in my recent book lists and HPS theory posts. Thank you, all, who’ve been reading and commenting and passing links on!)

The search string in question was “advantage of group rituals” It’s pretty obvious, if you read various other posts in this blog that I am a big fan of group rituals. But I have not yet talked about exactly why that is.

Scratching the itch:

First and foremost for me, group ritual scratches itches inside my head that personal ritual never does. It’s something about the interaction between me and other people in a sacred space. Don’t get me wrong: I value personal work as well, and I think it’s essential for a well-balanced religious life. But if I go more than about 6 weeks without group ritual, I notice myself getting more and more off-kilter.

One of my motivations, yes, for getting my 3rd degree, is that it means that no matter where I am, I can form a new group, should I have to. I very much hope doing that from scratch in a totally new place without any other groups around I can visit won’t ever be necessary – but I feel a lot better knowing that I have the tools and skills and abilities to do so.

But why does it matter to me? Good question, and there are some reasons I still haven’t puzzled out in the more than a decade since I noticed this. But there are some I’ve figured out…

Singing in harmony:

My standard comparison on this one is singing. You can sing many wonderful, amazing things by yourself. You can move minds, change the way people see the world, relax or annoy them. But what we can’t do with the human voice is sing interweaving harmony parts by ourselves. If we want to do that kind of music – which, again, has many wonderful options – we need more people. It’s not that one is better or worse than the other. But they are different, and they sometimes do quite different things.

The experience I get from singing to myself is different than the experience I have been in the circle with a round sung by multiple people there. The energy flow is different. The sense of holding and creating sacred space is different. All sorts of things.

Different isn’t always *better* – I can have fantastic experiences on my own, and fantastic experiences in groups (and, sometimes, lousy experiences in both settings.) But I find the difference brings a lot of benefit, just because I’m getting varied experiences.

The practical bits

There are also some practical ways that group ritual is different (and has beneficial differences in at least some cases.)

Make time: It’s sometimes easier to make time for something when it’s deliberately scheduled on your calendar and involves other people (so you need to prepare ahead of time, and there are more obvious consequences if you blow it off.) We’re more accountable. But it’s not just – at least for me – about making time to be there.

It’s also about making sure there’s time in my life to prepare for it. To get myself there, to prepare mentally for ritual. And, of course, these days, there’s also planning time for the ritual that needs to happen if the ritual’s going to take place.

Requiring myself to make that preparation time also oddly makes it *easier* for me to make personal time: I’ve got a better sense of what things I might want to focus on, work with, learn about, practice, or whatever else on my own. And, sometimes, an idea of what I don’t want to spend more time on right now. In other words, it helps me set priorities and goals in my personal work, by outlining some possibilities.

Articulate: Related to this, when we’re doing things with other people, we need to be able to articulate what we’re doing. Some of my best ritual designs are because I had to get out of how my own head works and come up with something that makes sense to people who do not live in my head. (Which is to say, everyone else.)

Feedback: Other people can give you continual feedback on what they see from you, and how to deal with problems or changes that come up. This can be frustrating at times, but it’s also a powerful learning opportunity.

New ideas: You often get to experience approaches you would never have thought to work with. The group I trained with rotated who designed full moon rituals among the initiates: it was fantastic to see how different people approached different topics, and what style of ritual they chose to do. It challenged me in ways that wouldn’t happen if I were working entirely on my own.

Support: You don’t have to do everything yourself. Seems logical, from the above points, but there are times when I’m really glad I don’t have to track everything going on in circle, and can just trust other people to do their bits, and get a rich and full experience. And, of course, in emotionally challenging rituals, you can get support from the other people there in doing deep and intense work.

Challenge: Perhaps my favorite. Now, I try very hard to be rigorous in evaluating what I do on my own. But I’ve found that working with other people requires me to challenge and develop my ideas and practices in a way even the most rigorous self-examination doesn’t always reach.

My current covenmate is a great example of this: I’ll poke at things over time, come up with something – and then she will, very clearly and precisely – ask me a bunch of questions that allow me to take it to the next level, or that make me look hard at certain assumptions. (She says I do the same for her: we’re a good fit for each other because we both find this incredibly useful and enjoyable.)

The only downside, so far as I can see, is that we have a very hard time having *short* conversations with each other.

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