Ritual limits: plans that can help

Last post in this three post series on ritual limits and some ways to handle them thoughtfully, caringly, and meaningfully.

Again, I do not claim to have all the answers: just a few things that might be of help. Mostly, this post is about policies and forms.

Things that can help: Policies

Policies are the first place to start, both because they give you a place to point to if someone has questions later, and because a well designed policy will help shape your actual choices and actions in a variety of ways.

Policies are also a tool you can use to drive things for your event in the directions you want. You can certainly build in exceptions (and probably should), but a clear policy will indicate what you’re aiming for and why you’re aiming for it. You can use this as a gentle tool, or as a more forceful one (and I have examples of both, below.)

Not everyone reads policies, even when they’re clearly provided. That doesn’t mean they’re not useful – policies will help you give consistent answers, they’ll help you delegate some tasks to other people, and they’ll give you a place to fall back on if someone gets cranky.

Things worth having in a programming policy might include:

  • What kind of items you’re particularly encouraging (and why).
  • What kind of items you are not particularly seeking (and maybe why).
  • What kind of items you will not be scheduling (and maybe why)
  • Will you accept multiple proposals from the same person/group? How many?
  • If you have more submissions than space, how do you decide what gets priority?
  • Are limited-audience proposals allowed? Do they have any additional notes/requirements?
  • Practical issues: Do all presenters have to be registered members of the event? Are there discounts/comp memberships/whatever for presenters? Any other benefits?
  • What are your relevant deadlines, and what happens if people miss them?

You’ll also want to have some event-specific information like any site limitations (blades, candles, alcohol, food), types of rooms being used, etc. but that should only be in your policy if you’re updating the policy for each new event.

When you’re considering ‘limited audience’ events, bear in mind that you should also be looking at this with a broader eye: an entirely dance event is not accessible to people with some kinds of mobility or other health issues. An event with flashing lights is not accessible to many people prone to migraines or who have epilepsy. Scents can be an allergy, asthma, or migraine trigger. And so on and so forth. Clear forthright descriptions help everyone out.

What kinds of items:

The first three items on that list really have to do with defining your space. How you do this is going to depend a bit on what you’re looking at doing with your event, and why, and who you expect you might get proposing stuff in the first place.

For a Pagan Pride event (with a big focus on public education), you might say: “We’re particularly seeking items that are very accessible to those new to Paganism and the larger Pagan community, or items that allow people of a variety of different paths to participate (such as a compare and contrast panel discussion).  Items that might be confusing to newcomers, or require substantial background are not a good fit for this event.”

For an event for the Pagan community, it might be more like: “We’re seeking items that allow those within the community to go deeper into a particular topic or practice. We’d prefer to avoid duplication of common offerings within the community (such as intro classes, etc.) Due to hotel restrictions, we regret that items involving alcohol or candles are not possible.”

(These are both pretty gentle examples of policy statements guiding the direction of what you want: there’s lots of room for exceptions, except for a couple of hard limits, and there’s lots of room for creative and unexpected responses.)

Questions of priority:

The other questions are really questions of priority. Some events, it may make sense to take proposals, ask presenters to pick their top choices, and then mix and match so that you have a variety of topics covered. (For example, if someone offers to present on divination, on ritual design, and on group dynamics, and you have three other divination proposals that are also great, you might ask them to do the latter two.)

Other events, it might make sense to create a policy that allows amazing presenters with wide talents to do several presentations, while limiting people with a more narrow focus or widely common interest to one presentation a piece. (This is trickier to manage in terms of the social community, though.)

You’d think it’d make sense to give priority to people who get their proposals in by a particular date, however, lots of us procrastinate, and this may mean you end up looking at a schedule that’s going to be very lopsided unless you do some adjustment (or where you have less amazing presenters than you would if you were looking at the whole range.)

My own preference is generally to go for “Stuff that’s closest to the stated goal of the event gets priority”. If someone wants to offer 3 items that are all  very much in line with that, then cool, they get priority over someone who offers 3 items that either aren’t as much in line with the focus, or that are regularly available in the larger community. (For example, you might decide that a general intro-to-Tarot workshop was further from your event goals than one that looked at a particular approach for personal renewal if you knew that intro to Tarot workshops happened a couple of times a year already.)

To make this work, you do need to have a fairly clear statement of the goal of the event, of course.

I’m torn on the question of presenters: it’s true that there are some amazing presenters who regularly fill rooms with good reason: they’re funny, informative, engaging, and much more. Part of me always wants to say “Do as many things as you want, please.” The problem is that if you do this, you leave less space for the amazing presenters you don’t know about yet (and fewer opportunities for people to grow as presenters from a small group level to a larger community level, which will eventually be a problem), plus it can create some hard feelings in the community.

The question of limits:

The question of limits has two aspects: does it serve the goal of the event, and how much do you want to give it priority in the schedule?

First question: Are you allowing limited-attendance programming items at your event? (Whether that’s limited by experience, age, gender or sexual orientation identification, parenting status, biological status, or whatever else.) If not, you can skip this section.

There are some good reasons to allow sensibly-described limits in at least some case. Some topics are not for people brand new to a topic. Some may have legal implications. Some may be a question of focus (if you have a parenting panel, you might want parents or about-to-be parents there, not people who want to share their Brilliant Parenting Advice (even though they don’t actually have kids.)

Gender identification is a particularly tricky one to manage well (who decides?). So are self-reported biological status items (like requests that someone not be menstruating or bleeding in other ways at the time.) This doesn’t mean they can’t be done – just that the phrasing needs to be superbly clear and up front.

So, what else to decide?

If you decide that you’re willing to allow limited-attendance rituals or workshops, but that you want to discourage people from doing them unless they really want to, you do have a couple of choices in how you design your policy. For example, you could say “We’re open to considering limited-attendance events, with clear descriptions of the intended focus and requirements for entry. However, because our focus for this event is on bringing a larger collection of communities together, limited-access events will be scheduled for less desireable spaces and/or time slots if needed to balance the schedule”

Doing so makes these events less likely to take up prime time and space in your schedule, while still being present. (There are reasons not to go this way, too – but I wanted to present the option.)

The other thing your policy can do is explain how you want people to frame their focus. For example, an inclusive framing talks about who is welcome at the ritual and why, rather than saying “These people not welcome.” An great example comes from my friend Elf, who said in a recent post:

But I’d much rather we allowed pluralism, and pushed for labels focused on inclusiveness (“this ritual is for cis women to connect with their menstrual cycle energies”) rather than exclusiveness (“no men or trans women for this skyclad dance”). And I want someone aware of privilege dynamics to be checking the event descriptions and contacting presenters to point out what they might not have considered in their labeling choices.

Note the really important bit about explaining why the limit’s there in a way that is caring and not offensive. Also note that the inclusive example helps people who would be welcome decide if they want to go. (A lot of cis women I know are not particularly interested in connecting with their menstrual cycle energies for a wide variety of reasons, so they would know they should go do something else.)

Other examples might be: “Attendees should be familiar with multiple methods of banishing energy from the space, including the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram: we’ll be going on to look in detail at adaptations and variations.” or “This item is focused on the needs of current parents at Pagan community events. There will be a session on Sunday for general community conversation about the topic that is open to all.”

Things that can help: forms

This is a place where a really well designed proposal form can do a lot of really good things. (In my experience, potential presenters do not read – or at least not retain – the details of a programming policy. A good form can solve a lot of this, along with a very clear  and enforced “If we don’t get the form, you haven’t made a proposal” policy)

The trick is not to make the form too long or too complicated, because that will be problematic for people. It is also a good idea to create a form people can start and stop if at all possible, because the more detailed your questions get, the more likely people are to need to go and double check something and come back.

My ideal form these days includes:

Basic contact info:

  • Presenter’s name they like to be called
  • The name they want used on the program/materials, if different.
  • Email address
  • Other contact preferences/methods.

Item information:

  • General type of item (panel, workshop, ritual, etc.)
  • Title of the item
  • Preferred short (2-3 word) title for schedule grids and other space-limited options.
  • Item description (generally with a word count limit for the program)

Practical information:

  • Any specific needs (whiteboard, projector, electricity, microphone, etc. depending on what you can actually offer.)
  • Clear questions about any limits, based on what your policy actually allows. (If you do not allow limited access rituals, make that clear. If you do, ask specific questions and/or require a sentence framing the intended audience.)
  • Any schedule things to try and accommodate (People should not be scheduled against other items they’re involved with. People may not want to be scheduled against specific other items they know about, and it’s nice to do that when you can, though presenters should be told it may or may not be possible.)

And finally, you should get specific check-off on any absolutely essential policies. If you have a no scent, no candles, no blades policy, for example, make your presenters check a box saying “I understand that scent, candles, and blades are not suitable for this event.” If you need everyone to be a registered member before you finalise the schedule, put that on your proposal form with a check box (something like “I’m already registered”/”I need to know if I’m presenting, first”/and maybe an “other”)

There are, of course, a number of other points I could go into further, but I wanted to get these out of my head and somewhere they might potentially be more useful. (Both for my later use, and for anyone else who might find them interesting.)

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