Experiencing the song

Cat Chapin-Bishop, guest blogging at the Wild Hunt, made a fantastic post about ‘why don’t we write more about what we experience’, and less about the mechanics of how we do things.

She’s right. It’s something I struggle with, too, because I describe the essential tension in my religious life as an Air-Water problem: I am inclined to be intellectual, to be hands-off and analytical, to look at information and knowledge, and books, and words, but sometimes have problems diving in and experiencing and flowing and feeling. (I come from British parents who rarely expressed emotion: I learned a lot of it very deliberately as a college student and adult.)

It’s no surprise that my strongest primary deity affinity is to water deities (and a specific one in particular, but in general? I’m fond of them.) It’s taken me several years to get a grip on this, but it’s been good for me, every step of the way.

In honor of Cat’s post, a few memories and experiences of my own. A couple I want to come back to in later posts, but a glimpse now will give some idea.

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Glasses and the priestess

Around a month ago, I started noticing increased eyestrain headaches, and got my act together to go and get my eyes examined.

Now, I’ve had glasses in the past – both times briefly, as my eyes got better, and there were some practical issues (computer-only glasses are a really poor choice for a librarian: I’m often up and down talking to people, looking at a shelf, getting a laptop for checkout, and all the other parts of it.) The end result? I have a mild astigmatism in both eyes, enough that everything’s readable, but not crisp. Hence, eyestrain.

The nice optometrist I talked to about this agreed that for library work, computer-only glasses would not work very well (they’d be constantly on and off, with all the wear and tear that brings), and so wrote my prescription for all the time wear. This is fine by me: as I pointed out, it was the only appearance thing I was missing on the librarian stereotype list (I have long hair, often in a bun, and I generally wear skirts and sensible shoes…) And I hang out in geeky-type crowds, anyway, so there are more people around with glasses than not, most of the time.

I picked up the glasses on Sunday. Being me, I also started thinking about the ritual and magical implications. And, since I’m finding less out there about how other people handle this than I thought I might, I figure a post about it is a possibly useful thing.

I do have some options, since I do not actually need them to read and can function just fine with them off (except for the eyestrain aspect if they’re off too much). In fact, I’ve been taking them off when I go to bed, even though I generally read for at least 15-30 minutes before sleep, because I both read and fall asleep on my side.

There are, I am told, some groups out there that heavily limit items like glasses in ritual. (I’ve seen different arguments for this, some of which I’ll address below.) We are not one of those groups: my covenmate wears hers pretty much all the time.

Our ritual work (as you might have guessed from my general description of approach) is something we take seriously, but it is not necessarily very formal. Our current ritual clothing is generally ‘whatever suits the ritual’. But since before I can remember, I’ve also been a big believer in the interaction of ritual and theatre, and very aware of how people pick up mode, mood, and focus cues from choices in dress, word choice, body language, and so on. (This makes even more sense when you know my father was a specialist in ancient Greek theatre, and a theatre historian in general.)

Taken this way, glasses are interesting for two reasons. First, they are a physical, obvious difference: they’re on my face, after all. But second, I’ve already noticed some changes in body language (not just from the lack of tension in my jaw and neck, but also in how I hold my head, move, adjust them, etc.)

Does it matter if they’re on my face? Good question.

For most rituals I’m likely to be taking part in, I don’t think it matters: they aren’t going to affect my ability to priestess or otherwise lead or participate in ritual.

There are times, though, when I think taking them off may be a good idea.

1) One obvious time is if we’re doing something either messy or potentially messy. For example, we’ve talked about a ritual using either body paint or henna: I’d rather take the glasses off rather than risk splatters (and also because it gives more choices for face art.)

2) When they’d be distracting to me. I haven’t yet figured out what I want to do about meditation work, for example. I normally work with my eyes closed, and either sitting up or lying down on my back. I don’t know if I’ll find the weight of the glasses (or something like them shifting slightly) distracting.

3) When they break mood. For example, I’m likely to remove them for ritual theatre, or for Drawing Down, because in both cases, they may be one more thing for people to edit in their heads about presentation. As in good theatre, paying attention to the little details often helps. (Also, from a purely personal point of view, taking them off may be a good indicator to my brain that stuff outside my norm is happening.)

I don’t know which of these will end up happening, but they’re the things I can see as potential options right now.

Daily Wear
But aside from ritual, there’s another aspect that intrigues me.

See, I name stuff. Especially stuff that’s core to my daily function. I have named my computer, my harp, my car. My iPod. My cell phone (ok, so that one I don’t actually use very often.) This is not actually all that weird: many people name their cars, technology, or major musical instruments (or have some sort of consistent pet name.)

I often have small personal ritual moments – I’m not talking big weird things, but I do talk to my car (and my computer, and my harp, and…) and I have *far* fewer technical glitches than you’d think the law of averages would suggest. Treating the glasses in the same sort of ritual sense I treat those things is probably not a bad move. (And even if it’s weird, at least it’s an internally consistent weird.)

I’m not sure yet how I want to handle this with my glasses. Some obvious possibilities include having a specific place they’re kept at home, cleaning them as part of my morning devotional work (in part because there’s such a clear link to some of my primary vocational stuff), or naming them. I’ve been thinking about this since I got them, but I’m still trying to decide which things are meaningful and useful to me, and which things aren’t.

How to handle ritual text?

One of the easier bits of shared-practice discussion I’ve had in the founding of the Shiny New Group has been about figuring out how to handle ritual texts.

The options:

There’s a spectrum.

  • Some groups memorise everything (i.e. there’s a prewritten script, but everyone works in ritual from memory.)
  • Some groups work from a written script, with notes used during ritual.
  • Some groups write things out in advance for planning, but then memorise or improvise in the ritual as makes sense.
  • Some groups figure out the goal of the ritual, but then collaboratively create (often referred to as co-creating) the ritual together. (In this last one, ritual roles or methods may not be assigned: people step forward to take on the roles they want to do, and do them as they see fit.)
  • Some groups combine one or more of these.

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A ritual planning timeline

I just posted something to a mailing list that I thought might be useful over here, too – a time line of how we’ve been going about planning ritual.

Beltane is going to be our first ritual with guests, so we’re being extra-careful with the planning. That said, it’s one of my current goals to have a decent idea what we’re doing for the ritual (not all the details, but the basic working, goals, and stuff we need to have on hand) a month before the ritual.

Starting in early April would be fine for many people if you’re starting from scratch with no idea of what you want to do. (Starting in mid-April is stressful, in my experience, unless you already have a good idea what you want to do and you’re working with people who can adapt comfortably.)

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