The question of safety: part two, planning and running an event

As promised, here’s part two of my post on ritual safety from the organiser/priestess/etc. point of view, (part one, focusing on the participant point of view is over here.) I should note my experience here: besides priestessing for various and assorted rituals over the past few years, I’ve also been on our local Pagan Pride board for the last three years. Situations of concern have been very limited in both places (a few people feeling faint, a few times someone had trouble coming back from meditation, etc. over the course of at least 100 rituals) and I think that a lot of that is due to thoughtful planning and awareness. That said, I haven’t seen everything, and I definitely welcome other thoughts and suggestions in comments.

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The question of safety

Today, I’d like to talk about ritual safety. And there’s a particular reason I want to talk about this. Many people reading are probably already aware of the deaths of three people due to an extremely dangerous sweat lodge set up at a New Age training in Sedona run by James Ray.

One of my favorite blogs, Making Light, posted a fantastic analysis of many of the issues involved (practical, philosophical, and everything in between). One reason I was so glad to see a detailed post go up there, however, was because another of that blog’s contributors, Jim Macdonald, is (besides being a SF author) a wilderness EMT who’s been doing a long series of occasional posts about various medical calamities. One of the things both writers do a great job of is showing others what people can do that’s actually helpful in avoiding crises when possible, spotting problems early, and giving the best possible chance for the best outcome if they still happen.

The comment threads on Making Light run long (hundreds of comments are pretty common), but I encourage taking the time to read them: the community culture (and some clear moderation when needed) keep them very useful, coherent, and meaningful (even the thread-drift is handy). In this case, there are more links to supporting information and a great discussion of other ritual and spiritual safety issues throughout. (There is also a great thread on the Pagan news blog, The Wild Hunt that’s worth reading)

However, all of this got me thinking about issues of ritual safety in the Pagan community, and I thought it might be useful to put some of my thoughts into electrons. Continue reading

Youngest one in the room

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Due to my recent job shift, I’m now sitting in on meetings with a number of administrators (most of whom are in their late 40s or older). And in various social settings, I’ve sometimes looked around, and realised that I’m the youngest by a number of years. (This isn’t always true, naturally, but there’ve been a good handful of specific situations in the last few months.)

This isn’t to say I mind – I grew up as a faculty brat, around my father’s grad students, and was comfortable socialising with people 15 or 20 years older than I was from an early age. My brother and sister are also 15 and 16 years older than I am, so I grew up with the idea that life was more interesting if you behaved in a way that let you go do the adult-focused activities (museums, nice restaurants, performances, etc.)

This all means I’ve done a lot of thinking about what it’s like to be in my earlier 30s, and working with people who are much older. There are some places – notably technology – where my experience *is* vastly different from most of the people I work with. (I am effectively a digital native, in terms of how I use and multitask on the net, for example, even though I first got real access to it in 1994, when I got to college.) And professionally, I need to be able to bring up those kinds of issues and provide resources to help them understand what’s going on, while still respecting and honoring the much more extensive administrative and other professional experience my colleagues have.

(Because no matter *how* good I am at my job now, I’m going to be a lot better when I have 10 or 20 or 30 years of experience in it. Same is true of priestessing.)

This all got brought home to me this weekend, because I went back to visit the group I trained in for ritual for the first time since I hived. (For those not keeping count, that was about 15 months ago.) At this ritual, they honored the group’s elders – and very firmly included me in that category.

They have a point – during my time with that group, I was substantially involved in the training of 9 of our initiates (to varying degrees), and I did a lot of work to help support (and at one point, change) the community culture when that was needed. (I’ve done *less* work than my HPS and HP there, of course, because they were doing that work before I ever showed up. But I’ve done my time in the trenches.)

But it did also get me thinking.

The responsibilities:
There are responsibilities that come along with that role: needing to pay attention to what and how I say things in a community setting. Remembering that people may attach *extra* emphasis to what I say in some places, and adjusting for that – even though I might, inside my head, be thinking “this is just a thing I found handy”, not “this is what everyone should do.” Remembering that I need to model what it looks like to be a respectful guest and participant, because that reflects not just on me, but on the people who trained me, and it’s going to keep echoing with the people who see me.

Not that I’m perfect at any of these things. And there’ll always be things I thought were clear that get muddled somewhere along the line. But I do keep them in the back of my head.

Balancing “Done good stuff” with “Still got more to do.”
I’m nearly 34. Chances are good that I’ll be continuing to grow in my professional and religious life, and taking on leadership and practical roles there for another 30 years. At least. So how do I do that sensibly?

The first thing I keep in mind is that burning out is not a good move. Yes, I’m perennially busy, as most people who know me figure out fast. But I also need to schedule downtime at home, and I need to make sure my projects are balanced and sustainable.

For example, as much as I love Pagan Pride, and have enjoyed doing Programming work, I’ve done that for three years, and have learned about as much from it as I’m probably going to for a while. It’s also fairly close to things I’m now doing more of in my job that can sometimes be stressful (getting people to get me information with a deadline involved, mostly.)

So, this year, I’m training someone new in to take on programming next year. I’ll still be involved with the project, but I’ll be able to step back a little bit and do less of the stuff that feels like just more work. (I do enjoy the end result, mind you.)

Likewise, at work, there’s a bunch of stuff I want to do – but I also know I don’t need to do it all this year. This year, I’m focusing on creating an intentional space and use of the library. I want to get the administrative parts of my job under tight control, so they work as efficiently as possible. And I want to have time to develop lots of individual interactions with students and faculty about learning, finding information, and reading for pleasure.

*Next* year, I can think about other projects – like getting online literacy education more tightly interconnected with our curriculum, and working on teaching specific databases and resources. (I’ll still do some of this this year, of course – but it’s not going to be my major focus.)

Likewise, it’d be a good idea for me to get involved in some professional organisations and help run a conference or two in that setting (because I do have really useful skills there). But the first year or two of a new professional job (even if it’s in a school I’m highly familiar with) is probably not the right time to do it. There will still be conferences in a few years.

The same is true in the coven. The next step (once we’re back from hiatus) is to look at gaining a few students. I know I can’t go from 2 people to our ideal working coven focus overnight, so it’ll be a few years of building. That’s fine – I just need to make sure that that building is something that sustains and supports me, not something that’s only work and no fun. (Fortunately, I love teaching and discussing, and find it re-energising almost all of the time, so this part’s pretty straightforward.)

Being human, and reminding other people of that.
I love my job, and I love priestessing, and I love a lot of other stuff I do. But I am also going to have bad days. I have stuff I am less good at. I have times in my life where things conflict and get tangled, and it takes me time to sort it out. I have times where I say stupid hurtful things and need to make it better.

For me, part of taking these responsibilities seriously is reminding people of that. Letting them know what I think I can sustain long-term, and pushing back if they try and push too far beyond that. Not rudely, not nastily, but “If you want me to do *all* of these things, I’m going to miss stuff: which ones are most important right now?” and “If you want me to do all this paperwork that requires attention to detail and has high costs if I mess it up, I need some time off the desk where I won’t be interrupted: how do we make that work with your other goal that I am highly available to students?”

And “I really want to be involved in the broader Pagan community, but I’ve got a job that demands a lot of time and attention (and that has very little downtime to work on other things), and I’ve got this coven, and my health requires I be attentive to getting enough sleep and downtime.”

There’s answers to all of those. But they’re not always simple and quick and easy. And while there are certainly days I wish those limits weren’t around, being responsible, being mature, being – well, worthy of being an elder – means I need to speak up about what I can do well, and what I can’t do well, and what the options are.

The question of unity

Recently, I’ve seen a couple of email lists get active again, talking about the issues of building Pagan community and unity. I’ve got mixed feelings about many of these – and I want to take a little bit of time to explain why.

What got me started:

There are two things that got me started thinking about this in more detail. The first is my work with Twin Cities Pagan Pride (where I’ve been programming chair since early 2006, and vice president of the organisation since late 2007.)

The other is that my day job is working for an independent (non-religious) school in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. That school has made a big push toward addressing issues of privilege throughout the school. Part of that has involved some ongoing discussion about the differences between unity and pluralism.

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Advertising events

One of the forums I read got a post this week that got me thinking about how one best advertises events in the Pagan community (or to be more specific, how one does so efficiently, but politely.) What I came up with are a series of questions. I don’t think they’re the only questions possible, of course – but it got me thinking about some new ways to approach letting others know of events of interest.

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