Pagan

Compassion, Truth, and Bonesetting

Rift on the earth excellent background

I was taught that setting the bone is a crucial part of being a priest/ess, a leader. That sometimes we have to hurt in order to heal. And I was also taught that truth often hurts. We couch so many things in white lies to salve someone’s feelings, to soothe it over, to make it hurt less. But those attempts to ease pain in the short term often cause longer term pain. In essence–sometimes the deepest form of compassion is to say the hard thing. It hurts in the short term, but it heals in the long term.

I’ve written about the Frosts, and I’ve received a number of comments on my Facebook, and private messages, from people who feel that I lack compassion for Gavin Frost’s family by posting some reminders about their writings where they detail an entire chapter on sexual initiation of barely pubescent minors.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion, it’s that I’m not codependent. I’m not responsible for the feelings of the family members, and I certainly am not responsible for the feelings of those who support them somehow despite the horrific things the Frosts wrote. I am sorry that they lost a loved one, and I mean that sincerely. But I’m not going to lie about the Frosts just to make them feel better.

I’m reporting what has happened because it’s important to the broader community to not lie about Gavin Frost. You can’t ethically/honestly/journalistically write an article about a public figure and speak about the awesome stuff they did without speaking about the horrible stuff too. I’m not defaming the Frosts (or any other leader/elder I speak about), I’m speaking to things they wrote in their book or in blog posts, things they said in interviews.

Defamation means telling a lie, speaking an intentional untruth. It’s not defamation to speak the truth. And it’s not speaking ill of the dead to speak the truth of what that person did in their life.
My compassion is for the broader community, for the current future Pagans that need to remember our history so we don’t repeat it, so we don’t continue making space for leaders and authors that harm us.

I’ve not said anywhere that Gavin Frost sexually abused anyone, because I have no proof of that, so saying that would not be the truth. What I’ve said is that the chapter in the book by the Frosts (The Witches Bible and later, The Good Witches Bible) is a how-to manual for sexual abuse. And it’s a chapter, a guide, that Pagan/coven leaders have used or at least tried to use as a template. I personally know several people (and I know of others) who were harmed by coven leaders who were following the teachings of the Frosts.

My compassion is for the victims. My compassion is for all those who come after us who deserve better. My compassion and my love is for the community that (I hope) survives us. And my deepest hope is that this future Pagan community is not riddled with rape culture, misogyny, homophobia, nor with with unethical, harmful leaders. This goes far beyond the Frosts, but they are a part of our past, and sweeping what they wrote and said (and held to) under the rug is a lie.

I’m speaking up because people are eulogizing Gavin Frost without telling the whole story–or without knowing the whole story. What is remembered lives, and we must remember our failings as a community. One of our grossest failings collectively is failing to speak up when something’s wrong.

I don’t believe Gavin Frost was a completely bad person, any more than my ex was completely bad. People are complicated. The labels of “good” and “bad” aren’t really useful. People can do good things, and also bad things. People can be beloved teachers who helped you find your spiritual path, and they can also have taught and promoted some very harmful practices.

If you believe that I’m heartless for posting about the Frosts now, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise. But the way I was trained was in the magic of the bone-setting, of healing the longer term even if there is pain in the short term. That speaking the truth is healing, though it can hurt. There’s no way I can write about the topics that I do without hurting someone, but I do so with that intention of setting the bone, of longer term healing.

I don’t enjoy writing those posts about our harmful leaders and elders. Those are hard posts to write, and they lead to days of stress dealing with angry comments and hatemail. I lose friends when I post about these things. I lose paid teaching engagements. I don’t write these things without a cost to myself, but I write them because I love my community and I want to see it thrive. I want to see a healthy, sustainable Pagan community.

What is remembered lives, and we must not forget the mistakes of the past or we are doomed to repeat them.


Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: Frosts, Gavin Frost, Pagan, Pagan community, Paganism, rape culture, sexual abuse, The Witches Bible

Book Release: Pagan Leadership Anthology

PaganLeadershipAnthologyCover_finalI’m very excited to announce the release of the Pagan Leadership Anthology. Taylor Ellwood invited me to co-edit this anthology with him almost two years ago, and it has finally come to fruition! Helping grow more resources for Pagan leaders is a passion of mine, and this anthology is priceless for all the collected wisdom it offers from many different leaders, many different traditions, and many different perspectives.

As I mention in the introduction of the book, sometimes the advice offered in one essay conflicts with what’s offered in another. The authors don’t always agree with each other, but you’ll still see some common patterns of experiences of what works and what doesn’t. The best part of this anthology, for me, was reading the experiences of the various authors. What they went through, the mistakes they made, and how they grew from them and came to learn better ways of leading.

Most of the authors have offered some version of: “I wish I’d had a resource like this when I was starting out.”

 

The Pagan Leadership Anthology: An Exploration of Leadership and Community in Paganism and Polytheism

Edited by Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood

The words “Pagan Leadership” are often met with scorn and tales of failed groups and so-called Witch Wars. And yet, as our communities grow and mature, we find ourselves in dire need of healthy, ethical leaders. Most Pagans have seen what doesn’t work. But what does?  This anthology features over thirty authors, thirty essays, and decades of leadership experience sharing their failures and successes as leaders as well as showing you how you can become a better Pagan leader. Below is just some of what you will learn when you read this book:

  • Why personal work will help you become a better leader
  • How to become a better communicator
  • When to deal with predators in the community
  • How to resolve conflicts peacefully
  • Why you need bylaws when you build a group
  • And much, much more!

Pagan communities are evolving. To be an effective leader you need to know how to take care of your group and yourself. In this anthology you will get tools and techniques that work and help you become a better leader as well as enrich the overlapping Pagan communities.

The Pagan Leadership Anthology is available as an ebook and in print. Ebook: TBA  Print: $18.99 Immanion Press  | Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Topics include:

Group dynamics, conflict resolution, mentoring, egotism, creating community, burnout, communication, healthy boundaries, delegation, crisis, power, volunteers, personal work, leadership models, bylaws, sustainability, processes, responsibility, ethics, dual relationships, collaboration, scapegoating, visibility, transparency, fears, resentment, self knowledge, discrimination, ageism, exclusion, empowerment, respect, organizations, sovereignty, growth, vision, uprisings, triangulation, service, expectations, projection, betrayal, healing, restorative justice, longevity, tradition, innovation, dedication, teaching, ministry, pride, developing skills, learning, administration, authority, integrity, compassion, social skills, truth, blame, shame, hypocrisy, gossip, safety, harassment, avoidance, tension, problem solving, relationships, transformation, failure, success, strength, sacrifice, support, mistakes, forgiveness, organizing, event planning, outreach, education, transference, professional, self-care, instability, confidentiality, money, equality, partnership, politics, reflection, investment, controversy, challenge, social justice, values, privilege, unity, skill-building, vulnerability, judgment, attitudes, social norms, silence, assumptions, discomfort, accountability, cliques, punctuality, removing members, pedestals, control, weakness, consent, misconduct, infrastructure, fatigue, thriving, complaints, participation, stewardship, structure, confidence, fundraising, feedback, identity, stubbornness, rejection, discernment, inspiration.

Immanion Press is a small independent press based in the United Kingdom. Founded by author Storm Constantine, it expanded into occult nonfiction in 2004 with the publication of Taylor Ellwood’s Pop Culture Magick. Today, Immanion’s nonfiction line, under the Megalithica Books imprint, has a growing reputation for edgy, experimental texts on primarily intermediate and advanced pagan and occult topics. Find out more at http://www.immanion-press.com.


Filed under: Leadership Tagged: accountability, assumptions, attitudes, authority, avoidance, betrayal, blame, burnout, bylaws, challenge, cliques, collaboration, communication, compassion, complaints, confidence, confidentiality, conflict resolution, consent, controversy, creating community, crisis, delegation, developing skills, discernment, discrimination, dual relationships, egotism, empowerment, equality, ethics, event planning, exclusion, failure, feedback, forgiveness, fundraising, gossip, group dynamics, harassment, healthy boundaries, hypocrisy, infrastructure, inspiration, instability, integrity, judgment, leadership, leadership models, learning, mentoring, ministry, misconduct, mistakes, money, organizations, organizing, Pagan, Pagan Leadership Anthology, partnership, personal work, politics, power, pride, privilege, problem solving, processes, projection, punctuality, reflection, rejection, removing members, resentment, respect, responsibility, restorative justice, sacrifice, safety, scapegoating, self knowledge, self-care, service, shame, skill-building, social justice, social norms, social skills, Sovereignty, stewardship, structure, sustainability, teaching, tension, thriving, tradition, transference, transformation, transparency, triangulation, values, visibility, vision, volunteers

Pantheacon and ConVocation Schedule

AWLogoIconFor those of you attending Pantheacon in San Jose, or Convocation in Detroit, these are the places you are likely to find me. I have my specific workshops, rituals, and book signings that I’m offering in bold, and in italic I’ve highlighted any workshops that are focused on a project I’m involved in, such as a book launch for an anthology.

For those of you who have attended events like this, or are thinking about it, I thought I’d also mention some of how I list things on my schedule. Events like this get overwhelming and I’ve found it helps to not only schedule my time teaching or attending workshops, but to also specifically schedule social time with people I want to meet with. I also plan ahead for times I’m likely to be too tired to attend a workshop or ritual; I put question marks by these items. I work to carve out “blank” places in my schedule so I know when I might have availability to schedule a lunch/dinner/talk with someone.

Pantheacon

Thursday

6-9pm Registration
3 pm Early Bird Social
7–9 pm  All Pagan and Polytheist Meet and Greet
4pm-7pm ADF Suite
9pm Early Bird Evening Gathering

Friday

12:30 PM Opening Ritual
–Drop off books in Vendor Room
1:30 PM Connecting to the Soul’s Wisdom with Hypnosis (Brenda Titus)
3:30 The Outer Circle: Marginalization Within Paganism
5:00 Dinner with Patheos Pagan crew
7:00 Finding Your Personal Magic
9:00 Possessing the Dark, the Art of Choreolalia Ritualistic trance dance?
9:00 pm (til later) Gina Pond/Heretics @ suite

Saturday

9:00 am The Dark Side of Druidry
11:00 am Black Lives Matter: Restorative Justice for Healing and Change
12:30 pm recording podcast
1:30 pm Godless Bless: A Panel on Atheism/Agnosticism in Paganism
3:30 pm Chanting, Trancing, and Story: Ritual Techniques that Work
5:30 pm Book Signing in vendor area
7:00 PM Gender Diverse Pagans: Inclusivity or Hospitality
9:00 PM
11:00 Crossroads of Memory: A Trance Dance Ritual?
Facets of Freya: A Devotional Ritual in Honor of Freya?
12:15 Drum Jam?

Sunday

8:00 Voice warm up
9:00 Sacred Sound: Advanced Chanting for Rituals
11:00am – 1:00pm – Trance Roundtable (ADF Suite)
1:30 pm Pagan Consent Culture (Christine Hoff Kraemer in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel suite)
3:30 pm Radical Inclusion for Pagans
3:30 pm Bardic Magic by John Beckett (ADF Suite)
5:00 pm
7:00 pm Creating Culture of Consent: Sacred Sexuality
9:00 pm Matronae Oracular Devotional: Dancing at the Well?
11:00 pm Mother of the New Time (Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe)?

Monday

9:00 From the Holy Mountain to the Sacred Cave: Journey of Descent
–or, prep for Sacred Fire ritual
11:00 Sacred Fire: Keepers of the Flame
12:30 pm Closing Ritual

 

Convocation

Thursday

3pm-7pm Setup art in art show
7:00 pm Opening Ritual?
8:00 pm Tentative: Pre-conference discussion/workshop for small group, TBA
10:30 pm Thursday Night Drumming?

Friday

9:30 am Climbing the Tree of Life
11:30 am Navigating the Pagan Blogosphere (Patheos crew)
1:00 pm
4:00 Body Stress Ecstatic Practices
5:30 Dinner with ____
10:00 Hel Invocation
Friday Night Drumming?

Saturday

8:30 Voice Warm up
9:30 am Sacred Sound: Dynamic Chanting for Ritual
11:30 am The Star and the Grail: Lighting our Way on the Hero’s Journey
2:00 pm The Writer’s Craft?
4:00 pm Sex Magic in the Northern Tradition
7:00 pm Summoning the Swan Maidens: An Exploration of Inspiration and Sensuality
9:30 Drumming?

Sunday

9:30am Rebirth: Pagan Leadership, Ethics, and Community
12:00 pm Encountering the Runes
1:30 Art Show Takedown


Filed under: Pagan Community Tagged: convocation, Pagan, pagan conferences, pantheacon, workshops

Chanting, Trancing, and Ecstatic Techniques for Aspecting Part 2

shutterstock_78222514This is part 2 of my post on using singing, toning, chanting, and other ecstatic techniques for aspecting and trance possession in ritual. You’re really going to want to read Part 1, and you’ll also likely want to read this post on the theology/function of aspecting and trance possession.

Toning and Singing

Toning is one of the best ways to get people singing. It’s very safe. And, there are instruments you can use to support and cradle the sound. It’s hard to get a big/enveloping sound with only 3 people in a small group. It’s even hard with 10, unless you’re all really committed to singing and making sound. You can use a singing bowl or a Shruti box or something else that makes a droning/toning sound and sing along with that.

There are two major types of chanting/breathwork–there’s chanting that slows your breathing (like toning) and there’s chanting that speeds up your breathing. One slows your heartbeat, one speeds it up. They do different things to your brainwaves too; the science on that is just a bit beyond my pay grade, but try it some time, you’ll feel the difference.

The type of chanting you use depends on what you want to happen. With trance possession in the style of Vodou, you’re looking at heavy drumming, dancing, and chanting in a faster way that makes your breathing staccato. Whereas if you have seen a roomful of Tibetan monks chanting steadily and slowly, that affects your consciousness differently.

Both are effective chanting techniques, but the question is, effective at what?

Toning

Toning and slower chants (like the Tibetan monks, or just singing OM) is an easier place to start. It’s safer, and it will build up people’s strength in their voices and their confidence.

I have a few of songs that I sing along to when I drive (here’s my start-up song) so I’m basically singing, toning, and harmonizing long drones for as long as I can sustain my breath. Here are all the reasons I do this:

  • Personal spiritual practice
  • Keeping my voice warmed up
  • Continually build my capacity to hold more air and control that air so I can sing for longer without needing to take a breath

I can hold a note for 20 seconds with no problem. Sometimes 30 or more if my voice is really in shape. That’s important for the way breathing shifts your body and your heart rate and your brainwaves; you’re using toning as a form of breathwork, and you’re using it to shift your consciousness in a very particular way, so the more control you have over when you take a breath will impact the kind of spiritual work you can do.

It’s also important as a facilitator. If you want to build your capacity to lead chants; you need to be able to control where you breathe. One of the biggest problems facilitators run into when leading a chant is that, when they take a breath, the group stops singing. When I chant with a group, I don’t breathe in the places you’d expect so that the chant just keeps going. I breathe when the group is singing strongly, not in the “expected” breathing spaces between the lines.

Faster/Rhythmic Chanting

Eventually, you might want to try something with more staccato breathing, and bring in drumming. It’s easier to do more complicated chants once your group is feeling stronger about singing and they’re used to it, and when there’s more safety/intimacy as a group.

These could be chants with more words, and chants that are intended to speed up as you go along. More words tends to force breathing more quickly, particularly if you are also moving or dancing, or even just rocking back and forth more and more quickly.

With larger groups, I tend to caution people away from using canned music (ie, playing a CD or MP3) but with a small group, it might work well if you use it a lot and are used to it. Really depends on the song. Pre-recorded music doesn’t allow for the energy to shift in the moment, however, it can be a place to start to help get people more comfortable.

For more physical trancework, think dancing to techno or heavy drumming, bellydance, or firespinning, and singing along with that. The movement plus the chanting will put you into a different kind of altered state than the calmer toning/droning.

Here’s a video that shows two different chants. The first is a slower chant used to hold space while we journeyed to the Sacred Well one at a time. The second chant is faster and speeds up leading to an energy peak. The audio’s not the best but you can at least see the progression.

Trance Possession

If you’re trying to effect a trance possession of one ritualist, then it becomes almost the opposite of what I do when I lead a chant. When I lead a chant for a group ritual, I’m anchoring the chant and working to get the group more comfortable, helping them sing it until it “takes off” on its own and then I guide it, shape it.

With a trance possession, the group encircles the Vessel, and works to get the Vessel possessed by shaping the energy, building it higher. There can still be a facilitator guiding the speed/energy, but the Vessel is giving over to the group energy and letting that shape the experience. The group is using their own energy to help the Vessel “get there.” So the Vessel may be dancing, but the group is singing, dancing, moving as well to help build that energy and help the Vessel get possessed/draw down. It’s a collaborative effort.

Here are some videos that show chanting and drumming used by a very skilled ritual/musical group. This group has practiced together for quite some time and they have a very specific tradition, though I’m unfamiliar with it or its roots. You can see how the group works to use music to build up the energy focusing on the person who is doing the trance dancing, and how they speed up/get more into it as they give over to the music. (There are a lot of videos of this group on the channel, but I’ll just post a few here)

You can get a sense of the kind of vulnerability of the vessel, which is why I so frequently emphasize that the sense of safety is crucial to practices like this in ritual. I’m able to get large groups there because there’s a sort of anonymity in a group larger than 50.

In a group smaller than 10, you need to trust each and every person in that group to be able to go into the kind of deep trance state for invocation/aspecting/trance possession. In our culture, we’re so often wired to laugh at the person who sings and dances if it’s not performance quality, and in ritual work like this, your ability to look “good” dancing isn’t what’s required. It isn’t even required to be a good singer, though being able to stay on the melody or harmonize does help. It’s required that you do it, that you give yourself over to it, that you sing and move your body and go into the rhythm.

It’s required that you participate, that you engage, that you are present, that you are bringing your energy through your voice and body. If you sing quietly or limit yourself to small, tight movements, because you’re nervous that you’ll be judged by the group, because you’re worried someone’s going to see your fat jiggling or any other perceived physical flaw, you won’t be able to go into the depths.

Thus–using these ecstatic techniques goes far beyond just singing and toning during ritual work. All of this weaves together.

Working This Into Group Practice

What I’d suggest more than anything if you want to weave ecstatic techniques, particularly singing, is teaching the techniques themselves and why you are using them. Teach your group the singing and chanting techniques. Encourage them to practice singing as a personal spiritual practice so that they get more comfortable singing alone and as a group together.

Pro tip: I warm my voice up for about an hour before leading a workshop or ritual. I don’t wake up in the morning with a ready-to-go voice, I need to work out the gravelly sound and warm up the muscles. Your voice is a muscle, and you’re more likely to be able to sing and stay on key if you 1. warm up your voice muscles by singing and 2. regularly sing the chants you’ll be singing in ritual.

I wish every ritual participant bothered to warm their voices up before a ritual so that they are ready to jump in and participate!

I learned the hard way that I have to keep my voice warmed up. I had been singing and leading chants in rituals for a couple of years, and then I ran a weekend-long class on Raising Energy in Ritual. The morning the class started, I led the group with the first chant I’d chosen. I’d sung it so many times I was surprised to hear my voice straining to reach some of the notes, and my voice sounding a little wavery, not strong at all. I realized that I hadn’t been singing in weeks. Your voice is a muscle and you lose muscle tone fast. And let’s face it, many of us wake up and cough, there’s phlegm, our voice is deeper and maybe a little hoarse. Not the most pleasant topic, but it’s important if you’re looking to sing in ritual.

It can take me a half hour to an hour to be ready to hit the notes and sustain them for group chanting, particularly if there are difficult acoustics (like I’m chanting in an open field with no tree cover or next to a soccer game). This is part of your work as a ritualist, as a leader, as a professional. Leading rituals is work, and singing in ritual takes dedication and practice just as it does for a professional musician.

Experimenting With Techniques

I also strongly suggest being willing to experiment. You might start out with the toning/droning kind of singing, since it’s a bit more accessible. But then you can switch it up.

There’s a trance technique I use, I call it the Trance Hammer where I have the whole group singing a note/tone, and then I sing something more complicated over that. (That article also now contains a video of the technique.) In that scenario, you only need one strong singer to handle the melody, the rest can handle the tone. This adds texture, and it’s also a trance technique called “confusion technique.” It works because your brain is trying to process two separate things–the toning, and the other song–and it sends you into a deeper subconscious state.

Once your group is comfortable with the idea of singing in ritual and willing to do that, you can try more complicated chants, or add in drumming. And sometimes it’ll work and sometimes you’ll fumble, but that’s the advantage of working with a smaller group; you get to try things out without screwing up a big public ritual.

Advanced Personal/Professional Practice

As part of my own personal practice that crosses over into professional-ritualist-practice, here’s something I do regularly. I practice singing songs/melodies that I’m going to use for sung trances like the cantillation/Trance Hammer technique I mention above. Here’s how I do it.

I’ll play a song that has a melody in harmony with what I’m singing, but with different words. (Here’s the song I use for this most frequently.) I practice singing over that and not getting distracted by the other words; in fact, I try to keep an ear open for the song that’s playing so that I can sing certain words at the same time, or certain notes at the same time. And, I do all that while I’m doing a third task that requires me to pay attention to basic logistics. It could be anything like folding paper or looking up directions on Google maps, just something kinesthetic that takes my attention. In my case, I might practice this technique while painting gold borderwork on one of my art pieces or gluing tissue paper to cardboard.

Sounds complicated? It is. But, it has to be.

I’m training my brain to know that song even in the midst of chaos, in the midst of a really complicated task, and in the midst of competing music. I’m training myself to be able to not just memorize that song, but  memorize it in a way that distractions at a festival, or logistical issues with a ritual, won’t make me lose what I’m supposed to be singing. I’ve memorized the melodies and words in a way that I can sing it even when dealing simultaneously with complicated ritual logistics, or people whispering a question into my ear about their cue for the next ritual part. I can even communicate with others by nodding or offering hand signs while I’m still singing and not lose my place.

And the side benefit is that when I practice this technique at home, I get myself into a trance state and it’s part of my own personal spiritual work.

 


Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: aspecting, chanting, dancing, drawing down, ecstasis, ecstatic ritual, invocation, Pagan, Paganism, possession, ritual, shruti box, singing, singing bowl, theology, trance possession, trance work, trancing

Chanting, Trancing, and Ecstatic Techniques for Aspecting Part 1

shutterstock_76776415Using ecstatic techniques of singing, dancing, and drumming to draw down deities or get possessed by spirits is both an old ritual technology and a new one. It’s been used for thousands of years and you see this in the tribal customs of many religions that have continued on to the present day.

It’s a technique that also has become used more and more in modern Pagan groups, though many Pagan groups have had to rediscover it since certain traditions didn’t seem to use any ecstatic processes for this ritual function. Thus, as these techniques are rediscovered, the old is new again. However, it means we have to re-look at these techniques and look at what will work for us in our own traditions and rituals, and what won’t. And it also serves to burrow down a bit into why it works.

I was specifically asked via my Facebook group on Ritual Facilitation Skills how one could use singing and chanting as part of drawing down, but the answer’s a little more complex than that. It’s worth pointing out the framework of the person asking; she’s forming a small group, so perhaps 3-4 people to start with, and she comes from an Alexandrian tradition.

The TL:DR on this post is, if you want to use singing and chanting techniques in ritual, you have to learn how to do it, and you have to teach your group to do them too. More, you have to get their buy-in, their willingness to do it without you having to pressure them. If you have a very small group and some of them are reluctant to sing and aren’t willing to engage whole-heartedly, these techniques may fall flat.

If you have a group of five people, but only two are willing to sing, it’s like two people trying to carry a 200 pound cauldron while the rest of the group stands there and watches: not going to work out well.

What Is Aspecting, and what is Ecstatic?

Let’s start with definitions of terms. Trance possession, drawing down, invocation, and aspecting are all terms for the same basic function, but they have different connotations, as I mentioned in my last post. Trance possession is typically done with a lot of ecstatic support.

When I say ecstatic, what I mean is physically embodied techniques that take us into a deep altered state. We’re talking drumming, singing, dancing. Now, some ecstatic techniques involve sensory overstimulation, and some could involve sensory deprivation (dancing with a blindfold, sensory deprivation water tanks, etc.) Sometimes alcohol or entheogenic substances are used.

You will commonly see ecstatic work used for trance possessions in African Diasporic traditions like Vodoun when people are ridden by the Loa, or in traditional tribal cultures where the whole community is singing and dancing together and the shaman/spiritworker (or other specific people) go into shaking trances. I’ll go ahead and use the word shamanic in the anthropological sense of how the word is commonly used; these techniques are common in shamanic traditions where the tribal spiritworker is supported in their work by the singing and dancing of the whole tribe.

There’s a great documentary, Dances of Ecstasy, that I often recommend as it offers up video of several different world traditions that use trance techniques. The DVD is available on Amazon or you can order it directly from the people who created it.

Working Within A Tradition

It’s worth pointing out that I have little experience with Alexandrian or British Traditional Witchcraft, and that’s the framework the original question comes from. I’m familiar with what I’d call the “standard Wiccan ritual” format that comes from BTW since I’ve attended plenty of them, so I’m using that as sort of a guideline here for the rest of my response.

However, if you’re in a similar tradition, one potential resource is Janet Farrar. Janet trained with Alex Sanders so she comes from those traditions, but her ritual work has evolved over the years. She gave a talk a few years ago and spoke very specifically about how they are doing a lot more ecstatic trance work in their rituals, and the way they do drawing down is closer to what’s usually referred to as trance possession.

So if you’re working with traditional witchcraft and Wicca, it’s possible that Janet Farrar herself might be a good resource for how to do this within the constraints of your own tradition. She may have written about this as well, but I’m not familiar with the content of her books. (Feel free to comment or message me if you are and can recommend one of her books that might go into her approach on this).

Constraints and Intentions

One of the reasons I don’t work with what I call the “standard Wiccan ritual format” is in part because those traditions tend to offer too many limitations on the shape of the ritual. I could get into orthodoxy and orthopraxy, but the idea is that when you study in a particular tradition/religion and you’re told that the ritual must be done like this, otherwise it’s not correct, that becomes a limitation on what you can and can’t do in your ritual and still call it XYZ tradition.

I take a completely different approach. I’ve mentioned it in a few articles, but basically the way I do ritual is entirely geared toward engaging the group in a trance state. I build up layer and layer of participation to get people willing to sing, move, dance. I’m concerned with trance technique, not orthodoxy.

Some traditions have a set format for how things must be done, and sometimes those things make it hard to engage a group in participation. I talk about one ritual in my book Spiritual Scents where each person was expected to sage/smudge the person next to them, one at a time. With 60 people, that ended up taking 45 minutes, just for smudging. We were all bored to tears before the ritual even started.

The energy was flatlined.

Thus, I look at traditions and expectations around ritual and I may shift things a bit to make it more ecstatic. Cakes and Ale is one I have gone after in some of my articles too; in a larger group, Cakes and Ale is (in some traditions) supposed to be the Big Divine Communion Moment. And instead, it’s this long, annoying process of passing out styrofoam cups, juice with preservatives, cookies with preservatives…not very magical. People start having side conversations while they wait for their juice and cookie–the energy diffuses.

In my ritual work, I don’t do smudging or cakes and ale, and that’s for a few reasons but one is that if it’s going to take a long time and be boring for the group, that’s not going to make it easy to sing and build energy.

Thus, one of the pieces of advice I always offer up is, look at the intention of each piece of your ritual and what it’s supposed to achieve. If you’re told to do ABC format, and the intention is building communal energy, but the ABC format doesn’t do that…perhaps your tradition needs to be updated. Perhaps a different ritual technique would better serve that intention.

Take a look at each piece of your ritual and honestly explore whether or not the ritual techniques you’re taught to use actually effect that intention.

Ritual Logistics That Impact Ecstatic Work

It’s worth mentioning that my specialty is large group ritual; I’m not always the best at small group ritual. However, in large group ritual the challenge is getting a bunch of strangers to energetically connect and be willing to sing/dance/look like a dumbass in front of strangers. In a small group, you have the advantage of intimacy and connection. As the group’s connection builds, it can become easier to do the ecstatic work because you have that relationship and you’re not worried about looking stupid while you sing, dance, etc.

I mention all that because if you want to use singing and other ecstatic/embodied techniques, people need to feel comfortable enough to do them. In our culture, most people don’t feel comfortable singing. We’re taught that only “good” singers should sing.

I get away with it in large groups because, among other things, I’m loud enough to anchor the chant and keep the melody until the group starts to feel comfortable. Plus in a group of 50+ people there’s a certain amount of anonymity.

But the other reason I get away with it and get people singing that weren’t expecting to sing is that I’ve structured my whole ritual to build people up, to help them participate more and more until they feel safer. I don’t ask them to jump in and sing a complicated chant right away, I don’t ask them to jump in and dance in the middle. I ask for them to speak a word, or sing a tone, or to move their arms or maybe sway from side to side. And then a little later, I ask for more sound, more movement, more words.

I build it up layer by layer.

There’s an axiom of facilitation (workshops, rituals, etc) that what you do in the first five minutes sets the tone. That’s true, but it’s more complex than that. If I want the group to participate (not just watch) I do have to set that up in the first five minutes. But, I also have to layer that up through the ritual. I can’t expect someone to be comfortable anchoring a chant, or go into deep ecstasis, if they’ve been standing and watching me talk for 20 minutes. People go into “audience mode” and then getting them to do anything participatory is like stirring glue.

Now…as you can tell, this topic is deeper than just getting people to sing. I’m not explaining simple concepts, so this post has gone on pretty long and we haven’t even gotten to actual singing and chanting techniques. Part 2 will do just that, and you’ll really want to read it now that you have some background information. I also go into some of the chanting and music techniques I use as a personal practice and to train my voice. Sounds simple to say, but you can’t lead chants in ritual if you haven’t prepared yourself to sing.

Part 2 tomorrow!

 


Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: aspecting, chanting, dancing, drawing down, ecstasis, ecstatic ritual, invocation, Pagan, Paganism, possession, ritual, shruti box, singing, singing bowl, theology, trance possession, trance work, trancing

Aspecting, Trance Possession, and Theology

680723_xlI’ve had a few questions lately related to aspecting and trance possession, so I thought I’d do another couple of posts on the topic, specifically on how to approach aspecting/drawing down when you’re a pantheist, atheist, or generally working with deities as archetypes instead of as polytheistic gods. I also want to get into some of the ecstatic trance techniques I use and how those can be used with aspecting and drawing down.

Background

I wrote a longer series of posts for HumanisticPaganism.com on my general approach to deity and archetype in ritual. I wrote the Pantheism, Archetype, and Deities in Ritual series in response to a request from blogger John Halstead, but also in response to technical/ritual facilitation concerns I had from this article on the Atheopaganism site. My issues aren’t with the theology of the author–they’re with the ritual techniques that work to get people into “the zone.”

But the post does bring up the struggle of working with deities as myths and archetypes when you have an atheistic/humanistic view, because it’s a challenge.

How do you work with these in rituals, how do you still have a powerful ritual, without betraying your theological and philosophical beliefs?

If you want more of a background on my theological approach to ritual, here are links to the whole series of posts. Part 3 goes specifically into my approach on aspecting and trance possession when we’re talking pantheistic archetypes vs. polytheistic deities, but I’ll repeat a bunch of it here in an abbreviated form for context.

I’m a pantheist/archetypist. I’m barely a theist; I have had mystic communion experience with the divine, and specifically, with deity forms, but I see these very much as masks/filters/lenses through which I’m connecting to that larger/incomprehensible whole. I see the archetypes/deities/heroes as stories with a certain amount of invested energetic power. As part of that larger whole. I can’t quite call myself an atheist.

When I teach ritual facilitation, I almost exclusively focus on logistics and techniques. I use ecstatic techniques because they work. Singing, dancing, breathing, drumming…these evoke a trance state. It’s just science.

When I facilitate rituals, I do refer to them as gods and deities, and sometimes by name if we’re working with a particular story, but I usually make it clear before the ritual starts that I don’t really care what someone’s theology is. People can join my rituals if they are polytheists and believe in them as distinct gods, if they are pantheists, if they are atheists who just see them as archetypes. I’m still going to use the word gods for ease of use.

Well–unless it’s a hero story like King Arthur, etc. But in almost all other cases, I’m comfortable using the language of myth and deity because it’s effective. For me, it’s important to let people know that I’m not really trying to teach theology. When I lead a ritual, I’m just trying to get people to “the door,” as it were. I’m not there to tell them what’s past the door, what it looks like. I’m not there to preach my own theology. I’m just trying to help them get to a state of consciousness where they can have a potent experience.

There are several terms for the function of invocation, and they have slightly different nuances. There’s drawing down or invoking, there’s trance possession, and there’s aspecting. Aspecting is a term more often used by Reclaiming, and some other traditions. Aspecting holds the connotation that the human aspecting the deity is in control of the process, and that they aren’t being fully 100% possessed. Whereas trance possession holds the opposite connotation, that the human being the “vessel” or doing the “horsing” is blacking out and not going to remember what the deity did while in their body.

There’s another word I sometimes use, “Embodying,” which is a lighter version of aspecting. I use this when I mean that someone is either doing a light aspect of a deity, or even just speaking (in first person) in the voice of the deity. And, this is something I do for deities (like Hephaestus or Brigid) or more gender-neutral archetypes (The Worker at the Forge) or for hero/story characters (King Arthur, the Lady of the Lake, Merlin).

Terminology is difficult. Even the word “invoking” has different meanings depending upon tradition. The way I learned it through Reclaiming and Diana’s Grove, “invoking” just meant “inviting that spirit/deity/energy into the ritual space” vs. horsing the deity/spirit in someone’s body. We called that aspecting.

Let’s Pretend

The Atheopaganism article offers the idea that atheist Pagans would make it clear that, even if they’re talking about a particular god or goddess, that they make it clear that it’s “just pretend.” My issue with the idea of clearly stating that we’re just pretending is that rituals, and in specific, engaging the trance state, doesn’t work very well with this. You’ll lose a lot of your ritual power if you keep reminding people they are pretending.

One of the most powerful pieces of ritual technique is engaging a trance state, and if you keep reminding people that this is all pretend, you’re going to keep yanking them up out of it.

There’s a ritual axiom I use; don’t use transitions like, “And now we’re gonna raise energy,” or, “And now we’re gonna talk to the mask of god that isn’t a real god, just a mask,” or something else that takes people out of the groove. I personally think that it’s sufficient to lay my own theology out on the table before I facilitate and empower people to make their own choices about how they work with gods/archetypes.

The anthropomorphization of deity, and connecting to those huge forces via a proxy/mask in ritual is incredibly potent. It’s why we have statues and paintings and shrines to deities. It’s why we have ritual theater, it’s why we have aspecting and drawing down in ritual. The science of it is in trance work. When you close your eyes and imagine an experience, your mind can make that experience very real. Hypnotherapists can use this to help people re-imagine and re-remember an old painful memory but with a different outcome. It’s transformative.

Chanting, Trancing, and Ecstatic Techniques

One of the reasons it’s important to work with what gets us into trance, and to not fuss so much about whether or not it’s “real,” is because it’s difficult enough to engage the trance state. If you’re trying to work with a deity or archetype in a ritual and trying to get the group to buy into the concept, if you keep yanking them back, no amount of ecstatic techniques will work because everyone’s going to be self conscious.

One of the major paradoxes of ecstatic ritual is, getting people singing and dancing is one of the most effective ritual techniques. And, it’s one of the most difficult techniques to effect, largely because modern people are so self conscious.

And if you’re trying to use singing and chanting in order to get someone trance possessed/drawing down/aspecting, and you keep pointing out that we’re “just pretending,” you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot.

But what if you want to use some of those techniques for aspecting work? How do you do that? What techniques will work?

I’ll go more into using singing and chanting, and other ecstatic techniques in aspecting in my next post, because that’s a complicated topic all its own.


Filed under: Facilitation, Leadership, Ritual Tagged: aspecting, chanting, deity, drawing down, invocation, Pagan, ritual, trance, trance state, trancework, trancing

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Four

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At the moment I’m largely limited to dating people who are going to be ok with being in an open relationship because I’m not going to just settle into monogamy by default at this point. It’s also worth pointing out that where I live (SE Wisconsin) most of the liberal/Pagan-friendly folks I’ve met are in (or prefer) open relationships. I’ve jokingly referred to my online profiles as “poly-bait” since most of the folks that contact me that write more than just a “Hey baby” message are in open relationships.

 

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

My relationship difficulties have been compounded the past years by the fact that I’m very cautious when it comes to dating within the Pagan community. 90% of my social interactions are with Pagans, but most Pagans are “off limits” for me because I’ve met them in context as an author/teacher/ritualist. From an ethical perspective, I strongly feel that need to ensure I’m in a peer dynamic with someone before I’d consider a relationship, and even then, I’m leery because of the potential for community drama if the relationship doesn’t work.

Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt.

The Future?

I’m starting to accept that maybe I never fall in love. I don’t like that idea, I really don’t. Maybe my hormones are to blame; maybe my body just doesn’t produce enough oxytocin for the “falling in love” thing. Or maybe I met my “one true love” and it didn’t work out. Maybe it’s just a chemical factor of dealing with depression, or just faulty wiring in my brain chemistry. Maybe it’s because I think too much. Maybe it’s from dissociating my emotions when I was a kid to cope with the bullying. Who knows.

Right now I’m focusing more on balancing out my own conflicting tendencies in relationships.

See, when I find someone I like–even if it’s not “big love”–I tend to get complacent; I don’t really want to seek out new partners. I think it’s largely because of my introvertedness, and certainly in part because my focus is on my work. It’s difficult enough for me to give one partner enough attention, much less more than one partner.

Nowt that I’m actively dating two men at the same time, and exploring relationships with others, I’m not sure that I’m all that good at this. I feel kind of socially overwhelmed, and I’m pretty sure that when I give time to one person, I’m failing to give time to another, and that’s more social stress than I really want to handle. I keep coming back to the fact that I’m not really polyamorous, and multiple relationships are more work.

And it’s work I’m not really good at, if I’m honest with myself.

It’s certainly part of my introversion that I can only cope with having emotional relationships with so many people. I just don’t have a lot of brain space for more; I only have so much social capacity. Just as I can only have so much general social activity before getting exhausted, I seem to have that capacity limit for more intimate friendships and romantic relationships.

I also wonder if there’s some significant functional difference between folks who are genuinely polyamorous and those of us who aren’t. In my case, I’m always going to end up focusing my relationship compass point toward the place where I am getting the most needs met. The person I have the most emotional connection to, the person who is the most compatible with me, the person I seem to share the most chemistry with.

The thing that most monogamous people fear when their partner says, “I want to open our relationship and date other people,” is that their partner is going to 1. Start spending more time with the new partner and neglect them, and 2. Prefer the new partner that they are dating and leave them. I’ve seen open relationships where that doesn’t happen, and I’ve seen open relationships where it does. Maybe that’s the core difference between someone who’s genuinely wired for polyamory and someone who’s wired for monogamy, I’m not sure.

All I can say is that open relationships can be a time suck.

Time and Relationships

The irony in some of this is what initially drew me to open relationships was the casualness factor. After writing a few thousand words on this topic in this series of blog posts, I’ll just be blunt: I got into this to find a way to have intimacy and sex with people I had at least a basic emotional connection to but without a huge time obligation to. I can’t do completely anonymous sex, my attraction engine just doesn’t work that way. I’m too much of a sapiosexual, and I need a connection with someone. However, nor can I lie and promise someone monogamy, long-term-relationships, and falling in love when that doesn’t seem realistic. I needed to find a way to get that need for connection, intimacy, and sex met in a way that worked for me.

Frankly, I don’t have the kind of hours available each week for someone who is looking to me for their primary (or sole) romantic relationship. True, I’d make that time if I really fell for someone and thought we had the potential for a solid relationship, but I’m not willing to put in that kind of time for someone I don’t have that level of connection to.

Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s where I draw the line.

My relationship this past year has worked out great in this respect. He and I have gotten together sometimes weekly but usually once a month. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we don’t. We talk a lot online, we get along really amazingly well though we occasionally argue on philosophical topics. What has made our relationship work–other than the fact that we’re mostly sexually compatible–is that we don’t have huge expectations of each other time-wise. We have fun when we have time to have fun.

Monogamy or Open?

I’m also not unaware of the irony of some of my relationship challenges. All I ever wanted was monogamy, but I’m apparently not great at that because my partners don’t feel they get “enough” of me. And in open relationships, I’m not particularly good at that either for the same reasons; being with multiple partners, and (potentially) in at least friendship relationships with their partners, is often way more social energy than I have to offer to other human beings. (Some weeks all I can cope with are my cats.)

Right at the moment my relationship with my new boyfriend is working well, in part because he and I were both surprised to find ourselves really not just attracted to one another but also connecting on an emotional wavelength. The chemistry there is far deeper than I expected.

But I suppose this also reminds me as well why I’m just not naturally polyamorous, because it’s difficult for me to be attracted to one person and seeking someone else. It’s also been difficult for me to pay adequate attention to two boyfriends at the same time, so I’m struggling with that. I’m starting to feel a bit like I do in a monogamous relationship when my partner’s disappointed that I’m not able to give them enough of my time that they feel valued. And that’s stressful.

Maybe some day I fall in love. Maybe I find a deeply-fulfilling long-term monogamous relationship with someone. Or maybe it’s more monogamish; open relationships don’t scare me the way they once did, so long as I’m confident in the core relationship. In the absence of deep-big-love, it’s nice to connect to people in relationships. I’ve connected to some amazing friends in this way, and sometimes I have even found more emotional connection than I expected.

Friends-love plus chemistry is still pretty rare and amazing, in my experience, so I’m always grateful when I experience that.

Transparency and Explorations

If I reflect back on my previous relationships, there’s no less emotional commitment from me in an open relationship than when I was in monogamous relationships. The difference for me now is, things are more transparently on the table, as it were. I don’t have to pretend that I’m only ever going to be interested in that one person romantically Until The End of Time. And this way, I can be more transparent about when I need to take time to focus on other things, whether that’s a date with another lover, or if I have a book I need to finish editing.

Exploring open relationships has one additional benefit. Perhaps TMI, but I write romance about threesomes, and I have interest in that and a few other sexually adventurous things. Being in open relationships means that I have the option to try out a few of the fantasies on my bucket list. Maybe (in reality) they are as awkward as people tell me, but, I’ve talked to other friends who’ve had fun with them, so who knows. All I can say is that most people living in the assumption of monogamy don’t get to even consider doing anything like this, and tend to think of themselves as deviants for even wanting anything outside of their one relationship.

In fact–I see this a lot when I’m promoting my romance novels. I’ve written some menage-a-trois werewolf romance novels, and that genre’s pretty popular, as well as books with foursomes, fivesomes, and moresomes, usually featuring one female character and her multiple male mates. Usually it’s in the “shifter” genre (werewolves, wereleopards, etc.)  of paranormal romance, but there are other romance novels where it pops up. Apparently this is a huge fantasy that many women have, but never act on, because it’s so “bad” and shameful they’d never consider doing it. 

The male fantasy of being with two (or more) women is sort of a staple of porn, but women who have a similar fantasy are thought of as sluts, whores, and deviants.

Being a sex positive person, I don’t see any of these things as inherently bad, but there’s such a cultural stigma about anything that isn’t heterosexual/monogamous, or that isn’t geared toward the male gaze and heterosexual male desires, that most people never explore any of that.

Conquering Lonely

Living alone for the past years has helped me to get past some of my fear of loneliness. And, though not all of my experiences of dating in the past years have gone well, they’ve at least helped me to consistently disprove that old tape that says, “I’ll never find anyone to connect with, never find anyone that gets me.” I’ve found a number of people who get me, and I’ll meet others in the future who get me.

The old tape still plays in my head, and what I know of human psychology says that I’ll always deal with that. But I have a nice little workaround for it now, because I can pretty easily say, “You’re wrong. That’s not the truth.”

What the past years have certainly taught me is that there are a lot of different ways to do relationships. Monogamy doesn’t have to be the default, but monogamy isn’t also some failing on my part for not being open-minded. Just as people have chemistry (or they don’t) people also have preferences. I’m not truly polyamorous–loving multiple people–but nor am I into totally casual sex either. In general, I experience that polyamorous folks tend to focus more on love relationships, and swingers tend to focus more on sex, particularly sex that centers on a heterosexual couple’s relationship. However, there’s a huge amount of crossover and a spectrum between them.

I’m not entirely sure what to call myself or where I’m at. I’m in open relationships at the moment, and I’m open to monogamy with the right person. What’s more important to me these days than defining what types of relationships I’m in are my boundaries around my work. That’s where my priority is. I think, as I’ve written this, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, but that’s no surprise for me.

Future writing:

I’ll be working up some future articles about sex, sexuality, and relationships. What would you like to read about?

A few topics rattling in my head are the difficulties of being in open relationships, specifically, the huge social stigma attached to them. And also, some of the social trends I’ve encountered in the differences between folks who identify as polyamorous, the folks who identify as swingers, and the crossover space between those. There’s also the whole sex positive vs. sex pressuring, the whole cultural identity around “We’re such deviants, we’re so counterculture, we’re bad and naughty,” and a few other things I see out there that impact and interweave with our cultural ideas (and problems around) sex. (Me, think too much about this stuff? Naw.)


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: Pagan, polyamorous, polyamory, swinger, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Four

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At the moment I’m largely limited to dating people who are going to be ok with being in an open relationship because I’m not going to just settle into monogamy by default at this point. It’s also worth pointing out that where I live (SE Wisconsin) most of the liberal/Pagan-friendly folks I’ve met are in (or prefer) open relationships. I’ve jokingly referred to my online profiles as “poly-bait” since most of the folks that contact me that write more than just a “Hey baby” message are in open relationships.

 

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

My relationship difficulties have been compounded the past years by the fact that I’m very cautious when it comes to dating within the Pagan community. 90% of my social interactions are with Pagans, but most Pagans are “off limits” for me because I’ve met them in context as an author/teacher/ritualist. From an ethical perspective, I strongly feel that need to ensure I’m in a peer dynamic with someone before I’d consider a relationship, and even then, I’m leery because of the potential for community drama if the relationship doesn’t work.

Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt.

The Future?

I’m starting to accept that maybe I never fall in love. I don’t like that idea, I really don’t. Maybe my hormones are to blame; maybe my body just doesn’t produce enough oxytocin for the “falling in love” thing. Or maybe I met my “one true love” and it didn’t work out. Maybe it’s just a chemical factor of dealing with depression, or just faulty wiring in my brain chemistry. Maybe it’s because I think too much. Maybe it’s from dissociating my emotions when I was a kid to cope with the bullying. Who knows.

Right now I’m focusing more on balancing out my own conflicting tendencies in relationships.

See, when I find someone I like–even if it’s not “big love”–I tend to get complacent; I don’t really want to seek out new partners. I think it’s largely because of my introvertedness, and certainly in part because my focus is on my work. It’s difficult enough for me to give one partner enough attention, much less more than one partner.

Nowt that I’m actively dating two men at the same time, and exploring relationships with others, I’m not sure that I’m all that good at this. I feel kind of socially overwhelmed, and I’m pretty sure that when I give time to one person, I’m failing to give time to another, and that’s more social stress than I really want to handle. I keep coming back to the fact that I’m not really polyamorous, and multiple relationships are more work.

And it’s work I’m not really good at, if I’m honest with myself.

It’s certainly part of my introversion that I can only cope with having emotional relationships with so many people. I just don’t have a lot of brain space for more; I only have so much social capacity. Just as I can only have so much general social activity before getting exhausted, I seem to have that capacity limit for more intimate friendships and romantic relationships.

I also wonder if there’s some significant functional difference between folks who are genuinely polyamorous and those of us who aren’t. In my case, I’m always going to end up focusing my relationship compass point toward the place where I am getting the most needs met. The person I have the most emotional connection to, the person who is the most compatible with me, the person I seem to share the most chemistry with.

The thing that most monogamous people fear when their partner says, “I want to open our relationship and date other people,” is that their partner is going to 1. Start spending more time with the new partner and neglect them, and 2. Prefer the new partner that they are dating and leave them. I’ve seen open relationships where that doesn’t happen, and I’ve seen open relationships where it does. Maybe that’s the core difference between someone who’s genuinely wired for polyamory and someone who’s wired for monogamy, I’m not sure.

All I can say is that open relationships can be a time suck.

Time and Relationships

The irony in some of this is what initially drew me to open relationships was the casualness factor. After writing a few thousand words on this topic in this series of blog posts, I’ll just be blunt: I got into this to find a way to have intimacy and sex with people I had at least a basic emotional connection to but without a huge time obligation to. I can’t do completely anonymous sex, my attraction engine just doesn’t work that way. I’m too much of a sapiosexual, and I need a connection with someone. However, nor can I lie and promise someone monogamy, long-term-relationships, and falling in love when that doesn’t seem realistic. I needed to find a way to get that need for connection, intimacy, and sex met in a way that worked for me.

Frankly, I don’t have the kind of hours available each week for someone who is looking to me for their primary (or sole) romantic relationship. True, I’d make that time if I really fell for someone and thought we had the potential for a solid relationship, but I’m not willing to put in that kind of time for someone I don’t have that level of connection to.

Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s where I draw the line.

My relationship this past year has worked out great in this respect. He and I have gotten together sometimes weekly but usually once a month. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we don’t. We talk a lot online, we get along really amazingly well though we occasionally argue on philosophical topics. What has made our relationship work–other than the fact that we’re mostly sexually compatible–is that we don’t have huge expectations of each other time-wise. We have fun when we have time to have fun.

Monogamy or Open?

I’m also not unaware of the irony of some of my relationship challenges. All I ever wanted was monogamy, but I’m apparently not great at that because my partners don’t feel they get “enough” of me. And in open relationships, I’m not particularly good at that either for the same reasons; being with multiple partners, and (potentially) in at least friendship relationships with their partners, is often way more social energy than I have to offer to other human beings. (Some weeks all I can cope with are my cats.)

Right at the moment my relationship with my new boyfriend is working well, in part because he and I were both surprised to find ourselves really not just attracted to one another but also connecting on an emotional wavelength. The chemistry there is far deeper than I expected.

But I suppose this also reminds me as well why I’m just not naturally polyamorous, because it’s difficult for me to be attracted to one person and seeking someone else. It’s also been difficult for me to pay adequate attention to two boyfriends at the same time, so I’m struggling with that. I’m starting to feel a bit like I do in a monogamous relationship when my partner’s disappointed that I’m not able to give them enough of my time that they feel valued. And that’s stressful.

Maybe some day I fall in love. Maybe I find a deeply-fulfilling long-term monogamous relationship with someone. Or maybe it’s more monogamish; open relationships don’t scare me the way they once did, so long as I’m confident in the core relationship. In the absence of deep-big-love, it’s nice to connect to people in relationships. I’ve connected to some amazing friends in this way, and sometimes I have even found more emotional connection than I expected.

Friends-love plus chemistry is still pretty rare and amazing, in my experience, so I’m always grateful when I experience that.

Transparency and Explorations

If I reflect back on my previous relationships, there’s no less emotional commitment from me in an open relationship than when I was in monogamous relationships. The difference for me now is, things are more transparently on the table, as it were. I don’t have to pretend that I’m only ever going to be interested in that one person romantically Until The End of Time. And this way, I can be more transparent about when I need to take time to focus on other things, whether that’s a date with another lover, or if I have a book I need to finish editing.

Exploring open relationships has one additional benefit. Perhaps TMI, but I write romance about threesomes, and I have interest in that and a few other sexually adventurous things. Being in open relationships means that I have the option to try out a few of the fantasies on my bucket list. Maybe (in reality) they are as awkward as people tell me, but, I’ve talked to other friends who’ve had fun with them, so who knows. All I can say is that most people living in the assumption of monogamy don’t get to even consider doing anything like this, and tend to think of themselves as deviants for even wanting anything outside of their one relationship.

In fact–I see this a lot when I’m promoting my romance novels. I’ve written some menage-a-trois werewolf romance novels, and that genre’s pretty popular, as well as books with foursomes, fivesomes, and moresomes, usually featuring one female character and her multiple male mates. Usually it’s in the “shifter” genre (werewolves, wereleopards, etc.)  of paranormal romance, but there are other romance novels where it pops up. Apparently this is a huge fantasy that many women have, but never act on, because it’s so “bad” and shameful they’d never consider doing it. 

The male fantasy of being with two (or more) women is sort of a staple of porn, but women who have a similar fantasy are thought of as sluts, whores, and deviants.

Being a sex positive person, I don’t see any of these things as inherently bad, but there’s such a cultural stigma about anything that isn’t heterosexual/monogamous, or that isn’t geared toward the male gaze and heterosexual male desires, that most people never explore any of that.

Conquering Lonely

Living alone for the past years has helped me to get past some of my fear of loneliness. And, though not all of my experiences of dating in the past years have gone well, they’ve at least helped me to consistently disprove that old tape that says, “I’ll never find anyone to connect with, never find anyone that gets me.” I’ve found a number of people who get me, and I’ll meet others in the future who get me.

The old tape still plays in my head, and what I know of human psychology says that I’ll always deal with that. But I have a nice little workaround for it now, because I can pretty easily say, “You’re wrong. That’s not the truth.”

What the past years have certainly taught me is that there are a lot of different ways to do relationships. Monogamy doesn’t have to be the default, but monogamy isn’t also some failing on my part for not being open-minded. Just as people have chemistry (or they don’t) people also have preferences. I’m not truly polyamorous–loving multiple people–but nor am I into totally casual sex either. In general, I experience that polyamorous folks tend to focus more on love relationships, and swingers tend to focus more on sex, particularly sex that centers on a heterosexual couple’s relationship. However, there’s a huge amount of crossover and a spectrum between them.

I’m not entirely sure what to call myself or where I’m at. I’m in open relationships at the moment, and I’m open to monogamy with the right person. What’s more important to me these days than defining what types of relationships I’m in are my boundaries around my work. That’s where my priority is. I think, as I’ve written this, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, but that’s no surprise for me.

Future writing:

I’ll be working up some future articles about sex, sexuality, and relationships. What would you like to read about?

A few topics rattling in my head are the difficulties of being in open relationships, specifically, the huge social stigma attached to them. And also, some of the social trends I’ve encountered in the differences between folks who identify as polyamorous, the folks who identify as swingers, and the crossover space between those. There’s also the whole sex positive vs. sex pressuring, the whole cultural identity around “We’re such deviants, we’re so counterculture, we’re bad and naughty,” and a few other things I see out there that impact and interweave with our cultural ideas (and problems around) sex. (Me, think too much about this stuff? Naw.)


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: Pagan, polyamorous, polyamory, swinger, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Three

ocean-sunset-dark-1113tm-bkgd-465Although I’ve been in a number of open relationships in my life, and intentionally so in the past years, I don’t really consider myself polyamorous. Nor am I accurately described as a swinger. I call myself poly-friendly, because I need to be friends with someone before entering into a sexual relationship, but I also am not falling in love with people or specifically seeking out love with multiple people.

I’ve also learned, over the past years, that it’s hard for me to focus on more than one romantic relationship at a time. Even in some of my relationships in the past years where my partner also has a primary partner, I know those men have felt that I wasn’t paying enough attention to them.

Currently I have more than one partner for the first time in my life, and I don’t feel I’m juggling that very well…or rather, juggling that well with all of my writing/art/traveling/teaching obligations. And being in open relationships has brought up some things I didn’t expect.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

In my newest relationship, I’m experiencing a new-to-me facet of being in an open relationship. In the past, I’ve generally not had a lot of interaction with my romantic partner’s wife/primary partner. The word I used in Part 2 to mean my partner’s partner is borrowed from the polyamory community; the word is metamor. I have had a lot more positive interaction with my boyfriend’s wife than I have had with any of my other partners.

My Partner’s Partner

In the past, I haven’t had much connection to my partner’s partners for a variety of reasons. For instance, I’ve been dating a man for the past year whose wife has extreme social anxiety and depression, and she’s really uninterested in any social interaction. Given I have my own struggles as an introvert with some social anxiety, I totally understand and respect that, though I admit that this has offered up some challenges in his and my relationship as it’s difficult to make plans together given she often has bad days.

My own anxiety gets tripped when I don’t have solid, dependable plans, since my whole day gets thrown off anyways when I’m gearing up to do something social, and since I only see him maybe once a month, this causes some significant frustration for me. So, my relationship to her is more tangential in a sense in that she and I don’t directly talk, but this still has an impact on my life whether or not she and I hang out or not.

In a few other relationships I attempted, I found that I really didn’t get along with the spouse/primary partner. And that doesn’t mean they were bad–like I’ve said before, chemistry is what it is. Just as some people have personality types where they probably shouldn’t work together, there are also people that are just never going to work well as friends, and that’s ok. In some instances, however, the primary partner was actually fairly unstable or abusive. In a few cases, the primary partner actively worked to keep their partner from being able to see me.

Now, in retrospect, those behaviors are some big red flags and I should have bailed on the relationship, but some things I suppose I had to learn for myself. General open relationship note: If you really don’t get along with your partner’s partner, that’s a real warning sign in an open relationship, even if you’re only going to have minimal interaction with them.

While I almost always initially grumble about having to put in the additional social time of meeting my partner’s partner (because, introvert with social anxiety) I have found that in almost any open relationship, being at least on good terms with my partner’s partner is important. Depending on the open relationship, there are varying levels of expectations about how much social time one is expected to have with the partner’s partner.

In my case, my enemy is time. I never feel that I have enough time to get all my work done, and so the more social obligations I have, the less time I have to write or paint or do other work. And the more time I have to spend recovering from the social “fun” time. It’s a lot of pressure and part of my anxiety cycle. The anxiety and recovery profile changes significantly depending on various factors, but it’s something I have to factor in when I think about relationships, even friendships. People will often invite me over for something that’s “relaxing” or “fun” but in most cases, my definition of fun is likely to be a little different than the norm. (You might have guessed by now that I’m also not really big on spontaneity.)

Relationship Expectations

In terms of open relationships that didn’t quite work out as expected, I have also experienced a couple of partners who really wanted me to be part of their poly family, even though our relationship agreements were very clearly stated up front and I was only interested in being a casual/tertiary partner. In at least one of those cases, the man I was dating seemed to be harboring this fantasy where I was going to move in with him, his wife, her girlfriend, and the kids, even though that was far beyond the parameters of our relationship. His wife and her girlfriend did work to make me feel welcome, but my gut feeling says his wife and I probably would have eventually butted heads. We’re both strong-willed, stubborn people, and we probably would have ended up like oil and water if we’d ever tried interacting much more than we did.

It’s worth pointing out that when the parties involved in a relationship have very different expectations, that can cause some significant pressures and in this case it was a big part of his and my breakup in that particular dynamic.

What makes that breakup somewhat more tragic is that this guy was the “safe place” I went to when I needed to see if I could still cope with having sex after my breakup with my abusive ex Mark. I wasn’t sure if I’d freak out during sex or freeze up or what. Fortunately, everything worked just fine, but I think what helped is that I connected with someone I already knew as a friend via the Pagan community–a coven leader I’d worked with before. I was comfortable that we were on a peer dynamic so I didn’t have to worry about that aspect of things. However, because he and his whole family are Pagan, when we broke up, that had the potential to create tension, if not community conflict, all on its own.

Metamor

With my newest relationship, I’ve had a fair amount of interaction with my boyfriend’s wife, and to a certain extent, with some of her other lovers. I’ve also met their kids, and some of their friends who are part of the local open-relationship-community. It would be a side tangent to dive into the ways my own anxiety makes some of these social interactions a bit difficult for me, but it definitely is a factor in the dating-in-open-relationships process.

I think it has worked in this case because she and I get along pretty well. I genuinely like her. It’s worth pointing out how crucial stability is to an open relationship. His wife is stable, their relationship is stable. That makes me feel really good about my relationship with her husband; knowing that I’m not disrupting their dynamic really helps me a lot to feel safe and to trust my partner.

In a few other relationships, I’ve found that my partners started using me almost as a therapist in some ways; they’d complain about their primary partners and what they didn’t like about their primary relationships, and that isn’t at all the case here, so that’s really nice. (Interesting factoid: Most sex workers I’ve talked to have told me that their clients theoretically pay for sex, but often they just talk about the things they can’t say to anyone else, including talking about problems in their relationships.)

Getting back to my new boyfriend and his wife, I admit, probably will always feel a little awkward staying over at their place, but I think that’s probably more my general anxiety about staying in places that aren’t my own “introvert cave” than anything else. Heck, I feel awkward whenever I’m staying at anyone else’s place whether that’s a boyfriend who is single, or I’m traveling and staying at a friend’s place on their couch or in their spare room.

My new boyfriend’s wife has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome, and I don’t take that for granted. Not for a minute. And it’s not that previous partners’ partners’ haven’t also worked to make me welcome, but in this case, the dynamic just really works. It feels more comfortable to me than it has in any previous relationship like this. Usually when I try to sleep over at someone’s place I can’t sleep at all, and I’ve actually been able to sleep at their place, as well as in the hotel when we all went on a trip together.

What Is Relationship?

All this has really forced me to really look at and evaluate what relationship means to me, and what I want out of my life. If I really boil it down, I think that I like monogamous relationships in part just because they are simpler for me on a lot of levels. Particularly for an introvert with some social anxiety. I like the comfort of living with someone. I like movie dates at home watching movies on the couch. I like not having to go out to meet up.

In this new relationship, I spent a weekend with him and we did just that; I stayed at his place while his family was out of town and we ate, watched four sci-fi flicks, and just hung out in our pajamas. It was so comforting, and I realized that I hadn’t gotten to just hang out with a lover like that in years.

I will admit it: I hate the process of dating.

I like not having to worry about meeting new people and going through the whole song and dance of dating; vetting people, talking on the phone to screen them, going on the first “are you an axe murderer or so boring I want to gouge my own eyes out” date…all that.

I like intimacy. I like getting to know someone and have them get to know me so that I get to the point where I actually trust them. Relationship shorthand is so very important to me because it’s part of safety, part of security. There’s something amazing and brilliant when my partner knows I’m just not up for going out to XYZ social event, or that doing ABC is one of my major stressors, or that I can do DEF if we have a solid plan. Or even things like taking into account my food issues (I’m wheat and dairy intolerant, among other things) before making plans.

I’ve been in relationships where I’ve had to explain-ad nauseum–what I like, or don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t, and that’s exhausting. Holding boundaries is exhausting when someone keeps pushing at them, and I’ve been in that dynamic over and over. With Mark, it bled over into emotional abuse. When I was told, over and over, that it was bad and wrong that I didn’t want to go out, that “If I really loved him” I’d do this thing for him even though it would be damaging to me.

And, though I like the comfort of monogamy, of the simplicity of it, of that shorthand and safety…and though I like the simplicity and comfort of not needing to juggle multiple people, I’m long past the point in my life where I can move in and be in a committed relationship with someone just because I like the ease, the safety. Just because I want to shut up the tape that says “I’ll always be alone, nobody will ever get me.”

Part Four coming tomorrow!


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: cheating, dating, open relationship, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, swinger, swingers

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Three

ocean-sunset-dark-1113tm-bkgd-465Although I’ve been in a number of open relationships in my life, and intentionally so in the past years, I don’t really consider myself polyamorous. Nor am I accurately described as a swinger. I call myself poly-friendly, because I need to be friends with someone before entering into a sexual relationship, but I also am not falling in love with people or specifically seeking out love with multiple people.

I’ve also learned, over the past years, that it’s hard for me to focus on more than one romantic relationship at a time. Even in some of my relationships in the past years where my partner also has a primary partner…I know some of those men have felt that I wasn’t paying enough attention to them.

Currently I have more than one partner for the first time in my life, and I don’t feel I’m juggling that very well…or rather, juggling that well with all of my writing/art/traveling/teaching obligations. And being in open relationships has brought up some things I didn’t expect.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

In the past, I’ve generally not had a lot of interaction with my romantic partner’s wife/primary partner. The word I used in Part 2 to mean my partner’s partner is borrowed from the polyamory community; the word is metamor. Right now I’m experiencing a new-to-me facet of being in an open relationship: I have had a lot more positive interaction with my boyfriend’s wife than I have had with any of my other partners’ girlfriends and wives.

My Partner’s Partner

In the past, I haven’t had much connection to my partners’ partners for a variety of reasons. For instance, I’ve been dating a man for the past year whose wife has extreme social anxiety and depression, and she’s really uninterested in any social interaction. Given I have my own struggles as an introvert with some social anxiety, I totally understand and respect that, though I admit that this has offered up some challenges in his and my relationship as it’s difficult to make plans together given she often has bad days.

One specific challenge I face with that scenario is that my own anxiety gets tripped when I don’t have solid, dependable plans, since my whole day gets thrown off anyways when I’m gearing up to do something social. If I’ve blown a day of work getting ready for social activity, and then the plans change, I’ve not only lost that day, but the resulting plan-changing anxiety can blow another day as well if I’m not really careful. And since I only see this particular boyfriend perhaps once a month, this causes some significant frustration for me. So, my relationship to her is more tangential in a sense in that she and I don’t directly talk, but this still has an impact on my life whether or not she and I hang out.

In a few other relationships I attempted, I found that I really didn’t get along with the spouse/primary partner. And that doesn’t mean they were bad–like I’ve said before, chemistry is what it is. Just as some people have personality types where they probably shouldn’t work together, there are also people that are just never going to work well as friends, and that’s ok. In some instances, however, the primary partner was actually fairly unstable or abusive. In one or two of those cases, the primary partner actively worked to keep their partner from being able to see me.

Now, in retrospect, those behaviors are some big red flags and I should have bailed on the relationship, but some things I suppose I had to learn for myself. General open relationship note: If you really don’t get along with your partner’s partner, that’s a real warning sign in an open relationship, even if you’re only going to have minimal interaction with them.

While I almost always initially grumble about having to put in the additional social time of meeting my partner’s partner (because, introvert with social anxiety here) I have found that in almost any open relationship, being at least on good terms with my partner’s partner is important. Depending on the open relationship, there are varying levels of expectations about how much social time one is expected to have with the partner’s partner.

In my case, my enemy is time. I never feel that I have enough time to get all my work done, and so the more social obligations I have, the less time I have to write or paint or do other work. And the more time I need to spend recovering from the physical/mental exhaustion I experience after what most would think of as social “fun” time. It’s a lot of pressure and part of my anxiety cycle. The anxiety and recovery profile changes significantly depending on various factors, but it’s something I have to factor in when I think about relationships, even friendships. People will often invite me over for something that’s “relaxing” or “fun” but in most cases, my definition of fun is likely to be a little different than the norm. Planning can help reduce my anxiety. (You might have guessed by now that I’m also not really big on spontaneity.)

Relationship Expectations

In terms of open relationships that didn’t quite work out as expected, I have also experienced a couple of partners who really wanted me to be part of their poly family, even though our relationship agreements were very clearly stated up front and I was only interested in being a casual/tertiary partner. In at least one of those cases, the man I was dating seemed to be harboring this fantasy where I was going to move in with him, his wife, her girlfriend, and the kids, even though that was far beyond the parameters of our relationship. His wife and her girlfriend did work to make me feel welcome, but my gut feeling tells me his wife and I probably would have eventually butted heads. We’re both strong-willed, stubborn people, and we probably would have ended up like oil and water if we’d ever tried interacting much more than we did.

It’s worth pointing out that when the parties involved in a relationship have very different expectations, that can cause some significant pressures and in this case it was a big part of his and my breakup in that particular dynamic.

What makes that breakup somewhat more tragic is that that boyfriend was the “safe place” I went to when I needed to see if I could still cope with having sex after my breakup with my abusive ex Mark. I wasn’t sure if I’d freak out during sex or freeze up or what. Fortunately, everything worked just fine, but I think what helped is that I connected with someone I already knew as a friend via the Pagan community–a coven leader I’d worked with before. I was comfortable that we were on a peer dynamic so I didn’t have to worry about that aspect of things. However, because he and his whole family are Pagan, when we broke up, that had the potential to create tension, if not community conflict, all on its own.

Metamor

With my newest relationship, I’ve had a fair amount of interaction with my boyfriend’s wife, and to a certain extent, with some of her other lovers. I’ve also met their kids, and some of their friends who are part of the local open-relationship-community. And some of these social interactions are a bit difficult for me to sustain, but they are definitely a factor in the dating-in-open-relationships process.

I think that this has all worked in this case because she and I actually get along pretty well. I genuinely like her. It’s worth pointing out how crucial stability is to an open relationship. His wife is stable, their relationship is stable. That makes me feel really good about my relationship with her husband; knowing that I’m not disrupting their dynamic really helps me a lot to feel safe and to trust my partner.

In a few other relationships, I’ve found that my partners started using me almost as a therapist in some ways; they’d complain about their primary partners and what they didn’t like about their primary relationships, and that isn’t at all the case here, so that’s really nice. (Interesting factoid: Most sex workers I’ve talked to have told me that their clients theoretically pay for sex, but often they just talk about the things they can’t say to anyone else, including talking about problems in their relationships.)

With my new boyfriend and his wife, I admit, probably will always feel a little awkward staying over at their place, but I think that’s probably more my general anxiety about staying in places that aren’t my own “introvert cave” than anything else. Heck, I feel awkward whenever I’m staying at anyone else’s place whether that’s a boyfriend who is single, or I’m traveling and staying at a friend’s place on their couch or in their spare room.

My new boyfriend’s wife has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome, and I don’t take that for granted. Not for a minute. And it’s not that previous partners’ partners’ haven’t also worked to make me welcome, but in this case, the dynamic just really works. It feels more comfortable to me than it has in any previous relationship like this. Usually when I try to sleep over at someone’s place I can’t sleep at all, and I’ve actually been able to sleep at their place, as well as in the hotel when we all went on a trip together.

What Is Relationship?

All this has really forced me to really look at and evaluate what relationship means to me, and what I want out of my life. If I really boil it down, I think that I like monogamous relationships in part just because they are simpler for me on a lot of levels. Particularly for an introvert with some social anxiety. I like the comfort of living with someone. I like movie dates at home watching movies on the couch. I like not having to go out to meet up.

In this new relationship, I spent a weekend with him and we did just that; I stayed at his place while his family was out of town and we ate, watched four sci-fi flicks, and just hung out in our pajamas. It was so comforting, and I realized that I hadn’t gotten to just hang out with a lover like that in years.

I will admit it: I hate the process of dating.

I like not having to worry about meeting new people and going through the whole song and dance of dating; vetting people, talking on the phone to screen them, going on the first “are you an axe murderer or so boring or full of yourself I want to gouge my own eyes out” date…all that.

I like intimacy. I like getting to know someone and have them get to know me so that I get to the point where I actually trust them. Relationship shorthand is so very important to me because it’s part of safety, part of security. There’s something amazing and brilliant when my partner knows I’m just not up for going out to XYZ social event, or that doing ABC is one of my major stressors, or that I can do DEF if we have a solid plan. Or even things like taking into account my food issues (I’m wheat and dairy intolerant, among other things) before making plans.

I’ve been in relationships where I’ve had to explain-ad nauseum–what I like, or don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t, and that’s exhausting. Holding boundaries is exhausting when someone keeps pushing at them, and I’ve been in that dynamic over and over. With Mark, it bled over into emotional abuse. I was told, over and over, that it was bad and wrong that I didn’t want to go out with him and his friends, that “If I really loved him” I’d do this thing for him even though it would be damaging to me.

And, though I like the comfort of monogamy, the simplicity of it, of that shorthand and safety…and though I like the simplicity and comfort of not juggling multiple people…I’m long past the point in my life where I can move in and be in a committed relationship with someone just because I like the ease, the safety. Just because I want to shut up the tape that says “I’ll always be alone, nobody will ever get me.”

Part Four coming tomorrow!


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: cheating, dating, open relationship, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, swinger, swingers

Exploring Open Relationships: Part One

HPIM1030.JPGI’ve always considered myself monogamous, even when I’ve been in open relationships in the past. All I ever really wanted, growing up, was to find my soulmate and be with him forever. For a while in my late-teens/early twenties, I was anti-marriage, but then, I was sort of finding my footing as a feminist and I was looking at marriage solely as an institution of the patriarchy. I suppose that didn’t really last long as I got married in my early twenties; the call to settle down with one person was the stronger call.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be a bit TMI for some folks on the inner workings of my experience of romantic relationships. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

Ever since my (fairly catastrophic) relationship with my ex, Mark, I’ve pretty much been in open relationships. As I’m committed to the process of personal growth and of “know thyself,” I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on this, since it’s definitely changed who I am and who I think I am as a person.

In the past, what I ended up doing was dating someone that I sort of liked but wasn’t in love with, and then I got comfortable with them and we sort of went monogamous by default. And, I wasn’t totally happy, I wasn’t in love, but it was nice to not be alone. In those relationships I know that I’ve thought, “I’m not in love, but I like them a lot. Maybe I’ll love them more in time. Maybe my attraction will grow.” It’s rare for me to find someone I click with to begin with (and rarer still for me to actually be physically attracted to someone) so I frequently experience the fear of relationship scarcity. Scarcity/Loneliness go hand in hand for me. “I’ll never find anyone I like, I’ll never find anyone that gets me” is one of the tapes that my brain likes to put on repeat whenever I’m not in a relationship.

So I’ve stuck with a few relationships long past their expiration date in part because of that fear of loneliness. And that’s not fair to me, or to my partners.

Since my really bad breakup at the end of 2011, I’ve resolved that I’m not going to get into a monogamous relationship with someone unless I’m falling in love, or at least, the realistic potential for that. For the past years:

  1. I’ve been living in a very conservative area of Wisconsin, and
  2. Most men aren’t really satisfied with the minimal amount of time I can commit to dating,

That’s left me primarily dating men who are in open relationships (either married or in a primary relationship). I have an online dating profile, and I’d say that 90% of the messages I get (that are from actual people with compatible interests) are from men in open relationships.

This has worked out well for me in many ways. My focus is on my writing and artwork, and I sometimes vanish for days at a time when working on a project. I check my calendar sometimes and realize that weeks have gone by since I’ve seen another human being in the flesh. For that matter, I’m sometimes on the road traveling and teaching for days or weeks at a time. When I’m with someone who’s already in a relationship, they already have a daily routine, they don’t have a huge amount of time to spend with me. Their family and primary relationship(s) are their priority.

I might see them once or twice a month, and that’s about all the social time I can spare if I’m going to keep my focus on my work. Men who are looking for more from me are going to get frustrated, so these days I work hard to communicate up front what I’m able to offer to a relationship.

Only once in the past 4 years have I dated anyone where I considered it a monogamous relationship. We met online, we really clicked, we spent the better part of a week together, and then he started to “ghost” on me. It was long distance, and I went to see him about a month later, and then he withdrew even further. After multiple queries on my part for more communication, he broke things off. I was just starting to have some feelings for him. I think he had an expectation of who I was from when we met online, and I somehow didn’t fulfill that expectation…and in retrospect, he and I wouldn’t have worked out anyways. I’m glad I gave things a shot with him, but that experience was rough for me because it just reinforced my “I’ll never find anyone who gets me” tape.

When I got married in my early twenties, I thought, “I’ll be in this relationship for the rest of my life.” I wasn’t in love, but my husband and I got along well. I thought, “I suppose this is as good as it gets.”

I always feel a bit awkward writing or speaking about this because there are a number of men in my life that I’m still friends with, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s not like they, themselves, were “bad,” this is more of a case of being incompatible, or just lack of chemistry. We humans take offense to, or hear as critique, things connected to how our partners felt about us in relationships. It’s not any man’s fault that I didn’t fall in love with them any more than it’s any man’s fault that they aren’t attracted to me; nor is it my fault I’m not attracted. Chemistry is what it is. So, as you read my perspective on these relationships, understand that I’m talking about my own processes, thoughts, and feelings (or lack thereof). 

I met my ex husband when I had just turned twenty, and I had just been with my first boyfriend a few months before that. I wasn’t in love with him either, but he was a nice guy and a good friend. I’d fallen in love before that, but that guy wasn’t interested in me that way, and (I’ll spare you the angst) I went into a depression spiral and gave up on true love. In hindsight, I understand that it’s not his fault he didn’t love me; like I said, chemistry is what it is. 

It took me most of my twenties to deal with my body image issues, so I was still fairly well sucked into the whole “Nobody wants to be with the fat chick with acne.” So when my husband fell for me, I went with the flow. I didn’t believe in true love and soulmates any longer, and I suppose I thought some version of, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” In fact, I recall some people in my life telling me this when I expressed that I wasn’t sure about getting married to him. “Don’t lose this guy, he’s good for you,” people told me. What I think they meant was, “You’re fat and not that attractive, and you found a guy that likes you, don’t screw this up and end up a spinster.

That fear of loneliness is a real kicker.

They meant well, I know they did, but I got married when I probably shouldn’t have. He wanted me to be in love with him, and I wasn’t. I liked him. We were fantastic roommates. We were both fiction writers and Ren Faire/Fantasy nerds, so that worked out. Sex was ok at first. But, I had no passion for him.

We got married when I was 23, and hindsight being 20/20…if I knew then what I know now, I’d have saved us both some pain and just stayed friends with him instead of caving to his desire to get married.

Opening Our Marriage

How he and I came to be in an open relationship is that he finally came out to me about some particular fetishes he was interested in. I had always known he had some fetishes and kinks I didn’t share; we’d tried out a little BDSM and role play early on, but most of that didn’t really work for me. I’m too kinky for your totally vanilla person, and I’m waaaay too vanilla for anyone heavily into fetish.

When my husband finally admitted to needing some heavy-duty fetish stuff, this was way out of my league. We opened up our relationship so that he could go explore that.

It was easy for me to open up our relationship. I wasn’t in love with him, so I wasn’t really jealous. That may sound harsh or strange, but when I look back at my younger self that sums it up. I loved him as a friend and I wanted him to be happy, but him spending time with other people didn’t really emotionally impact me much.

I didn’t take advantage of our open relationship, though. At the time, I was something around 330 or so pounds; that’s the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, and my husband was far heavier than me. And whether it was his weight, or the fact that he was finally exploring his sexual interests, sex stopped working for us. But I was so overweight (and introverted, and busy) that I didn’t really feel comfortable trying to date anyone. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have even known how, I’d never really dated anyone to begin with.

In my late twenties, I did finally develop a crush on someone I met at a Pagan gathering. I knew that I’d never have a long-term relationship with that person, but I was interested in exploring things with him, and that’s the first time I ever actively pursued anyone.

I’ll fast forward through the massive life changes here–I broke up with my husband. The combination of actually having feelings for someone new and realizing that I was even capable of feeling that kind of passion and attraction, as well as discovering what I really wanted to be doing with my life (building Pagan community) as well as everything else that had built up over the years…I finally was in the headspace where I could end things. At the time my husband angry but later he thanked me. And I’m truly glad he’s happy; last I talked to him he had a boyfriend who was into the same fetishes and they were moving in together.

As for the guy I had a crush on–I tried being one of his polyamorous romantic interests, but that didn’t really work out either. He and I ended up as friends, though I had to nurse a broken heart to get to that place.

I then ended up in another relationship after someone introduced me to the Wonderful World of Online Dating. I’d intended to keep that as an open relationship so that I didn’t get stuck in the trap I had been in with my marriage, but he didn’t want to be in an open relationship so I (once again) caved. And that relationship dissolved after less than two years. I freely admit that I stayed in that relationship as long as I did because it was the first time I had ever had sex with someone where things were really good.

When that relationship ended, I went through a period of time I refer to as “borking my way through the Zodiac.” I didn’t make it all the way around the wheel, but I did instead discover a few things. One is that totally casual sex does not work for me. I can do friends with benefits, with a focus on the friends part. I’m too much of a sapiosexual. I need to know someone, connect with them. I had this theory that if I could just meet my sexual needs and not need to deal with the complexities of relationships, I’d be better off.

I disproved this theory for myself fairly quickly.

Part 2 will be posted soon!

 

 


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: ethics, open relationships, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, sex, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part One

HPIM1030.JPGI’ve always considered myself monogamous, even when I’ve been in open relationships in the past. All I ever really wanted, growing up, was to find my soulmate and be with him forever. For a while in my late-teens/early twenties, I was anti-marriage, but then, I was sort of finding my footing as a feminist and I was looking at marriage solely as an institution of the patriarchy. I suppose that didn’t really last long as I got married in my early twenties; the call to settle down with one person was the stronger call.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be a bit TMI for some folks on the inner workings of my experience of romantic relationships. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

Ever since my (fairly catastrophic) relationship with my ex, Mark, I’ve pretty much been in open relationships. As I’m committed to the process of personal growth and of “know thyself,” I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on this, since it’s definitely changed who I am and who I think I am as a person.

In the past, what I ended up doing was dating someone that I sort of liked but wasn’t in love with, and then I got comfortable with them and we sort of went monogamous by default. And, I wasn’t totally happy, I wasn’t in love, but it was nice to not be alone. In those relationships I know that I’ve thought, “I’m not in love, but I like them a lot. Maybe I’ll love them more in time. Maybe my attraction will grow.” It’s rare for me to find someone I click with to begin with (and rarer still for me to actually be physically attracted to someone) so I frequently experience the fear of relationship scarcity. Scarcity/Loneliness go hand in hand for me. “I’ll never find anyone I like, I’ll never find anyone that gets me” is one of the tapes that my brain likes to put on repeat whenever I’m not in a relationship.

So I’ve stuck with a few relationships long past their expiration date in part because of that fear of loneliness. And that’s not fair to me, or to my partners.

Since my really bad breakup at the end of 2011, I’ve resolved that I’m not going to get into a monogamous relationship with someone unless I’m falling in love, or at least, the realistic potential for that. For the past years:

  1. I’ve been living in a very conservative area of Wisconsin, and
  2. Most men aren’t really satisfied with the minimal amount of time I can commit to dating,

That’s left me primarily dating men who are in open relationships (either married or in a primary relationship). I have an online dating profile, and I’d say that 90% of the messages I get (that are from actual people with compatible interests) are from men in open relationships.

This has worked out well for me in many ways. My focus is on my writing and artwork, and I sometimes vanish for days at a time when working on a project. I check my calendar sometimes and realize that weeks have gone by since I’ve seen another human being in the flesh. For that matter, I’m sometimes on the road traveling and teaching for days or weeks at a time. When I’m with someone who’s already in a relationship, they already have a daily routine, they don’t have a huge amount of time to spend with me. Their family and primary relationship(s) are their priority.

I might see them once or twice a month, and that’s about all the social time I can spare if I’m going to keep my focus on my work. Men who are looking for more from me are going to get frustrated, so these days I work hard to communicate up front what I’m able to offer to a relationship.

Only once in the past 4 years have I dated anyone where I considered it a monogamous relationship. We met online, we really clicked, we spent the better part of a week together, and then he started to “ghost” on me. It was long distance, and I went to see him about a month later, and then he withdrew even further. After multiple queries on my part for more communication, he broke things off. I was just starting to have some feelings for him. I think he had an expectation of who I was from when we met online, and I somehow didn’t fulfill that expectation…and in retrospect, he and I wouldn’t have worked out anyways. I’m glad I gave things a shot with him, but that experience was rough for me because it just reinforced my “I’ll never find anyone who gets me” tape.

When I got married in my early twenties, I thought, “I’ll be in this relationship for the rest of my life.” I wasn’t in love, but my husband and I got along well. I thought, “I suppose this is as good as it gets.”

I always feel a bit awkward writing or speaking about this because there are a number of men in my life that I’m still friends with, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s not like they, themselves, were “bad,” this is more of a case of being incompatible, or just lack of chemistry. We humans take offense to, or hear as critique, things connected to how our partners felt about us in relationships. It’s not any man’s fault that I didn’t fall in love with them any more than it’s any man’s fault that they aren’t attracted to me; nor is it my fault I’m not attracted. Chemistry is what it is. So, as you read my perspective on these relationships, understand that I’m talking about my own processes, thoughts, and feelings (or lack thereof). 

I met my ex husband when I had just turned twenty, and I had just been with my first boyfriend a few months before that. I wasn’t in love with him either, but he was a nice guy and a good friend. I’d fallen in love before that, but that guy wasn’t interested in me that way, and (I’ll spare you the angst) I went into a depression spiral and gave up on true love. In hindsight, I understand that it’s not his fault he didn’t love me; like I said, chemistry is what it is. 

It took me most of my twenties to deal with my body image issues, so I was still fairly well sucked into the whole “Nobody wants to be with the fat chick with acne.” So when my husband fell for me, I went with the flow. I didn’t believe in true love and soulmates any longer, and I suppose I thought some version of, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” In fact, I recall some people in my life telling me this when I expressed that I wasn’t sure about getting married to him. “Don’t lose this guy, he’s good for you,” people told me. What I think they meant was, “You’re fat and not that attractive, and you found a guy that likes you, don’t screw this up and end up a spinster.

That fear of loneliness is a real kicker.

They meant well, I know they did, but I got married when I probably shouldn’t have. He wanted me to be in love with him, and I wasn’t. I liked him. We were fantastic roommates. We were both fiction writers and Ren Faire/Fantasy nerds, so that worked out. Sex was ok at first. But, I had no passion for him.

We got married when I was 23, and hindsight being 20/20…if I knew then what I know now, I’d have saved us both some pain and just stayed friends with him instead of caving to his desire to get married.

Opening Our Marriage

How he and I came to be in an open relationship is that he finally came out to me about some particular fetishes he was interested in. I had always known he had some fetishes and kinks I didn’t share; we’d tried out a little BDSM and role play early on, but most of that didn’t really work for me. I’m too kinky for your totally vanilla person, and I’m waaaay too vanilla for anyone heavily into fetish.

When my husband finally admitted to needing some heavy-duty fetish stuff, this was way out of my league. We opened up our relationship so that he could go explore that.

It was easy for me to open up our relationship. I wasn’t in love with him, so I wasn’t really jealous. That may sound harsh or strange, but when I look back at my younger self that sums it up. I loved him as a friend and I wanted him to be happy, but him spending time with other people didn’t really emotionally impact me much.

I didn’t take advantage of our open relationship, though. At the time, I was something around 330 or so pounds; that’s the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, and my husband was far heavier than me. And whether it was his weight, or the fact that he was finally exploring his sexual interests, sex stopped working for us. But I was so overweight (and introverted, and busy) that I didn’t really feel comfortable trying to date anyone. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have even known how, I’d never really dated anyone to begin with.

In my late twenties, I did finally develop a crush on someone I met at a Pagan gathering. I knew that I’d never have a long-term relationship with that person, but I was interested in exploring things with him, and that’s the first time I ever actively pursued anyone.

I’ll fast forward through the massive life changes here–I broke up with my husband. The combination of actually having feelings for someone new and realizing that I was even capable of feeling that kind of passion and attraction, as well as discovering what I really wanted to be doing with my life (building Pagan community) as well as everything else that had built up over the years…I finally was in the headspace where I could end things. At the time my husband angry but later he thanked me. And I’m truly glad he’s happy; last I talked to him he had a boyfriend who was into the same fetishes and they were moving in together.

As for the guy I had a crush on–I tried being one of his polyamorous romantic interests, but that didn’t really work out either. He and I ended up as friends, though I had to nurse a broken heart to get to that place.

I then ended up in another relationship after someone introduced me to the Wonderful World of Online Dating. I’d intended to keep that as an open relationship so that I didn’t get stuck in the trap I had been in with my marriage, but he didn’t want to be in an open relationship so I (once again) caved. And that relationship dissolved after less than two years. I freely admit that I stayed in that relationship as long as I did because it was the first time I had ever had sex with someone where things were really good.

When that relationship ended, I went through a period of time I refer to as “borking my way through the Zodiac.” I didn’t make it all the way around the wheel, but I did instead discover a few things. One is that totally casual sex does not work for me. I can do friends with benefits, with a focus on the friends part. I’m too much of a sapiosexual. I need to know someone, connect with them. I had this theory that if I could just meet my sexual needs and not need to deal with the complexities of relationships, I’d be better off.

I disproved this theory for myself fairly quickly.

Part 2 will be posted soon!

 

 


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: ethics, open relationships, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, sex, swingers, swinging

Ritual Facilitation: Designing Processes

120cover300The most current issue of Circle Magazine is themed entirely on rituals. It’s a great read with lots of tips and tools for ritual facilitators. My own article, Ritual Facilitation: Designing Impactful Rituals, ended up being way too long for the magazine, and so I pulled out a section of it and just created an entire article from that piece. Thus, this article will perhaps have more context if you read the article in the magazine. Below I focus on the specifics of designing processes and how this connects to the design of ritual.

In many of my articles on ritual facilitation I talk about designing rituals rather than writing them; design means to plan. I also talk a lot about the flow of rituals and how each piece of a ritual layers and prepares people for the next piece. What might surprise you is that some of my own background as a web designer and usability consultant impacts how I approach designing rituals.

Process and Space Design
Let’s assume you’ve got a ritual planned, but you are looking at a few complicated logistics. Or, let’s say you’re taking a big step back from how you usually do rituals and rethinking things to try and make your rituals more accessible, more impactful, or just more effective.

There are some secular processes that can help to give you some good examples of understanding how process, flow, and the space where the ritual takes place, all impact each participant’s experience of the ritual. While you might not think that these secular processes have much to do with ritual, it’s important to remember that processes are pretty universal. We humans are going to engage in processes in similar ways whether they are religious are secular. And if you understand processes of any kind, you’ll be a better ritual designer.

This might seem a bit nerdy, but trust me–this will help you design better rituals.

Going To the Store
Think about the last time you went to a larger store like a grocery store or department store. In many stores there is an open space near the entrance. Store designers often refer to this as a “landing zone.” What designers and anthropologists have found in observing people in stores is that people often like to stop and orient themselves when entering a large store. Stores that are too crowded in the entrance way make this difficult, and people feel uncomfortable, even though they can’t necessarily articulate why.

Similarly, stores that try to pack the aisles in too tight also make people feel vaguely uncomfortable. Stores that have plenty of space between aisles make people feel more comfortable. Often store owners will try to cram as many products into the space as they can, but the truth is that when people feel more comfortable, they stay longer and buy more.

I can think of one store where the underwear and sock aisles are all packed so close together that I can barely walk through them. I hate shopping there; that vague sense of discomfort is enough to make me avoid shopping at that store, even if they have good sales on products I need.

While rituals don’t have aisles packed with products for sale, what’s important is to note that the design of the space, the shape of the room, whether or not there are enough chairs, or other aspects of the design of the process of the ritual itself can make people uncomfortable. It’s not about dealing with difficult subject matter, it’s a matter of logistics. Can people sit if they need to? Are there enough chairs? Is the room cramped?

I often shop at thrift stores, but one of the significant challenges that I face is the perfumey smell of the store. All the clothes in the store seem doused in perfume and cologne, which makes my face itch. I’m pretty sensitive to scent. Thrift stores are the only place I can buy frames for my artwork, so I suffer through it, but it’s another example of how something uncomfortable can totally transform someone’s experience.

Do your rituals use a lot of scent? Are you burning sage or other things that people might be allergic to?

In essence, what we’re looking at here are the things that make people uncomfortable. Observing people and how people behave can give you a lot of clues. What is particularly useful in observing processes is finding out key points of pain and irritation. If people aren’t comfortable, they won’t shop at your store, or attend your rituals.

Discomfort and Challenge
I should note that there’s a difference between designing a ritual where you ask uncomfortable questions–such as shadow work–and a ritual where people are uncomfortable because they are standing around bored for a half hour or more in the cold waiting for their turn at an altar. Or a ritual where people are stumbling around in the darkness trying to find their way to the ritual area. Or one of my personal pet peeves, trying to find my way to a ritual or festival at a park shelter when there were vague directions posted, and there is no signage.

In essence, if you want to take people into a deep, spiritual place, you have to know how people work.

Nobody’s going to be relaxed enough to go into a trance state, or trust you to take them on an Underworld journey, if they got lost trying to find your event, if there wasn’t appropriate signage, if the event space is uncomfortable, or if the design of the ritual itself leads to a lot of boring standing around.

Expectations in Process
Why, after all these years, do I still use the Four Elements in rituals I facilitate? Even though I’m a pantheist and I don’t believe in them as actual spirits? Why do I do something that looks like a circle casting, even though I don’t think of it as a magical barrier? Basically, because most Pagans are familiar with Wiccanate (Wicca-like) traditions and expect it.

Now—I’m not saying this is always the way to go, and I may at some point be changing some of my own ritual approach to less resemble Wicca. But it’s part of why I’ve stuck with the common ritual progression of grounding, circle casting, elements, deities, and storytelling/trancework/working.

Because it’s familiar. Familiarity is comforting, and it’s an important part of designing processes.

I’d say a lot of ritual design is balancing the repetition of tradition, which makes people feel comfortable and safe, and adapting or redesigning a tradition when a change would serve the group better.

Think about some of these secular processes you may have engaged in.

  • Pumping the gas at a gas station
  • Calling someone on the phone
  • Ordering a book online
  • Reading a book

You probably don’t think much about these processes. You’re on autopilot. Why? They are systems that you understand. They are habitual, you don’t need to think about them. And yet, any one of these processes was once new. And these processes change.

Once upon a time, you pumped your gas and then paid for it at the store. These days, most gas stations require prepay. This disrupted the system and people had to get used to the change, but now it’s become rote. This is an example of changing a part of the process, but in a way that integrated with the existing process.

Tip: If you’re changing a process in your rituals, make it as seamless as possible and give people a reason to do it so they don’t get irked. People paying for gas at the pump save time by not having to stand in line at the register. Though people are often made uncomfortable when a process changes, and even resist it, if the new process is more efficient, people will be more willing to adopt it. An example might be changing how you smudge people, or changing how you facilitate Cakes and Ale, to make it go more smoothly and not take 45 minutes.

Calling someone on the phone was once a new thing. Then people understood it and became comfortable with it. Now, more and more people would rather text someone than call them. On the other hand, online systems like Google Phone and Skype are best served when they emulate the phone model, even though they don’t need to. Why? Because people are comfortable with the phone and know how it works.

Tip: If you’re designing a new process in your rituals, make it resemble an old process that people are already comfortable with. An example is if people are in line for some aspect of a ritual, and you want more than one person at a time to come up to an altar or a shrine, you can still have people line up; that’s easy, people automatically do that. You’ll just have to overtly invite three or four people to come forward at a time. People will catch on.

Ordering a book online is something you couldn’t do before the internet. Designers (like me) spent agonizing hours trying to design shopping processes (and other online applications) that were easy to use. Many of the early web sites had staggering percentages of people who “bailed” from the purchase process because the process was too difficult to complete. There were a lot of problems, but one consistent problem with any interface (software, website, airport signage) is the failure to communicate to the end user what they are supposed to do to successfully complete the task.

There are still websites that fail to design an interface that is easy to navigate for their users, but the sites that do it well employ a technique called the shopping cart tunnel. That is, the online shopping cart has as few distractions as possible and makes it very clear what the next steps are. If those steps are unclear, or typing in your payment information is frustrating, you’ll bail from the process.

You can see similar frustration if you’re at an airport or bus station and the signage is poor. Walking back and forth with heavy luggage when you aren’t sure where to go is very frustrating, and could be solved with better signage. In essence, better communication.

Tip: If there’s anything about your process that is unclear or confusing, it’s going to frustrate your attendees. Look at your rituals with a critical eye, and watch people. Are there parts of your ritual where people are bored, frustrated, or confused? I’ve been to many rituals where the ritual leaders clearly expected the participants to do something, but never told the participants what they wanted them to do or how to do it. Or, there was too much going on and the participants were confused? Look for these parts of your process; if you’ve ever had a ritual train wreck where the ritual went way off plan and people seemed confused, you need to improve your communication and setup of how the participants can successfully complete that part of the process.

An example is a ritual where cups were passed out and filled with water; people weren’t sure whether they were supposed to drink it right then, or wait for everyone, or do something else. They weren’t told. Another example is a very performance-heavy ritual was led by someone who began singing. The ritual leader got frustrated when people didn’t join in singing the chant/song, but she hadn’t asked them to. Another example was when a ritual team started dancing in the center of the circle of participants, and participants looked at each other wondering if they were supposed to dance too or if they were supposed to watch. They had not been overtly invited to dance, so they were kind of waiting and watching, unsure if they should join in.

People’s desire to not look stupid in front of others is a driving motivation you can count on every time. Ritual processes, therefore, should clearly communicate what people are being asked to do so that the attendees don’t need to wonder, and work to make any participation safe to join into.

Reading a book is a fairly intuitive process. Pick up the book, open it, read the page, turn the page. You observe people doing this at a pretty young age so we don’t even really have to be taught how to do this. Now we have ebooks, which were considered a disruptive technology. This means a technology that it disrupts the way things were done before. Many folks are resistant to the idea of ebooks because they find technology confusing, or because they like how “real” books feel.

One way that designers have overcome some of the resistance to ebooks is by designing them to—as much as possible—resemble physical books. Most tablet ereaders are book-size and book-shaped. They have functionality so that you can flip the page in a similar way to how you would with a physical book. They work to make the new technology as easy to use as the physical book, and that’s one reason why so many have adopted reading ebooks.

Tip: Try to make your ritual processes be so intuitive that participants don’t need to think about what to do. I once was part of a ritual exercise where people were supposed to walk the path of a large pentacle painted on a dropcloth on the floor. They were supposed to remember the names of the five pentacle points and walk them in order, but the concept had been really quickly introduced and the attendees were having trouble remembering the points. So, instead what one facilitator did was get the whole group of people chanting the five points one after each other. It was themed after the Iron Pentacle, so the points were Sex, Pride, Self, Power, Passion.

The other facilitator was visibly frustrated that people weren’t calling out the points in the “right” order and the exercise wasn’t going the way they had originally envisioned, but the setup was poor and people were initially incredibly confused.

Nobody is going to get much out of your ritual if they are unsure of what to do and are confused and frustrated. The adapted process leaned on things that people knew how to do–participants were ready and willing to chant along with the facilitator, and once people walking the pentacle knew what point they were on (because the group was chanting it) they felt better about the exercise.

If you have a complicated exercise or logistic that’s part of your ritual, you must clearly communicate what needs to happen (and ensure everyone’s got it) before the ritual starts. In fact, you should probably practice it. You should also have a backup plan for how to make the exercise simpler if people aren’t doing it the way you envisioned during the ritual.

Bottlenecks
Some aspects of human behavior just naturally cause bottlenecks or long, and I’d say that bottlenecks are perhaps one of the biggest challenges. Here are some examples:

Everyone is sitting together in a circle. A ritualist asks for each people to pass a stone from one person to the next, and when they are the one holding the stone, to speak about their experiences in the trance. No time limit is given or suggested, and the first person to speak talks for two minutes. The entire ritual lasts more than three hours, long past when people expected to be able to go home, but people stay because it would be rude to leave.

During a ritual each person is invited to visit one of three altars/shrines. The first person to go to the shrine takes about a minute, and people line up behind her. People politely wait their turns but this stretches into being in line for an hour. There’s an axiom that the first person to do the thing sets the tone, and they also set the expected time limit. If your first person to smudge themselves, to go to a deity at an altar, to speak an intention, or any other activity…if they take a long time, each person after them will take about that long. Stack the deck by ensuring the first person does the logistic quickly. Stack the deck further by suggesting that each person should speak just a few words or a sentence, or state about how long each person has to talk/experience in order to ensure each person there has enough time.

During a ritual, people are asked to pass through a birthing/creation gate where the Crones of the community greet them. The Crones begin to hug each person who comes through the gate. Then each Crone hugs each person through the gate. There are 200 people in line at the gate, and what was intended to be a quick influx of several hundred people through a gate where the Crones waved at them and wished them well becomes a receiving line that lasted thirty minutes. I asked one of my ritualist team members to ask the Crones to stop hugging each person, and the Crones flatly refused to stop. Another axiom of processes is that once a process gets going, it’s ludicrously difficult to stop it.

During a ritual, people are asked to cut strands of yarn on a scythe. The strands are red and symbolize something they wish to sever from their lives, something they wish to release. Unfortunately, most people don’t know intuitively which end of a scythe is sharp. (Hint: It’s the bottom/inside, not the top.) So the shrouded figure of Death holding the scythe, instead of being an imposing, silent presence, has to show people how to cut their strand.

Observing Processes
One of the very best things you can do as a ritualist is observe processes. Observe secular processes and what makes people frustrated…but also observe your own rituals, or the rituals of others, and look for the points of pain.

What frustrates people? Getting lost, poor customer service, uncomfortable chairs or the lack of enough chairs, rooms that are too hot or too cold, lines that are too long. I know I get frustrated when I’m given options that don’t make any sense, like when I’m doing my taxes. And then I think about rituals I’ve been to where I was equally unclear what I was supposed to be doing.

Once you begin to get a stronger sense of what is frustrating for people, you can begin to design and adapt processes in your rituals that work better for people. Always go with the flow when you can; people have natural patterns they will follow. If you know what those patterns are, you can predict what people in your ritual will do.

CircleMagazine_RitualAn example: At the recent Paganicon I led the main ritual. There were 150-200 people in a large ballroom, and there were five altars/shrines. People could journey to any one of the five separate altars/shrines to do a specific working in the Underworld. I knew from experience that there was one altar that was likely to be the most popular, and thus, a bottleneck.

I just didn’t know which altar it would be.

It turned out to be the altar where people were cutting away the thread of what no longer served. I only had one sharp knife to use, and people were taking a long time to choose their strand, to step forward, to consider their strand and what it meant, and then cut it, and let it fall away.

When I noticed that everyone else was done at the altars and the Cutting Away altar had about twenty people left in line, I was able to quickly expedite the process. I asked one of the altar facilitators to take the bowl of red ribbons down the line and get everyone to choose their red ribbon and charge it up. Then, I took up the knife myself, and walked to each person in turn. I looked into their eyes and said, “What do you cut away? What no longer serves you?”

I was able to, in the span of about a minute, help everyone cut their ribbon. If I’d just let it go on as it was, it would have taken another 10 minutes.

After, people still took time at the altar to consider what they were cutting away, but I was able to begin to transition the rest of the group into the next phase of the ritual. The process of the line was predictable, and if you as a facilitator know that a bottleneck like that can happen, you can expedite the process. In fact, you can do it far more subtly than I did it if you do it early on. If I had established up front that one facilitator at the altar would pass out the red ribbons, and one facilitator would cut the threads, the line wouldn’t have gotten that long in the first place, and that’s definitely how I’ll be facilitating it in the future. Better yet, have two or more knives, so long as I have enough trusted facilitators to keep track of the sharp objects.

Observe your rituals and what works and what doesn’t work, observe the processes that aren’t succeeding, and you can begin to work to shift them. I have been leading public rituals for years and I still learn a lot by observing ritual processes and what works and doesn’t work.


Filed under: Facilitation, Pagan Community, Ritual Tagged: Pagan, Pagan community, paganicon, ritual, ritual facilitation

Warding and Safety in Ritual: Video

At Pantheacon, I was invited to be part of a panel on warding and ritual safety. I blogged about my thoughts on the topic, but here’s the video of the panel discussion at Pantheacon. It includes everything except the Q&A at the end. So…feel free to ask questions here if you like :)


Filed under: Ritual Tagged: facilitation, Pagan, Paganism, pantheacon, ritual, ritualist, safety, warding

Ritual Technique: Trance, Chant, and Cantillation

889785_xlI’ve been on the road for about two weeks, and I have about a dozen blog post ideas swirling in my brain, but I thought I’d ease in with a ritual technique, since this is something I use frequently when I teach and lead rituals and lots of people ask me about it. My pet name for the technique is the Trance Hammer, since I came up with it during a Brigid-themed event.

First, a bit of background. The word “Trance” in ritual is often used to mean different things. In Reclaiming (and related) rituals, “the trance” is what people call the guided meditation part of the ritual, usually in the middle of the rite. The word meditation isn’t used because Reclaiming, Diana’s Grove, and some other traditions use what’s called dual voice trance. I’ve also heard it called open language trance. The difference is primarily this:

  • A guided meditation tells you what you are thinking, seeing, and feeling
  • Open language trance asks you what you are thinking, seeing, feeling, experiencing, hearing, smelling, etc.

Also:

  • A guided meditation is usually one voice reciting a script
  • Dual voice trance often uses one or more voices layered over one another, plus rhythmic assistance like frame drumming, singing bowls, didgeridoo, etc.

Trance and Meditation
The word trance, and meditation, are both problematic when we are talking about ritual technique because of varying connotations and meanings. That’s why I typically use the word “trance” to refer specifically to “the trance state,” which is a state of consciousness, and I use the words “trance journey” to refer to a dual voice, open language trance. Trance journey/guided meditation fulfill the same function in a ritual insofar as giving someone a guided inner experience.

A trance journey sits between a shamanic journey and a meditation; some vocal guidance is offered, but the journey asks questions to help someone create their own experience vs. telling them what everything looks like and how they should feel about that. A shamanic journey typically is just drumming with no vocal guidance.

Meditation and trance are often used interchangeably as well. People refer to “meditating” when what they mean is “achieving the trance state.” I won’t get too much into the nerdery, but getting “into trance” usually means moving your brain from Beta waves (consciousness) to Alpha waves (daydream) and then Theta waves (deeper trance state).

The word meditation, used on its own, often has the connotation of stillness meditation, za zen, empty mind. A lot of people tell me, “I can’t meditate,” because they experience the hamsterwheeling/chattering brain. Here’s a secret: So do a lot of experienced meditators! However, there are a lot of different ways to meditate, including walking, art-making, singing. Rhythmic activities work well. What works for your teacher won’t always work for you. If you are really bouncy and leg jiggly, stillness meditation isn’t going to work so well, but dancing might.

Engaging the Trance State
Let’s get back to trance journeys and the trance state. There are many different ways to get into a trance state; stillness works for some, singing for others, moving, dancing, weaving, jewelry making, staring at a candle flame…lots of roads there. But overall, there are two paths to a trance state; ergotropic and trophotropic. Which are nerdy neuroscience terms for trance through sensory deprivation, and trance through over stimulation.

In my experience, most Americans tend to respond better to an over stimulation trance. Hence, my Trance Hammer technique.

I came up with this technique when I was asked to offer something during a book launch event at Life Force Arts Center. While I wasn’t one of the authors in the Brigit: Sun of Womanhood anthology, I was local to Chicago and Joan Forest Mage asked if I’d be interested in offering something to help round out their book launch’s program of presentations. I offered to read a devotional poem to Brigid, but I also offered to get people chanting and build up a little energy.

Brigid does like the creative fire of voices singing together!

However, I faced a challenge. I design rituals to engage people in a trance state right from the beginning, deepening it with every layer. With the book launch, there was going to be almost two hours of programming that wasn’t necessarily engaging the trance state. I was at the very end and by then, a lot of people would tired of sitting, some might possibly even be a little bored, and certainly the group wouldn’t not ready to engage with singing and raising energy.

It takes a lot of work to get a group to feel comfortable participating.

Dual Voice Without a Partner
I had come up with a modified way of offering dual-voiced trance for when I travel and teach. See, the dual voice technique works best when you have at least one skilled trance partner. You learn each other’s rhythms and you get used to speaking over one another. That’s crucial for that trance technique, that two voices are speaking at the same time. Or more voices; a dual voice trance could have three or five or six or however many voices are needed. For a ritual of 500 people you’ll want at least five voices, perhaps more.

Not having a trance partner when I travel and offer workshops, or when I lead rituals at festivals, I had to adapt. I borrowed from a teaching exercise that I first learned in Reclaiming classes where four people would be asked to stand back-to-back in the center of the circle. They were each asked to choose an element, to close their eyes, and begin to rhythmically speak wisdom from that element. This is a great intro to trance technique, and it’s low-risk for people who are afraid of public speaking because 1. there are multiple voices, and 2. you can close your eyes.

In fact, I recommend this exercise on its own for shy, emerging public speakers looking to take on ritual roles.

So what I had been doing when I traveled is getting three or four volunteers to stand back to back and do this. Sometimes I had them speak the wisdom of the elements, sometimes I’d pick a few rhythmic words based upon the theme of the ritual, sometimes I’d give them a theme to work with that wasn’t elemental. I might have one person do the common Tree of Life meditation (roots down into the earth, branches up to the sky) while another one spoke of Lammas and harvest, and yet another spoke of sacrifice, of what we let go of.

While those four in the center are speaking all at once, I would lead the “plot arc” of the trance journey. I’d tell the story and lead people to the place where we did the thing, whatever that thing was in that particular ritual. It didn’t really matter if people can’t hear all the voices, or if the voices aren’t speaking the exact “right” words. What the multiple voices are doing is engaging the deep subconscious.

Trance Hammer
For that first Trance Hammer, I enlisted four volunteers. Each one would speak to one of Brigid’s triple fires, and one to her sacred well. I gave them a few starter words and had them stand in the center. I had the lights dimmed, and I invited everyone to stand up in a circular shape around the four in the center, and I got them to sing a tone/rolling OM while the four in the center were speaking.

I then sang my Brigid poem in cantillation style over all of that.

Cantillation is basically the technique you hear in Catholic mass or Eastern Orthodox where the priest is sing-songing the liturgy. Or even more potent, the priest sings a phrase and a choir sings it back to them. It’s usually singing the words of a liturgy in a rhythmic way and with just two or three notes; this doesn’t require a complex melody that you have to memorize.

In this case, singing the poem took me maybe three minutes, but that’s all it took to get everyone into a light trance state. As someone told me later, “I was trying to listen to the four in the center, and I was trying to listen to what you were singing, but I was trying to keep singing the tone, and I went to this far out place.”

When I was finished singing the poem, I allowed my voice to fall to silence, and then I brought the four in the center to silence, and then the tone fell away. In that moment, I asked everyone to take a breath, I spoke a few words to give them a chance to catch their breath, and then I asked everyone to join me in a chant to connect to the energies of Brigid, whether they thought of her as a Goddess, a saint, or just a story.

Everyone joined willingly into that chant in a way they wouldn’t have if the lights had been bright and they’d just been sitting there listening to readings for two hours. Even really engaging readings will still put a group into passive/audience mode, vs. active/participant mode, so I had to help them switch gears.

Using This in Ritual
I now use this technique all the time in ritual. Typically I do it as the Center/World Tree invocation after people call the elements. It makes a perfect transition into the trance journey portion of the ritual.

This technique works through overstimulation. What you need to pull it off are:

  • Four people willing to stand in the center and speak loud enough to be heard over the toning
  • One or two people to anchor the toning
  • At least 10 people (15-20 is better) in the remaining group to keep the tone rolling
  • One strong singer with a voice strong enough to sing over what everyone else is doing

There are, of course, ways to modify the technique depending on what your group has. Things to note that have surprised me when I’ve facilitated this: If your group has a lot of smokers, you’ll need more people to anchor the rolling tone. I did this technique in a class of about fifteen people, many who were heavy smokers, and they had a hard time keeping the tone going. Yet, you also need to ensure that the tone isn’t at such a loud volume that you can’t sing over it or hear the four voices in the center.

Also, you’ll need to work with the people in the center so that they know what an appropriate volume is; sometimes they will speak in such a soft whisper nobody can hear them, which defeats the purpose of the technique.

I realize that writing about this technique without the ability to demonstrate it might make this seem a little tricky, however, if you have a group of at least 15-20, you can try it out as a practice session and see how it goes. If you have a group of 10, you can try it with two doing the back-to-back in the center. That leaves 7 to hold the tone, and one to sing over it.

You can also do the basics of this technique with only 2 of the three parts. You can have the whole group toning (or adding harmony to the tone) while one person sings a poem/piece of liturgy/song over that, or you can have the four people in the center speaking while one person speaks (vs. sings) the trance journey.

Pro tip: This works better indoors or in a place with good acoustics. Outside with no tree cover, the sound will disappear fast. This also works well when you have dimmed lighting and a (smokeless) fire in the center to draw people’s gaze. Fire adds an additional layer to the trance and the over stimulation since it’s adding visual and kinesthetic layers.

Comments? Questions? Let me know if you’re interested in trying this out, or if you’ve tried it out and need help with fine tuning.


Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: meditation, Pagan, Pagan community, ritual, ritual technique, trance, trance journey

Raising the Sacred Fire: How to Build and Move Energy in Ritual

DSC01798_smallAs I’ll be teaching a number of workshops on ritual facilitation at Pantheacon, ConVocation, and Paganicon, I thought I’d offer up one of my articles on leading rituals that is included in my book, Ritual Facilitation.

I’ve also created a Facebook group with the intention of discussing and teaching techniques for leading more potent rituals. Feel free to join up if you like!

Raising the Sacred Fire:  How to Build and Move Energy in Ritual

Together we are singing, moving, dancing, chanting, and drumming around the fire in the center of the circle. The energy builds and slows then rises up again. I move the drum beat, and the drum beat moves me. We draw closer; I look into the firelit eyes of people around me and we smile as we sing. We drop the chant down to a whisper, then bring it back up again. Our song is a prayer for transformation, a prayer for our individual gifts to be transformed on Brigid’s Forge into their highest potential. I am singing for my gift, and for the gifts of everyone there. Our prayer is singing, movement, rhythm, and our shared intention. The chant moves into a tone that rises and falls like a fire at the bellows until we hold the silence together.

Have you ever worked to build ecstatic energy in rituals?

Raising energy in ritual can be a difficult function to facilitate. Many ritualists get a chant going only to find the group stops singing it as soon as that ritualist pauses to take a breath. Despite the challenges, there are some skills, tools, and processes that you can use to help build potent, transformative energy in rituals.

Facilitating ecstatic energy is the ability to sense energy and the ability to understand the logical energetic flow of any event. Having talent as a singer, drummer, musician, or dancer can help; it’s perhaps more important to have a team of people that is engaged, excited, and willing to model the energy as an example. Excitement is contagious, and if you are invested in the energy, then your participants will be more willing to buy into it and commit their energy as well.

What is energy?

While some ritualists may be gifted with the ability to see auras and energy, I’m not among them. I sense energy more kinesthetically, and I also work with energy less as a metaphysical thing, and more as the life-force cycled from our bodies. Breathing in oxygen, there’s a chemical reaction and we exhale carbon dioxide; chemical reactions release energy. I can also see energy through the physical reality of body language. So sensing energy is largely becoming observant.

Think about the last meeting or class you were at. How were people sitting? Did people look interested or bored and tired? How about the teacher or facilitator, did their voice drone on, or were they excited? Now think about a concert or sports event. How did you know if people were excited? Were people standing up and cheering or dancing? When people applauded, what did you feel inside?

Notice the environment around you and how you can sense the energy level of the group. Energy comes across in our body language, movements, actions, how we are talking, and the look in our eyes. If I’m talking to someone and they’re not looking at me, I don’t feel like they’re really interested in me. But if I go to a friend with a problem and they’re looking deeply into my eyes, I feel like they are really present and connected to me.

Ways to add energy

Here are some ways to add my energy in ritual, broken down by element.

Earth—Body, movement, dancing. Whether I’m a great dancer, or just adding my energy by swaying back and forth to the rhythm of the chant, I’m adding the energy of my body. When I move, my blood moves faster. Calories are consumed, and energy results in my body radiating heat and the energy of my physical life force.

Air—Breath, speech, chanting, singing. In ritual, I add Air when I participate by speaking aloud an intention or wish, when I lend my voice to the chant. When we sing together, we are breathing together, harmonizing our breaths and our pulses. We don’t need to be good singers to still make a sound and add the energy of our voice.

Fire—Rhythm, percussion, drumming. Drummers can add some of the intense sound and rhythm to the ritual. I can also add rhythm by clapping, stamping, snapping my fingers, or through vocal percussion and making rhythmic sounds with my mouth.

Water—Connection, intention, emotion. I can connect to the intention of the ritual within the depth of my heart, and to others in the ritual through deep, sustained eye contact or through touching hands. If I’m emotionally invested in the intention, in the community, if I’m connecting to the divine and to the divine within me, then I am adding my emotional energy to the ritual. Even if I am not physically able to move, if I’m rhythmically challenged, or not comfortable singing, I can add my energy by holding the intention in my heart.

Energy Flow

Any ritual has an energetic flow, and what happens in the first few minutes of the ritual will set the tone for later on. In the rituals I offer, which are in the ecstatic tradition taught through Reclaiming, Diana’s Grove, and other shamanic traditions, I am working to get people engaged in the ritual and inviting participation.

Here is a typical flow of a public ritual in the ecstatic, participatory style. Usually these rituals are facilitated by an ensemble team, so each piece may have more than one person leading it.

  • Marketing/promotion: Emails and flyers set the tone for the ritual theme and helps build communal trust in the ritual team.
  • Arrivals/Greeting: As people come to the space, the ritual team works to greet the participants. Ideally everything’s already set up so that we can welcome people to the space, since welcoming makes people feel more safe, and thusly, more willing to risk singing and moving later. Having social time of at least a half hour before the ritual helps people transition from interacting with traffic into ritual space.
  • Pre-Ritual Talk: This session (15 minutes or less to hold people’s attention) addresses the theme, intention, and any ritual logistics. Give people a chance to speak, even if it’s going around the circle with names, as that sets a tone of participation and helps the group move from strangers into a tribe. It’s a good time to address basic group agreements of what’s ok to do and to teach any chants so that people aren’t stumbling to learn them later. Typically I will also use the elemental model (above) to let people know how they can add their energy.
  • Gathering: Instead of beginning with smudging or similar purifications that involve a long line, Diana’s Grove uses an energetic gathering. This is somewhat a purification of sound and rhythm as well as a way to get people from individual mind into group mind. The idea is to begin at the energetic level of where the group is and take them to a more collective place. You can have the group sing a tone, or you can get people clapping and moving and singing to build up some energetic fuel for later in the ritual.
  • Grounding: As much as the gathering is energetic and group mind, grounding, in this context, is about connecting more deeply to myself, becoming more present to the divine, and connecting to the theme of the work. A typical tree grounding can work just fine, or any meditation to facilitate participants going internal to get into a sacred mindset.
  • Casting a Circle: For the rituals I offer, casting a circle is less about an energetic barrier keeping negative energies out, and more about an energetic boundary acknowledging that we are here together as a tribe. As grounding is internal, circle casting takes us out of ourselves to connect as a tribe. The circle is the edge of our tribe for the ritual, and it’s important to establish connection and safety. This is the cauldron that will hold the soup. In ecstatic participatory ritual, one or two people facilitate the circle casting but the intention is to have participants add their energy to the process. The challenge is to do an inclusive casting, or invocation, in around 2 minutes or less to keep people engaged.
  • Invoking the Elements: The elemental invocations, similarly, are an opportunity to invite participants to lend their voice, body, movement, and intention, as well as to deepen the theme. In the rituals I work in, instead of facing the direction, the elemental invoker moves into the center and facilitates a process where the whole group invokes the element. An example: “Will you join me in welcoming Air? Will you take a breath together, will you make the sound that is the wind in the trees that blows the leaves to the ground, will you move as air moves? Air is the breath of life, can you feel how the change in the air heralds the change in the seasons? Welcome Air.”
  • Center: I typically work with center as the gravity well that draws the community together. What is the reason that people came? This is another opportunity to connect the group together as a tribe, and to the center that holds us.
  • Deities, ancestors, allies: We invite in whichever deities or allies we’ll be working with in as inclusive a way as possible. What each person participates in is more potent than them watching a ritualist do something. Liturgy and poetry can be powerful, but if you want the group to add their energy later on, give them some way to participate in every piece, even if it’s just closing their eyes and imagining the ancestors.
  • Storytelling: Often the working part of the ritual begins with storytelling or some piece to add context to what we’re doing in the ritual. This piece can be longer than 2 minutes, provided people are given a chance to get comfortable.
  • Trance Journey: Storytelling often transitions into a trance journey which takes the theme of the story and move it from a story about gods and heroes into a story that we personally can interact in. Storyelling, and trance journeys, brings people’s energy internal and will require a transition if I want them to come out of trance and be active.
  • Physicalization: As much as possible, it helps to offer experiences for multiple learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.). If the trance journey took us to a place where we connect with the fire of our personal magic, then the physicalization might be inviting people to choose a stone to represent their magic. Or it might be to have them stand and go to an altar and offer their personal magic to Brigid’s forge to be transformed. A physicalization helps integrate the ritual intention, as well as transitions people from internal to external so they are more ready to participate in the energy.
  • Energy Building: A sustained energy piece is the fuel for the magic. Often it helps to start slow and build through layering chanting, movement, harmonies, vocal percussion, drumming, and more. The ritualist team should be fully engaged; if you aren’t willing to stand up and sing, no one else will be. The energy may rise to a peak of sound and rhythm, and after there is usually a moment of silence. A typical time length for energy is 8-10 minutes; 15 minutes may be longer than many people can chant. The energy, and the ritual, should have a defined ending. People can drum and dance more after ritual.
  • Benediction: Let people know what the ritual was about, such as, “Brigid, thank you for helping us find our personal magic and transform it in your forge. May we support each other in community.” This seals the deal on the working and leads to devoking the allies and elements. Opening the circle is a last chance for the group to connect as a tribe before opening.
  • Dessert/Feast Ecstatic participatory rituals tend to not use cakes and ale within the ceremony because of the energetic lag created by a long wait for food to be passed around. Post-ritual dessert or feasting is an intentional bonding time to grow community.

Layering the energy

To build up a sustained energy, it helps to layer in voice, rhythm, and movement. As each layer builds, gently bring in another layer, as that will feel more natural to the group and they will be more likely to participate. Drummers should follow the group’s energy rather than drive the group; building it too fast and the group may “check out.” If the energy spikes up too fast you can drop the chant down to a whisper and build it back up. You can invite group participation through eye contact, beckoning, or by asking, “Will you join your movement and voice to this ritual?”

Having a team of people willing to sing and dance models what behavior is “ok” to the group and creates safety. Watch a ritual where one person starts to clap; if no one else does, they’ll stop. But if a second or third person does, then others will.

If you have some strong singers, you can use a chant with 2 parts or harmonies to add another layer of energy. A basket of rhythm instruments is another opportunity for people to add a sound.

Working the energy is a balance of letting the group drive how fast the chant builds, and pushing the energy along. The energy will plateau, and rise again when you add a layer. At first it’s hard to sense if the group’s ready to be done, or if it’s just a natural plateau where another layer will build the energy back up.

Noticing Energy

Begin to take more notice of people’s body language. Are these people willing to stand up and sing? The kinds of energy you can build in ritual will depend on your team—do you have drummers and singers? How many attendees—10 or 100? What’s the chant you are using—is it cradling, or an energy-raiser?

Observe the rituals of different groups. What happens to the energy when 40 people smudge themselves or stand in line at an altar? How long do people speak? When is it boring? When are people invigorated, willing to sing or participate? When are glazed over?

While the skillset of building ecstatic energy in ritual takes time and practice, these tools should offer a way to frame ritual in terms of energy and begin to build techniques into your own rituals. With practice, you can raise the sacred fire of ecstatic energy in your rituals.

____

This article was first published in Circle Magazine Issue 105, Sacred Fire and also appears in Stepping Into Ourselves: An Anthology of Priestessing. It is also one of the articles collected in my book Ritual Facilitation.

CoverRitualFacilitationRitual Facilitation: Collected Articles on the Art of Leading Rituals

Pagans and practitioners of alternative spiritual path face the challenge of learning to lead compelling rituals with little to no training in techniques of facilitation, public speaking, or event planning. Many learn the theology of their tradition and then get frustrated leading ceremonies through trial and error. If you are called to lead rituals and ceremonies, learn how to create potent, powerful rituals that will inspire your participants.

Each of us can learn to create more magical, memorable rituals. Whether you are an experienced ritualist or brand new to ritual work, this collection of articles and essays will help you learn to facilitate stronger rituals. Techniques include ritual structure, handling logistics, common pitfalls, engaging participation, and helping new leaders to step into speaking roles.

Ritual Facilitation by Shauna Aura Knight
Available as an eBook for $4.99 at Amazon  & $15 for the hardcopy. If you need an eBook format other than Kindle you can buy direct from me, just comment here or email me at ShaunaAura (at) gmail (dot) com.


Filed under: Facilitation, Ritual Tagged: ceremonies, community, Energy raising, event planning, facilitation, leadership, Pagan, Pagan community, ritual, shauna aura knight, transformation

Ritual Arts: Techniques for Aspecting

RQ102-cover-smallHey folks,

Reclaiming Quarterly has been releasing features of past issues. They’ve uploaded a feature on Aspecting. Below is the information to see it. If you’re interested in ritual techniques around Aspecting/Drawing Down, this is a pretty good introduction.

Aspecting Feature -
http://www.reclaimingquarterly.org/86/RQ86-18-Theme-Aspecting.pdf

ASPECTING: EXPERIENCING THE DIVINE
Theme section – RQ #86 – Spring 2002
From the RQ Archives – see link below

A PDF collection of articles on the magical practices of Aspecting
and Anchoring, from Reclaiming Quarterly Issue 86, Spring 2002.

Included are articles from a number of people who have helped
integrate this material into the dynamic mix of Reclaiming:
- Pomegranate Doyle
- Sage
- Robin La Sirena
- Laurel Kadish
- Inanna Hazel
- Ortha Splingaerd

This feature is part of the ongoing release of the Reclaiming
Quarterly Archives. Selected features online. Or get the complete
collection for just $25 per disk (each disk contains ten back issues
and dozens of bonus features – first disk available now!).

Visit our website for more info:

RQ Archives - http://www.reclaimingquarterly.org/archives/


Filed under: Pagan Community, Ritual Tagged: aspecting, Pagan, ritual, ritual facilitation