Urban ritual

As I commented yesterday in ‘From an Author Perspective’  for most people ritual is a private thing, often carried out indoors, safely out of the public eye. Doing ritual in public woodland, on hilltops and the like means that you get the odd dog walker, but that’s seldom too terrible.

The first time I attended an open ritual at Avebury, I found it really intimidating. There were a lot of tourists. People came and watched the ritual. We were on display, part of the entertainment, and the watchers were not all respectful. Some of them joined the circle even. It was a very different kind of energy from the ritual I had grown used to. I’m not sure I’d have felt much more vulnerable and exposed if we’d been doing it naked! It was scary.

Over a few years of publically visible ceremony, I got comfortable with it, able to trust the druids around me, and used to the idea that the police weren’t going to come and take us away. After all, the chance of seeing people in funny costumes doing eccentric things is part of the tourist appeal of well known ancient sites.

I gather that some years ago there’s a group in Birmingham (UK) who did street ritual. They went out into the city, and went for it. Without the aid of a predefined space, or any context that would make passers by more amenable.

A few years ago, folk from the druid network performed a peace ritual near the Houses of Parliament. It was a radical thing to do, working in a space where people protest, and going through the official channels, explaining that no, this wasn’t a protest, but a ritual. I wasn’t there – I wish I had been – it was a beautiful, radical thing to have done.

Doing pagan ritual in an urban public space is a dangerous thing. Especially if you don’t seek permission before hand. There’s no knowing how the crowds will react, or the police for that matter. Urban ritual in an organised context is a different thing because you have the space made for you – as with rituals held in previous years at the Custard Factory, (Birmingham again) as part of bigger events.

Could you take your ritual work onto the streets? What would happen if we all did? How would it feel? What would change? It’s not something I’ve done. I’m not sure I’d have the courage to do it. How different the world would be, if pagan folk could comfortably stand in circle, in public spaces, and honour the spirits of place, celebrate the ancestors, call to the four directions, and offer prayers to the gods. That’s a world worth striving for, I think.

5 thoughts on “Urban ritual”

  1. Bravo! Having circles in public spaces is nerve wracking at first because you don’t know what kind of reception you’re going to get. A group I was with had regular Sabbats in a friend’s back yard, surrounded by apartment buildings. The neighbors used to come out on the porch with their dinners and drinks and watch us. It took a while to get used to, but eventually we got used to seeing them, and being watched. And being public paid off – when a group of people attempted to stop us from having public rituals, the neighbors spoke up in our defense saying that not only did they enjoy our music and energy, we were never disrespectful, and most certainly not evil. Public rituals without fear is certainly a world worth striving for and one that could go a long way to eliminate fear of coming out of the broom closet!

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  2. Too true! Not something I’ve ever done, not being much of a joiner of things, though I think it very interesting, this dimension of being on display. The general public do seem to be more tolerant of public ritual as a concept than they used to be, though I think in the UK there’s definitely a dimension of British embarrassment. A few years ago, I recall a local group being allowed to have a small ritual at an archaeological dig in East Anglia – something they’d not had permission to do before – while being observed by very uncomfortable, foot-shuffling academics, all standing around looking confused. Still not sure whether they regarded what was going on as eccentricity or performance art. But, to see is to learn, right?

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    1. I wonder if rituals done in public—is better accepted at times because people who are not Pagans have no choice but to swallow the whole fear factor. Doing rituals in public might show how much fun they are…and shed some stereotypes. After all, if you go to a Native American Pow Wow, most there aren’t even into the rituals—they just enjoy watching and sharing in the fun.

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  3. Here in Phoenix, the local Pagans have often used the extensive parks in the city for rituals. We’ve always taken care to register with the relevant (city, county, state, etc.) park commission in plenty of time, and we’ve won the gratitude of the park rangers for always cleaning up after ourselves — and cleaning up what previous users have left, too. As a result, on the few occasions that rabid fundamentalists have tried to raid our ceremonies, the park rangers always took care to defend us. It doesn’t take much time, money or effort to win friends in the lower ranks of your local govt.

    –Leslie <

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