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.