Moon Manners

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Etiquette for Group Rituals


So, you’ve been invited to your first pagan circle! How exciting! You might also be nervous. “How do I act? What do I do? What shall I wear?!” are all very valid thing to ask yourself when going to a new place, especially if you don’t know the customs! So, I’ve reproduced an article I found that best represents how the Temple wishes to present itself on how to act/be/do at public rituals! In addition to being aware of the following, feel free to ask questions in regard to specifics at the event you are at.

ALCOHOL, DRUGS: As we all know, there are many different views about these substances. As a general rule, don’t use them either before or during the ritual. In any case never bring anything illegal with you; this is to protect you and the community as well. If you are sponsoring the ritual please remember to have a non-alcoholic alternative for non-drinkers. It is not cute to secretly spike the punch – do not do it.

BAREFOOT: Not necessarily always required in the circle, but definitely polite. In some traditions one goes unshod in respect of sacred space; and besides being respectful of others’ beliefs, you’re less likely to hurt someone by stepping on their toes if you’re not wearing shoes either. (This only applies to indoor rituals.)

BROOM CLOSET: Please be aware that some people have serious reasons to be sensitive about being known as pagans. Don’t mention that someone was at a ritual or is a pagan w/o their permission; this is just like outing a gay person and could be just as devastating. Many of us cannot afford to be open about our religious preferences; never let out this or other personal information about another without their ok. Remember the 12-step saying, “Who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.”

CLOCKWISE/DEOSIL: Unless specifically instructed otherwise, always move around the circle in a clockwise direction (E-S-W-N-E) Even if this has only symbolic meaning for you it is quite serious for others, who may be upset if you move counterclockwise (widdershins).

CONFIDENTIALITY: The ritual is a private religious event; unless you are specifically told that the ritual is “open” all information pertaining thereto should be held in confidence. This includes the place and the people involved. Don’t leave a written invitation where others can see it or give such details to friends, family or others. Remember the old WW II adage, “Loose lips sink ships”.

COURTESY: is everyone’s responsibility. We encompass many different beliefs and ways of worship among us; don’t assume that any/everyone has the same approach you do. If you don’t agree with another’s beliefs, be polite about it. If the ritual asks you to do something (such as swear an oath), which is against your beliefs, you can quietly abstain. If you see someone abstaining from something, you can make sure they had a chance to participate, but don’t try to persuade them to take part if they don’t want to. Remember the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

DRUMS: (And other musical instruments.) may be ritual tools, or just very special; please don’t handle other people’s drums, rattles, etc. without their permission.

ENTERING: Depending on the ritual setup, it can take a while for everyone to process in. This extra entrance time should be taken as a gift to more fully center and prepare oneself. Remember that the ritual is supposed to be outside of time – chill out and take the time to just be where you are. Please do not distract others by talking, etc. during the procession

FOOD: Many groups have a potluck (sometimes snacks and quick stuff, sometimes a full dinner) after the ritual. It is courteous to find out whether you are expected to bring something. Please remember to take your pots and cooking utensils with you when you leave; don’t leave dirty dishes for others to take care of.

GATE: A space left open, or cut open, in the circle after it is cast, which allows people to enter or leave the space without dissipating the energy in the circle. If you are a guest, it is polite to have one of your hosts cut a gate for you rather than to cut your own; you may not know their preferred forms.

GUESTS: If you wish to bring a guest to a community ritual, you should first get the permission of the people who are putting the ritual on. Guests who are non-pagans or new pagans have special needs. Make sure that you talk to them well before the ritual about what they’ll be seeing there. Explain the theme of the holiday, make sure they understand what will be expected of them, and take some time to verbally walk them through a ritual. And remember, once you and they are at the ritual, stay close to your guests and make sure they’re ok. Introduce them around. Lend them a drum or a rattle if they’re uncomfortable dancing. Talk to them afterward and let them discuss the experience with you. Oh, yes, and teach them about grounding if they don’t already know how; they’ll need it.

HETEROSEXISM AND OTHER ISMS: Heterosexism is the implicit assumption that everyone is (or should be) straight, and can lead to discomfort (and resentment) for those who aren’t if the ritual format or magical associations assume that they are. Ageism assumes that we’re all adults, but relatively young and spry, forgetting the presence of children and elders. Etc. Ritual should be a safe place for all, regardless of sexual orientation, race, age, handicap, time in the Craft, solitary or Covener, etc. (This is especially important for those planning rituals to remember.) Remember: “when you assume, you make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”

LEAVING: If you have to leave the ritual area before the end, whether to go to the bathroom or for another reason, please make sure you cut a gate in the circle (or get someone to do so for you) and consciously exit and re-enter the sacred area. This keeps the energy in the circle intact.

MONEY: If a group sponsoring a ritual had to rent a space, rather than use one of their own, then they probably had to pay rent, and it is polite (and sometimes expected) to give a few dollars to help cover the costs. If they did not have to pay rent, there may still be costs (mailed invitations, materials, etc.), but local customs may or may not expect you to chip in; ask and find out.

QUARTERS: Different traditions prescribe different things for the circle participants to be doing (or not doing) when the quarters are being called; don’t assume that someone is “doing it wrong” because they are doing something different from you. The thing to remember to follow the general directions of those who are putting on the ritual, and not to get in the way of what’s happening. (If your tradition taught that everyone stands with arms out in the direction of the quarter being invoked, but everyone else is sitting with hands pressed palm-to-palm, sit down.)

RITUAL FIRE: The ritual fire is sacred. Please do not throw litter into it or light cigarettes with it. (Note: libations aren’t litter.)

RITUAL TOOLS: For many pagans, their ritual tools are very special items that, in some cases, may never have been touched by any other person. If you see anything interesting lying around or on the alter, make sure to ask permission before handling it.

ROBES: Nice if you have them but not really required; loose, casual clothing or medieval-style garb is also common.

SACRED SPACE: Ritual is sacred space for celebrations, love, and trust; it is not a big party. Please refrain from conversations and smoking during the ritual.

SKYCLAD: Remember that among pagans nudity is not an invitation to have sex; do not mistake the one for the other.

SPECIAL NEEDS: If you or your guest have any special needs such as dietary restrictions or physical limitations, please inform the person in charge well before the ritual, so that accommodations can be made.

SPONTANEITY: Spontaneity can be a great thing. However, the people who put their energy into planning the ritual appreciate it if the participants relax and enjoy the energy flow as they have envisioned it. If you didn’t plan it, please do not change what is happening. (Chants, etc.)

SWEATLODGES: Sweatlodges are communal sacred space; do not use them as anything else, and please leave them neat when you depart.

TALKING STICK: Some local traditions include a talking stick (or other item). The holder of the talking stick is allowed to say their piece without interruption, and everyone is expected to listen to them. How/when the talking stick is passed from person to person may vary. If you are given a talking stick and don’t have anything to say, you can usually just pass it on.

TOUCHING: Many pagans can be touchy-feely in a loving, caring sort of way. This can be immensely comforting; however, each of us has a different level of comfort with the extent of touching. If you are uncomfortable with how someone else is touching you please don’t hesitate to communicate your feelings. Conversely, those who on the giving side of embraces, etc. should be sensitive to the feelings and reactions others. Communication is vital.

WATCHES: Frowned upon in ritual by some because the circle is supposed to be outside of regular time and space. (And, of course, it’s rude to keep checking the time.) Best to leave these in pockets.

WELCOMING: If you see someone you don’t know, make an effort to welcome them. Don’t assume they are with someone; their sponsor may be talking to someone else, or they may be alone. If you are new, and no one is talking to you, try to find a couple or someone who’s alone; it’s a lot harder to get noticed in big groups. Don’t assume you are being snubbed deliberately – some folks are simply shy about talking with newcomers, others are truly oblivious and eager to talk with old friends they may not have seen in a while; it’s a very human reaction.

© 1996 Kylinn