Requirement #1: Key concepts from required reading:
1. What three factors (“subcategories”) does Bonewits identify as determining the impact of “familiarity” on the success of a ritual? Briefly discuss the ways in which personal or family-only ritual is aided or hindered by these factors when compared to public group ritual. (Minimum 100 words)
The three factors that Bonewits identifies as determining the impact of “familiarity” on the success of a ritual are knowledge, affection, and group identity. These three aspects of intra-group familiarity are what help to create and maintain the group mind necessary in ritual space. The group mind is needed in order to raise and use mana, or energy. Knowledge creates intellectual and social bonds, affection creates emotional bonds, and group identity creates psychological bonds. The better these aspects can be developed and nurtured, the greater the psychic bonds will be that fuel the group mind. In general, “having more people present makes more mana available, yet also makes it harder to keep that mana focused” (Bonewits 58).
Knowledge can be defined as what skill sets you have present at a ritual. Are some people good at singing and chanting, others good at drumming, and still others who are excellent at visualizing? In order to accommodate varying levels of knowledge the folks leading ritual may need to put strong vocalists next to weaker one, or have a strong mother beat in a drum set, or keep visualizations shorter or better guided to help folk maintain focus. This is all a matter of differentiating the ritual to best serve the needs of the folk so that the needs of the Earth and the purpose of the ritual can be served. A personal or family-only ritual means that you have less specialized skills to draw on, but that less accommodations may need to be made.
Affection can be defined as the genuine bonds of friendship and love that exist between people. Lovers and family members will have the strongest bonds, followed by friends, and then by acquaintances. These bonds can be nurtured to help have a stronger connection and stronger group mind. In a personal or family-only ritual the affection level is likely very high unless there is a lot of strife in the family. This means that the bonds that exist will be much stronger and the energy more accessible because the group mind is easier to maintain.
Group identity can be defined as the specific identity for the group. The more narrow it is, the stronger the identity is among the groups’ members. For example, I consider myself not just a Pagan, not just an ADF Druid, but also a Crane. At Three Cranes Grove rituals, this common identity allows us to have more focused group mind. We can reinforce it by the common things we do at every ritual that bind us together, such as reciting Serith’s “The waters support and surround us…” prayer. A personal or family-only ritual will end up having a very narrow group identity, so the bond between participants in this aspect would be very strong.
The benefits of personal or family-only ritual is that an intimate group of people is far more likely to have more things in common than a larger group of people who have less contact with each other. This means that there is less fumbling with scripts, a more open sense of community and less fear of judgment, and a likelihood, though not necessity, that similar deities will be worshiped. In a public group ritual, if not everyone is familiar with each other, there may be hesitancy in sharing, or making offerings. There may also be disruptions in the flow of ritual as the congregants are not sure what part to expect coming up. In addition, there are likely to be many different pantheons represented in the congregants’ beliefs, which can lead to a chaotic feeling in ritual, or hurt feelings on the part of those participating. However, despite these possible problems, there is also a benefit to group rituals. More energy can be raised and directed, more diverse styles of liturgy are represented, and more can be attempted and accomplished because of the broader range of skills available to the congregation.
2. What six methods of prayer does Ceisiwr Serith describe? Briefly suggest an example of how you might employ each in your personal worship practices. You may include worship with a group if applicable. (Minimum 200 words)
Praying Through Words
Praying with words is perhaps the most obvious way of praying. I couple most of my prayers with words, though a few remain silent or only observable through other means. Most notably when I call to the Kindreds and my Patrons I speak with words for them to hear me. I find the words to be a good focus, and a way of reminding myself that I’m talking to someone, not just talking. I also take great joy in writing, and have applied that to writing various thing including spoken prayers.
Praying Through Posture
Depending on what I am doing, my posture will alter. When calling to the Earth Mother I will either crouch down on the balls of my feet and put my fingertips on the ground, or I will kneel in seiza, and then lean over to place my forearms on the ground, with my hands forming a diamond and my forehead placed between them. When I call to Hestia I have a lighter or match in my right hand and her candle flame in my left. I hold the candle chest level while I speak the prayer to her, and then light the candle and set it down. My Grove has adopted certain postures for calling to each of the Kindreds that I use fairly often, though not all the time. When calling to the Ancestors we look and reach towards the ground, palms parallel to and facing the ground. When calling to the nature spirits we reach out to our sides, looking levelly across the earth, arms bent at the elbows and palms facing in towards the center flame. When we call to the Shining Ones we reach up and look towards the sky, arms extended and palms facing up.
Praying Through Motion
In Hellenic ritual it is important to separate the mundane space from the sacred space. I keep this by washing at least my hands before a ritual for purification and then processing into the space I will be conducting the ritual. I then recess out after the ritual. I’ve found this is very helpful in getting into a ritual mindset where I can focus on the work at hand and not be so worried about the mundane things going on outside the rite. In addition, as I mentioned above, there are times when I deliberately shift from one posture to another depending on what I am doing and who I am calling. One of the things that Serith specifically mentions is walking in circles, especially clockwise circles, around the sacred space. My home shrine backs up against a wall and my fireplace, so I don’t walk circles at home. I do however use circle motions when opening and closing the gates (clockwise for opening, and counterclockwise for closing), and when I do outdoor rituals I circle the space spreading barley, incense smoke, and/or water for purification. At my home shrine I cense the altar top in a circle motion, moving clockwise, though it is not truly moving in a complete circle around the space.
Praying Through Dance
I have not tried dancing in my own personal rites, at least not in the traditional sense of the word ‘dance.’ I have found kata, or martial arts forms, to be extremely beneficial to me as a method of meditation and prayer. It helps to clear my mind and allow more thoughts to enter unimpeded. In a group ritual I led a Crane Dance that I wrote for a magical working. The intent was to raise energy to break away the chains of our lives that were holding us back. It is described in more detail in my journal. Dance can also be used for ecstatic trance, though I have not tried this either.
Praying Through Music
Praying through music is one of the ways I like praying best. Whether it is instrumental or with voice, I find it very rewarding. Certain chords can strike certain moods or certain thoughts in a person, and I can strum through a progression on my guitar and achieve a mental state similar to others ways of praying. When combined with words, music gains even more for me. I sing my prayers to some of the Kindreds, specifically the Muses. I chant other parts of ritual, or other invocations.
Praying Through Gestures
Praying with gestures often coincides with magical work for me, in one form or another. When I make offerings, I pour oil or wine, or sprinkle oats, corn meal, or barley. It is not just the physical offering that I give, but it is the act of pouring or sprinkling that is also part of the offering and sends the gift to the Kindreds. When opening and closing the gates, I move my hands in a spiral either opening or closing my fist.
3. What arguments does Ceisiwr Serith make in support of set prayers (as opposed to spontaneous prayers)? Discuss how these arguments apply (or do not apply) to solitary Pagan prayer. (Minimum 200 words)
Serith argues that set prayers offer many benefits as opposed to spontaneous prayers. I believe that both types have their place in ritual and worship. The first point Serith makes regarding set prayers is that from a historical point of view we are following the way of the ancient when we speak a set prayer. In Vedic religion one of the ancient source is the Rig Veda, which is literally a collection of set prayers. In pagan Rome the exact words war so important that the priest had an assistant with a prayer book whispering the words to him through the rite (Serith 66).
Another point that Serith makes is that there is nothing wrong with using the prayers of others. We all have skills, and some people are simply better at writing prayers than others (Serith 66). Even if you write your own prayers, there is absolutely nothing wrong with repeating them time and time again. It is rather a good thing to do, because if you wrote the prayer while inspired you will continue to find more within that prayer. If you were sincere then, there is no reason it makes you less sincere now. However, as Bonewits states “sincerity is not a substitute for competence” (Bonewits 64).
This feeling of continuing to be inspired with a prayer relates to what Serith describes as “deepening.” This is a phenomenon where the more you memorize and use a prayer, the more it gets ingrained in your unconscious mind. It begins to “pray you” rather than you “praying it.” It works its way into you soul and you see more and more with it each time you use it (Serith 67-8). I’ve found this to especially true in my own practice as I went through the Order of Bardic Alchemy work and wrote, polished, and used my Muses song nearly every ritual.
Another important aspect of set prayers that Serith examines is the because “there are times when we want to pray, but words fail us” (Serith 66). This is especially applicable in solitary practice. When you feel the intense need to pray, you often are alone, or feel alone. In times of mourning this is especially common. A set prayer is very useful when you are seeking comfort, but don’t know the words to say. I have found that litanies combined with prayers beads are especially useful for me in this way.
The final argument Serith makes in regard to set prayers is the only that does not apply to solitary prayer: that you can’t pray spontaneously as a group (Serith 67). On the surface this seems true. In order for people to speak the same prayer together, they need to know what to say. However, an area of gray in this that qualifies as more of a sub-point is the call and response prayer. The person leading the prayer, the call, could be praying spontaneously. The response given by the congregants would then be repeating this spontaneous prayer. So whether or not this still counts as a spontaneous prayer I’m not sure, but it is an interesting argument to consider.
Bonewits, Philip Emmons Isaac. Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals That Work. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2007. Print.
Serith, Ceisiwr. A Book of Pagan Prayer. Boston, MA: Weiser, 2002. Print.