Why does most of my writing take the format of directions or how-to guides?
My teacher once said that everyone experiences ritual differently. I’ve also seen this idea brought up in several books and essays. Everyone in a ritual can have wildly different relationships with an understandings of deity and energy. A good ritual, in my experience, gives people an opportunity to make their own meaning.
Writing almost exclusively in how-to’s lets each person bring their own interpretation to the main ideas I want to present. Someone who believes deities are archetypes should have just as much access as someone who believes deities are elevated ancestors. The symbols themselves are a language, the language of ritual, and most of us speak that language fluently.
By letting people bring their own interpretations of my symbols to the directions, I hope to make room for interfaith discussion. I don’t have to explicitly say that all pagans are welcome to my Beltane ritual. If you celebrate mid-spring and know the relationship between Midspring and your practice, then you can use it as you please.
This also cuts down on having to explain how magic and deities work. I find this is a personal journey, and trying to nail down the exact details of the mystery seems, to my mind, to be a distraction from the work of co-creating the rare community spaces that truly feed the soul. I don’t want everyone to have the same understanding of these things, because it is the variety of perspectives that makes other people so wonderful to be around. It is the ability to communicate between many perspectives that makes language strong.
Additionally, one set of directions is never the only way to do things. One Beltane ritual idea is not how all Beltane rituals should be done. It is a suggestion, an imagining. When I bring an idea to the table, I never want to say, “This is how everyone should act.” I want to say, “Here is a way to work within these limitations, and I can think of a dozen more.”
Speaking of limitations, a lot of people have said that limiting a writer stifles their creativity. I find that I am never more creative then when I am given a thorough set of limitations to work within. My best meals have been cooked with almost nothing in the pantry and a mere 5 dollars in my pocket. So when someone points out a lack of accessibility in ritual design, or a problematic element, I’m excited. An aspect I have been invited to change gives me more fuel to think outside what is expected.
When someone points out a way in which they are pushed out of a space I inhabit, that to me is a mark of trust, an olive branch that could lead to a bond of friendship if I treat it with respect. Too often I see people recoil from the olive branch as if it were a sword. They don’t yet see that the real sword is one bar in a cage made by powerful interests. They don’t see the olive branch as a key to freeing themselves from a larger problem. They feel cut, and react accordingly.
Writing how-to guides and having a growing list of considerations is a way to directly address issues of accessibility to pagan spaces. It seems to me that another element in the resistance to change is a lack of ability or desire to imagine another way. By providing another idea I hope that readers will reflect on changes that could be made to our spaces, the people who could feel more comfortable among us, and the friendships we could extend.
So this year I challenge you to write a set of directions: a spell, a ritual, or even a personal meditation. Try to avoid telling your reader how to think or what to feel. Give them the symbols, maybe some words, and let them make the meaning for themselves.