Thursday, December 13, 2012

Risky Rituals

A year or so ago I got involved with a local, Eclectic Pagan group. Not my preferred choice of focus but beggars can't be choosers, right? The group had an overall nice feel, the members were warm and welcoming and they were quite organised as a coven, something which surprised me positively. I participated in two different rituals in the couple of months I worked with them as a prospective member.

The first ritual was fairly harmless and basic but also equally insipid for me. It was a general "healing the earth with energy" ritual. Again, not my preferred choice for an introductory/testing ritual but this wasn't my group, I was playing by other people's rules and consciously so. Furthermore, I was aware that such rituals/practices would be common since I knew what the group's character and focus were. Beggars can't be choosers though, remember? In any case, acquiring group experience was my goal - not finding the perfect (non-existent here) Trad or coven.

The second ritual was far more complex; it was formal and with specific goals. It involved the evocation of the Erinyes, Greek deities of retribution, within an official (as per the group's standards and praxis) rite, complete with the fundamental ritual format used by the group.

This ritual was both intriguing and unsettling. We called upon Cerridwen and Cernunnos as presiding Goddess and God. We summon dragonic elemental guardians as the Watchtowers of the Circle. It was eclectic to the utmost degree. Although personally dismayed by the mish-mash of completely irrelevant entities and somewhat disappointed (although already aware) of the Neo-Wiccan format, I continued to actively and properly participate.

It was until the Erinyes were actually evoked that I realised it was a mistake.

The ritual was supposed to grant protection against possible malicious acts of unnamed others who might seek to harm the members of this group. It seemed fairly innocent, straight-forward and understandable. The involvement of the Erinyes puzzled me a bit but the way the whole theme was explained before the ritual itself made me disregard my slight inhibitions.

I do not, in the least, question the practical capabilities of the High Priestess and the other active participants. The ritual was successful; energetically anyway. I did feel the deities evoked, both the Celtic ones (which I have never worked with - yet I could tell they were NOT Hellenic or Kemetic, their "flavour", their energetic signature was completely alien to me) and the Hellenic. When the Erinyes were evoked, I saw things. I was never much of a visual type in these matters. I always only felt things when not in pathworkings or similar "journeys". In that ritual however I could make out shapes, figures and things that made me realise that something was not completely as intended.

True to the word of the evocation, the Erinyes appeared with certain forms: as specific animals pacing on the edges of the circle, just outside of it. At some point though, when the central goal of the rite was explained outloud, Tisiphone, who appeared as a large snake in the colour of the onyx, crossed the circle and half-entered it. It was as if she wanted to point out that our safeguards were meaningless, should they choose to turn on us. Even the presiding deities, Cerridwen and Cernunnos, felt and appeared warm and kind but detached. They offered no support, nothing but indifferent presence, throughout the ritual.

And indeed, this is what scared me. The Erinyes, much like Nemesis, are potent allies but can also turn into gruesome foes easily. To work with them is akin to using a double-edged blade. The risk of injury is just as high for you as it is for the intended target. If you have any guilt, any burden or crime you haven't paid for, you WILL face consequences as well. It matters not to them if you're the summoner, the supplicant, the magus who petitions them. It matters not to them if your target is far more heinous than you. If you're to work with them, you ought to be crystal clear. Otherwise, they will punish you as well.

I know how clean my slate is or isn't. Regardless of that, I do not work with the Erinyes or Nemesis. I do not want to get involved with them. If I want to deal with matters of punishment or vengeance, I will turn to Hekate, Demeter or Athena. I do not like to "play" with such dangerous, unstable entities.

Due to those feelings, once the Erinyes made it obvious that things weren't as innocent as I was told, I withdrew, energetically, from the rite. I still stood there, still followed the commands. I simply gave nothing of substance, other than theatrical support. I silently called upon Hekate and asked Her to shield me, to guard me from the dubious energies of this rite and group. I did not know the whole story, I had not been told all parameters and I had not be warned that I was stepping, unknowingly, into something nastier than "potential attacks" from unknown enemies of the group.

The Erinyes ignored me. I felt safer.

After the ritual had ended, while we were together out for light dinner, I asked what this was all about. Who wanted to harm the group and why? I was told some things, I gleaned a few others from half-words and exchanged glances and concluded that this was far more dangerous and complicated than I, not a true member yet, was willing to get tangled in. This wasn't a precaution taken to prevent future issues. It was a counter-attack, albeit dulled and subtle. There had already been attacks, magical and verbal, against members of the group and even their families. They wanted to shield and subtly strike back in order to prevent additional attacks. I was not ready for such a thing. I was not willing to get involved in such a mess.

This, among many other reasons, not all of which were about the group itself, led me to distance myself and soon declare to the leaders that I would not work with them any longer. I did not reveal these things. I simply did not want to end up in the middle of a witch war, for the sake of a group I had no emotional attachment to, nothing invested in it to warrant sacrifices and such risk.

Why say all this though? And why now? Because I was contemplating group experience: rituals with other people. Public or "open" rituals aren't necessarily harmless or innocent. Be careful what you get involved in. Ask any and all questions you might have before the rite. Voice your inhibitions and if the answers you receive do not satisfy you, do not participate. If you're ordered or forced (even unsuccessfully) to participate, leave at once. Witches vote with their feet.

That being said, every group, Tradition and system have their own ways of practicing. They have their own means of accomplishing a given goal. Some of those means may not suit you. You might feel threatened, intimidated or disappointed. Assess those feelings. Is it simply a different preference that makes you feel that way or are you truly against a particular method or approach? Remember, you do have to play by the established rules, even if they differ from your own or those you're used to. Sometimes, that means you have to get uncomfortable and step outside your safe zone. However, that doesn't mean all different methods are valid. Some are dangerous, risky or go against your code of ethics. Others are plain out stupid. Learn all sides to the story, all prerequisites, all necessary information before you attempt to work with others and decide:

Do you want to participate? If not, say so before the ritual begins. If you find out something is wrong during the rite, think. Is it so dangerous that staying can be detrimental? If so, immediately leave, even if it means you're disrupting the ritual and breaking the circle/whatever protective means exist. If the risk is more subtle or you're unsure, stay in the ritual, be courteous (remember, manners are a must!) and do whatever you feel is appropriate to protect or distance yourself. My evocation of Hekate and withdrawal of energetic support is a good basic solution in such situations. Call for help from any spirits or Gods that look after you and sever any energetic ties. If the others sense the difference and ask you about it, be truthful.

Always remember: good etiquette is important. However, safety must be the first priority.



Evocation & Invocation: “Both words derive from the Latin word vocare meaning ‘to call’, however invocation is a calling into, and evocation is a calling forth. Invocation can be considered a calling of a deity or spiritual creature into something or someone. This then includes the use of crystal stones, glass receptacles, bowls of liquid and magick mirrors, statues as fetishes and the Wiccan ceremony of ‘Drawing Down the Moon’, as well as deity possession work as seen in systems like Voodoo.   Evocation is the calling forth of a spiritual creature to tangible presence, often in a triangle or other constraining space.”

Sanchez, Tara (2011-08-13). The Temple of Hekate - Exploring The Goddess Hekate Through Ritual, Meditation And Divination (Kindle Locations 714-719). Avalonia. Kindle Edition.