At least once a month, I try to catch up on news in the Pagan community by reading through the Wild Hunt. When I was reading through TWH this week, I came across a terrific set of two articles by Teo Bishop, a Neopagan Druid in Colorado. Teo is a staff writer on TWH as well as a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.* The first article was written on his blog in late October and was about a public ritual on Pagan Pride Day in Denver. Teo wrote a personal account of how casting a circle in a public space felt divisive to him. How creating a continuous spiritual boundary intended to make participants feel included had the unavoidable consequence of making (or so he felt) non-participants feel excluded.
The second article was published on TWH and was an interview with Joy Burton who led the public ritual Teo attended at Pagan Pride Day in Denver. It was a question and answer format that invited Joy to talk about public ritual from her perspective. She didn’t go into details about Denver PPD, but spoke about her intentions when she observes and about how everyone has different needs when it come to religious practice. It was a cordial exchange and I think this pair of articles raised a lot of good and positive ideas about public ritual. Even most of the comments on both posts were respectful, which isn’t always the case when people are expressing themselves about topics they feel passionate about.
I was grateful for the comments because they pushed the conversation in directions I hadn’t thought about. For example, I hadn’t thought about what it means to share religious experiences on a blog. Or rather what doing that means to other Pagans. Some comments were very supportive of Teo’s public expression of his experience. Others felt he hadn’t done his due diligence by blogging without talking to Joy before his first post. I think they were upset because he didn’t try to resolve this issue in a private setting before making it public. At the same time, I don’t think Teo saw it was an “issue” until he posted about it. This is all personal conjecture on my part, but I got the impression Teo was sharing a personal experience. I did not believe he was raising a red flag or trying to call someone out for bad public, Pagan behavior. But what started as a personal experience online gained momentum and emerged as a community issue.
We princesses have never written about a public ritual as something we didn’t enjoy because we have been lucky and haven’t had a bad experience. But if we did, or if I did, I would absolutely want to share it with the Realm. It hadn’t occurred to me before that I might have an obligation to my community to filter (or censor) my experience before making it public. Or that a personal experience I share might turn into a community issue. Should I be acting more like a journalist and covering all the angles before posting my content? Should I hesitate to post something about events or issues for fear I might cause contention in the Pagan community? I’m not convinced I need to do these things, but at least I’m thinking about it now.
The other thing these posts have me thinking about is what it means to generate religious content for a blog. There was one commenter — not one of the respectful ones — who accused Teo of using this experience to draw attention to himself. He replied by explaining his blog is about sharing his religious experiences and that was what he was doing in these posts. The commenter then accused Teo of using his faith as a means to an end, as a reason to post. I didn’t agree with that person’s assessment at all, but it did make me ask myself, “Do I do that? Am I sharing my experiences and thoughts just to have a presence online?” I don’t think that’s what I’m doing. At the same time, whenever something Pagan and neat happens in my life, I automatically think, “This will make a great post!” I always thought that impulse was driven by a genuine desire to help build community and contribute to constructive conversation about Paganism online. I still think that. But now I am second guessing my motives a little bit. Another new something for me to think about.
To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about public ritual, specifically casting a circle in public. I know it isn’t designed to be divisive, but Teo makes a great point about the physics of circle casting. It’s the nature of a circle geometrically. When you cast a circle, you are creating a sacred space where some people are in and everyone else is out. It’s the nature of our bodies. We can only face one way, and in our culture turning your back to someone is a sign of dismissal. (I don’t know if the symbolic meaning of turning your back is pervasive in other cultures).
Granted, Jax and I are not Wiccan, so we don’t cast circles, but we do create sacred spaces when we observe together. Our sacred spaces are more transitional, though. Once we hallowed the ground, moving in out of that space is easy and appropriate and doesn’t require special treatment as is often the case with sacred circles. And we like to observe outside. We don’t do it all the time, but we do like it. We also have observed in public places, though not in a long time. But we talked about having a public observance when we started this blog. I have to pause for a moment here and share a funny memory. Jax and I were observing — just the two of us — in Pease Park on one side of the creek. On the other side of the creek a man was walking his dog and saw us. He hollered across the way, “Hey are ya’ll doing a ritual?!” And we answered, “Yes, we are!” And he said, “Cool!” Maybe the reason I haven’t thought much about what it means to observe in public because I have taken for granted that I live in city that is open-minded.
Now Teo’s posts also have me wondering if creating sacred spaces in public places is appropriate. It can be joyful, but is that joy at someone else’s expense via exclusion? What do you think realm?
*And I realize now, Teo Bishop is the nom de plume for musician Matt Morris who has co-written songs for Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. I know his work from “Miss Independent” the song that made Kelly Clarkson a household name.